Q: What do Mr. Tambourine Man and Mrs. Robinson have in common?
A: The same drummer played on both recordings—a phenom named Hal Blaine.
Check out this PARTIAL list of recordings where Hal was the drummer. Did I mention this is a partial list? The actual number of recorded songs where Hal was the drummer exceeds 4,000. Can we all agree, this is what prolific looks like?
Be True to Your School, The Beach Boys
The Boxer, Simon & Garfunkel
Bridge Over Troubled Waters, Simon & Garfunkel
California Dreamin’, The Mamas & The Papas
Can’t Help Falling In Love, Elvis Presley
Dedicated to the One I Love, The Mamas & The Papas
God Only Knows, The Beach Boys
Good Vibrations, The Beach Boys
Help Me Rhonda, The Beach Boys
Homeward Bound, Simon & Garfunkel
I Got You Babe, Sonny & Cher
MacArthur Park, Jimmy Webb (Richard Harris version)
Monday Monday, The Mamas & The Papas
Never My Love, The Association
Rhythm of the Rain, The Cascades
These Boots Are Made for Walkin’, Nancy Sinatra
Up, Up and Away, Jimmy Webb (The 5th Dimension)
Wichita Lineman, Jimmy Webb (Glen Campbell)
Wouldn’t It Be Nice, The Beach Boys
As I was playing my own drum set the other day, I became aware that my favorite patterns, rhythms and fills are those I learned from listening to songs like these, and thus I tend to and have always tended to play like Hal Blaine—a drummer most non-drummers have probably never heard of. Hal had a significant impact on a significant point of view for me.
Stay with me here: In drum lessons, I learned that the typical pattern in pop and rock drumming is to play the snare drum with your left hand on beats 2 and 4, along with the your left foot on the hi-hat. My cousin Beth Ann, who is a few years older than me, had a solid collection of 45 rpm records. One day, while visiting her house, I heard a song called “Be My Baby” by The Ronettes, coming from her bedroom. “WHAT IS HAL BLAINE DOING?” I thought to myself, (even though I didn’t know at the time that Hal was the drummer). He was playing a hard snare drum shot on the 4th beat ONLY! Can you do that? Can you, so to speak “march to the beat of your own drum?”
It changed my point of view instantly. The next time our little rock band played at a school “mixer”, not only did I not play the snare drum on 2 and 4 consistently, I actually played on the “and” of 4 occasionally. I felt like a rebel with a cause.
While Hal had an influence my drumming, these songs influenced my psyche. There, I said it out loud. So, for all those traveling evangelists who warned frightened parents about the impact of the rock n roll; yes! yes it does. You were right. I am a much happier senior adult today because of the influence of rock music. Listening to the oldies that were the big hits when I came of age confirms it. I have no idea what “House of the Rising Sun” is really about, but I am transported to a wonderful place every time I hear it.
Fortunately for me, I was exposed to a wide spectrum of music. So not only do I stop whatever I’m doing and listen when I hear The Beatles’ “While My Guitar Gently Weeps”, I also love to hear John Phillip Sousa’s “Stars and Stripes Forever”, and “Leaning On the Everlasting Arms”.
Here’s the thing about stepping into dogma, like saying the snare must be played on beats 2 and 4; or “christian” music is the only music God loves, you miss the wonder of MORE.
Today, we are all asked to take a side, to choose a pigeon hole to be pigeon holed into. Choose your news source: MSNBC or FOX News. Choose your party. Pick a side. Repeat the creed. Sign the pledge. Line up. Know the “Truth”.
But what if maybe, from time to time, we actually stopped to think, to listen, to not start every discussion with OUR point of view. What if, every now and then, even if we believe unwaveringly that everyone should play on 2 and 4, we let someone else bang their dang drum on EVERY SINGLE BEAT! (Really who wants to hear a song where everyone is playing the same beat anyway.)
I just finished a wonderful little book by Madeleine L'Engle called “Walking on Water: Reflections on Faith and Art”. I would like to share a quote from the book. And, I would like to humbly ask you to do something: as you read this quote, think first how it might apply to you (because, I’ll admit, our first thoughts on reading something like this is to think of all the people who need to hear a message like this, and miss that fact that maybe we need to hear it too).
“We all tend to make zealous judgments and thereby close ourselves off from revelation. If we feel that we already know something in its totality, then we fail to keep our ears and eyes open to that which may expand or even change that which we so zealously think we know.”
The other day I heard someone use the term “political climate” to describe the warring worldviews of the day. I though to myself, “Maybe climate change wouldn’t be a bad thing to wish for.”
Back to Mrs. Robinson and Mr. Tambourine Man for a minute—
I don’t know what kind of place she was in, but check out the first verse of Paul Simon’s lyric:
We'd like to know a little bit about you for our files
We'd like to help you learn to help yourself
Look around you all you see are sympathetic eyes
Stroll around the grounds until you feel at home
— First verse of “Mrs. Robinson”
Now suppose as she’s strolling around the grounds she meets Mr. Tambourine Man. They strike up a conversation. We hear him say as they leave one another:
Let me forget about today
— last line of last verse of Bob Dylan’s “Mr. Tambourine Man”
And maybe, just maybe, as he is walking away she would say to him (because she heard someone say it to her):
And here's to you, Mr. Tambourine Man,
Jesus loves you more than you will know
Wo wo wo
God bless you, please, Mr. Tambourine Man,
Heaven holds a place for those who pray
Hey, hey, hey, hey, hey, hey
—somewhat edited chorus from “Mrs. Robinson”