This is a follow-up of sorts to fellow Blogcritic Glen Boyd’s recent “Whatever Happened To The Live Album?” article published on BC a couple of weeks ago. I really enjoyed Glen’s piece. But there seemed to be an essential element of the Seventies live album absent from his article.
Whatever happened to the drum solo?
When you went to a concert in the Seventies, the drum solo was a given. And it was never really an issue. It simply provided you with an opportunity to reload the bong, or to take a whizz. Kind of an intermission basically. But then someone got the bright idea to include the drum solo in the inevitable double live album, and all hell broke loose.
Blame it on Iron Butterfly, or I. Ron Butterfly as Bart Simpson calls them. At one point their In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida was the biggest selling album in Atlantic Records’ history. The centerpiece of that 17 minute extravaganza is Ron Bushy’s drum solo. It may not have been the greatest in the world, but it was memorable. When the record blew up, the drum solo was with us for a long time to come.
Atlantic’s next biggest selling band was Cream. Did Ahmet Ertegun force them to put Ginger Baker’s 16 minute “Toad” on Wheels Of Fire? I hope not. Jeez, “Toad,“ what a title! The guy looks like a toad for starters, and the song is about as interesting as one to boot.
Blue collar rockers Grand Funk Railroad then entered the picture. On “Mark Says Alright” from Live Album, drummer Don Brewer beats the skins mercilessly. Meanwhile singer Mark Farner utters his immortal line, “All right!” A truly transcendent moment.
After an excursion with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, Deep Purple decided to get into the drum solo business in a big way. Their classic Made In Japan from 1972 contained “The Mule.” Ten excruciating minutes of Ian Paice showing the world what he could do when left to his own devices. “The Mule” kind of felt like punishment for enjoying definitive live versions of “Smoke On The Water,” “Child In Time,” and “Highway Star.”
Between Physical Graffiti and Presence, Led Zeppelin released their live document, The Song Remains The Same. While Robert Plant was asking the audience if they remembered laughter, John Bonham was composing his magnum opus. “Moby Dick” clocks in at nearly 13 minutes, and comes complete with Bonzo tossing down his sticks to beat the drums bare handed. “Moby Dick” was an endurance test of sorts. Only a true blue stoner could sit through it, patiently awaiting the finale of “Whole Lotta Love.”
For me, the last great Seventies double live LP drum solo was by Rush’s Neal Peart. All The World’s A Stage chronicled their 2112 tour, and his solo caps the era. I love Geddy Lee’s intro, “And now, the professor of the drum kit” and Peart, great drummer as he is, really does rock a great one.
The extended drum solo was as much a part of the double live LP as any FM radio “hits” were in the early 1970’s. By the time Frampton came alive, the moment had clearly passed.
But as a true child of the High Times magazine era, I miss one of the weirdest, and oh so Seventies-ish aspects of rock and roll. That endless, stoned, and basically pointless section of the show.
The drum solo.