The best drum performances take on the spirit of the song.
“Fame” does not describe mastering the celebrity life so much as take stock of the spotlight’s toll. As we listen, we don’t picture David Bowie basking before the crowd so much as walking out the stage door into a headache-inducing glare of flashbulbs and seeking shelter in the dark, quiet of his limousine and the illicit offerings kept there. We may see him parade down red carpets, but we can feel the heaviness in each step.
Dennis Davis’s drum groove conjures the song’s inebriated intersection of moxie and anxiety. The hugeness of the kick and snare groove brings across the swagger, especially the sixteenth-note snare fills (for instance, at 2:53), which create rock-star sized downbeats where the vocal can make grand re-entrances. But then notice the small size of the crashes that follow, which sound more like dings. It's as if the rock star trips on the stage curtains. The bite of the snare drum (along with the distorted guitar riff) suggests the anger brewing beneath the surface. And the occasional tickling of the hi-hat suggests nervous fingers searching for the last cigarette in the pack.
Every move Dennis Davis makes on the drums is perfectly aligned with the story told by the song. No wonder he was sought out by artists such as David Bowie and Stevie Wonder. He knows how to tell a story on the drums.
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