[Ed. note: This is the sixth in a "U2 Lists" series, where @U2 staffers pick a topic and share their personal rankings on something U2-related.]
Don't come to Larry talking about macho drum rolls or groovy fills. He's not a guy who likes showing off; nope, he's down to earth, and so is his playing. It's a simple formula: the drumming has to fit the song, no more but certainly no less. Sadly, this is also the reason why hardly anyone would name him among the great rock drummers -- he doesn't stand out that much in most of U2's hits.
So that means we'll have to dig deeper than the average Greatest Hits list to appropriately appreciate the richness of Larry's playing. In this list, we'll make a journey along those U2 tracks where the drums play a vital part in defining the song, and see for ourselves that it really is "all about the drums."
10. "Love and Peace or Else"
I'm sure you all know why I chose this particular song. On the album, it doesn't feature any very special drumming sequence, just a nice beat that accompanies the bass groove. But rarely have I anticipated the end of a song like this one during live shows: that moment when Bono would take over the sticks and just start pounding the drum with the zeal we all love from him ... in time, out of time, it didn't matter -- it looked cool and it built the momentum for the next song. For me it was an essential part of the Vertigo shows.
9. "A Day Without Me"
The rhythm in this song isn't all too complicated, but it showcases an infectious enthusiasm that betrays the song's underlying seriousness. When I listen to this song, I just get an image in my head of a young Larry happily hitting things, just the way he likes it.
8. "Bullet the Blue Sky"
The grace notes in the first part of the song give it a special touch and tell you this is a spectacular rock song, even before the bass pumps this song into pace. Adam and Larry complement each other very well and provide the angry base from which Edge can safely go and be on fire. "Bullet" really takes off when played live, and for me, the live highlight is the part where Bono belts out: "One hundred! Two hundred!" and Larry thrashes the drums and gives the words an extra "growl." This effect is especially evident during the footage of Rattle and Hum. When I watch it being played live in U2 shows I always hope U2 will play that part again in the same way, but in the past years there has often been more focus on the howling guitar that follows.
7. "The Refugee"
This was a favorite song of mine from the first time I heard it. The drums have a much more prominent place than they usually get in U2's creations. There is a lot of variety in the drum usage, from the cow bells at the start (and intermittently throughout the song) to the tom toms in between chorus and verse. Although "The Refugee" has a subject that is as serious as most of the other songs on War, it still sounds more hopeful and with a lighter tone, and I think that's partly due to the drumming being less staccato and more echoing, with a "deeper" sound. Anyway, Larry's work here is a pleasure to listen to.
6. "I Threw a Brick Through a Window"
During this song, it really sounds as if someone threw an object so it bounced up and down through the studio making a lot of noise. The combination of this sound effect and the echoes works really well and gives the song a chaotic feeling that fits well with the lyrics: "My direction / Going nowhere / Going nowhere."
The great strength of "Exit" is the way the entire song is structured, building up a wave of emotion but ending as quietly as it started. The rhythm section starts with a simple clicking. Then, gradually, the drums set in and the cymbals provide an angry middle section, before fading into the distance again. Tension is built up, and when the cymbals keep sounding on and on in the last minute toward the ending, one can vividly imagine the despairing protagonist, running, stumbling, his arms flailing around him, trying to find his balance, but ultimately failing. Without the drums at the end, I believe the drama in this song would not have been as poignant.
4. "Like a Song"
Another song in which the drums play a prominent part. There is heavy bass drum action throughout, driving the song forward at an unrelenting pace. And near the end, there are only drums and guitar, so much so that it almost resembles a drum solo. (That was probably before there was a rule about U2 not doing any drum solos.)
Another political song in which the drums play a key role. The constant drum rolls on the snare in the first half of the song have a military style that reminds one of the action in "Sunday Bloody Sunday." Nevertheless, it feels restrained, like an angry fire smoldering inside, waiting for a way out. In this version specifically, there is an outburst eventually, with the drums, bass and guitar creating a wave of rage and frustration.
A perfect example of how you don't necessarily need explosive drum rolls or fills to create a compelling atmosphere. I like the way the song starts, with only bell action next to the guitar; it nicely goes "through" your head when listening with headphones on. Larry then comes in more clearly, first with just a bass drum but gradually filling up more space until the first cry of, "To let it go and so fade away...." Then, the intensity comes and goes in flows until the climax with Bono's emotional outburst of desperation, dislocation, separation.... There is a big role here for the cymbals, which combine well with the tom toms and give this song a great finishing touch.
1. "Sunday Bloody Sunday"
I had originally planned not to put this song in the No. 1 spot, as it would be too predictable. But, considering all the possible songs, I had to admit that "Sunday Bloody Sunday" simply deserves to be at the top. It has arguably the most recognizable beginning of any rock song in modern history, one that immediately demands the listener's attention. Larry's playing clearly carries the song: The military style fits the theme and complements the anger in the guitar perfectly; the sound of the snare is crisp and clear, while the bass drum provides a steady flow as a counterweight. The complexity of the rhythm and the fact that the drums are really the heart of this song make "Sunday Bloody Sunday" the deserved "winner" of this Top Ten.
© @U2/Meijer, 2008.