Is there a Led Zeppelin song that doesn’t feature a fantastic drum part by John Bonham? That's why making a list of the Top 10 John Bonham Drum Songs is such a challenge: We could make a case for almost every track in the Zep catalog. That’s just the way it goes when you’re the greatest drummer in rock history. Although Bonzo left the world too soon (asphyxiating after binge drinking in 1980), his beats have lived on – as part of Led Zeppelin’s monstrous legacy, in the hands of hordes of drummers who continue to be inspired by him and even in hip-hop, where his drum tracks have been sampled almost as much as James Brown songs. In celebration of his birthday today, here are the Top 10 Led Zeppelin John Bonham songs.
"Immigrant Song"From: ‘How the West Was Won’ (2003)
Hammer of the gods, indeed. Bonham acquitted himself admirably on the Led Zeppelin III studio version of the song, but he’s a total beast on this live take recorded in 1972. The drummer rampages through the classic song that used to open shows during the band's 1972 tour. Every time Bonham slams down on the snare, he kicks the song forward another mile. Colossal, just colossal.
"Fool in the Rain"From: ‘In Through the Out Door’ (1979)
Bonham is synonymous with heavy, but the man was just as adept at swinging. The main section of "Fool in the Rain" finds him perfectly situated in a polyrhythmic groove, swinging along like one of his big-band era drumming idols. And then a street party breaks out in the middle of the song, and Bonham proves his talent for providing a shimmying samba shuffle. Plus, he gets his chance at a few thunderous fills when "Fool" shifts back to its original rhythm.
"Out on the Tiles"From: ‘Led Zeppelin III’ (1970)
This song was inspired by Bonham, who used to sing a little rhyme about hitting the town and getting into trouble (not that you can imagine Bonzo doing anything of the sort). The tune’s syncopated drum beat refuses to relent, and then there are those massive fills near the end that swirl around your ears. Bonham sounds like a one-man marching band rolling through the streets and laying waste to everything in his path.
"The Ocean"From: ‘Houses of the Holy’ (1973)
Crisp bone-crunching power. Snare hits like rifle shots. The perfect punctuation to one of Jimmy Page’s most memorable riffs. During the main section of this entry on the Top 10 Led Zeppelin John Bonham Songs, the drummer effortlessly switches between 4/4 and 7/8 time, which lends a nervy unpredictability to the song. Throughout the track, he hits hard, punching the song forward with every perfectly placed beat. And then, for the last minute or so, Bonham lets loose and swings away during the doo-wop finale.
"How Many More Times"From: ‘Led Zeppelin’ (1969)
The magnificent closing track from Zeppelin’s explosive debut allows Bonham to showcase his versatility -- from titanic pounding to martial thumping to delicate, distant rumbles. It’s his bolero rhythm that holds the eight-and-a-half-minute song together and keeps it moving forward amid Page’s hazy effects and Robert Plant’s insistent wailing. The song rises and falls with Bonham’s drumming, and the rest of the band is always right behind him.
"Trampled Under Foot"From: ‘Physical Graffiti’ (1975)
John Paul Jones has said the funky "Trampled Under Foot" was inspired by Stevie Wonder’s "Superstition." And it's all the proof you need that Bonham could have seamlessly joined any R&B group, given his expert sense of rhythm, incredible restraint and tight fills. Just listen to the song's rapid-fire snare fills – he’s back to the beat in record time, every time.
"Moby Dick"From: ‘Led Zeppelin II’ (1969)
How could rock’s best drum solo not make the Top 10 Led Zeppelin John Bonham Songs? We can all agree that any drum solo longer than, say, 15 seconds is usually a complete waste of time (sorry, drummers). But Bonham’s turn in the spotlight – which covers about three minutes of this instrumental – beats the odds, thanks to the drummer’s precision and sense of dynamic contrast. In concert, "Moby Dick" would sometimes stretch to 30 minutes, with Bonham banging on his set with bloodied bare hands. Talk about suffering for your art.
"Achilles Last Stand"From: ‘Presence’ (1976)
Bonham beats a furious retreat on this Presence highlight. It not only features a fantastic kick-drum pattern (performed, like all of his Zep tracks, with a single bass drum), but it's also testament to the drummer’s endurance as he gallops along for more than 10 awesome minutes. Add Bonham’s arsenal of lightning-quick and thunderously loud fills to the mix, and the epic becomes a full-on artillery assault. Even a rock god like Dave Grohl has said that there are fills on "Achilles Last Stand" that shouldn’t be humanly possible.
"Good Times Bad Times"From: ‘Led Zeppelin’ (1969)
More evidence of Bonham’s superhuman status. The first track on Zeppelin’s first album is famous for Bonham’s use of two 16th-note triplets in the beat, which was inspired by Carmine Appice’s drumming in Vanilla Fudge. What Bonham didn’t know was that Appice was using a double kick drum, so he found a way to train his right foot to do it on its own. But "Good Times Bad Times" is more than a technical marvel; it’s a fiery overture for Bonham’s hyperactive pounding, as he plays on and around the beat. His drumming is powerful – practically a lead instrument – and yet it never overpowers the song. Quite an introduction.
"When the Levee Breaks"From: ‘Led Zeppelin IV’ (1971)
Page and company built this monster around Bonham’s gargantuan drums. The mammoth sound was achieved by having Bonzo record his part in a three-story stairwell with the microphones placed at the top level, giving the drums an echoing, muffled magic. But it’s not just the sound, but also Bonham’s playing that makes Zeppelin’s cover of this old blues cut so special. He lives in that perfect, hypnotic groove for seven minutes -- which could just stretch out into the distance for all eternity. Bonham played more complicated beats, but never a better one.