As far back as rock and roll is concerned, we've always had drummer jokes.
Even in the era when the drummer has actually come up to the front, it's hard to shake off the Spinal Tap cliche of the drummer being either the dumb one or the most undependable member of the group. If all you needed to get by was a decent drummer though, rock wouldn't have survived for nearly as long as it has.
From the British Invasion onward, the best acts in the world have benefited from having an expert behind the skins. From manic tom fills to immediately catchy drum parts, these guys had the capacity to tear a drum kit apart if given the right opportunity.
That's not the point of drumming though, and most of these musicians understood the power of building a classic part, whether it's some crazy fill or hanging back in the groove.
Note the mention in the title. This is going to be just in the rock category, and the world of metal is going to have to be reserved for another day (Sorry Danny Carey....and not sorry Lars Ulrich). If we're sticking just to standard rock and roll though, we have got an absolute treasure trove to look through. Whereas the singer might be the voice of the band, these are the guys who provide the beating heart.
10. Larry Mullen Jr. - U2
The idea of drumming for a mainstream rock group seems more and more like a thankless job.
I mean, since someone like Meg White could find her way into the public eye by just pounding away on a few snares and cymbals, it should be a walk in the park, right? The beauty of being a drummer though is just how much you're able to do with just the little bits of percussion in front of you.
While most people come to U2 for the warped sounds of the Edge and Bono's upper register, they wouldn't have been able to reach half the heights they could without Larry Mullen Jr. in the background.
Outside of his incredible sense of timing, there are a lot of unique tom fills sprinkled throughout their back catalog, like the iconic opening of Bullet the Blue Sky and the pattern for Pride, which involved Larry completely reworking his kit to give the song its heavy sound.
Larry also doesn't get nearly the credit for his willingness to experiment with other kinds of rhythmic approaches. You very rarely hear him play the standard 4/4 rhythm, as he puts in more modern patterns into the mix and also finding time to flirt with the world of electronica on later albums like Achtung Baby and Zooropa. He may have been in the game for a while, but Larry definitely is aware of the changing trends going on around him.