Jul 13, 2007

Greatest Pop, Rock, or Soul Rhythm Sections

The basic rhythm section - a drummer and a bass player - is the foundation of most of the popular music recorded over the last sixty years, and a killer rhythm section can make an otherwise average band something greater.

With these opening remarks, then, I am creating a list of what I consider to be the best rhythm sections in popular music over the span of the past six decades. Sorry, jazz fans: while I appreciate the genius of a Charles Mingus or Buddy Rich, I am not including jazz rhythm sections in this post. Yes, once again the jazz world gets snubbed by pop.


10. Charlie Watts and Bill Wyman, Rolling Stones: While Mick and Keith grabbed the spotlight, the rhythm section of the Stones brought out the blues, funk, and soul roots of the band and created a gritty sound unlike any of the other British Invasion bands.

9. Paul Thomson and Bob Hardy, Franz Ferdinand. Sure, they are Scottish, and yes, they are post-millennial. So sue me; these cats just ooze funk and groove, and give the hard-edged guitars of Alex Kapranos and Nick McCarthy a surprisingly danceable substructure.

8. Tony Thompson and Bernard Edwards, Chic, Power Station, and countless side projects. These men practically defined the late 1970s disco sound, and Power Station would have been a lame Duran Duran lite without the driving, pounding rhythm they provided.

7. Doug Clifford and Stu Cook, Creedence Clearwater Revival/ Revisited. Often overlooked by John Fogerty's primal Bayou scream and vibrato-laden guitars, the rhythm section of CCR laid down some serious funkiness under the band's hard rocking surface.

6. Chad Smith and Flea, Red Hot Chili Peppers. You want heavy funk? They'll give it to you at 130 miles per hour, pal, and leave you sweating on the floor in an exhausted heap.

5. John Entwhistle and Keith Moon, The Who. My sentimental favorite, though I had to drop them a few pegs because of Moon's manic inconsistencies and occasional sloppiness. Still, when Moon wasn't blasted out of his mind, they were untouchable.

4. Lowell "Sly" Dunbar and Robbie Shakespeare, just about every reggae band not named Bob Marley and the Wailers. If ever a rhythm section seemed born at the hip, it would be Sly and Robbie. I once saw them playing with Black Uhuru, and the playing of the Rhythm Twins was like nothing I had ever heard.

3. Ginger Baker and Jack Bruce, Cream. Bruce was about the only bassist in the world who could hold his own with the inimitable Ginger Baker. Very heavy blues, but these musicians were masters at their craft.

2. The Funk Brothers, everything that was worthy out of Motown Records. Too many members to list, but James Jamerson (bass), Benny Benjamin, Uriel Jones, and Richard "Pistol" Allen (drums) are the most important of the Motown rhythmists. Unsung heroes who truly helped create the sound that put Detroit on the musical map in the 1960s.

1. John Bonham and John Paul Jones, Led Zeppelin. Not my personal favorites, but undoubtedly these two were both virtuosos and - more importantly - created an unforgettable heavy sound that has been imitated by thousands of bands in many genres for almost four decades. They probably belong at the top of the list simply on the strength of their work on "When the Levee Breaks," as that cascading cannon-masquerading-as-drums sound has been sampled on almost every rap album recorded.

All right, let the angry comments begin over rhythm sections I have snubbed.


Anonymous said...

What the hell is a 'Franz Ferdinand'??? And how the hell can you overlook Booker T. & the M.G.s Donald Duck Dunn and Al Jackson Jr.?


Mad Jack said...

10. Charlie Watts and Bill Wyman, Rolling Stones:

Ok, I approve of this selection. I'm not jumping up and down screaming, "Yes! Yes!" but I won't disagree.

9. Paul Thomson and Bob Hardy, Franz Ferdinand.

Not impressed.

8. Tony Thompson and Bernard Edwards, Chic, Power Station,

Finally, you decide to select someone that isn't A) virtually unknown or B) the epitome of what mainstream public thinks the cardboard cutout, two dimensional rhythm section should be.

7. Doug Clifford and Stu Cook, Creedence Clearwater Revival/ Revisited. Often overlooked...

Often overlooked? Let us try "completely and very unjustly ignored". These are excellent musicians.

6. Chad Smith and Flea, Red Hot Chili Peppers. You want heavy funk?

Yeah, I want heavy funk and the Red Hot Chili Peppers have disappointed me every single time. This band's only claim to fame is that they actually are what the record companies foist off onto an extremely non-discriminating public. Sure, these two are good musicians – when was the last time someone invited you on a road tour? But I think they could do a whole lot better without the rest of whatever passes for a band.

5. John Entwhistle and Keith Moon, The Who.

Moon was kind of self-destructive, and I don't think Entwhistle was much better. Musical genius, though.

4. Lowell "Sly" Dunbar and Robbie Shakespeare, just about every reggae band not named Bob Marley and the Wailers.

Reggae is its own trip, and I'm not really on that train. My limited knowledge of reggae consists of avoiding anything with the phrase "Bob Marley" and listening to Beenie Man, Lady Saw and Goofy. I approve your selection, although I kind of think that these two should be higher on the list.

3. Ginger Baker and Jack Bruce, Cream.

Yeah, these two are great.

2. The Funk Brothers, everything that was worthy out of Motown Records.

This is kind of a broad comment, but I'm letting it slide. There were a lot of very talented people in Motown that should have had better careers.

1. John Bonham and John Paul Jones, Led Zeppelin.

What do you mean, "Not my personal favorites"? What are you, some kind of commie? Listen, nickel nose, Led Zeppelin was not just cutting edge; They owned the knife, the chopping block and the hone stone. They had the oil, too. I'll "not my personal favorite" you, you... LIBERAL!

Good choice, though there are others that are argueably almost as good.

And while I'm at it, JD, it's easy to overlook Booker T and other one hit wonders. If you're going to go that route, how about The Pipkins and Gimme Dat Ding?

historymike said...

Honorable mention to Booker T. & the M.G.'s Donald "Duck" Dunn and Al Jackson Jr. They were the heart and soul/ house band of Stax-Volt Records, sort of the Memphis equivalent of the Funk Brothers.

You also might recognize Dunn from the Blues Brothers movies.

historymike said...

(laughing at MadJack)

I only said they were not my personal favorites, which were Moon and Entwhistle.

I still love Zep.

Historychic said...

Don't forget Adam Clayton and Larry Muellen Jr of U2.

MP said...

Just because Franz Ferdinand hasn't really stood the test of time "yet," doesn't mean they shouldn't be included here.

But quite frankly, the only other thing that I have to say is that I've heard Flea of RHCP be described as the greatest bassist of all-time.

I'm not sure I can disagree. The man is a machine

microdot said...

It would be hard for me to list my personal faves...I was always a fan of Jack Bruce and have every solo and group project he ever recorded..including the Jazz Composers Orchestra Stuff and Kip Hanrahan's tango...even Lou Reeds Berlin. A brilliant, musician following his own path for decades.

I have very many other favorite Bass Players, but the one I wanted to, and still, grow up to be was Bootsy Collins.

I played bass in quite a few different bands in New York over a 15 year period and played Punk, Ska, Reggae and Funk, but if I had to pick a player that I constantly asked myself, "What would Jonesy do here?" It would be John Paul Jones of Led Zepplin.

I got to see him play in two projects in the late 80's and early 90's in small settings. There was a record called The Wild Life with the singer Diamondas Galas with whom he proved he didn't need no egotistical guitarist...or preening male screamer when he had them all wrapped up with one demented greek operatic diva...that was a power trio!

He toured in the early 90's with a trio when he issued the record Zooma and it was a revelation to watch him lap steel bass and assorted amplified african instuments. Truly one of the great musicians of our time...His string sections and orchestral arranging for groups as diverse as REM and The Butthole Surfers........

Okay, I'm done.

Pierce said...

how about mike watt and any drummer he's ever played with? watt barely needs one though, he's a 3 or 4 piece rhythm section in and of himself

maybe not top 10 of all time, Andy Rourke and Mike Joyce of the Smiths vanished behind the titanic presence of Morrissey and Johnny Marr, but the smiths have some of the best bass lines i've ever heard, and they get points for being able to complement and support Marr's songs-- i think he revolutionized the conception [at least mine] of how guitar can fit into rhythm and melody

microdot said...

what was i thinking about not mentioning Mike Watt? I just saw him playing with the neanderthal reformed Stooges and 60 year old Iggy stage diving!

McCaskey said...

No idea of the actual names, but whoever provided the power and guts behind the work of Captain 'N Tenille, Barry Manilow and Minnie Riperton I really dug.

Radio Schmaydio said...

The real rhythm section in the Stones is Keith Richards and Charlie Watts. Keith frequently played the basslines on the records too.

I'd plump for:

MC5 - Dennis Thompson and Mike Davis. Thompson had that Mitch Mitchell jazz-derived attack.

Sly and the Family Stone - Larry Graham is Bootsy's personal idol, and invented the popping funk bass style. And Greg Errico had tremendous chops and tons of funk.

Fugazi - this is band that's famous for their rhythm section. They're built from the bottom up.

Joy Division - Peter Hook basically played lead bass, contributing the melody lines. And Stephen Morris was a freakin' machine, bringing the motorik beat into post-punk.

ricky said...

might recognize Duck Dunn from the Blues Brothers?
that was ostensibly Steve Croppers band! and Booker T were as you correctly noted the heart and soul of dozens of STAX Records hits. SLY & ROBBIE? yah mon!
huge international stars!

how about the 60s LA studio tandem of Hal Blaine on drums & Carol Kaye on bass? 60s pop history wouldnt be the same without those two!

Anonymous said...

McCartney/Starr, Bootsie and anyone HE ever played with, and how can you leave off Rocco Prestia and Dave Garabaldi (Tower of Power)?