Who's the most common weak link in rock bands?

Discussion in 'Music and Recordings' started by rhythmdevils, Aug 12, 2022.

  1. rhythmdevils

    rhythmdevils MOT: rhythmdevils audio

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    In other words, who's the most common musician to hold back a rock (folk-rock, rock, metal, etc) band?

    I've often felt that the drumming is by far the most common thing to bother me about a band and hold them back. So often bands write good songs and perform them well, but then the drumming is just a super repetitive doo-wap doo-wap doo-wap over and over and over again.

    I rarely think that songs are ruined by too simplistic guitar work or bassists or piano (I often feel kind of bad for the keyboardist in rock groups for having to play such simple notes unless it's Phish or the Grateful Dead of course ;) ). Part of the reason Black Sabbath had such a unique sound was because the guitarist injured his hand and couldn't play fast notes, so he had to come up with songs that allowed him to play slower power chords. Which created a whole new genre of music (of course the very first metal band is a huge debate that will never end)

    The best example I can think of for an album ruined by the drumming is The Wallflowers' "Bringing Down The Horse" which is full of really well written songs, with great vocals by Jacob Dylan. It's aged a bit yes, but it's really well done. Except the bloody drumming, which just bores me to death and I can't listen to it. doo-wap doo-wap doo-wap on every song.

    And some albums are kind of made by their percussion, for example the latest Big Red Machine album which is full of really interesting rhythms and percussion that often lead the songs. Or Santana even, with the conga drums.

    The National and Led Zeppelin are also totally made by the drumming. Both drummers are my two favorite rock drummers of all time, Their sense of timing is unique and they consistently create really captivating rhythms that lay the foundation for the band. With both bands, I would argue that the drummers are the most irreplaceable members of the group (ignoring who is writing the music of course). It's not that hard to find a great guitarist. Finding a drummer like those two is once in a lifetime.
     
  2. Tchoupitoulas

    Tchoupitoulas Friend

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    I need to give this more thought so the following are just musings out loud. I don't know enough about drumming but I agree that a good drummer can be indispensable. There are tons of bands with drumming that doesn't even go so far as to be forgettable - it's more that the drumming's not noticeable in the first place. Compare Nirvana's first two albums: what separates them is Dave Grohl's drumming. You can listen to Bleach and never notice the percussion. You can't listen to Nevermind and not notice the drumming.

    It's tricky, though. A great part of the appeal of John Bonham's drumming is how exhilarating it is. It's spectacular (as in literally making a spectacle). But take someone like Charlie Watts, who started out as a jazz drummer. Some of his drumming was outstanding (as in standing out), as with Get Off Of My Cloud. But I can't say there are many Stones songs for which I remember the drumming as a distinctive characteristic. Was Charlie Watts a good drummer? I don't know, and I'm not discerning enough or qualified to pass judgement.

    Art Blakey, though, was spectacular and outstanding, but he could also blend in subtly. If you've heard his Jazz Messengers, there's no doubt about the identity of the drummer on the drum solos in Cannonball Adderley's Somethin' Else.

    ---

    I recently took up learning the bass again. (I tried and failed in my teens in the early 90s). Perhaps more so than drumming, the bass can all too often be ignored (or unimportant) in songs. But when done right, it can be what makes the music click. To pick up where I left off with the bass, I've been going back to old songs, including fairly obscure (or now forgotten) British bands like the Sisters of Mercy or New Model Army. The Sisters of Mercy's Alice couldn't work without its bass line. New Model Army, as cringe-worthy as it can be (ignore the lyrics), had an incredible bassist who was more like a lead guitarist (as on Running in the Rain).

    I'll shut up after mentioning U2. I can't bear anything of theirs since ca 1990, but as annoying as Bono can be, and as much as the band's sound is defined by him and the guitarist, the drummer was pretty damn impressive, as with Bullet the Blue Sky. And the forgotten bassist wasn't half bad when given the opportunity, as on New Years Day, another song that wouldn't be the same without the bass line.

    All this to say, not for the first time, that the rhythm section doesn't always get its due.

    ---

     
    Last edited: Aug 12, 2022
  3. fastfwd

    fastfwd Friend

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    ... and prevent them from getting a record deal? The lead singer, no question.
     
  4. Merrick

    Merrick A lidless ear

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    The great rock drummers have a sense of swing, can play with timing. Too many rock drummers think playing just on beat is all you need. Might as well just get a drum machine to fill in for some of these drummers.

    Ironically, I saw Depeche Mode live many years ago and they had a live drummer who really hurt their sound, because they use drum machines in the studio!
     
  5. Thad E Ginathom

    Thad E Ginathom Friend

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    Actually, I always thought this joke was unfair, if not cruel...

    Q. What do you call people who hang around with musicians?
    A. Drummers.
    :(
     
  6. jnak00

    jnak00 Friend

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    Agreed. A great drummer (or any other band member) will make me sit up and really pay attention. But only a bad singer will make me turn off the music (see: Nickelback)
     
  7. SoupRKnowva

    SoupRKnowva Official SBAF South Korean Ambassador

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    To me its the singer hands down. But its super subjective what everyone likes in a vocalist. But singers will often get me to immediately close a new metal song in YouTube that someone recommends to me.
     
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  8. E_Schaaf

    E_Schaaf MOT: E.T.A Headphones

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    The weakest link for me is usually the lyricist. You can have a band full of talented musicians with perfect execution of the content but if the lyrics are garbage the song is ruined. I would rather have no vox, vox in a language I don't understand, death metal growled unintelligible vox, jokes for vox, or mumbled vox than perfectly delivered bad lyrics. Language burdens and narrows the engagement of the music to me and often feels smacked on just to make room for the vocalist to perform, I'd rather do without. Of course there's also magic to meaningful lyrics too where things can click and draw me in, but I find that's rare for me with contemporary music much of the time. I listen to a lot of instrumentals.
     
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  9. Biodegraded

    Biodegraded Friend

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    Whereupon Watts returns from the dead and throws you out the window.
     
  10. wbass

    wbass Almost "Made"

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    A huge subject, and one I've pondered often as a recovering drummer (some music school, some recording, some touring, mostly playing in and around San Francisco).

    It's interesting that you mention The Wallflowers, Bringing Down the Horse, because I think the drumming on that album is pretty outstanding. The Wallflowers touring drummer for that album was Mario Calire, who's a top-level player in his own right. But the album was done by a real contemporary studio legend, Matt Chamberlain. Perhaps best known as Tori Amos' and Fiona Apple's drummer, but check out this list of credits:

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Matt_Chamberlain

    Chamberlain is perhaps not as readily identifiable on Bringing Down as he is on the Tori and Fiona records, where he plays some really interesting stuff, and he may have done The Wallflowers record as a hired gun. But what a hired gun! He plays some really tasty stuff on "Bleeders" and "The Difference." And he brings tons of interest and nuance to "Josephine" (not many drummers can do a ballad justice).

    I think you may be reacting to the best-known track off that album, "One Headlight," where Chamberlain is pretty restrained. But I *love* what he does with this slow-burn track. There's a ton of subtlety in his performance. It's all in the ghost notes (quiet snare strokes in between the backbeats) and quick open hi-hats. It drives the song forward, hard, with just the most elegant of gestures. If you listen close, this little stuff is in almost every other bar, and it's key to the track.

    IMO, a less experienced/skilled drummer would go big in this song--lots of fills and busyness--but b/c Chamberlain is so good and confident that he lets it all simmer. And that snare sound--another huge aspect of a drummer's personality is their kit sound--is for the ages.
     
  11. wbass

    wbass Almost "Made"

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    One thing to add about Matt Chamberlain on "One Headlight": No cymbal crashes!

    A drummer is tasked with keeping solid time, but also marking transitions between parts of the song (aka fills). Every other drummer on the planet would be hitting the crash cymbal all over "One Headlight," but Chamberlain's fills are all done on the snare and hi-hat. Hell, he doesn't even hit a tom (and then only once) until the fade out. The whole song is driven and shaped by a master working with three pieces.

    There are a fair number of YouTube drum covers of "One Headlight," and most of them see the (inexperienced) drummers hitting the crash. It totally kills the momentum of the song! Fascinating stuff.
     
    Last edited: Aug 12, 2022
  12. Thad E Ginathom

    Thad E Ginathom Friend

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    And so he should, if I told that joke!

    Maybe I have been lucky, and listened to music with good drums. Or maybe, I don't know the difference! I do know that I don't like boring repetitive stuff, whatever instrument. And I've met drummers (I'm one step down the chain: hanging around with drummers!) who hate having to play boring repetitive stuff.

    I do like interesting stuff on the bass guitar. Well, essentially, I like interesting music. I like stuff I can relax to, but also stuff where I can focus in on the parts --- and they should all be interesting!

    I am not a musician. I do not necessarily know why I find something interesting. But I know when I do.
     
  13. rott

    rott Secretly hates other millenials - Friend

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    Sure, throw the drummer under the bus...which sucks because I would imagine they're often playing within the confines of what the band leader(s) and producer are instructing them to do. Maybe when playing live on tour they get to mix it up a little and show off some chops.

    I'd agree that it's the vocals/voice that for me are usually the weakest link.
     
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  14. roshambo123

    roshambo123 Friend

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    First, the producer.

    I listen to prog metal and the biggest sin I hear is lack of variation. Albums where all the tracks are very same-same and bands who just sound like Tool or Pink Floyd. It's the producer's job to step back and make sure the band doesn't try to paint a picture with only one brush and one color. Drive creatives to create better.

    Second, the lead vocalist.

    How many times have you listened to a track that opened great and then the vocals come in and you go "ugh." You can be a little sloppy in many regards but you can't miss here. Quality vocals are not sufficient to make a good track but they are totally necessary.

    Third, the engineer.

    When it should be good but every track somehow inappropriately touches the emotional PP, it's probably the engineering.
     
  15. mitochondrium

    mitochondrium Friend

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    Interesting subject. I agree that the voice of a singer can put me off even if he gets it right on technicalities. On the other hand I always felt that some Uriah Heep songs weren’t that shabby compared to contemporary Led Zeppelin but at least in the early stages they changed drummers with the same frequency others change their undies and none of these drummers were anywhere near John Bonham’s level and in my opinion technicality-wise David Byron was a better singer than Robert Plant.
     
    Last edited: Aug 12, 2022
  16. HotRatSalad

    HotRatSalad Friend

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    Bad singers ( mostly opinion obviously) usually wrecks it. Most modern rock bands suck as well. No originality whatsoever.
    Poor mixing and mastering over everything else 99% of the time since post 1994 ish.

    I don't really listen to what's considered mainstream rock though. Unless it's from 40 years ago. Mostly prog and technical if it's modern. Oh and Opeth the rest of the time.
     
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  17. Armaegis

    Armaegis Friend

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    The one I've always heard is...

    Q. What do you call a drummer without a girlfriend?
    A. Homeless.
     
  18. roshambo123

    roshambo123 Friend

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    Not to go too far off topic, but top 5 recommendations on other prog stuff you like? Opeth fan here.

    Currently listening: Mastodon, Soen, Riverside, Evergrey, Katonia
     
  19. HotRatSalad

    HotRatSalad Friend

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    I'm bad at top lists. If you don't know these guys... Equal parts prog/death/technical/classical
    One of my fav albums ever.
     
  20. zottel

    zottel Almost "Made"

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    Back on topic, my take on the musician who can hold back a band most is maybe a bit too obvious: The songwriter.

    In the other direction, though, it becomes more interesting, IMHO: Who’s the one who can make most of a difference towards the better? No, in my opinion it’s neither the the singer nor the lead guitarist. It’s also not one person alone, but the combination of drums/percussion and bass. If they enter perfect harmony with one another and the song they can make all the difference between a lame and boring song and something that makes me want to dance.

    This preference is also why I can’t stand music with repetitive drums, the ugliest form of which is the never ending stomp stomp stomp of some forms of electronic music.
     

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