Drumming Great Hal Blaine: 5 Classic Performances
“Hal Blaine was such a great musician and friend that I can’t put it into words,” Brian Wilson wrote on Twitter Monday after news of the legendary session drummer’s death began to circulate. “Hal taught me a lot, and he had so much to do with our success — he was the greatest drummer ever.”
Blaine’s résumé backs up Wilson’s statement: tens of thousands of recording dates, ranging from Simon & Garfunkel to Sam Cooke, and hundreds of hits, often recorded as part of L.A. studio all-star team the Wrecking Crew. Here are five examples of Blaine’s brilliance from his Sixties and Seventies heyday.
The 5th Dimension, “Aquarius/Let the Sunshine In” (1969)
The pop-R&B vocal quintet had a massive hit with this medley of Hair songs, but there’s nothing hippie about Blaine’s blasts of firepower, especially during the “Let the Sunshine In” rave-up.
Simon & Garfunkel, “A Hazy Shade of Winter” (1966)
Blaine worked regularly with this duo, each time bringing new accents to the table: chunka-chunka beats to “Mrs. Robinson,” cymbal splashes and cannon shots to “Bridge Over Troubled Water.” But his crispy beats on this single (later on the Bookends album) showed how he could punch up their sound.
The Ronettes, “Be My Baby (1963)
Everyone knows Blaine’s iconic kick-off to one of Phil Spector’s most volcanic productions, but keep listening: Blaine’s gamut of beats and fills matches the roiling passion and emotional pleas in Ronnie Spector’s voice.
The Beach Boys, “Good Vibrations” (1966)
It took a talented percussionist to keep up with the tempo and instrumental shifts during Brian Wilson’s most creative period, and Blaine’s work on Wilson’s psychedelic-pop symphony, from a bustling backbeat to gentle taps, matches Wilson’s sophistication bar by bar.
America, “Ventura Highway (1972)
Blaine’s impact wasn’t restricted to the Sixties. In the following decade, he also made his mark on plenty of Top 40 mainstays, including Captain and Tennille’s “Love Will Keep Us Together” and Carpenters hits like “Top of the World.” But his kicky work on this America stunner showed how Blaine could ramp up even the most easy-listening pop.
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