It’s been a while since I posted anything controversial so I’m way overdue. Today I want to instigate some dialogue either here or over on my Facebook page. My topic? How John Bonham’s drum solo “Moby Dick” is a way over-the-top self-indulgent interlude that is twice as long as it needs to be. I’ve posted here before about my lack of enthusiasm for drum solos and this one is at the top of my list. The recorded version on Led Zeppelin’s second album is palatable but the live versions border on the ridiculous. Fifteen to twenty minutes for a solo on any instrument is excruciating to sit through.
According to the song’s history: Live versions of “Moby Dick” are included on the live album How the West Was Won (lasting 19:20, performed at Long Beach Arena in 1972) and on Led Zeppelin’s 1976 concert film, The Song Remains the Same as part of Bonham’s fantasy sequence. It was also included on the film’s accompanying soundtrack. Both of them were cut to a shorter version. The Led Zeppelin DVD also has a 15-minute-long version that was performed and recorded at the Royal Albert Hall in 1970.
I have no idea how an audience can sit through that and retain their enthusiasm. I’d be bored to death after five minutes. Is this entertainment or overkill? I say the latter. Bonham could have showcased his skills more efficiently in a quarter or the time. Wail on the snare for a few bars. Play with your hands for a few bars. Hit the timpani for a few bars. Do that cross arm sequence on the toms for a few bars. Boom! You’re done. Five minutes tops including the intro and outro.
Bonham was not the only one. Other drummers like Ginger Baker played long solos. Both of them took their cues from the big band drummers from back in the day but even their solos never lasted that long. One reason may be so their bandmates could go backstage and take an extended break. That makes sense but doesn’t make me like extended solos any more than I do.
No doubt John Bonham is rightfully considered one of the greatest drummers of all-time but his real contributions come in the form of his accompaniment to great songs as a part of an exceptional band, not as an overwhelming soloist. Many drummers take their cue from Bonham’s style but I don’t know of any whose drum solo’s clock in at a third of an hour. Fans today are impatient and don’t want that. I don’t blame them. “Moby Dick” is from a different era. And if you can sit through the live versions from beginning to end you’re a real fan for sure.