Listen to 11 isolated drum tracks from rock drumming legends

(Image credit: Hayley Madden/Redferns/Getty)

This is a rabbit hole that we could burrow into indefinitely, but as a starting point for your YouTube foraging we've compiled a first 11 of tracks, each known for their drumming brilliance, impeccable drum sound, or in many cases, both.

So, ready your headphones and join us as we enjoy a better kind of isolation and delve into the details of some amazing performances as we've never heard them before.

The Beatles: Come Together

We don't want to hear the debate about 'Was Ringo any good?', and neither should you after listening to this. One of his most famous beats with the rest of the instrumentation stripped away. Here, you can hear the uniqueness of Ringo's playing, starting with those heavily muted, deep, round-toned toms that sound as much like proto-808 samples as they do an acoustic kit. Ringo's lefty pedigree also shines through here as he descends through the toms, clearly leading with his left hand and unknowingly causing covers band drummers difficulties for the rest of time.

Queens of The Stone Age: A Song For The Dead

When he became disillusioned with progress during sessions for Foo Fighters fourth album One By One, Dave Grohl took flight to join Queens Of The Stone Age in the studio and subsequently on the road. The result was some of the greatest drumming of his career, showing more technicality to Grohl's playing than the 'keep-it-simple' approach he displayed in Nirvana and Foo Fighters.

The pinnacle, perhaps, is Song For The Dead featuring Grohl's intro solo, borrowed in-part from Black Flag's Slip It In. The verse groove hits you like the crack-addled cousin of Foxey Lady, and Grohl's randomised fills and relentless single strokes at the end of the song makes this one of his greatest drum performances on record. Producer Eric Valentine famously tracked the kit with cymbal pads in place of metal, choosing to task Grohl with overdubbing them later for greater separation between the kit parts. 

Toto: Rosanna

The half-time shuffle: one of the most imitated and misunderstood grooves in drumming. Studio ace, Jeff Porcaro might not have invented it - that credit largely lies with Bernard Purdie, however on Toto's Rosanna - a premium slice of yacht rock - studio ace Jeff Porcaro gave us one of his greatest gifts. Hearing the groove in its raw form reveals one of the most important aspects in nailing the feel correctly - the ghosted 16th-note triplet snare notes are often implied as much as they are actually there. If the piano, chorus guitar and vocals are ruining your enjoyment of one of the finest groove players to ever walk the earth, make this your go-to version!  

Red Hot Chili Peppers: Give It Away

When your song can be recognised by just three drum hits at the start, you know you're onto something. The Red Hot Chili Peppers lucked out when they set up camp at Rick Rubin's 'Mansion' studios to track Blood Sugar Sex Magik, not just because it marked the start of the band's six-album run with Rubin behind the glass, but Chad Smith's drums had never sounded so good on record.

The drum sound is a contrast from what had come before, rid of the heavily-gated snares in favour of a more natural room sound. The isolated tracks really show the punchiness of the kick drum, the explosive crack of the snare and that huge room sound. 

While it's not fully known which snare he used on the song, Chad is thought to have played a Tama piccolo Bell Brass, Brady and a Ludwig Black Beauty during the sessions. Whatever it is, it's a joy to listen to!  

Led Zeppelin: Fool In The Rain

Yes, there are the triplet tom/bass drum fills, the drum solos and the ankle-killing Bonham triplet bass drum notes. Truth be told, we couldn't find them isolated. Instead, we're celebrating the half-time shuffle which places Bonham next to Bernard Purdie and Jeff Porcaro as masters of the beat. 

After a sweary intro and count in, Fool In The Rain takes us on a groove journey you could set your watch to, before the ride cymbal accents kick in just past the 1:30 mark. If you've struggled to hear or work out this beat, check it out in isolation and let the fantastic sound transport you into the room with the greatest rock drummer of all time. 

Stevie Wonder: Superstition

It's well-known that the drummer who supplied us with this household name of a drum intro and beat was none other than Stevie Wonder himself. And he's certainly no slouch! Get past the tricky, evolving one-handed hi-hat intro and you're into the beat. But if you thought that this was simply slowed-down four-to-the-floor disco from start to finish, you've probably been playing it wrong. 

In isolation, the additional bass drum notes come leaping forward from the mask of the plodding bassline, and Stevie's fills at the end of the chorus are a lot clearer. It's distinction in every way: the feel, the orchestration, and the quintessential funk snare and hi-hat sound that we feel could be a lifetime's pursuit to replicate properly!

Rush: La Villa Strangiato

The drumming community lost one of its leading lights at the start of 2020, and this isolated track is proof (like you needed it) that Neil Peart was one of the most important drummers of all time. 

Considered by many to be one of Neil's finest moments, the opening hi-hat/snare beat is a stamina-sapping workout in itself. But just as you think you've got it, Neil - the Canadian prog rock pioneer - delivers a ride/snare paradiddle combo that sounds as funky as any rare groove breakbeat. It's hard to believe that you've been listening for nine minutes once you get there, but if Geddy Lee's divisive vocals put you off Rush, here's your gateway to the Peart party. 

What happens if you take the speed and power of punk, blend it with the embellishments of Stewart Copeland, throw in some hip-hop groove and marching band chops? You scratch the surface of Travis Barker's drumming, that's what. Barker parked himself on the Blink throne mid-tour while supporting the band with whacky ska funsters, The Aquabats, and subsequently delivered some of the most influential drumming of the last two decades. Adam's song isn't his most up-tempo performance, but it is still a difficult and busy part, showing off a decent cross-section of Travis Barker's style at the time.

The legend has it that Barker started and completed his entire drum tracking for Enema Of The State in just eight hours, not bad for a day at work!     

The Police: Message In A Bottle

"There's a ride cymbal bell on the backbeat. The main thing is the ride overdub that I've seen drummers in lounge bands attempt to play with whatever else is going on.", Copeland told us in 2012. 

With the drum tracks in isolation, we learn a couple of things. First, to replicate the parts exactly will require more than four limbs. Next, is that while Copeland's snare is often described as 'cranked' it's actually tuned far from table-top tension, with a fairly prominent mid/high overtone becoming more apparent in the room mics. 

One of the most interesting points about this song, though, is how he completely drops the snare out during the second verse with no detriment to the groove of the song.

Metallica: Enter Sandman

Ok, so we could have chosen a more note-heavy example of Lars' playing at it's best. We also could have taken the easy option of really getting into the weeds of that snare sound. However, we've opted for the song that put a fork in the band's career path. 

The self-titled, or Black Album is a masterpiece of drum recording, yet again confirming that the Tama Bell Brass snare has earned its place as a legend. The metal-AC/DC sparseness of the drum part gives that huge sound from One On One Studios (now called 17 Hertz) space to breathe. 

Producer Bob Rock and engineer Randy Staub apparently spent weeks on-end just on setting up the kit sound before any takes were laid down.

Slayer: Angel Of Death

Sometimes we think we're alright at playing double bass drums. But sometimes we listen to Dave Lombardo. Without the wailing leads and heavy rhythm guitars, the isolated drum tracks for Slayer's Angel Of Death is enough to give anyone imposter syndrome. 

The precision of the kicks, and the absolute power of their delivery isn't always quite so explicit when listening to the finished version. But here, almost 35 years after it was recorded, we're still closing our jaws after listening to Lombardo glide gracefully around those Octobans and toms before launching into an onslaught of double pedal power!  

Stuart Williams

I'm a freelance member of the MusicRadar team, specialising in drum news, interviews and reviews. I formerly edited Rhythm and Total Guitar here in the UK and have been playing drums for more than 25 years (my arms are very tired). When I'm not working on the site, I can be found on my electronic kit at home, or gigging and depping in function bands and the odd original project.