The Hit Songs Deconstructed Wire

The Jonas Brothers: Paying Homage to the Greats of Drum Breaks

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Sucker is the Jonas Brothers kick-off single after almost six years away from the mainstream, debuting as their most successful record to date and hitting number one on the Billboard Hot 100 in its first week. One of many reasons the song is so successful, besides the anticipation surrounding their return to the spotlight, is the song’s unique sound: a blend of modern pop, rock, dance, R&B, hip hop and classic funk. But besides its most apparent musical influences and even its catchy whistle hook, the chart topper stands out from its contemporaries in one particularly memorable way: the drum break. At around 1:55, the Jonas Brothers include a 12-second drum break accompanying the famed whistle hook that may at first seem insignificant, but pulls from and pays homage to a long line of drum breaks in American dance-centric music including funk, hip-hop, and classic rock.

One of many artists to popularize this style of drum break in the U.S. was James Brown, the universally recognized Godfather of Soul. In his track, Funky Drummer, featuring the late Clyde Stubblefield on a groovy, solo section, James Brown makes use of the startling contrast of moving from a full arrangement to a single instrument, the drums, to surprise the listener and heighten their engagement.

Around the same time, the funk and soul group The Winstons released a fairly successful single entitled Color Him Father, with a B-side called Amen Brother that featured another smooth, groovy drum break but was for all intents and purposes, overlooked. However, by the mid-1980’s the drum break that appeared on Amen Brother was anything but ignored, getting sampled on Salt-N-Pepa’s I Desire, N.W.A.’s Straight Outta Compton, and hundreds of other hip-hop tracks as both the main groove of the song and, in many cases, a drum break as well. The concept of a drum break was also picked up by popular rock acts, from Led Zeppelin to Jefferson Airplane, making it a household technique for raising energy and getting people off their feet.

Not only do the Jonas Brother’s and their co-writers – Frank Dukes, Louis Bell and Ryan Tedder – pull from this catalogue of classics by using a drum break in Sucker, well aware that such a choice is an unconventional move for a pop record in 2019, they also do so by emulating the drum sound found in many of those records. In using exclusively live, acoustic drums, already a departure from the norm for most pop-hits today, and a groove that simulates the movement and bounce of those early funk records, the Jonas Brothers were able to bring an energy and danceability to Sucker that may have aided in getting the song up the charts. And simultaneously, they were able to create a drum sound that paid homage to a long and dynamic history while introducing a new sound to a broad, young audience that may not have heard of, say, James Brown. In doing so, they offer a service to the realm of pop-listeners, hopefully drawing parallels between musical worlds that may not otherwise intertwine. In creating your own music, you may find that using the techniques of great artists before you, no matter how unconventional by today’s standards, can aid in bringing something of incredible value to the record and, perhaps, even shoot it up the charts.

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