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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.