12 Drummers Drumming

Bridey: OK, so we’re doing the 12 days of Christmas here at WMMCM. Not the most original thought anyone ever had.

Pete: But, with apologies to Dee Snider (and Bob Rivers), it will be our Twisted Christmas.

Bridey: So we’re counting down from 12 instead of up from one. And technically, December 25 is the first day of Christmas, but we’re getting there last. So it’s both upside down and backwards, is what we mean. Starting with this one:

Pete: Upside down and backwards is perhaps one of many descriptions for “Cobwebs and Strange.”

Bridey: But there is no other single drummer who sounds as much like 12 drummers than Keith Moon.

Pete: I do like the line on the Wikipedia page: “Entwistle is playing the trumpet, Daltrey’s playing trombone, Townshend is playing pennywhistle — and unquestionably the drums come from Moon alone.”

Bridey: It is sort of … hard to characterize. It’s Moon-like.

Pete: The Who had been just successful enough to be given enough liberty in the studio to get away with something like this.

Bridey: And Pete Townshend never wrote enough that they had a ton of leftover material.

Pete: As I recall, part of the project, or the idea for A Quick One While He’s Away was that all band members would contribute at least one song, trying to break that trend. Unsuccessfully.

Bridey: Yes — Daltrey managed only one, the very mediocre “See My Way,” Entwistle of course had no problem, but Moon came up with only the brief and weirdly effective “I Need You” and this, whatever this is.

Pete: And now imagine it’s 1966 and you just bought your new Who album, A Quick One While He’s Away, and you get through “Run Run Run,” “Boris the Spider,” “I Need You,” “Whiskey Man,” the Holland-Dozier-Holland classic “Heat Wave,” and you run straight into “Cobwebs and Strange.”

Bridey: After what was already an eclectic lineup, this is something else again. It’s basically a drum solo, but it has a melody. The whistles and horns at the beginning set it up — with a possibly borrowed melody — but after that, it’s all Moon.

Pete: Perhaps the most surprising thing is that Moon restrains himself for nearly the first minute before jumping off the cliff at the 55-second mark.

Bridey: By “restraining himself” we mean doing only about three times as much as any other drummer would do. But when he goes it alone….

Pete: Moon had a way of not only keeping time, but creating his own melody with the drums. It could only possibly have made sense to him at the time, but when you listen to it, it somehow does make sense.

Bridey: That’s why it’s so … odd. Yes, it’s a simple tune, but has anybody else ever tried to do what Moon is doing here? I can’t think of any instance of using the drums to carry the melody.

Pete: It’s never been done a lot, and it’s never been done like Moon.

Bridey: It sounds so anarchic, but that’s an illusion.

Pete: All drummers, by nature of the job, have a good sense of timing — that’s what drummers do. But being able to crash around the set in no order that anyone can decipher is somewhat mystifying, even to other drummers.

Bridey: Well, first it would have to occur to them to even set out to do something like this. I mean, what do you think when you think drum solo — “In a Gadda Da Vida,” right?

Pete: Or Tommy Lee and his drum set auto-rotating on a forklift back in the ’80s.

Bridey: Because Tommy knew, as everyone knows, that drum solos are very, very boring. They require a visual element.

Pete: Probably the biggest problem with drum solos — and this is controversial — even most drummers in really, really successful bands quite simply aren’t good enough to pull them off.

Bridey: Name names! Have you ever been at a show and heard a horrible drum solo?

Pete: Horrible’s not the word. Boring. It’s not necessarily a lack of technical ability. It’s more a lack of musicality. Being a great drummer doesn’t necessarily mean you can put musicality in a drum solo. When you listen to the marvelous stuff that Phil Collins and Chester Thompson did, when they were playing melodies back and forth against each other, there’s not a lot of people who can do that. It’s almost a different skill, over and on top of being a good drummer.

Tommy Lee’s a solid drummer, always has been. But going ga-dun-ga-dun-ga-dun, roll, roll, roll, it’s just not terribly exciting. Even as a drummer, I’m just like, “That’s nice, OK.” And then you get someone like Carmine Appice, who can terrify most drummers with a simple four-piece set.

Bridey: Which is not to put down guys who just keep the beat. A drummer who can just do that 100 percent reliably is a precious thing.

Pete: Worth their weight in gold — Charlie Watts.

Bridey: But that doesn’t necessarily mean you wanna hear a solo. But Keith Moon was always a different animal.

Pete: Well, as the Who found out after losing Moon. They went through many drummers over many years. The only one who had the same kind of flourish was the technically brilliant Simon Phillips. And then of course more recently with the very capable Zack Starkey. But as Phillips with his jazz background could play it technically, all the notes are there — but you know it’s not Moon. Because Phillips plays it clean. It’s not a slight on Phillips — he’s the only one could play like that other than Moon.

Bridey: But it doesn’t come naturally.

Pete: Moon was about the most unnatural drummer who ever lived. For him, unnatural came naturally.

About Bridey

Bridey has been a music nut since falling in love with Elton John's "Caribou" album in grade school (why that one? I was nine). She's a magazine editor by trade who writes regularly about radio, music, and related industries.
This entry was posted in 2011 Christmas 12-Pack and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Comments are closed.