Word circulated Monday that the greatest rock and roll drummer who ever lived passed away. Hal Blaine was 90.
That sentence, in some circles, may start an argument. Except that it’s hard to argue just how important Hal Blaine was to rock and roll. There are estimates suggesting that he played on up to thirty five thousand different tracks, while some are saying a more conservative six thousand or so. Either way, there are some numbers that are easier to come by:
-Blaine drummed on 150 songs to make the Billboard Top 40. Of those, 40 made it to #1.
-He was the drummer on the Grammy winner for Record of the Year six times – in a row. (He added another in the 70s).
Whether you knew his work as a part of Phil Spector’s “Wall of Sound,” or from the documentary The Wrecking Crew (which I highly recommend you see if you have not done so yet), or simply as a Beach Boys fan (yeah, he was on those too), you’re more than familiar with his work.
An obituary like this writes itself. The hard part – at least for me, anyway – is picking the song to link to at the end of the piece. Blaine was on so, so many great songs.
I could have gone with “Good Vibrations,” which wouldn’t require a whole lot of explanation. (He did the whole Pet Sounds LP.) I also could have gone with anything from Bridge Over Troubled Water. Engineer Roy Halee stuck the drum kit in an elevator shaft to get that fantastic bombastic echo that punctuates “The Boxer” and the title track. Hell, pick anything from the Monkees catalog, while you’re at it. (The theme from Three’s Company? Yeah, that’s him too.)
But when you think of rock and roll drumming, you have to think of “Be My Baby.” Bruce Springsteen once called it one of the greatest songs in the history of the medium and used to play it in concert – sometimes with Ronnie Spector’s help. Did it influence him? Rock critic Robert Christgau drew the connection that “Born to Run” was, in some ways, Part 2 of it. Whether you choose to go with that interpretation or not, there’s no denying that the first drum beats of the song serve as an announcement to the listener that something great is about to happen. I used to love to be able to play “Be My Baby” out of a big over-produced top-of-the-hour jingle. It was rock and roll, and it was fun – and no matter how foul your mood was, you had to feel good with that level of fun even if only from a two-inch speaker. Hal Blaine made his life’s work about all of us having fun, three minutes at a time.
“It’s like an explosion in your head,” Springsteen once said. You can hear “Be My Baby” by clicking here.