It was once said by someone very clever – I’m afraid I can’t remember who, and Google has failed me – that “there are only four numbers that matter in rock and roll. Those being one, two, three and four.” Hats off to whoever-you-may-be, because this is as true a statement as has ever been made. Chuck Berry, of course, put this more poetically with “If it’s got a backbeat you can’t lose it”. And Milton Berle, host of the show that brought Elvis’ (partly censored) hips to America, was moved to comment: “I wanna tell you, Elvis, that beat with your foot is absolutely sensational!”
Thus this list focuses on the beat, and specifically, on the beats that were and are amazing enough to introduce the songs that they drive along. You can’t beat a beautiful drum intro on a Thursday afternoon, so here’s ten to kickstart your day.
1: Run DMC ‘Walk This Way’
Has to be this version, obviously, and not the Aerosmith original. Yeah, it kind of gave all those rap-metal goons their blueprint, but you can’t blame that on the creators of one of the most exciting and distinctive drum introductions – aided by scratching – ever. Probably Rick Rubin’s finest hour.
2: The Smiths ‘The Queen Is Dead’
The Smiths may forever be mainly known for Johnny Marr’s graceful jangling, but boy, when they wanted to, they could do punk aggression better than anyone else on the block. The distinctive tom-tom intro that kicks it all off was one of the last things put down for the album, and its tribal rhythm is actually the result of Mike Joyce and Stephen Street getting together over a sampler.
3: The Rolling Stones ‘Honky Tonk Women’
Yeah, I’m aware that this song featured in another recent list concerning cowbells, and to be honest, this is unlikely to be the last time it rears its head. There are loads of Stones drum intros that could have made it (‘Get off My Cloud’ for starters), but this is still the best of them all.
4: Michael Jackson ‘Billie Jean’
The big one, really. Stark as you like and apparently simplistic, this intro nonetheless took Jacko weeks to get right. And legend has it producer Quincy Jones wanted to cut it out. "I said, 'Michael we've got to cut that intro'", he later recalled. "And he said, 'But that's the jelly! That's what makes me want to dance'. And when Michael Jackson tells you, 'That's what makes me want to dance', well, the rest of us just have to shut up.”
5: New Order ‘Blue Monday’
Machine generated (by an Oberheim DMX, drum machine fanatics), the cold, detached impact of New Order’s signature tune would be far less without this most distinctive of introductions, that gives just enough time to rush onto the dancefloor.
6: The Stone Roses ‘I Am The Resurrection’
Lots of people say that The Stone Roses’ grand finale has been marred by its years as an indie-disco staple. They’re sort of right, but take a minute to listen again to it now, not surrounded by oafs spilling cider out of plastic pint glasses, and bask in the glory of hearing – and feeling – the greatest rock drummer of his generation doing his thing
7: Led Zeppelin ‘When The Levee Breaks’
Sampled by about 1,200,456 hip hop producers and counting, this was created by putting John Bonham’s drumkit at the bottom of a stairwell in Headley Grange, then putting the microphones at the top. Took ages to get right, but was worth it.
8: Tom Petty ‘Here Comes My Girl’
Petty’s songs are known for their concise nature, with not a second wasted, and very little flab, so if he’s to allow a drum intro, it has to be something special. This is, and sets the mood for his finest love song absolutely perfectly.
9: Prince ‘Raspberry Beret’
Another heavily sampled intro, with Prince’s studio genius in full effect. Minimalist, echoing drums that would go on to inform much of the work of The Neptunes, Timbaland and everyone else who defined modern r’n’b/pop/hip hop.
10: Iggy Pop ‘Lust For Life’
Features David Bowie on production, of course, and the second of his iconic Iggy drum intros (the other being ‘Nightclubbing’ from ‘The Idiot’). This one gets the vote though, simply because it is an all-too-rare example of a seconds-long intro encapsulating everything that rock’n’roll is all about. Bowie was so impressed by drummer Hunt Sales take that he later invited him to join Tin Machine. But let’s not go there.
So there you are, 10 rhythmical ‘hellos’ to get your heart pumping. Can you think of any others?