Keith Moon standing on drum kit
The Madness of Keith Moon

His timekeeping was sloppy, but his feel was amazing.

Keith Moon was the most overwhelming rock and roll drummer of all time. Does this make him the best? That’s an individual decision. Musically (and personally), he was a bit of a mess. His timekeeping was sloppy, but his feel was amazing. For much of his career, his style was light on rhythm and heavy on fills. It was both exhilarating and exhausting. It’s often noted that Moon was the lead instrumentalist for The Who, with guitarist Pete Townshend providing the rhythm and bassist John Entwistle keeping the time. Townshend himself has said as much.

I’m not very knowledgeable about the intricacies of drum performance, nor am I sophisticated enough to parse the musical technicalities of his style, but I know enough to recognize one of his most distinctive musical choices – eschewing the hi-hat almost entirely. The hi-hat, the metronomic tsh-tsh that is prevalent in almost every drum track, was inessential to Moon’s sound. In fact, he described it as limiting, claiming its presence in a drum kit would force him to play a certain way. Instead, he chucked it entirely. He would occasionally chuck other parts of his drum kit, most famously towards the end of their performance of “A Quick One (While He’s Away)” for the unaired television special The Rolling Stones Rock and Roll Circus, where he simply tosses one of his floor toms backward over his head. He would also simply blow up his drum kit at the end of some performances, literally stuffing the kit with explosives and detonating them at the end of a set.

The lack of a hi-hat allowed Moon to explore the rest of the sounds and rhythms available on a drum kit. Instead of a standard groove with quarter-note snares and eighth or sixteenth-note hi-hat, why not add a tom roll or five and a cymbal crash for an accent? Instead of dedicating his left foot to opening and closing the hi-hat, why not add a second bass drum barrelling towards the audience? The right hand that would be needed to keep the hi-hat groove going could be used to play almost anything else. And Moon spent his career playing everything else. It’s one of the many reasons his style is inimitable, and he is in a class of his own.

Photo: Jean-Luc Ourlin, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Adam is just a dude based in Brooklyn who enjoys thinking about music in all forms. He enjoys cooking, board games, baseball, and arranging songs for ukulele that shouldn't be played on ukulele in an extremely amateurish way. Adam is shown here at age 13 on his way to a bar mitzvah.

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