May 242008

There are different schools of thought about the awarding of a Most Valuable Player in any sport. Some think the MVP should go to the “best” player. Some think it should only be awarded to a player who led his or her team to the playoffs. Some believe there are cases where the MVP can come from a team that didn’t make the postseason, provided that the player accounted for an inordinately large percentage of the team’s relative success. I’m going to apply this last line of thinking to what I consider Rock’s Most Valuable Drum Part (MVDP) of its time, Steve Gadd‘s distinctive, highly technical march rhythm that is the key to the success of Paul Simon‘s catchy but otherwise slight “50 Ways to Leave Your Lover”.

It’s hard to break down how much the success of that song depends on Gadd’s part, but I’m willing to say that it accounts for 70% of the song’s success. The “make a new plan Stan” lyrical device accounts for most of the rest of the appeal of the song, say 25%, with Simon’s delivery and the bass guitar accounting for the remaining 5%. That’s a lot of weight supported by a drum beat!


  23 Responses to “Rock’s Most Valuable Drum Parts”

  1. What percentage for the moustache?

  2. Mr. Moderator

    Paul S, our statisticians thank you for pointing out this oversight. They will recalculate. I hope this doesn’t add fuel to those who argue against the undue prominence of the drum beat in this song.

  3. BigSteve

    I’ve always found Gadd’s supernatural facility on the drums almost frightening. The left hand hi-hat thing is a neat trick though.

    And I think the song may not be as slight as you think. I think of it as the singer telling himself the nursery rhyme stuff to block out the pain of what’s happening to him, though Simon’s druggy smirk in the live performance doesn’t give much credibility to my theory about the song’s hidden depth.

  4. Mr. Moderator

    Could be, regarding the song’s subtle depth, BigSteve, but without that drum part the song would sound like Clapton’s Unplugged version of “Layla”, don’t you think? Sure, with Simon singing it would be better than the version by the guy in his boxer shorts.

  5. BigSteve

    Oh, I like the drum part, especially at the slower tempo when he’s demonstrating it. It’s busy, but only in the parts of the song that are sparely arranged. Gadd holds back once the whole band kicks in. Following up on the metaphor, I guess you could say that Gadd’s facility on the drums is comparable to Simon’s verbal facility. Whether either or both are simply facile is the line the song walks.

    That guy with the ukelele looks like Morissey in disguise.

  6. meanstom

    What’s any number with the Bo Diddley beat if it doesn’t have the drum part?

  7. BigSteve

    Happy Jack.

  8. Mr. Moderator

    Face! Well done, BigSteve. I’m pretty certain that “50 Ways…” will go down as the MVDP of the mid-70s, if not the decade (maybe only being matched by “Rock ‘n Roll, Pt 2”). How about MVDPs of both earlier and more recent decades?

  9. BigSteve

    I just got back from a drive mulling this over. I’m going to go into territory wheremany RTHers may not want to follow. I don’t know if these two are all drum computers or a mixture of machine and live drumming but Steve Winwood’s Higher Love and Scritti Politti’s Perfect Way are both records I dearly love on which the rhythm is the thing . Also Bernard Purdie’s playing on Steely Dan’s Kid Charlemagne.

    And you could pick any number of James Brown songs, especially the one with Clyde Stubblefield. Funky Drummer is the obvious choice.

  10. saturnismine

    The drum part of “I want Candy” (both versions) is pretty damned valuable.

  11. general slocum

    Not Fade Away

  12. saturnismine

    What’s the drumming equivalent of the “Smoke on the Water” riff? By this, I mean, what’s the riff that every non drummer plays when they sit down behind the kit that every drummer rolls their eyes upon hearing? Is there one?

    The drum part that starts Knack’s “Frustrated” carries an otherwise pretty slight tune.

  13. What’s the drumming equivalent of the “Smoke on the Water” riff? By this, I mean, what’s the riff that every non drummer plays when they sit down behind the kit that every drummer rolls their eyes upon hearing? Is there one?

    Ringo’s drum solo in “The End” or the drum solo in “in a gadda da vida”

  14. saturnismine

    good one, Andyr!

  15. alexmagic

    The one from “In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida” definitely seems like the one that everybody would try upon sitting at the drums. That or “Wipeout”, maybe?

    I like the 50 Ways suggestion, and agree with BigSteve about what’s going on with the song. The martial feel of the drums give each escape from one of his lovers a kind of emotional death march vibe, which I why I agree that the drums are key to making the song work.

    I wonder if the opening drum business on “Hot For Teacher” wouldn’t get MVP contention from the people, if they handed out ballots at the ballparks.

  16. alexmagic

    Another case where the drums end up doing a lot of the work for the song: Manic Depression

  17. BigSteve

    Wipeout is a good example of a record where the drum part pretty much makes the song. Without it, Wipeout is basically indistinguishable from a million other surf songs.

    I’m also going to suggest When the Levee Breaks. The drum part there isn’t busy like on 50 Ways, and some might disagree about the slightness of such a heavy song, but I can’t imagine the song without that particular giant thud.

  18. saturnismine

    BigSteve, you just hit a grand slam.

    Not only is Levee’s drum part a MVDP, but it is *thee* “smoke on the water” drum riff!

  19. I would agree with that too Sat.

    I think Lipstick Vogue is a MVDP or at least a co-MVDP with the Bass

  20. BigSteve

    How about Ticket To Ride?

  21. dbuskirk

    Do Buddy Holly’s thighs on “Everyday” get partial credit?

  22. mockcarr

    Time Of The Season by the Zombies?

  23. I think the central irony in “50 Ways” is that the guy spends the night with the woman who tells him about the 50 ways to leave your lover.

    So, in reality, the song suggests, there is only “one way,” that is, to be with someone else. It is a cynical 70s take on the 60’s belief in free love, much like the film, Shampoo, for which Simon also wrote the music.

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