John Bonham’s 10 Most Epic Percussion Punishing Moments

Celebrate Led Zeppelin’s drum god one divine beat at a time.

On September 24, 1980, Led Zeppelin drummer John Henry Bonham—aka “Bonzo,” aka “The Beast”—downed forty (40!) shots of vodka at the home of guitarist Jimmy Page, practiced for a few hours with his bandmates, and then, understandably, passed out.

Come the morning of September 25, 1980, Bonham was dead, having choked on his own vomit at age 32.

Bonzo, heavy metal’s most monstrously mighty Destroyer God of Percussion, was a legend in life and he’s loomed only larger over music and humanity alike throughout the 35 years since we lost him.

Charlie Watts of the Stones, Roger Taylor of Queen, Chad Smith of the Red Hot Chili Peppers, and Dave Grohl of Nirvana and Foo Fighters (along with countless millions of fans worldwide) have each specifically singled out John Bonham as “the greatest rock drummer of all time.”

The following ten songs explosively make the case as to just how right that assessment is. The Beast rules—from the height of the Misty Mountains to the darkest depths of Mordor—now, then, and forever.

  1. “Trampled Under Foot”

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    Album: Physical Graffiti (1975)

    John Bonham may have been nicknamed “The Beast,” but his drumming on “Trampled Under Foot” sounds like an actual beast. It charges, it gallops, it snarls, it roars, and, just like the name promises, it runs roughshod over your consciousness so brilliantly you’ll cherish every boot-print.

  2. “Achilles Last Stand”

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    Album: Presence (1976)

    “Achilles Last Stand” places you in the heat of battle and what’s thumping in your head is actually John Bonham directing the action with each blast, but it’s also your racing heart, frantically speeding up just to keep pace. Your survey the field of skirmish as slings and arrows and incendiary devices cascade down from every direction in the form of Bonzo’s superhuman drum fills. War may be hell, but in terms of painting pictures by means of pure percussion, “Achilles Last Stand” is drum visionary heaven.

  3. “The Ocean”

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    Album: Houses of the Holy (1973)

    The drums conjure a scope as wide and foreboding as the song’s title implies. Jimmy Page’s snazzy riff and sharp licks cut through the waves, and Bonham’s beats slice the surf just one beat back, cracking out commentary on the action. When “The Ocean” swells, its does so in response to Bonzo’s depth-charge commands. When it breaks and crashes and bathes the listener in its vast glories, John’s there again, driving the tide as only he can.

  4. “The Immigrant Song” (1970)

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    Album: Led Zeppelin III (1970)

    Robert Plant invokes the “hammer of the gods” here. Guess who delivers. “Immigrant Song” is pure Viking rage, powered by John Bonham who swings his sticks like an entire muscle-bound brute galley rowing an emperor-sized dragon boat… to victory and Valhalla (not necessarily in that order), of course.

  5. “Fool in the Rain”

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    Album: In Through the Out Door (1979)

    “Fool in the Rain” hinges on John Bonham’s jazzy groove, and it’s punctuated by big booms that propel the bittersweet melody forward. Out of nowhere, then, somebody blows a whistle and a Latin-style percussion party kicks off. Bonzo swings and sways his very own Brazilian carnival for an unforgettable spell before stopping on a dime and returning us to our regularly scheduled saga of the soaked sad-sack of the title.

  6. “Rock and Roll”

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    Album: Led Zeppelin IV (1971)

    “Balls out” is the first term that leaps to mind upon hearing “Rock and Roll,” and John Bonham’s sizzling cymbal work lights the fuse that fires off the entire crotch rocket. Bonzo pounds like thunder here, but his playing is pure lightning. Can you imagine anyone else pulling this off? Of course not, and that’s how and why this Bonzo-driven anthem earns its very title: “Rock” and “Roll.”

  7. “Good Times, Bad Times”

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    Album: Led Zeppelin (1969)

    The very first song on the very first Led Zeppelin album introduces John Bonham by way of what sounds like a double-kick drum beat (as inspired by Vanilla Fudge’s Carmine Appice) that the ludicrously talented and driven dervish managed to pull off with his right foot alone. The rest of Led Zeppelin followed from here.

  8. “D’yer Ma’Ker”

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    Album: Houses of the Holy (1973)

    What prevents “D’yer Ma’Ker” from teetering over into novelty record silliness is Bonham’s rich, clever reggae drumbeat. It doesn’t so much sound like “authentic” Jamaican music as it does like some island deity somehow playing it sideways, upside-down, and backward. In other words: “D’yer Ma’Ker” is both of its genre and inside and out of it at the same time—all of it channeled by (and through) Bonzo.

  9. “Moby Dick”

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    Album: Led Zeppelin II (1969)

    “Moby Dick” consists of the single greatest drum solo of John Bonham’s career and, yes, it also consists of the single greatest drum solo in all of rock-and-roll. On Led Zeppelin II, “Dick” lasts four-minutes, 20-seconds. A single release snipped it to two-minutes. The version Bonzo bangs out in The Song Remains the Same goes on for 12-minutes, 47-seconds. Various other live recordings vary, with some bootlegs boasting “Dick” indulgences that dwarf even the longest official live Zep tracks. Listen to any of them to hear John Bonham chase the great white whale of percussive perfection—and catch it, every time.

  10. “When the Levee Breaks”

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    Album: Led Zeppelin IV (1971)

    John Bonham’s drum blows land like hurricane-force punches of pure thunder. It’s a sound as vast as a sea-born storms devouring all in its path as it rolls inland, and it feels every bit as hugely awe-inspiring and outright terrifying. “When the Levee Breaks” was originally a 1929 blues ditty about refugees of the Great Mississippi Flood dreading the doom that looms just beyond the wall of a dam about to burst. Bonzo’s beats make it loud and clear—and most especially loud—that none of us stand a chance trying to push back against such barbarous and unstoppable forces of nature. All we can do is try to go with the flow—wherever it (and John Bonham) may take us.

Mike McPadden is the author of the book "HEAVY METAL MOVIES: Guitar Barbarians, Mutant Bimbos, and Cult Zombies Amok in the 666 Most Ear- and Eye-Ripping Big Scream Films Ever!" (Bazillion Points, 2014).