(Usual) Answer: Ooooh, ummmm I dunnnnno actually. That's a tricky one...
As a drummer, I often get asked this question and the response usually contains several bouts of ums and ahhs while I try and express a considered answer. And, the truth is, there is no right or wrong as it's so subjective. However, for you're listening pleasure, I've created a playlist which includes some songs which i've found very influential over the last few years. Continue reading to see me try and articulate my choices if you wish.
Click on the link below to launch the playlist. Happy listening...
If this is the first time you've heard this song, it'll take only a couple of seconds to see why it's in my list. Greg Saunier's constant syncopation and displacing of beats creates this amazing sense of tension during the riff sections. However, he's always completely aware of the song's pushes and pulls and adjusts his playing accordingly - note the 'simpler' straight beats he uses during the other sections which, rather courteously, gives the listener that much needed release after all the aforementioned tension.
"Phenomena" by Yeah Yeah Yeahs
The Yeah Yeah Yeahs' drummer, Brian Chase, has long been a musician I respect. He has this great penchant for moving from very sparse grooves to all-out experimental fills and beats as the song dictates. This can be best heard in their song 'Phenomena' which can be found on the album 'Show Your Bones'. Around 2 and a half minutes in, Chase very cleverly starts the pre-chorus with a fill (as opposed to the usual 'textbook' method of filling at the end of the previous section). What then follows is some amazing jazz-type fills which provide a perfect retort to Nick Zinner's explosive guitar playing. Interestingly, Chase has a condition known as Synesthesia which means he sees colours in response to music he plays or hears. In which case, 'Phenomena' probably looks like solid, dependable black in the verses and choruses followed by a psychedelic, neon fireworks show during the pre-choruses.
"We're Going Wrong" by Cream
Ginger Baker has been a very influential drummer for me ever since I started playing. Originally from a Jazz background, Baker became more and more fascinated by African drumming: note the way he often inverts typical Western grooves and has the emphasis on the '1' and '3' (kah, boom, kah, boom) rather than on the '2' and 4' (boom, kah, boom, kah) - this can best be heard on 'Sunshine of Your Love'.
However, it's his other homage to African drumming which grabs me in 'We're Going Wrong': his unwavering use of the tom toms throughout the song. The feel of the song is constantly rising up, but never plateauing. Baker amplifies this by constantly playing around the toms. As the song ramps up, so too does his intensity of playing. This type of playing by Baker made me realise there's no need for over-reliance on just the hi-hat, snare and bass drum. The tom toms are a unique and effective voice and provide an essential kind of timbre within a three-piece.
"I Bleed" by Pixies
This one starts with quite a simple and laid-back groove by David Lovering which helps the song along perfectly. It is in the chorus, however, that the drumming really makes the song: note how Lovering sets up a crash every time Kim Deal sings the centre-piece words "I Bleed" by doing a fill from floor tom to high tom. It's such a simple idea but works perfectly. It's the musical equivalent of highlighting the key statements in an article to really get the message across.
"Never Stops" by Deerhunter
It may not be immediately clear as to why I've included this in my list as an influential song. However, Deerhunter drum beats are often very metronomic which provides a stable platform for the rest of the band to build around. This grounded drumming style ultimately sets up a really satisfying ending as the beat eventually changes to accompany the final crescendo.
"Refrigerator Car" by Spin Doctors
This song comes off the first album I ever bought. The band may be a little bit cheesy but the drumming is fantastic and was possibly the first catalyst for me to start playing. The odd time signature of the intro and riff sections is in an impressively jarring 9/8 time signature, which is probably the reason for Aaron Comess' amazing drumming. The eagle-eared amongst you may notice the added percussion which is used to ground the groove as the song takes off.
"Blue Hawaiian" by Pavement
Have you ever heard a band with a more loose, laissez-faire sound than Pavement? Probably not. This is, in part, down to the relaxed way Steve West plays the drums. I could have picked loads of Pavement songs, but I thought 'Blue Hawaiian' summed it up best. The way a drum beat sounds is reflected in how you feel when you're playing: if you're really tense and urgent or you're laid and back and chilled it'll come through in your playing. West was definitely the latter, and whilst there's no right or wrong way of feeling when playing, his drumming was perfect in helping create that memorable Pavement sound.
"Sick Sad Little World" by Incubus
Whilst it doesn't sound too difficult the main drum beat in this song used to drive me insane trying to learn it. The reason is there are so many subtle ghost notes and stabs within the groove that it's difficult to notice them at first. It's worth watching videos of this song performed live as they are more apparent then. However, i'm not someone who's merely impressed by amazingly difficult 'chops' and beats if they don't serve a purpose. Thankfully, this drum beat pushes and pulls along with the rhythm of the guitar and really helps provide a frenetic feel to the song.