“Drum machines might be reliable and all that, but they can’t drink as much as me,” Motorhead drummer Phil Taylor (so-called) once said.
In fact, Taylor, who died in 2015 of liver failure, was a machine when he was behind a kit – a relentless rhythmic force on Motorhead’s proto-thrashers like “Ace of Spades” and “Overkill.”
You get the drift, though. Rock music has a complicated relationship with technology. Of that jerk in the crowd who shouted “Judas!” to Bob Dylan when Dylan “got electric” in 1966, to the great philosopher Vince Neil who surmised in 1992 to the rest of Motley Crue, “These keyboards you put on the new album make us sound like (an expletive synonymous with ” wimps” ).”
For rockers, drum machines are the trickiest. Probably because electronic beats are seen as a building block of radio pop, rap and R&B, supposed antitheses of “real music” like rock, made with “real instruments”, like guitars, basses and real drum kits.
Fortunately, some now-classic artists didn’t think that way. They used drum machines to help give the 10 songs below their distinctive atmosphere and sounds.
Note: Some of these tracks feature human drummers in addition to electronic beats. And for this particular list, I focused on bands with traditional instrumentation, and I excluded bands, like Nine Inch Nails, whose entire sound is built around machines.
“With or Without You” U2 1987
Co-producer Daniel Lanois recounted Fender.com U2’s first US number one, “wasn’t a band/room performance, it was a control room concoction”.
Factoid: After initial sessions built on electric beats, The Edge’s hypnotic guitar, Adam Clayton’s steady bass, and Bono’s dramatic vocals, real drums by Larry Mullen, Jr. were later added for added power and dynamics.
“Faceless Eyes” Billy Idol 1983
An electronic LinnDrum creates a haunting vibe on this ballad from the former frontman of punk band Generation X.
Factoid: Producer Keith Forsey was a protege of Giorgio Moroder, known for composing synthetic film scores and soundtrack hits, like “Take My Breathe Away” from “Top Gun.”
“Don’t Come Here Anymore” Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers 1985
A somewhat controversial cut from a legendary – and normally very classic – singer-songwriter.
Factoid: Fleetwood Mac vocalist Stevie Nicks forwarded the recording of this song, co-written by Eurythmics’ Dave Stewart, which took the hook from a lovers’ feud Stewart overheard between the guitar hero Joe Walsh … and Nicks.
“Glass Heart” Blondie 1978
A Roland CR-78 sets the heartbeat of the favorite new wave dance smash.
Factoid: Blonde keyboardist Jimmy Destri brought his Roland to the recording sessions updating a leftover track from the band called “The Disco Song”, for a late addition to their “Parallel Lines” album.
“Within Your Reach” The Substitutes 1983
Drunk midwestern wanderers and a Dr. Rhythm machine were an unlikely but inspired couple.
Factoid: According to the incredible biography of Bob Mehr “Trouble Boys: The True Story of Substitutes,” “Mats drummer Chris Mars tried to add live drums to the track, but it didn’t work.
“Summer Boys” Don Henley
LinnDrum strikes again, and the beat seems to freeze time on this nostalgic MTV hit.
Factoid: Co-written/co-produced by Mike Campbell, guitarist with Tom Petty, who moved on to cut the song himselfF. Henley’s iconic lyrics “Deadhead sticker on a Cadillac” were taken from a real-life experience Henley had while driving down a California freeway.
“Turbo Lover” Judas Priest 1986
“I’m not one of those drummers who say ‘Ah machines! Take them,’ said Priest drummer Dave Holland modern drummer in ’86. “It’s hard to believe that people still feel threatened by them. When used correctly, they can maximize your sound, without taking your work away!”
Factoid: The band and Holland broke up three years later.
“In the Air Tonight” Phil Collins 1981
The Genesis drummer’s solo hit is known for Collins’ booming tom-tom roll at around 3:40, but a brooding Roland CR-78 pattern leads the way.
Factoid: the electronic rhythms of the main recording come from demos made by Collins killing time after returning from tour to find his marriage over and his family gone.
“Photographing” Def Leppard 1983
A Fairlight sampler almost joined the band, on the British rockers’ massive LP.
Factoid: “There’s no real drums,” sound engineer Mike Shipley said of “The Pyromania” album, in a TapeOp interview. “The cymbals are played (by Rick Allen of Def Lep), but the kick drum, snare drum and toms are all machines.”
“Well Dressed Man” ZZ Top 1983
“I was in Frank’s living room, when Frank (Beard, drummer of ZZ Top) discovered that he had been replaced on the ‘Eliminator’ album by a drum machine”, said Linden Hudson, collaborator and engineer pre-production on the LP, written on Reddit. “A fight nearly ensued, Frank was beyond angry, fists clenched, ‘Who’s that (expletive) drummer?’ he shouted It was an unpleasant scene, even Frank thought he was a real human drummer.
Factoid: Galyn Görg, an actress in the song’s famous music video, later appeared in “Twin Peaks” and RoboCop 2.″
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