From the sublime to the ridiculous: What happens when drummers go solo

A baby playing on pots and pans
(Image credit: Aroopho)

Was there ever a drummer less likely to release a solo album than Phil Rudd? While there's no denying the AC/DC man's precision-tooled, metronomic brilliance, the world greeted the arrival of 2014's Head Job (geddit?) with a sizeable amount of apathy, despite Rudd's promise that the album included "plenty of Phil, but no filler."

The indifference was such that Rudd's subsequent disappointment not only fuelled a widely-covered bout of criminal activity, but also an album relaunch little more than two years later. No one paid much attention then, either.  

Rudd wasn't the first skin basher to head out on his own, nor will be be the last. Here, we celebrate some of those brave enough to take the long walk to the front of the stage.


Herman Rarebell

The Scorpions drummer was also their lyricist, and the brains behind such couplets as “shoot my heat into your body/ give you all my size” from Dynamite on 1982’s classic Blackout. Rarebell was the first Scorpion to make a solo album, ‘82’s Nip In The Bud, even if songtitles such as Rock Your Balls hardly suggested Phil Collins-style chart ubiquity. The album was later re-titled Herman Ze German; a name Rarebell used for his own band after quitting the Scorpions - and depriving them of his poetic genius – in 1996.

Peter Criss

Very much the fourth member of Kiss, feline sticksman Peter Criss’s solo album was the biggest turkey sales-wise when the band members decided to release one each on the same day in September 1978. Despite co-writing and singing Kiss’ teary hit ballad Beth, the muse deserted Criss after being hoofed out of the band in 1980. Sadly, his sporadic solo career has limped along – like a three-legged cat – ever since.

Ringo Starr

Undeterred by several lifetimes’ worth of drummer jokes and barbed quips about how Paul McCartney was the best drummer in The Beatles, the voice of Yellow Submarine has notched up 19 solo albums since 1970’s Sentimental Journey. Though whether anybody has listened to any of them since ‘74’s Goodnight Vienna is debatable. Then again, could you imagine The Beatles without him? Of course not.

Roger Taylor

Queen’s resident playboy, Roger Meddows Taylor spent most of the 1970s looking like he’d rather have a glass of Moet and a Playboy centrefold in his hands than a pair of drumsticks. Since 1981’s OK-ish Fun In Space debut, Taylor had stuck his gravelly vocals on some good, not so good, and truly rotten solo albums. Then again, it’s hard to stay angry with the man who gave us Queen’s splendid boy-racer anthem I’m In Love With My Car, and once reportedly shot Brian May in the face with hairspray during a backstage dust-up.

Phil Collins

By the late 1980s, worldwide solo success and a lead role in the romantic drama Buster had seen Genesis’s once modest singing drummer morph into a sort of prog-rock Bob Hoskins. Before the uber-laddish persona got the better of him, Collins made some fine solo albums, the first of which, 1980’s Face Value, charted the emotional fallout of his marriage breaking up, and whose hit single, In The Air Tonight, immediately became the anthem du jour of soon-to-be divorced air drummers everywhere.

Don Henley

Don Henley’s partnership with Glenn Frey in The Eagles was a strange one. While Henley was the band’s drummer, it was guitarist Frey who acted like the drummer with his appetite for beer, drugs, women and late nights. Henley loved all that as well, but also fretted about the environment, politics and growing old. After the voice of Hotel California went solo, he hit creative paydirt with 84’s exquisite Building The Perfect Beast album, and its hit single Boys Of Summer, arguably the best song ever written about watching your youth disappear over the horizon.

Dennis Wilson

As well as being the best-looking Beach Boy, drummer Dennis was the only one of the band that knew how to handle a surfboard. By the time he made his only solo album, ‘77’s magnificent Pacific Ocean Blue, several marriages, a lorry load of booze and cocaine and an ill-advised acquaintanceship with hippie mass murderer Charles Manson, had taken their toll on the angel-faced Dennis. He poured all that angst into songs such as Moonshine and Farewell, My Friend, before diving off Los Angeles’ Marina Del Ray in December 1983, never to be seen alive again.

Keith Moon

Keith Moon played drums like an octopus and helped The Who achieve transcendental lift-off, but a singer-songwriter he wasn’t. His only solo album, 1975’s Two Sides Of The Moon, was recorded in his adopted hometown of LA with the aid of drinking buddies including Ringo Starr, Harry Nilsson and Joe Walsh. Even Moon’s infectious humour can’t salvage rotten versions of the Beach Boys’ Don’t Worry Baby and The Who’s own The Kids Are Alright. In fact, the snapshot of Moon’s bare arse emerging from a limousine window on the inside sleeve says more about the album’s contents than words ever can.

Phil Selway

Radiohead’s percussionist Selway has been sneakily nicking the limelight off frontman Thom Yorke for years. Not content with a cameo role in 2005’s Harry Potter And The Goblet Of Fire, the unassuming Selway made his unassuming solo debut, Familial, in 2010, followed it with Weatherhouse four years later, and has a third, Strange Dance, out this week. In defiance of the usual oafish drummer clichés, Selway worked for years as a volunteer for the Samaritans, and has, as far as we know, never shot a bandmate in the face with hairspray, Roger Taylor style, or bared his arse on an album sleeve like Keith Moon.

Nick Mason

Pink Floyd’s drummer is the band’s only surviving original member; a feat he attributes largely to keeping his head down and rolling with the punches. However, his 1981 solo debut, Nick Mason's Fictitious Sports, took self-effacement to a whole new level: jazz composer Carla Bley wrote all the songs and ex-Soft Machine man Robert Wyatt sung most of them. Mason, it seemed, just played drums. Anything for an easy life, eh? Pleasingly, he launched Nick Mason's Saucerful of Secrets in 2018, revisiting the Floyd of yore and having a big old pile of fun while doing so.

Mark Blake

Mark Blake is a music journalist and author. His work has appeared in The Times and The Daily Telegraph, and the magazines Q, Mojo, Classic Rock, Music Week and Prog. He is the author of Pigs Might Fly: The Inside Story of Pink Floyd, Is This the Real Life: The Untold Story of Queen, Magnifico! The A–Z Of Queen, Peter Grant, The Story Of Rock's Greatest Manager and Pretend You're in a War: The Who & The Sixties. 

With contributions from