The 20 best drum solos of all time, ranked

Neil Peart

  • Insider ranked the 20 best drum solos of all time. 
  • Billy Cobham's solo during the song "Tenth Pinn" in 1974 showcased his insane control and speed, as well as his pioneering open-handed approach.
  • In the composition "O Baterista," Neil Peart played different time signatures and speeds using all of his limbs, resulting in some of the most complex drumming the world has ever seen. 
  • But the No. 1 spot goes to Buddy Rich, who took other drummers to school with his showmanship in his Concert for the Americas solo. 
  • Visit Insider's homepage for more stories.

The drum solo is that one showstopping moment during a concert that allows the drummer to shake the restrictive chains of timekeeper and showcase their flamboyant and bombastic skills.

It's come a long way since the jazz days when Buddy Rich was king of the hill — drummers' kits are a lot bigger and their skills have advanced to levels that would have seemed inhuman 60 years ago — and the drum solo's appeal has only grown.

Unlike Insider's ranking of the best guitar solos of all time, which were exclusively studio recordings, we decided to only include live drum solos in this list. Whereas guitar solos are often mainstays of a song, studio recordings usually only feature drum fills, which offer only a few seconds of percussive showmanship. The energy and improvisation of the drum solo are often best experienced live. 

Here are the 20 best drum solos of all time, ranked. 

20. Michael Shrieve — "Soul Sacrifice," Santana (1970)

Though his drum solo from Santana's Woodstock performance of "Soul Sacrifice" is highly revered, Michael Shrieve's solo during the band's performance of the song a year later at Tanglewood is even more mindblowing.

What's so fun about this solo is how it starts on the congas, not the drum set. Shrieve lays low and lets the percussion section set the tempo and groove. Then, in an instant, it all comes burning down as Shrieve crashes and starts rolling on the snare. Shrieve's energy and dexterity are admirable during this solo, and he absolutely goes to town rolling between the snare drum and his two toms. 

You can find a video of the solo here.

19. Art Blakey — drum solo (1959)

Art Blakey helped paved the path of the modern drum solo with tracks like "Caravan," but this bebop solo from 1959 at the Théâtre des Champs-Elysées in Paris is a standout from his career. 

Blakey shows us various dynamic flavors, starting at the beginning of the solo by playing with mallets before switching to sticks for a louder sound. Then, the sheer power of his playing shows when he syncs the thud of his bass drum kicks with accented strokes in his rudiments and rolls and the thundering crashes as he transitions out of the solo. 

You can find a video of the solo here. 

18. Sheila E. — "Solo de Bateria" (2011 performance)

Sheila E. is one of the most underrated drummers out there, and those who are familiar with her playing probably only know her from her stint touring with Prince.

In this solo from David Letterman's 2011 drum solo week, Sheila uses a mixture of Latin and metal textures to create a flurry of fills that will make your head spin. She also plays around with dynamics, speeding up when smashing the double bass drum and then slowing down to play a pop-funk beat. 

What stands out most is the crispness of her rolls and how lightning-fast she moves around the kit. Her super tight licks on the double bass are even more impressive when you consider the fact she's playing in high heels. 

You can find a video of the solo here.

17. Danny Carey — "Chocolate Chip Trip," Tool (2019 performance)

It's too bad the song "Pneuma" isn't considered a drum solo, but the polyrhythms and odd time signatures Danny Carey uses to formulate this 2019 solo during a show in Berlin are pretty close to the song's mind-bending fills.  

Perhaps the most impressive section of the solo is at the beginning as he's playing along to the electronic beat he programmed. Carey plays this prog-influenced tribal beat with all sorts of funky accents and rhythmic variations. It's ridiculously technical.

Throughout the solo, you can absolutely see the inspiration taken from one of his biggest influences, Neil Peart, in the way he incorporates the double bass into his fill patterns and accentuates his rolls with crashes. 

You can find a video of the solo here. 

16. Carter Beauford — intro to "Say Goodbye" (2011 performance)

Carter Beauford is such a fun drummer to watch because he's always smiling. During his solos he looks as if there's no place he'd rather be than on stage making the audience smile and dance. 

In this solo from a 2011 performance at the Gorge Amphitheatre in George, Washington, Beauford exhibits a masterful use of accents and dynamic range to create this very musical tribal-style solo. It's got that signature Beauford sound, showing his love for the splash and china cymbals.

Part of what allows Beauford to accomplish this is the orientation of his kit. Because he's left-handed and plays open-handed, he doesn't cross his hand over to play the hi-hats and has his ride cymbal on the left, not the right. This makes it easier to create the syncopated rhythms between the ride and hi-hats, and it also frees up his right hand to hit the toms and percussion like cowbells for some unique sounds. 

You can find a video of the solo here. 

15. Gene Krupa — "Lover/Leave Us Leap," (the 1940s)

In many senses, Gene Krupa was the music world's first rock drummer. In 2015, Neil Peart confirmed this to NPR, saying, "Without Gene Krupa, there wouldn't have been a Keith Moon. He was the first drummer to command the spotlight and the first drummer to be celebrated for his solos, because they were very flamboyant. He did fundamentally easy things, but always made them look spectacular."

In this solo, Krupa plays these loud, booming fills that really showcase none of the dynamic restraint other drummers were using at the time. Then he starts to sprinkle the splash cymbal, producing a bright sound that matches the jarring nature of his preceding fills. 

This playing style is totally contradictory to the early fundamentals of jazz drumming Krupa uses when playing with the band. It was totally revolutionary and forever changed the path of the drum solo. 

You can find a video of the solo here.

14. Tony Williams — drum solo (1992)

During Tony Williams' 1992 performance at a Miles Davis tribute concert in Lugano, Switzerland, he arguably played the best live solo of his career. 

Williams uses repetition and call and response to shape the solo. The coordination between his feet and hands results in some pretty insane patterns that show how easily Williams could switch back and forth between powerful and graceful shredding. 

You can find a video of the solo here. 

13. Bill Bruford — "Long Distance Runaround," Yes (1989 performance)

Neil Peart and Bill Bruford were some of, if not the first drummers to adopt electronic kits. In this 1989 solo during An Evening of Yes Music Plus at the Shoreline Amphitheatre in Mountain View, California, Bruford shows just how versatile the electronic kit can be — in fact, there appear to be no acoustic drums at all in this version of his kit. 

What's interesting in this Bruford solo is the range of global sounds he conjures with the electric kit. With one hand he's hitting pads that trigger traditional tom sounds but with the other, he's producing Middle Eastern drums and auxiliary percussion like woodblocks and bells. This produces a cool mixture of prog, tribal, and orchestral sounds. But underneath it all there's still those punchy drum tones synonymous with the music of the '80s that ground the solo. 

You can find a video of the solo here. 

12. Keith Moon —1974 drum solo

A drum solo is very much an emotional extension of a drummer, a fact that's true of Keith Moon's 1974 solo, which he played while appearing on the TV show "Wide World in Concert: Midnight Special."

Moon was wild, hungry for destruction, and a bit too care-free. This drum solo is no different. 

Through almost the entire solo Moon keeps a four on the floor beat on the bass drum yet the whole thing is a bit erratic. He crashes sporadically and, rather than showy fills, he opts instead for a wild and loud tribal beat. Moon pounds on the snare drum and crash cymbals, producing not the most musical of solos, but certainly the most powerful. 

Solos like this would be watched by many drummers including Neil Peart, who went on to copy Moon's style. The bombastic nature of this solo also reinforces why "The Muppets" character Animal is based on the drummer — though he didn't end up smashing this kit. 

You can find a video of the solo here. 

11. Billy Cobham — "Tenth Pinn" (1974 performance)

As one of the earliest pioneers of fusion drumming, Billy Cobham exquisitely married jazz and rock drumming. In this solo from the 1974 Kongsberg Jazzfestival, he showed off his incredible control and speed, playing single-stroke rolls so ridiculously fast they make you want to quit drumming.

What's maybe more notable here than his powerful rolls is that Cobham was one of the earliest drummers to adopt the open-handed technique. In addition to the radical new playing style he and other fusion players helped create, his moving of the ride to the left side of the kit influenced countless drummers, like Beauford, to follow in his footsteps. 

You can find a video of the solo here. 

10. Ginger Baker — "Toad," Cream (1968 performance)

Baker's "Toad" solo during Cream's 1968 performance at the Royal Albert Hall in the UK is one of those pieces of art that every drummer looks at and tries to replicate. It features crazy fills and fast playing but is extremely musical in its composition.  

This is largely due to the fact that, though Cream was playing primarily blues and rock, Baker's solo is very much rooted in jazz. His playing is melodious, and the way he plays different patterns with each limb showed just how virtuosic Baker was — yet the solo also reminds us of his ability to rock hard. 

You can find a video of the solo here. 

9. Terry Bozzio, "The Black Page #1 and #2," Frank Zappa (circa 2008 performance)

Frank Zappa's composition "The Black Page" — which earned its name for having so many notes on the sheet it looked like a black page — is one of the most complex drum solos to perform. Unless you're Terry Bozzio. 

This is not an improvisational feat rather a demonstration of complete mastery. The way that Frank wrote many of the piece's phrases is untraditional and results in some bizarre rhythms. But Bozzio handles the odd time signatures with ease and nails every single one of Zappa's zany percussive runs. 

To play this in the studio is one thing but to play this live — like this performance from a Zappa Plays Zappa show circa 2008 — is a completely different challenge. And Bozzio doesn't miss a single beat. Frank expected nothing short of perfection from his musicians (he reportedly made drummer Vinnie Colaiuta sight read "The Black Page" during an audition), and Bozzio upheld that challenge long after the composer's death. 

You can find a video of the solo here.

8. Jojo Mayer — 1998 drum solo

From the subtle finesse of his brushes rolling on the snare drum to the beautiful power of his cymbal crashes, Mayer showcases a range of playful skills in this solo from the 1998 Modern Drummer Festival. 

Perhaps that's what makes a Jojo Mayer solo like this so enticing: He's having fun with it. The fills require an extreme level of dexterity and technical proficiency. Mayer looks like a well-oiled drum machine producing beats easily. 

You can find a video of the solo here.

7. Bill Kreutzmann and Mickey Hart — "Drums," Grateful Dead (1989 performance)

"Drums" evolved throughout the years from a quick two or three-minute transition likely into "Not Fade Away" in the '70s to a longer tour of global percussion in the mid-'80s and '90s, like this performance at Alpine Valley Music Theatre near East Troy, Wisconsin, in 1989.

Throughout the roughly eight-minute duet, Kreutzmann and Hart take turns performing the lead and supporting beat by using call and response, all while developing the groove. This is miraculous considering the fact that it's all abstract; they aren't really keeping time, just riffing off one another as if they were in a trance. For all the moving around the stage and trading back and forth, the two never step on each other's toes and manage to prevent their sounds from blending together into one muddied cacophony of noise. 

It's the kind of drumming that can only be produced after years of living and performing with one another. Hart told Relix in 2009, "The language that Bill and I share is not spoken – it's body language, winks and movement. It's telepathic … It's a secret language that we cannot describe."

You can find a video of the solo here.

6. Steve Gadd — 1989 solo

Steve Gadd is one of the most legendary session drummers ever. But he was also a killer live drummer and shredded some pretty impressive solos, including this one from a performance in Switzerland in 1989. 

Throughout the solo, Gadd is constantly toying with the feel of it. Perhaps the biggest takeaway from Gadd's solo is the ease with which he implements linear drumming (when no drum, cymbal, or surface is hit simultaneously) throughout sections of the solo. He also uses the fills he popularized in the 1977 Stelly Dan track "Aja" to give his signature sound. His ability to keep time while churning out such complex fills with precision will make your jaw drop. 

You can find a video of the solo here. 

5. Phil Collins and Chester Thompson — "Drum Duet/Los Endos," Genesis (1987 performance)

Genesis drummers Phil Collins' and Chester Thompson's drum duet is like a percussive tango.

The duo's solo during this 1987 performance at Wembley Stadium stands out because it brilliantly incorporates both tension and release and space. One moment they'll be riffing on a tribal pattern, and the next they'll be quietly hitting the rims and cymbal stands in unison, building the audience's excitement before stopping completely. After a few beats, the next thundering wave of fills rolls out and Collins and Thompson are back at it to the audience's applause. 

Unlike Kreutzmann's and Hart's improvisational approach, before each tour, Collins and Thompson would sit across from one another and practice their parts on a stool until they figured out the various sections of the duet.  

You can find a video of the solo here. 

4. Carl Palmer — "Rondo," Emerson, Lake & Palmer (1970 performance)

Though his 2010 snare drum solo showed off his drum corps chops and creativity, there's no beating Carl Palmer's solo during this 1970 Emerson, Lake & Palmer show in Switzerland. 

This frenetic solo highlights how Palmer anchored himself as a giant in the prog-rock world. He makes it sound like he has double the number of drums. Perhaps the most impressive aspect of the solo is Palmer's dexterity; he just doesn't stop going. Even as he overheats and has to take off his shirt he still keeps soloing. 

You can find a video of the solo here. 

3. Neil Peart — "O Baterista," Rush (2003 performance)

Neil Peart is considered by many to be the greatest drummer of all time and his virtuosic drum solos help prove why, specifically his "O Baterista" solo during the 2003 Rush in Rio concert. Peart effortlessly transitions through numerous movements, such as a 3/4 waltz on the toms, a Latin-influenced solo on his electric kit and auxiliary percussion, and finally an upbeat jazz solo honoring two of his heroes, Gene Krupa and Buddy Rich. 

The solo shows off Peart's endurance and precision. But perhaps the most significant aspect is the independence between his hands and feet. In one section, for example, not only is he playing different time signatures (three with his feet, four with his hands) but he's playing at different tempos. Peart uses this skill to produce a myriad of sounds and textures that, instead of sounding sloppy or overwhelming, fit like pieces of a puzzle to create one cohesive composition.

Some people discredit Peart's solos for being too orchestrated and rehearsed, but there's no doubt that they changed the way drum solos are crafted forever. 

You can find a video of the solo here. 

2. John Bonham — "Moby Dick," Led Zeppelin (1970 performance)

When people think of the rock drum solo, they think of John Bonham's "Moby Dick." The most iconic version is this roughly 12-minute version from a 1970 performance at Royal Albert Hall where Bonham showcases both his breakneck speed and ability to shape a musical solo.

Bonham's mastery shows through the tension and release he uses to build the crowd's excitement throughout the solo. After a booming start, he quiets as he honors jazz great Max Roach with a quick waltz. He later drops the sticks and plays a Latin section with his hands, perhaps a throwback to Papa Jo Jones' groundbreaking style.

In the final minutes of the solo, he goes wild, creating a dizzying array of fills before the band hops back into the melody. 

You can find a video of the solo here. 

1. Buddy Rich — Concert for the Americas solo (1982)

If there's one drummer whose solos have influenced every drummer on this list (be it directly or indirectly), it's Buddy Rich. His solo from the 1982 Concert for the Americas at the Altos de Chavón Amphitheater in the Dominican Republic is arguably his most impressive solo. 

Everything Buddy Rich does in this solo is innovative. Countless rock drummers from Tommy Igoe to Neil Peart and Steve Smith have all learned from the virtuoso's energy and chops. 

The most impressive segment of the solo is without a doubt his hi-hat work. About 1:24 into the video, Rich grabs the hi-hat with his left hand, hangs his thumb on the top cymbal, and uses his remaining four fingers to roll his left stick on the bottom of the hi-hat. All the while he's muting the cymbal with his left hand. It's pure genius and his showmanship remains unrivaled.

You can find a video of the solo here.

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