Skip to main content

The greatest drummers of the '80s and '90s

Dave Grohl GOAT Hunt
(Image credit: KMazur / Getty)

We recently began our epic GOAT Hunt: the search to put together a fantasy band line-up made up entirely of the players who are considered the Greatest of All Time. 

 Continuing into the second round of our search for the most important band member, we asked you to choose the greatest drummers of ttwo decades that couldn't be more different: the '80s and '90s.

Now, the votes are in and we have our Top 10, as decided by you. But it's not all over yet, the top five drummers from each era will eventually face-off to claim the throne in our band of GOATS. Check out the results below.  

1. Dave Grohl

Even if you ignore being part of the most influential band of the 90s, or the fact that he didn’t really relinquish the studio drum stool with Foo Fighters until four albums in, Dave Grohl’s contribution to drumming has been one of the biggest of all time. With rock legends on call, he’s got a studio CV that’s a session player’s dream, and even more live performances with the cream of the rock crop. So, it’s no surprise that he’s flammed his way to the the top of this round.

2. Mike Portnoy

Few drummers have done as much to popularise progressive metal drumming concepts as the Dream Theater founder. Through his vast output with DT, along with some excellent tutorial DVDs, Mike has been a firm favourite with drummers of all genres since first appearing in the 80s. Life outside of Dream Theatre has been prolific too, with Mike chalking up dozens of albums with OSI, The Winery Dogs, John Petrucci, Avenged Sevenfold, Liquid Tension Experiment, Sons Of Apollo…We assume he doesn’t need much sleep.

3. Danny Carey

Carey’s balance of alien-like chops and composition of musical parts has seen him rank highly in fan polls ever since Tool’s debut full-length, Undertow in 1993. There’s a lot to unpick with Carey’s playing, so despite the fact that Tool albums are few and far between, we’re still scratching our heads over some of his earliest work. We’ll see you in the next round, DC!

4. Jeff Porcaro

Jeff Porcaro’s sense of feel and precision places him squarely as the studio GOAT for many. You know him best for that half-time shuffle, which, when you consider he racked-up a list of credits with legends such as Michael Jackson, Steely Dan, Eric Clapton, Springsteen and many, many more, speaks volumes. Tragically taken long before his time aged just 38, we can’t help but wonder what else would have come from a true legend of drumming.

5. Tommy Lee

Performing a drum solo while riding a rollercoaster? Living the quintessential rockstar existence at the height of 80s madness? Influencing millions of drummers worldwide and successfully launching multiple solo projects? Tommy Lee has completed it, mate.

While chaos has often followed Tommy around, it’s important not to forget just how iconic he is behind the kit, as displayed by his high ranking here. 

6. Chad Smith

Fusing heavy hitting rock with pocket so deep we’d imagine he can’t find his keys, Chad Smith first made a huge dent with Red Hot Chili Peppers’ commercial breakthrough, Blood Sugar Sex Magik. What’s more, him and his partner in time, Flea have remained just as relevant thanks to multiple eras of RHCP’s career hitting huge success. We can’t see the Groovesmith slowing down anytime soon!

7. Stewart Copeland

“Wait! Copeland appeared in the first round too!”. Yes, he did, and while The Police smashed through early with Outlandos D’Amour and Regatta De Blanc in ’78 and ’79 respectively, they also did Pretty Well Thankyou throughout the 80s too. When you’ve reinvented what the boundaries of punk drumming are, held the official title of Biggest Band In The World and are still influencing drummers 40 years later, we’ll listen to arguments to the contrary.

8. Dave Lombardo

If you’ve ever set up a double pedal and tried to outrun a metronome, you owe it to Dave Lombardo. The thrash pioneer not only helped to set the blueprint for metal drumming, but also injected a new level of intellect into the art. His days with Slayer may be over for good, but Dave is still keeping things fresh, most recently with a new album from Mr Bungle.  

9. Matt Cameron

If they’re really lucky, some drummers get to play in an extremely influential band that leads an entire genre. Soundgarden and Pearl Jam drummer Matt Cameron managed to be in two of grunge’s biggest. In later years occupied the stool for both before Chris Cornell’s tragic suicide in 2017. With Soundgarden, he showed us that odd timings and complex parts don’t have to feel disjointed, while his work with Pearl Jam sees him taking a more song-serving approach.

10. Nicko McBrain 

Since 1982, Nicko McBrain has been the driving force behind the biggest band in metal. Surrounded by a wall of toms and with cymbals placed like shields, Nicko’s drumming has melded with the galloping bass, and dual/triple-guitar onslaught that fuels Iron Maiden, and with a personality as big as his kits, Nicko is surely a one-off. He also loves drums so much, he started his own drum shop. Up the Irons!