There are a lot of jokes among musicians about the drummer. This is one of them: “’Hey, where is the drummer?’ ‘Oh, he is backstage drooling on himself.’” There is a good reason these jokes have persisted since the 1980s. Drums as a respectable instrument have been largely dumbed down to nothing more than incoherent banging. This is unfortunate since it is one of the most difficult musical instruments to master and by far the most physically exhaustive.
In the 1930s and 1940s, the drummer was the center of the show. They were what people came out to see. Guys like Buddy Rich, Gene Krupa, and Max Roach were household names just like we all know the names of John Lennon and Elvis Presley today. However, with the dawn of Rock and Roll, all that changed. The drums took a back seat to the electric guitar. It has gotten to a point where a lot of people cannot name the drummer of their favorite bands.
There are a few drummers who are still looked highly upon by the public and fellow musicians. Neil Peart comes to mind. However, there are a lot of drummers that, for whatever reason, the public looks at as being awesome, but in reality they are simply not that good. This happens because your average Joe generally does not know what separates a good musician from a bad one. Typically, those who are more prominent in the media’s eyes are the ones the general public will consider as being the best of the best. In many cases, this is just a flat out wrong assumption.
This leads to these players becoming seriously overrated. There are a number of factors that go into determining if a musician is overrated. The easiest way to tell is to ask this question: can they perform at a level that is comparable to the amount of praise they receive from the media and from the general public? Giving someone the status “overrated” is a game of balance. If one receives praise but cannot play, they are overrated. Even if one can play, but is just too over-hyped in the media, they too are overrated. It really is as simple as that.
10. Mick Fleetwood
Would anyone even know who Mick Fleetwood is if his last name was not part of the name of one of the most famous rock bands of all time? It is pretty doubtful one would be able to recall the drummer if the band was named Nicks Mac. Mick Fleetwood is a serviceable drummer no doubt. He keeps a steady rhythm and does well playing along with Lindsey Buckingham’s incredible guitar. Whenever a list of great drummers comes up, Fleetwood will be on it. However, this really has nothing to do with his playing. Fleetwood’s biggest contribution to the band is that he is the longest-serving member and was able to keep the group together for as long as he did.
9. Stewart Copeland
Stewart Copeland of The Police is a lot like Mick Fleetwood as far as his playing is concerned. He is not flashy and is totally focused on keeping a steady rhythm. This is not a bad thing by any means; after all, that is the number one job of a drummer. However, he gets a lot more credit as a virtuoso than he deserves. He is by no means a drumming prodigy. He does what he does very well, but just simply is not as talented as everyone makes him out to be. He even admits this. Copeland has never been one to play extended drum solos or anything like that. He is the type of player who knows his role and does a great job of carrying out that role. In fact, one time he was speaking at a drum clinic and stated he was going to show the crowd something that a lot of drummers cannot do. He then played a steady yet simple beat for two straight minutes. It drove home the point that a lot of drummers cannot keep time, but simply being able to keep time and do what every drummer should be able to do is not enough to elevate him as one of the best in the business.
8. Meg White
Meg White of The White Stripes is quite possibly the least talented drummer on this list. In fact, she really never even played drums until she formed the White Stripes with her “brother” Jack. Fans will state that her drumming style is simplistic and primal. However, those really are just nice words covering up the fact that she doesn’t actually know how to play the instrument. Jack will always step up to her defense and will readily call anyone who says she cannot play a “sexist.” Sorry Jack, you may say it’s sexism, but to anyone who has actually spent some time behind a drum set, this is just the truth. There are many great female drummers in the world. In fact, one of the most talented percussionists in the world is a woman, the dean of Cambridge University’s music department. Being a woman does not mean you cannot play drums. Not being able to hold a rhythm means you cannot play drums. The only reason Meg does not get a higher ranking on this list is because there are not enough people who would actually argue that she is any good.
7. Peter Criss
To the KISS army, Peter Criss is a god who has been wrongly ousted by his fellow band mates. Regardless of what the talentless bassist says, Criss is one of the more talented members of KISS. However, his problem is that he plays in KISS. The band does not really allow for any talent. If you are not named Gene Simmons then you cannot have any creative input in the music. Criss actually studied under the great Gene Krupa, who is one of the most highly respected jazz drummers in music history. Krupa’s understudy gave us nothing more than simplistic rock beats and overdone makeup. Musically, the only thing Criss ever gave to KISS was his songwriting and vocal performance on “Beth,” one of the band’s biggest hits. The weird thing about Criss’s situation is that it’s hard to tell if he really is just a simplistic rock drummer or if Simmons forced him to be that way. Because of this, he only gets the seventh spot, but he could be much higher if that really is his “creative” contribution at work.
6. Phil Rudd
Anyone can sit down behind a drum set for ten minutes and learn pretty much any AC/DC song that has ever been recorded. Phil Rudd has never done anything special. He keeps the beat like a drummer is supposed to, but he could be replaced by any nine-year-old with two weeks of drum lessons. Put the Back in Black record on and listen to how many times you hear the exact same drum beat. Being a member of a super famous band like AC/DC does not mean you are a skilled musician.
5. Joey Jordison
Slipknot’s Joey Jordison is probably the most talented drummer on this list. Unfortunately, his level of talent has been blown way out of proportion by the media. Jordison can play fast and do some pretty amazing things with a double bass pedal, no one will question that. However, is he really one of the best drummers out there today? Is he up there with the likes of Mike Portnoy and Neil Peart? According to a fan vote hosted by Rhythm magazine, the answer is a definite yes. The public stated that Jordison was “the best drummer of the past 25 years.” That is a pretty tough claim to make considering the number of high quality drummers in the world. Though Jordison has influenced a number of great heavy metal drummers out there today, many of the top notch metal drummers are just as good if not better than Jordison, but receive a fraction of the praise.
4. Alex Van Halen
Alex Van Halen’s case is something that we see all the time. Think about it this way: just because Peyton Manning is an elite quarterback, does not mean that Eli is. A major reason Alex is such a popular choice for one of the best drummers of all time is because his brother Eddie is such a phenomenal guitarist. People assume that since Eddie is great, Alex must also be great. This idea makes sense, but is not exactly true. Alex is a very good drummer without a doubt, but he is by no means the best there ever was.
3. Tommy Lee
A lot of people think Tommy Lee of Motley Crue is an awesome drummer. That is probably more due to his innovative stage presence than his actual playing abilities. Lee was one of the first drummers to incorporate the floating drum set into his show. Fans saw this and thought it was amazing, and therefore did not really care about what Lee was actually playing. In reality, Lee plays very simple beats. In fact, the world got to see just how good Tommy Lee is at drums when he tried out for a college marching band and got cut on his reality TV show Tommy Lee Goes To College. A truly great drummer would definitely be able to play in a marching band.
2. Phil Collins
Phil Collins is considered one of the greatest musicians of all time. He has won seven Grammys and is one of just three artists to have sold over one million albums both as a major contributing member of a band and as a solo artist. The other two are Michael Jackson and Paul McCartney to give you an idea of how exclusive that list is. Though Phil Collins is technically a drummer, most people think of him more as a lead singer. Because of this he gets a lot more visibility than most drummers do. That visibility makes people believe he is much better at his instrument than he really is. Among the list of musicians that have said Collins is a poor drummer after playing with him are David Bowie, Jimmy Page, Patti LaBelle, Billy Idol, and Roger Waters.
1. Lars Ulrich
No big surprises here. Without a doubt the most overrated drummer of all time is Metallica’s Lars Ulrich. Lars gained a lot of popularity in the band’s early days due to his speed and use of double bass drums. However, this was something that was already being done at the time at a much more technically advanced level. Metallica just became much more popular than any of the other heavy metal bands from the 1980s. Then the band switched up its sound a bit in the ’90s and it came out that Lars just could not do it. He struggles to play simple beats that every drummer should be able to play in their sleep. He messes up and gets off time during live performances. Somehow people still think he is a good drummer. This is a ridiculous claim. Even if he himself was the only person in the world to think he was a good or even decent drummer, he would still be completely overrated.