Top 10 Greatest Breaks in Rock Music 🥁

Just as the Blues influenced Rock, so would Rock and Roll go on to influence other modern musical forms including Hip Hop and DJ culture more broadly. This influence was not just “in sprit” but in some cases more directly through use of samples and audio splices from the Rock songs themselves to form their own creations.

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Whether it was Run DMC and their DJ, Jam Master Jay’s use of Aerosmith’s “Rock This Way“‘s intro drum break or Billy Squire’s “Big Beat” used by Dizzey Rascal’s “Fix Up Look Sharp” and Jay-Z “99 Problems”, hip hop has used rock samples as the foundation for their own tracks since its infancy. Hip Hop DJs and producers utilized these sound bites of rock songs and manipulated and looped them by either taking two records, a tape loop or later a sampler and repeating these “breaks”. The samples usually appearing at the beginning of the song or in the breakdown, hence “break” with a penchant for hard drums (hence “drum break”). As Chuck Berry once stated rather prophetically in his song “Rock And Roll Music”, if “its got a backbeat you can use it” and DJs and producers did and still do.

Of course, The Cottage Country Mix is very much influenced by this tradition and we are always keeping the classic Rock Breaks in mind with songs and samples that have been used and re-used that have reached legendary status.

So let’s review The Top 10 Greatest Breaks in Rock Music of all time!

10. Babe Ruth – “The Mexican”

Batter Up! The first drum break to swing in our Top 10 Greatest Breaks in Rock Music is Babe Ruth’s “The Mexican”

Its no coincidence that when we hear “break” we think about breakdancing and this is best exemplified in Babe Ruth’s “The Mexican“. A legendary rock break and a huge anthem in the b-boy inner circle during the 70s and 80s, because of its funky uptempo drums, on-point bass, guitar gymnastics and the defiant voice of Babe Ruth singer, Jenny “Janita” Haan. The song drew inspiration from Morricone, Spaghetti Westerns and more broadly, America history and folklore, however Babe Ruth is a UK band. Recorded at Abbey Road and featured on their first album, “First Base“, this break would be interpolated into “Planet Rock” and later be sampled numerous times, from Organized Confusion’s “Prisoner Of War” to Jungle Brothers’ “On The Run” and is the perfect “first base” in our Top 10 Greatest Breaks in Rock Music list.

Babe Ruth’s “The Mexican” is featured on Cottage Country Mix Vol. 2:

9. Grand Funk Railroad – “Nothing Is The Same”

A real “black sheep” of the bunch, this one. Featuring heavy drums and a fuzzy bass that sounds like the amp might just fall over under its own weight, plus some funky rock guitar work on top, Grand Funk Railroad’s “Nothing Is The Same”. It is not unusual for three piece bands to be sampled over and over again because they provide such excellent building blocks for other tracks. Just something about the way the bass walks and those drums talk. (What a break!) Featured on the American Band‘s third album, Closer To Home (1970). The drums were most famously sampled by Black Sheep but it has since been sampled by numerous others including DJ Shadow and The Roots. Caution: this one you can break your neck head bobbing to, please use discretion.

Grand Funk Railroad’s “Nothing Is The Same” is featured on Cottage Country Mix Vol. 11:

8. James Gang – “Funk #49

James Gang rides out in the woods again with a funky break in Funk #49

Joe Walsh, Jim Fox, and Dale Peters of James Gang dropped “Funk #49” as their first single on the their second album. The song, however, only charted to #59 (10 short from the title) on Billboard. This may be in part to having no chorus and its arbitrary name. What wasn’t arbitrary is how hard this riff slaps, especially when the “gang” joins in. Because of this the song received a second life on film and radio airplay, where it is still a staple today. Keep in mind that’s only counting the initial first break in the intro, don’t forget the middle, where there’s a latin flavoured percussion breakdown with the band howling up the storm like George of the Jungle. James Gang, Kings Of The Jungle!

James Gang’s “Funk#49” is featured on Cottage Country Vol. 1:

7. Can – “Vitamin C

Another breakdance anthem, that indeed many breakers have lost some vitamin C to while dancing, Can’s “Vitamin C“. Preferred by B-boys/girls/persons of distinguished taste for its solid swinging mid-tempo drums, intriguing instrumental and the dynamic vocals of Damo Suziki, which moves from the hardly discernible to the loud and accusatory: “Hey You!” All the time the repetitive groove is held together to hypnotic effect.

Lose some “Vitamin C” with Can on Cottage Country Mix Vol. 10 :

6. Thin Lizzy – “Johnny The Fox

Thin Lizzy brought the street to rock and rock to the streets with 1976’s “Johnny The Fox”

Following their biggest album, Jailbreak (that literally broke them into the international spotlight), Thin Lizzy followed up with 1976’s Johnny The Fox album. Now, the title track is one of the greatest, most revered rock breaks of all time. Again, popular with B-boys and DJ’s alike, because of those funky intro drums with that drum roll but also because of the prolific lyrics by Phil Lynott, who took rock and made it funkier and blacker and badder than anyone and mixed it up with something so skunky. No that’s not “Jimmy The Weed” you are smelling, that’s “Johnny The Fox”. Again, its not only the music of “Johnny The Fox” (a kind of post-“Shaft” slowed down, hard rock song) but its the lyrics as well that are so prolific, that in many ways would go on to define “urban” experience and culture. Phil Lynott was one of the greatest story tellers of all time: street violence, bikers, gangs, shady deals, money but also love, music and people on the street just rapping. Phil Collins (from Genesis) is credited with percussion on the album, could that be Phil playing the cowbell?

Thin Lizzy’s “Johnny The Fox” is hanging out on 1st St. & Main on Cottage Country Vol. 1

5. Jimi Hendrix – “Little Miss Lover”

Do you remember this scenario? The one where Wesley Snipes’ character in White Man Can’t Jump can’t believe Jimi Hendrix’s back up band (The Experience) was white? Yes, Mitch Mitchell is on drums and “White Man Can Swing”. Was this what James Brown meant when he said, “Long haired hippies, afro-blacks all get together cross the tracks”. Well, the intro beat to “Little Miss Lover” by Mitch Mitchell has crossed over to countless tracks, including A Tribe Called Quest’s “Scenario“. Off the Axis: Bold As Love from 1967, the drums swing so hard with those clanging cymbals that accent on the two. It’s still being sampled all the time, more recently by Frank Ocean and Joey Bada$$.

Are you experienced with “Little Miss Lover”?
Its featured on Cottage Country Mix Vol. 11

4. Mountain – “Long Red (Live)

“Y’out there? Louder! Well, clap your hands to what he’s doing!”

This live performance by Mountain from the original Woodstock Festival is often overlooked in a festival full of memorable performances. However, it is one of the most influential sound bites in music and is one of the most sampled. Again, it is one of those breaks that has seemingly taken on a life of its own in the sampling world and as such people often forget it was even from Woodstock. This may be due to its exclusion from the Woodstock album and the documentary film. Instead this version of “Long Red (live)” came out on Mountain’s 1972 Live: The Road Goes Ever On (a compilation of live performances). Those first 25 seconds of the drums, paired with the vocal exchange between guitarist/vocalist Leslie West and the crowd, would echo around the world and in music for the sheer amount of times this was sampled. The crowd yelling back “louder!” One wonders was it because Leslie was enticing them (pre-hypeman days) or was it because the crowd wanted the sound louder. Historically, the sound at Woodstock wasn’t the best and was in no way matched to the size of the crowd that descended on Woodstock that weekend. “Louder!” may have been a legit request from the crowd. Regardless, it has been sampled numerous times, with listing it in over 775 songs, so you know it is probably been sampled double of that (at least), if not more and has been used by everyone from Eric B And Rakim To Drake; N.W.A. to, more recently, A$AP Rocky, because the drums are “on tempo, Jack!”

3. Billy Squire – “Big Beat

Open up! Billy Squire has a case of “Big Beats” for you with his name on it.

Another example of a song that didn’t get that much commercial attention upon its release, and it was not until everyone started using it for samples and beats, that everyone began to “get on down” to its greatness, which is “encased” in the heavy backing track of Billy Squire’s “Big Beat“. Story goes that drummer Bobby Chouinard utilized the simple but effective beat and that Billy Squire overdubbed himself banging on an instrument case (the snare’s actually). The result was this simple but oh-so-steady beat that was larger than life. A track that doesn’t just shy away from heavy drums but goes further and makes “the big beat” the subject of the song itself (“I got the big beat, “Life is the big beat“). The song has been used by everyone, beginning with Run DMC’s “Live From the Funhouse“, it would go on to be sampled by everyone including Eminem, Big Daddy Kane, A Tribe Called Quest, the list goes on and on and so does the beat. Furthermore, “Big Beat” definitely drew inspiration from our next drummer.

Cover for Cottage Country Volume 20 Rock Mixtape

Billy Squire’s “Big Beat” appears on
Cottage Country Mix Vol. 20

2. Led Zeppelin – “Levees Gonna Break”

From “Beats” to “Breaks”, it is not without irony that one of the greatest breaks of all time has the word “break” in it, Led Zeppelin’s “Levees Gonna Break“. This iconic drum break has been sampled by everyone from Beastie Boys to Bjork and features the heavy handed drumming of the legendary, John Bonham. The story goes, they were recording in Headley Grange, a country workhouse turned into a studio, when a drum kit they ordered was delivered and placed initially in a large hall, rather than being set up in the studio space. Bonham started playing the kit which reverberated through the halls which immediately caught the attention of Jimmy Page in another room. They immediately decided to record the drums there instead. The drums were then slowed down making them sound even bigger with that slow cymbal cadence. They added a little slap back echo and voila. The drums on this are so stacked they sound super human and are immediately identifiable.

1. Rush – “Tom Sawyer

Seriously, I could live in the first 13 seconds of Rush’s “Tom Sawyer” over and over again. Those first 4 bars are just pure rock break perfection. That Oberheim synth sweep with Neil Peart’s double time high-hats, dominated by a deceivingly simple exchange of kicks and snares (boom-bap-boom-bap). It is arguably one of Rush’s most popular songs and most band-defining song in an impressive catalogue. DJs around the world have used those first four bars over and over to move crowds and minds since its release. We had to include this in our Top 10 Greatest Breaks In Rock Music and in the ‘Cottage Country Mix‘ Series, including many others.

Listen To “Tom Sawyer” On Cottage Country Mix Vol. 5:

Any breaks that should have made the list? Comment below

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