May 102011

Did you know the Pollard Syndrum, the first electronic drum, was invented by a former studio drummer for The Beach Boys and The Grass Roots? I did not know that. That said, I propose that the Syndrum is the lamest instrument ever.

Has the Syndrum ever made a positive, essential contribution to any recording? The Cars‘ “Good Times Roll” is cited as a well-known example of the Syndrum in practice, but would you call that little tom-tom ping positive or essential? Would anyone call that noise both positive and essential? The good times are rolling just fine without it in this 1982 live performance of the song.

Furthermore, why did someone have to invent a synth that’s controlled by a drum pad? Why couldn’t Cars’ keyboardist Greg Hawkes have used his index finger to hit that blip on the downbeat of David Robinson’s tom-tom? Hell, he could have done it on a keytar, putting to rest any arguments that that lame instrument is more lame than the Syndrum.

Can you name one positive and essential recording driven by a Syndrum? Thinking of what that instrument did to the already lame Clash song “Ivan Meets GI Joe,” would you want to let the Syndrum off the hook by indentifying a lamer instrument?

Can you name an instrument more lame than the Syndrum? And don’t give me the Ovation Roundback acoustic guitar, because despite its aesthetic shortcomings thousands of hours on The Road have been logged playing perfectly fine music for The People.

(More about the Syndrum player in this post’s introductory video…after the jump!)

Ace Frehley co-writes, co-produced and plays syndrum on Eugene. Look for John Regan from the Frehley’s Comet/Ace Frehley band on bass in this video.


  31 Responses to “Battle Royale: Is the Syndrum the Lamest Instrument Ever?”

  1. Terry Chambers played syndrum or something like it on XTC’s “Love at First Sight,” from the RTH-approved album Black Sea. It may be on a few other tracks from that era. Is it on “Fly on the Wall” from English Settlement? That syndrums on that songs are positive and essential, says me. There’s your answer.

  2. Mmm, I like the song “Love at First Sight,” but I say the Syndrum is a justification for the rock schoolyard bullying given to any of us XTC fans.

  3. XTC used it live on the BBC sessions disc and it sounds even more annoying (and overplayed). I think drummers wanted to be part of the new “modern” sounds that their counterparts on guitar, keyboard and bass were enjoying (or the producer said: “you will use this so you can be marketed as “new wave”). Of course the keyboard player could have triggered this “tom” sound, but they were too busy with that “wheel-eee-wheel-eee” toggle thing

  4. Bravo! Imagine if that keyboard toggle had been created as a separate instrument. Now THAT might rival the Syndrum in this Battle Royale.

    “Come on, lame instruments!” taunts the Syndrum, “Who dares step inside the squared circle?”

  5. Syndrums are lame. But not as lame as the guitar talk box that Peter Frampton used on Frampton Comes Alive. If a vacuum cleaner could vomit, this is what it would sound like. Pink Floyd also used it on Animals.

  6. And Aerosmith on Sweet Emotion. I think it was used to good effect on SE, Animals, and Show me the Way (but not Do You Feel Like We Do). I’ve never heard the Syndrum used to good effect. Even my least favorite instrument of all time, the steel drum, can sound good if used judiciously.

  7. The guitar talk box is a worthy contender, but I agree with cdm that it’s occasionally been used to good effect.

    I used to think the harp was the lamest instrument ever until I heard that album by Mike Love’s sister.

  8. hrrundivbakshi

    I got two words for all you talk box haters: “Sweet Emotion.”

  9. hrrundivbakshi

    The syndrum is used on all sorts of classic reggae/dub albums from the late 70s/early 80s. To great effect.

  10. BigSteve

    Yeah I was going to go there, and hvb beat me to it.

    One example — Black Uhuru, Happiness (from the Sinsemilla album):

    The syndrum was a major part of the Sly & Robbie sound during this period.

  11. OK, I realized someone would bring up dub, but I’ve never been that impressed with the Syndrum’s use in even that kind of music – and I like my share of dub. It sounds silly to me, but I’ll grant you dub as one example of “positive and essential” use of that lame instrument. Nevertheless, there’s still no evidence that the Syndrum is anything but the LAMEST instrument ever.

  12. tonyola

    No, I found something lamer and definitely a product of the ’80s – the infamous “key-tar”. Basically a synthesizer worn like a guitar so all those poor frustrated keyboard players can step out to the front and do all those cool rockin’ Steve Lukather orgasm-faces and moves – just like REAL guitar players. I’m a keyboard player and I have nothing but disdain for these things. But then again I’m also a sax player so that gave me a legit reason to get up front and be cool.

  13. tonyola, the keytar was already considered and tossed out of the ring. At least it’s actually a keyboard that had the potential to simply make varying styles of music. Beside, it probably got a couple of balding, ponytailed jazz-fusion guys laid back in the day. I bet not even Sly Dunbar got laid from playing a Syndrum.

  14. tonyola

    Sorry, Reading comprehension failure on my part. But the keytar is still hopelessly lame.

  15. hrrundivbakshi

    All things considered, I think the digeridoo is the lamest instrument, at least in the rock context. I mean, what does it do but impart a bullshit “aboriginal” vibe to a probably lame song?


  16. ladymisskirroyale

    Also, Henley’s “Those Shoes.”

  17. ladymisskirroyale

    The proof is in the pudding:

  18. The James Gang -“Rocky Mountain Way”. Joe Walsh plays a pretty swell talk box – utilizing solo, too.

  19. Sure, in a modern-day context, but I bet the digeridoo helped win some major tribal battles. What battles did the Syndrum win?

  20. trigmogigmo

    The Syndrum is pretty awful (certainly “lame” in being literally a one-note wonder), and the talk box is a pretty big cliché (I mean, can anything but a Lukatherian level of horrible stage guitar antics happen when Richie Sambora wraps his mouth around it? I’m sure there’s video evidence of that out there.), but it does have a few positive examples others have mentioned. Side note: I had a hunch that Joe Walsh would be the guy on talk box on Henley’s “Those Shoes” mentioned by ladymisskirroyale, so I looked it up and it turns out that’s an Eagles song, so yeah, Walsh is a repeat offender but he offends in good style!

    Back to the Syndrum. It is important to distinguish the cheesy star wars electronic disco sound of the Syndrum branded device from other more tasteful use of electronics. I have two examples.

    The aforementioned Cars debut opener “Good Times Roll”. Fortunately, the Syndrum, if that’s what it is, is used in a light way to intro the song, and then gets the hell out of the way of the rock that follows. I think that Syndrum+Ocasekguitar intro and the song sort of get in your face and announce (1978, remember) as opening track that this is something shiny and different and good, previewing the band’s sound, and yet the real A material and power is still on deck. That album came up in its entirety on my car stereo after I’d grown tired of using shuffle mode a few days ago, so I listened to it end to end, twice in a row, on a long drive, and I have to say it is a goddamn masterpiece. I could dissect what I like about almost every bar of the album.

    Only via recent RTH threads have I learned who Jay Ferguson and Curly Smith were: Jo Jo Gunne, Spirit, neither of which I’m familiar with. In my memory these are just the names of the two guys who backed (and co-wrote with) Gary Myrick on his solo EP “Language” of which I am a huge fan. Myrick’s edgy early 80’s rock sound is worlds apart from Spirit or Jo Jo Gunne, this EP is even more so, with the opening song leaning heavily on some kind of mostly-electronic drum kit (Simmons?) played by Smith. Though the synth-heavy production does make it a little dated sonically, it does not hold it back from rocking out in a big way. In this case, the electronic drums are integral to the charm of the song. Who knew Ferguson and Smith could get all high tech and synthetic?
    (If this link starts wrong song, click to “Guitar Talk Love and Drums”)

  21. Wow, that’s good stuff, trigmo. I’ll have to check out the Myrick link. I vaguely remember him in the New Wave days, but I don’t know that I’ve heard him since. And yes, that first Cars album is tremendous. Perhaps “Good Times Roll” is the most tasteful use of the Syndrum.

  22. two words Wayne Famous… and the Keytar is saved from “lame”

  23. Looks like the “de-tune” setting is not the main syn-drum setting (just it’s most upsetting one) so you might hear them in more places than you would instantly recognize.

  24. trigmogigmo

    Myrick’s subsequent output is infrequent but mostly terrific. I think it consists of just 4 albums:

    “Stand for Love” – Familiar 80’s territory but too heavily glossed up and reaching for the charts. A few great moments.

    “Havana 3AM” – Formed group with Paul Simonon and Nigel Dixon for just one album. Fun! Rockabillybluesspaghettiwesternskarock.

    “Texas Glitter & Tombstone Tales” – After previous group split, he takes over the Havana 3AM name and the mic, with two new guys, cranks up the bluesy texmex rock to 11 with great results.

    “The Waltz of the Scarecrow King” – Mostly acoustic and dobro with just some string backing. I deferred buying this because it didn’t seem like something I’d like. My mistake. It is haunting and beautiful.

  25. bostonhistorian

    A bass in Sting’s hands…

  26. I could suggest that Duran Duran used the little syndrum fills effectively on “Hungry Like the Wolf”. Strange, square array of drum pads in this video

    Lamer instrument? How about the melodica (or hooter)? I can only conjure up images of The Hooters and Donald Fagen with this one.

  27. bostonhistorian

    The melodica is crucial to dub and reggae.

  28. Well, this puts me in the unenviable position of having to defend Sting but I like his bass work on the first two Police albums.

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