Almanac Music: My Favourite Rock Drummers – Clement Burke of Blondie

 

My Favourite Rock Drummers – Clement Burke of Blondie

 

 

Clem Burke, 2009. (Wikipedia.)

 

Blondie is one of my all-time favourite bands, so I suppose it will come as no surprise that I rate their drummer, Clement Burke, very highly.

 

With his distinctive Beatles hair cut (circa the Rubber Soul-era), cherubic face, and cool, retro look, he provided an interesting contrast to other members of New York’s post-punk ensemble, in the band’s late 70s/early 80s heyday. However, it was not his image that was most important, of course, but his musicianship.

 

How would Burke’s drumming best be characterised? Driving and energetic would be key words. I really like the comprehensive way he works a good-sized kit, too, with inventive fills, and exciting business on the cymbals and sharp work on the hi-hat when required. Importantly, he also has the musicianship to play it straight when a particular song calls for it. There’s no point in busy drum work when it gets in the way of the song’s impact, of course; quite often, less is more.

 

Perhaps the best way to examine Burke’s drumming in more detail is to focus on particular Blondie songs. I’ve selected four. (The dates provided below are of the original release of the single.)

 

‘Dreaming’ (1979) Written by Debbie Harry and Chris Stein

 

Burke is at his frenetic best in the fast-paced ‘Dreaming’, showing his impressive range of skills, working the kit fully. He’s so goddamn busy in this song that his playing is almost exhausting to listen to, but it is nevertheless exciting and wonderful. One highlight is the triplets he plays between the words ‘fade away’ and ‘radiate’ about two-thirds through (the 1 minute 49 mark). In the official clip of the song, he actually leaps up from his stool to pound them out, which is theatrical and fun. In general, stylistically, there’s the influence of Keith Moon’s playing detectable in this fine song, and I was interested to read after noting this that The Who drummer is one of Burke’s favourites.

 

‘Heart of Glass’ (1979) Written By Debbie Harry and Chris Stein

 

In the disco-orientated ‘Heart of Glass’, Burke’s drumming is precise and punchy. He lays down a strong, metronomic beat, as well as doing sharp hi-hat and cymbals work. Also, he displays wit and inventiveness in the variety of fills he employs over the fade-out ‘oo-oo ah-ah’ vocals near the end – rhythmic variations upon a theme, as it were. A double tracked bass drum (done at the production stage of recording, of course) helps the strong rhythmic emphasis of the song, too.

 

‘In the Flesh’ (1976) Written by Debbie Harry and Chris Stein

 

Burke shows a quality musician’s restraint in this ballad, laying down a straightforward beat in 12/8 time (which I associate with so many fifties doo-wop songs, like ‘The Great Pretender’, but it’s used quite widely, for example in songs from The Beatles’ ‘Oh Darlin’ to Joe Walsh’s ‘Rocky Mountain Way’). His tasteful playing fits the song concerned like the hand in a glove. Yes, Burke can pretty much do it all. I’ve even heard Blondie perform a version of Johnny Cash’s hit, ‘Ring of Fire’, and it’s fun to hear Burke do some country style ‘freight train rhythm’ (my term) drumming here.

 

‘Union City Blue’  (1979) Written by Debbie Harry and Nigel Harrison

 

There’s characteristically expansive Burke drumming in ‘Union City Blue’; that is, lots of fills and cymbal crashes. These add in a major way to the big sound and sense of excitement of this song about a big city, New York. Incidentally, the official clip of ‘Union City Blue’, set in a dry-dock part of New Jersey, is highly effective too, and worth watching as a fine example of music film making.

 

So, briefly, there you have Clement Burke, a fine musician whose drumming plays an integral role in the music of one of my all-time favourite bands.

 

MAIN REFERENCES

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dreaming_(Blondie_song)

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Heart_of_Glass_(song)

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/In_the_Flesh_(Blondie_song

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Keith_Moon

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Union_City_Blue

 

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About

Kevin Densley is a poet and writer-in-general. His fourth book-length poetry collection, Sacredly Profane, was published in late 2020 by Ginninderra Press. He is also the co-author of ten play collections for young people, as well as a multi Green Room Award nominated play, Last Chance Gas, which was published by Currency Press. Other writing includes screenplays for educational films.

Comments

  1. Liam Hauser says

    My favourite 3 drummers would be Bev Bevan, Keith Moon and Rob Hirst.
    Bevan appeared in a recent post, which can be found here: https://www.footyalmanac.com.au/almanac-trivia-two-birthdays-and-an-anniversary/
    As Ian mentioned, Fields of People (by The Move) was one example of Bevan’s great skills. And as I mentioned in a follow-up comment, his drumming in ELO’s Fire on High, and The Move’s Open up said the world at the door (especially the part from 3.25 to 4.25), were really something!
    Moon’s drumming with The Who was really something special too. One such example was in the opening track Overture from their album Tommy.
    As for Hirst, one of his finest pieces of drumming work with Midnight Oil was in the song Feeding Frenzy.

  2. Mark 'Swish' Schwerdt says

    And, very briefly, he was Elvis Ramone.

  3. Kevin Densley says

    Hi Liam.

    Yes, I really like the drumming of Moon and Hirst – both powerful, driving forces in their respective bands.

    I’ll certainly give Bevan a closer listen, too. Thanks for pointing me in his direction.

  4. Kevin Densley says

    And yes, Swish, he was briefly Elvis Ramone.

    Actually, when one looks at Burke’s detailed drumming CV, it’s really impressive. He played in a highly interesting range of bands, typically when Blondie wasn’t active.

  5. I recall seeing a bit on a doco about making the ‘Parallel Lines’ album where the ex-pat Aussie producer wanted Burke to play along to a click-track. Didn’t go down well!

  6. Kevin Densley says

    Hi Greg. I’ll have to check out that doco – it sounds interesting.

    I can imagine why Burke didn’t want to play along to the click-track – if you’re intending to play a couple of bars of elaborate fills and cymbal crashing, for example, the sound of a f#cking click-track in your ear may not be very helpful at all. In the past, when I was heavily involved in music, I’ve played instruments with either a metronome or a click-track going and they certainly aren’t useful in all circumstances.

  7. Kevin Densley says

    Another thing, Greg, one of Clem Burke’s favourite-ever drummers, Ringo Starr, never used a click track when the Beatles recorded, and he was great at keeping precise tempo; in fact, one could say he WAS the Beatles metronome, both in terms of recording and live performances.

    Interestingly, also, Ringo played drums on a track on Burke’s very recent (2020) album with his band The Empty Hearts, called The Second Album. (I haven’t manged to listen to this one yet.)

  8. I am a huge Beatles fan but have never really given Ringo the credit he deserves. He is always just ‘there’ keeping the song going no matter the time signature, nothing outlandish or over the top (but I also love Keith Moon as a drummer) just serving the song and leaving the extravagance to the other three and the producers. I guess when you are struggling to hear yourselves when playing live you need the drummer to be right on the ball.

    He was the band’s metronome in that he was always there, even if he was just sitting in the background with a cup of tea. When Ringo starts eyeing the exit the writing is on the wall for the rest of the band.

  9. Kevin Densley says

    Thanks for the additional comments, Greg – interesting stuff.

    It’s also interesting how much many renowned drummers are big fans of Ringo’s drumming: Dave Grohl, Stewart Copeland, Clem Burke, to name just a few of them. And Ringo does really play some fine inventive stuff in certain Beatles songs, too, like “In My Life”, “Ticket to Ride”, “Rain” ( a stunning track in all sorts of ways), “Long, Long, Long” and “Come Together”. Ringo was known very much as a drummer who served the song he was playing, as opposed to his own ego.

  10. Stewart Copeland is another one of my favourite pop/rock drummers. Grohl is just so prolific and enthusiastic, it saddens me that this still attracts haters.

    Thanks for giving me cause to check out some old Blondie clips! Listening to ‘Heart of Glass’ you can hear the drums, bass, vocals, synth/drum machine all fall into place in the final product after a difficult gestational period.

  11. Honey Lantree. One of the all time great drum songs. That girl could pound the skins.

  12. Kevin Densley says

    I think Blondie would be in my all-time top half-dozen favourite bands, Greg – and it was great fun for me to check out those old clips again, too. Good that you also mentioned the drum/drum machine combo in “Heart of Glass” – the song really is a masterpiece in various ways, I reckon.

  13. Kevin Densley says

    Hi Peter.

    Honey Lantree! Really like her, and like “Have I the Right” a lot too. It’s a song I’ve always enjoyed a lot, and hadn’t heard it for ages.

    Lantree’s name brings up for me one of my favourite female drummers, Karen Carpenter – I have visions of her at the kit in long, flowing dresses and platform sandals and nevertheless playing superbly.

  14. Well played, KD.
    As a drummer in my younger days, I have long admired Clem Burke.
    He is an absolutely sensational drummer.

  15. Thanks KD, Blondie are a great band and Clem Burke is a huge part of their success. I think it was Joe Strummer who said, you’re only as good as your drummer. Topper Headon, Clem Burke, Tommy Ramone were a cut above. However, the drummer I most admire from that era is The Mighty Max Weinberg, Springsteen’s drummer. Check out the No Nukes show from 1979 and say no more. Oh and Ringo was a huge influence on him as well.

    Cheers

  16. Kevin Densley says

    Thanks for your comments, Smokie. Glad to have another Clem Burke fan on board – and I’m coming to the conclusion that there are many.

    Good to hear about your youthful drumming, too – I can just image a Footy Almanac band … Dawson (drums), Densley (bass guitar), O’Donnell (rhythm guitar – do you play, Dips?), Harms (lead vocal – do you sing, JTH?) … all players and singers would be welcome, of course! It might end up being a rock orchestra!

  17. Kevin Densley says

    Cheers, Rick. Thanks for your input here – wise words, I reckon, as always.

    I do like the fact that you’ve added Max Weinberg to the discussion, too.

  18. I find it hard going past ‘Slim Jim Phantom’, of Stray Cats fame. ‘Slim Jim’ was born James McDonnell, and like the rest of the band was very young when the Stray Cats first got public attention.

    I saw the band on all three of their brief tours down under. Their 1981 concert @ Dallas Brookes Hall remains the best concert I’ve attended. For a three piece band their fullness of sound was wonderful. Brian Setzer has a well deserved reputation as a very good guitarist, Lee ‘Rocker’ on the bass plays a key role, then driving the rhythms ‘Slim Jim’ utilising the bare minimums; a Bass drum, a Snare drum, a Hi-Hat & crash cymbal. Their version of Ubangi Stomp is a good example of his drumming.

    Rock On ‘Slim Jim’.

    Glen!

  19. Kevin Densley says

    Thanks, Glen! Interesting material and choice of “Slim Jim Phantom” – I do like his rockabilly drumming style which makes fine use of a small kit. I think I first heard of Stray Cats via the single “Runaway Boys”, circa 1981.

  20. Daryl Schramm says

    Not at the music level of your good self and commentators Kevin, but I really enjoyed the trip back with Debbie Harry. Just spent 30 mins re reading and watching the links. Can appreciate the skills of Clem Burke now, considering his name, and some others, would not at all have registered with me at all.

  21. Kevin Densley says

    Thanks for your input, Daryl – I always enjoy receiving and reading your responses to what I post.

    In the end, music is most importantly about what we like, I feel – and what it means to us on personal level.

    Glad you enjoyed the trip back with Debbie Harry, Blondie, and Clem Burke.

    Cheers!

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