If you’re a Led Zeppelin fan, you undoubtedly have a list of favorite John Bonham drum parts. Given how many standout songs Bonham had over the years, we’d bet that list is a long one. After all, Bonzo didn’t waste any time putting his signature on Zeppelin records.
On “Good Times Bad Times,” the band’s debut U.S. single (and opening track of Led Zeppelin), Bonham’s savage opening fill and expert bass-drum work announced the arrival of a heavyweight drummer on the scene. But that was only the beginning. “Communication Breakdown” came on Side Two.
In the following years, he produced extraordinary work on tracks like “Out on the Tiles,” “Rock and Roll,” and “In My Time of Dying.” And when he passed away, Bonham’s bandmates quickly realized that the band had departed with him.
Looking back, Zep lead singer Robert Plant has told some terrific stories about his old friend and bandmate. (Plant said they met after he noticed a teenage Bonham “scowling” at him from the audience.) And Plant also noted his favorite Bonzo drum parts from their Zeppelin days.
Plant thought Bonham made songs like ‘Kashmir’ work
Speaking with Tony Bacon in 1988, Plant described what it had been like listening to Zeppelin in the years since Bonham’s death. He couldn’t overstate how important he was to the band.
“I can often listen to some Zeppelin stuff and go, well, I thought I would be bored with this by now,” he said. “‘Kashmir,’ say, or ‘The Song Remains The Same.’ It’s the drummer that makes it.” Plant pointed to Bonzo’s choices at the kit.
“Bonzo didn’t start flailing around like a demented octopus, like everybody else was doing at the time,” Plant said. “It’s what he didn’t play that made him the drummer that everybody now talks about, rather than what he did.”
Plant also noted the interplay of Bonham and Jimmy Page. “I think he and Page were real close on the riffs and what he didn’t play.” Yet Plant didn’t point to the drummer’s most famous drum parts when he picked his favorite.
Plant ranked ‘The Crunge’ as his all-time favorite Bonzo part
When asked by Bacon to put a Bonham part at the top of the list, Plant went with “The Crunge” from Houses of the Holy (1973). He described the track as “like a 5/4 James Brown funk thing” before getting into what he loved about his drumming.
“It’s so neat — what Bonzo’s doing is great, and the bass drum,” Plant said. “His work was so overly adequate, so extreme, and yet so understated. There were so many different elements of what he was doing. So a fill would only be there if it was necessary, but when it came, well…”
Plant didn’t need to finish that sentence because Zep fans can fill in the blanks for him. From his first recorded fill on “Good Times Bad Times,” you knew you were in for something special (sometimes violently so) when Bonham let loose.
But on “The Crunge” you don’t get any of the pyrotechnics or flash. As Plant said, it’s as neat as can be. Bonham just keeps that tricky rhythm swinging with a very tight use of his kit. Indeed, if you want to tune the rest of the song out, that’s fine. Bonham can carry the load on his own.