mixtape: the bass drum

Last week I decided to document some of my favorite examples of snare drum rock recordings in the weekly mixtape posts. Of all the drums in my kit, obviously, my snares were my favorite.

Most people though, I think, notice the bass drum more. It grounds most tracks and with the advent of isolated woofers it basically took on a life of it’s own in the personal listening experience spectrum. You find bass-bosters on most playback devices to help bring even more forward the already boominess and even in overly-compressed mixes there’s always an attempt to define enough of the bottom-end to allow the bass to still dominate.

All that being said, and wanting to give equal time to a number of other drummers, I’ve decided to try and put together a group of some of my favorite bass drum sounds

“When the Levee Breaks” Led Zeppelin from IV – Bonzo’s big, boomy bass drum needs to introduction in its legend. It’s a shame that the limitations of tape recording at the time hardly could capture the cannon shot it’s rumored to have created, but this track showcases how it had both a well defined impact and more than enough sustain to more than fill up the big open spaces left for it during the track intro.

“Cult of Personality” Living Colour from Vivid – All you need to hear are the three solo bass drum hits at 0:15 in and you know that W. Calhoun is serous about his bass drum tone. It overpowers the track even though it’s sparingly used because it has this rich, full bodied sustain that comes after one of the more boldly deep attack tones out there pre-sub era. It’s punchy and it works so well in this song particularly in the fills at the end. Another perfect example is “Broken Hearts” off the same album even though it’s not as isolated, what’s wonderful there is how well it works with the bass guitar line it follows.

“Never in My Life” Mountain – I might be a bit ambivalent when it comes down to the rest of the drums, but the bass drums always stood out on this track. The challenge for early double bass players was how to balance traditional sustain with the need for greater attack sound showcase the new style of playing. This is a gutsy approach by today’s standards as it’s more boom than attack. Actually the impact is almost sloppily underdone which is what makes it endearing in context with that residual boominess.

“Red Barchetta” Rush from Moving Pictures – Perhaps many of you were surprised I didn’t have N. Peart’s snares included in the initial list. Honestly, I know there are one’s I liked over the years but nothing stood out while making the list. On the other hand, the bass drum on this song, that’s another story. There’s a tight, punchy attack with a deep initial pitch that sustains, much more so than you would expect considering. What’s more is how well it works with Geddy’s bass when the two match up. It’s one of my go-to songs to check equalizer settings for my subs because of how rich it can sound.

“Hot for Teacher” Van Halen from 1984 – Listen “Hot For Teacher” might be one of those songs every drummer needs to learn for the intro and all but you almost have to get past that terrible bass-tom sonic butchery to finally get to a good, tight, throaty bass drum tone that’s worth aspiring to. It’s not all about the attack, which is what makes the rest of the song so damned good that if M. Anthony hadn’t shown up for the session to lay a bass guitar track no one would have been the wiser. That’s a such a tight, fat double bass drum it’s like an overstuffed sausage.

“Fight Fire with Fire” Metallica from Ride the Lightening – Before Metallica completely forgot how the hell to produce music they actually put out some decent sounding stuff. Despite the over-cranked distortion that would otherwise drown out Lars’ drums the bass drum on this track rides from 3:23 and by 3:30 it’s so readily apparent how good it sounds they decided fuck keeping the guitar riff up and just let the drums go it solo in a rippling 16th note rhythm that showcases a pressing attack tone that still sustains with body.

“Sunshine of your Love” Cream from Disraeli Gears – OK, be honest, doesn’t that sound like a riding floor time and not bass drums? Yeah, that’s what I thought too, but I’m told it’s a bass drum. The limitations of mics and tape recording in 67 probably kill the depth but Ginger Baker IS (and I’ll take this to dispute with anyone) the double bass player of his era and that’s indeed the boomiest, most bombastic double bass you’ll hear, despite how hollow some of the recording makes it feel. For it’s era it sounds so fantasitic in fact, I won’t even bother posting anything else from it thanks to the song post-4:00 mark.

“Ytse Jam” Dream Theatre – Before they go to the point of over-producing everything to make it “sound” perfect there was this gem that showcases what super-tight playing sounds and the art of drum tuning sounds like. It’s a bit more muffled that maybe I normally like but the uber punchy attack pops on the song so well especially with the bass guitar work that is overlayed to it that it’s almost forgivable how little sustain there is. Plus the attack has depth and doesn’t sound like it’s a beater hitting a wooden nickle which is key for such a staccato sound.

“the Yeti” Clutch from the Elephant Riders – It might be cliche to rename so many drummers but when you take that much pride in your craft your bound to show up and honestly, for me, next to Bonzo, Jean Paul IS that guy. What is brilliant is how beautiful the bass drum lays out on this track. There’s A LOT of frequency competition and a lot going on sonically, and yet, that attack punch and the deep, breathy sustain still manages to fill out sooooo much and not have any artificial feeling to it.

“One of these days” Pink Floyd from Meddle – I’ll be honest, this is among one of the best bass guitar tones that would probably result in another post, and the snare could be a competitor for mention and being 1971, and the breadth of the overall sonic experience is astounding, but behind ALL of that is such a rich, deep, fulfilling, simple bass drum sound. It is soooooooo subtle that that is precisely the reason I chose it. Normally we look for it and here, it’s SUCH an after-thought that it works exceedingly well in context.

“Scavenger of Human Sorrow” Death from the Sound of Perseverance – If you know me, you know this is my voice mail. It makes me honestly biased. Part of the reason why I LOVE this intro and song is how in-precisely-precise the entire thing sounds and how many subtle flaws I hear in capturing the whole thing. It’s not a single take, yet, somehow they left the human element in the execution when cutting it all together. The bass drum in this is brutally singular in nature, almost all attack tone, but it’s the almost that makes it so good. That residual sustain gives it more “humanity” and on top of that, the fact that the attack has this natural girth to it that most other metal records somehow seem to sterilize makes it even more significant.

“My Name is Mud” Primus from Pork Soda – Again, as I said before, if you have to compete with Les you HAVE to figure out something that makes you stand out. Most of the bass drum is doubled up on the bass guitar, BUT, it’s precisely why I pick this song over all other’s to demonstrate. If the bass drum tone were ANYTHING else but singularly precise in attack AND boldly dynamic in sustain it would NEVER succeed in standing up to Les and yet in this case it not only hold up, it assists in defining the song’s key value proposition. How do i hear the impact, try about 1:06 for an example or about 1:50 for some pops during the guitar solo, and knowing the first hand sticking to play this single bass riding the floor tom and knowing the difference between all the sounds… all those years of music school will do that do a man… now where’s that aluminum baseball bat to MY cranium??

“Under the Surface” Neurosis from Times of Grace – I’ll be honest, IF I ever did the ‘coolest tom sounds’ post, I can’t image this wouldn’t be among the lead tracks but 1) having witnessed Neurosis too many times to document and 2) knowing this album too well to explain the bass drum sound in it, albeit overly sparingly used is superb. Why? Because of the depth and breadth it needs to uphold to a multi-percussion onslaught AND cranium splitting, equalizer banishing sonic plain. A 787 has less span this record and through all of that I’m still attracted to the few bass drum beats that are used. If less is more for a drummer to still drive memory, this is the case for it.

and a weird honorable mention to Green Carnation for “Light of Day, Day of Darkness.” It’s an album that’s one song, and the song structures aren’t broken out. There are times in the recording the bass drum sounds fantastic, orchestral in usage and really unique and then there are others where it feels inherently generic and almost unidirectional and flat in its use in the song development. When it happens to fit, it’s big, bursting and driving with a great punch to accentuate the section with enough sustain to move with the rest of the orchestration but when it’s wrong it’s flat and almost unflattering, which thankfully for 50+ minutes music isn’t so bad to endure.


About thedoormouse

I am I. That’s all that i am. my little mousehole in cyberspace of fiction, recipes, sacrasm, op-ed on music, sports, and other notations both grand and tiny: https://thedmouse.wordpress.com/about-thedmouse/
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