The Purple Gang: rock’s best rhythm sections

13 04 2011

To call a list a “best of” is usually a misnomer.  There is no “best of” anything, really.  It all comes down to opinion and personal taste.  But people know what is meant when that is said, so I’ll just stick with it.

I have my favorite bassist-drummer combos.  I know that other rock fans would probably not have some of these combos on their list and would add others that I hadn’t considered.  I do not necessarily rank them my favorites by technical proficiency.  I don’t know enough about jazz to talk about those guys.  And I’m not even necessarily a big fan of the bands from which these combos hail.  I know when I hear these combos though, for any number of reasons, I am moved by them. In rough order, they are:

  1. Entwistle/Moon, The Who — I don’t think there were better rock musicians at either spot than John Entwistle on bass or Keith Moon on drums.  Together, they were, I would argue, the most powerful force rock has seen.  In my book, they’re the best by miles.
  2. Jones/Bonham, Led Zeppelin — In terms of power, these guys were certainly miles ahead of just about anyone.  Their play was simply amazing.  You could tune out Page and Plant on many of the songs and just groove on the rhythm track.
  3. McCartney/Starr, The Beatles — This is where personal taste kicks in over something more objective and certainly over proficiency.  On bass, McCartney stands up to anyone, at least in his Beatles days.  He really was an innovator, though not because he was so fast or improvisational.  McCartney’s melodic approach was really the glue that held a lot of the Beatles’ best songs together.  Was Ringo one of the best drummers of all time?  I don’t think many fans or critics would say so.  He wasn’t even the best of his generation.  But he could hold his own.  Sometimes he was brilliant.  A great example of their power together is “Rain.”  Give it a listen.
  4. Lee/Peart, Rush — I’m not a big Rush fan, but recognize their skills.  Geddy’s a great bass player and Peart’s drumming — some people refuse to call him a drummer, instead favoring “percussionist” — is out of this world.  Peart might be the most technically proficient drummer in rock history, but I don’t find his work to have been as interesting and flavorful as Keith Moon’s.
  5. Sumner/Copeland, The Police — Was Sting a great bass player?  Many bass aficianados are dismissive of his playing; some think he was quite good in his heyday.  By himself, I do not regard Sting terribly highly, though he had flashes of brilliance.  But as a partner with Stewart Copeland, he made some great music.  I like Copeland’s drumming as well as anyone’s.  I recognize that Keith Moon did more with the instrument, but I get about the same amount of enjoyment listening to Copleland’s work with the Police as I do listening to the Who’s best drum stuff.   In the way that McCartney carried Ringo, I think Copeland carried Sting.
  6. The Funk Brothers — I wasn’t sure how to approach this loose group of combos, but I knew I couldn’t ignore them.  James Jamerson and Bob Babbit were sick good.  Jamerson, many bass players feel, was the best electric bassist ever.  They might be right.  Babbit is one of my favorites.  Check out his silky smooth playing on “Inner City Blues (Make Me Wanna Holler).”   I couldn’t tell you much about any of the individual drummers that rotated through the Funk Brothers.  I just know, as a corps, they did spectacular work.



Woke up in my clothes again this morning

3 02 2010

I woke up my clothes this morning, wondering how I got there. I had no memory of laying down. I woke up in a room upstairs but apparently I started the evening on the couch downstairs. It’s strange not having any clue about where you were for 10 hours.

I had not alcohol or drugs, illegal or otherwise. But I feel like something had been slipped into my evening tea.

The strange experience made me think of this song, one of my favorites by the Police.

When the rain comes…

8 03 2009

The late winter sun has deferred to the demanding, pushy, insistent rain.  A week ago it was sunny and cold, but now it’s gray, cloudy and rainy.  The earth is washing away the filth and grime of winter.  Soon brown will give way to green and the sun will return for an extended stay.

Rain is great this time of year.  It’s a sign of change.  It purifies and rejuvenates.  The last few days, though, it hasn’t let up.  All I can think of is rain.  I’m reminded of some cool (and varied) rain songs.  Enjoy.

Sting, Cobo Arena, March 14, 1991

12 02 2009

In the late 80’s, I really started getting heavy into the Police. I loved them in the early 80’s, but I didn’t have the money to buy their stuff; I taped them from the radio when possible.

Sting put out Dream of the Blue Turtles and Nothing Like the Sun, two albums which meant virtually nothing to me. When they were released, to my ear at the time, those album weres too mellow. Even now, those are damned good albums but they seem a bit pretentious; Sting masquerading as a jazz musician.

Sting’s third solo album, Soul Cages, was released in January 1991, while in was in college. By that time, I was moving away from hard rock as my primary source of music, exploring other styles. Soul Cages worked for me immediately. I thought it was great, played it over and over and just had to see Sting when he came to town.

I got a chance on March 14, 1991, when he brought his band to Cobo Arena in Detroit. I went with some friends but we couldn’t get tickets together, so I sat by myself…in the second row! It was a great show and I had a great time. It turned me into a huge Sting fan for the next few years.

I thought I was clever in sneaking in my $25 point-and-shoot camera. I got some shots which, at the time, seemed great. They’re quite lousy, actually, but I’m glad to have them nevertheless.

A few things stand out about the show. Concrete Blonde opened. They were an up-and-coming band at the time. Vinx, who probably would’ve never gone anywhere professionally had Sting not pulled him out of the clubs, sang, “I’m Dreaming of a White…” wait for it… “girlfriend.” The whites in the audience loved it.

Sting and his band were great. They played Soul Cages album to the note and threw in a few Police and earlier Sting songs.

The moment that most stands out is when the spotlight went on a pair of fans that held up a sign that read, “We Know You’re 39!” Sting read it out loud, crinkled his nose and said, “Who gives a fuck?” It did seem like an odd thing to put on a sign, after all.

I saw Sting probably 2 more times. That show was fun if for no other reasons than I sat so close and got some pictures.

Classic Police, live in France, 1980

7 01 2009

There are hundreds, maybe thousands (I didn’t count), old videos on youtube of the Police performing live.   These two jumped out at me.  Both are from the same show in France in 1980.  At this point, they were one of the best bands in the world, both live and in the studio.

I like the quality of the video and performance of “Driven To Tears.” There are better Police songs, but this really shows what a great band they were live.

“De Do Do Do, De Da Da Da” didn’t go off quite as well.  Sting lost it after a fan threw mud and others later spit at him.  Watch his reaction!  The young Sting was obviously a much angrier man than we would expect of the older tree-hugging-eight-hours-of-tantric-sex-having guy we’ve come to know. (Not that I blame him.)  This video is great!