Sitting in the Silver Diner on Rockville Pike, Hal Blaine drums his fingers restlessly on the Formica table. The diner's jukebox is blaring golden oldie after golden oldie and there, too, Hal Blaine is drumming.

Literally. On about 80 percent of the selections played over the next two hours.

It's late April and Blaine is in Washington as the featured guest at the annual Percussive Arts Society's Day of Percussion workshop at Annandale High School. He's come in a night early to appear on WBIG-FM deejay Goldy's oldies show. To honor Blaine -- and perhaps to give people an idea of just who he is -- Goldy has put together an audio resume.

"Have you got time for this?" Blaine wonders as Goldy launches into a five-minute-long sound collage featuring just enough of 72 Blaine-propelled hit songs to suggest his monumental achievement. Afterward, Goldy concedes that "it would have been easier to put the songs you're not on on tape."

If you love classic rock, Hal Blaine is as inescapable as he is invisible. When you hear hits by the Beach Boys, the Carpenters, the Monkees, the Mamas & the Papas, the 5th Dimension, Sonny & Cher, Simon & Garfunkel, Frank or Nancy Sinatra, Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass, Neil Diamond, the Crystals, the Ronettes, John Denver or Johnny Rivers, it's usually Hal Blaine playing the drums. Thirty-nine times, those records went to No. 1.

In the '60s, Blaine was the drummer on 107 Top Ten hits. Starting in 1965, he played on six straight Grammy Records of the Year (in order, Herb Albert and the Tijuana Brass's "A Taste of Honey," Frank Sinatra's "Strangers in the Night," the 5th Dimension's "Up Up and Away," Simon & Garfunkel's "Mrs. Robinson," the 5th Dimension's "Aquarius/Let the Sunshine In" and Simon & Garfunkel's "Bridge Over Troubled Water."

Art Garfunkel once noted that "if music in the second half of the 20th century were the Empire State Building, Hal Blaine would be the ground floor." Engineer-producer Bones Howe puts it this way: "Hal was present when the tide turned in pop music."

Very present. In the '60s and '70s, Blaine was the busiest, most in-demand and most successful studio drummer in the world. He's the most recorded musician -- more than 40,000 sessions for 8,300 titles -- and the most honored, with 362 gold and platinum records to his credit. He once wallpapered his home with gold singles.

"They just started adding up," says Blaine, whose dry wit and droll mannerisms recall Johnny Cash.

"He's a great 20th-century musical phenomenon to get in that much demand," says Max Weinberg, former drummer with Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band, now musical director of Conan O'Brien's "Late Night" television show and author of "The Big Beat," a collection of profiles of seminal drummers.

Weinberg says he "learned how to play drums listening to Hal Blaine and Ringo Starr." Starr was pretty well known as a Beatle, of course, while Blaine was never even credited in liner notes. Folks thought it was Dennis Wilson playing drums on those Beach Boys hits, Karen Carpenter on those Carpenter classics, Micky Dolenz on those Monkees melodies. Modern Drummer magazine once estimated that, in the studio, Blaine had replaced the drummers in 175 hit-making groups.

"This guy has been everybody's drummer," says Keith John, who with fellow drum instructor Keith Malley brought Blaine to Washington. "It's hard to imagine how much of an influence he's been on anybody who's ever listened to radio, done concerts, or television, where drummers are often just redoing his parts. He crafted all the sounds you were striving to learn how to make as a drummer. And when you realize it was just one guy, only then to do you begin to understand who Hal Blaine is."

He was born Harold Simon Brodsky in Holyoke, Mass., in February 1929, the son of immigrant Russian Jews. By age 7, he'd fashioned his first set of sticks from the backrest of a kitchen chair, drumming along on pots and pans to a Philco tube radio. At 13, his family moved to Hartford, and Blaine got his first trap set, along with lessons (which he quickly abandoned). His real education came at Hartford's State Theater, where he was a regular at Saturday matinee shows put on by touring big bands. Not surprisingly, those led by drummers Gene Krupa and Buddy Rich were particular favorites. "I'd watch show after show, close up and personal," Blaine recalls. "I could smell the powder on the performers."

After serving in Korea -- the only enlisted man in an all-officers band -- Blaine spent much of the '50s playing clubs and touring with the likes of Patti Page and teen idol Tommy Sands before finally heading west and into recording history. It was Earl Palmer, a session drummer who'd worked with Fats Domino and Little Richard, who introduced Blaine to the Los Angeles studio subculture.

"I came along at a time when rock-and-roll was just starting and it was considered a dirty word among the then-studio guys, the ones I refer to as the blue-blazer guys," Blaine explains. "There was a certain amount of animosity because all they knew about rock-and-roll was that it was loud, filthy, unsophisticated music -- Bill Haley and the Vomits!"

The conservative establishment, feeling the new music was beneath them, joked that it wasn't necessary to tune up to record rock-and-roll. Even the studio engineers complained to Blaine that he was playing too loud. "I told them to get with it, it was the new sound."

As it turned out, it was much more than that. The newcomers shunned blue blazers for T-shirts and jeans, further alienating the old guard. "They used to say, These kids are going to wreck the business!' Instead, we took it over."

Taking the criticism as inspiration, the newcomers dubbed themselves the Wrecking Crew and would rule L.A. session work through the '60s and well into the '70s. Besides Blaine and Palmer, they included bassists Carole Kaye and Joe Osborne, saxophonist Steve Douglas, guitarist Tommy Tedesco, pianists Larry Knechtel, Leon Russell and Don Randi and arranger Jack Nitzche. The Crew's chameleon-like adaptability was particularly impressive in light of how many different personalities they worked with and how different they sound on the various records (not to mention hundreds of classic commercials).

"There has never been a rhythm section as much fun, or as accomplished, as that of Hal, Joe and Larry," says Bones Howe. "They were the meat and potatoes. For pop music, they were the best and they proved it over and over."

"I just played my thing," Blaine says. "It happened to be the right thing at the right time at the right place." His first Top Ten session was 1959's "Baby Talk" for Jan & Dean; his first No. 1 was Elvis Presley's "Can't Help Falling in Love" in 1961. Soon after, the flood.

Phil Spector, says Blaine, was "my mentor, the guy who put me on drums when he decided to do his Wall of Sound, and of course the rest was history."

In the barely controlled chaos of tiny Gold Star Studios in the early '60s, there might be four pianos, up to seven guitars, up to six horns, up to four basses, assorted strings and percussion instruments -- but there was only one drum kit.

"The main thing we went for was feel," Blaine recalls. "We didn't care about notes or making little mistakes or glitches. It had to feel good and if it felt good, we had a good record." A whole lot of them, including the Crystals' "He's a Rebel" and "Da Doo Ron Ron" and the Ronettes' "Be My Baby."

"Hal Blaine would have become a legend if he had only played on Be My Baby' and nothing else," insists Max Weinberg. That song's "boom ba boom CRACK" bass drum lick became a rock-and-roll standard, as did Blaine's playing quarter-note triplets against the band. Spector, who would encourage Blaine to "go nuts" at a song's end, loved it so much it became a signature on his recordings.

"Whenever I had recording sessions, even though Hal Blaine was just a member of the band, I always considered him as a featured solo artist," Spector said recently through a spokesperson. "But please don't tell him or he will want royalties from the recordings! Hal has often stated publicly that he feels I helped make his career. Well, I can tell you accurately, that feeling is mutual."

Brian Wilson of the Beach Boys once called "Be My Baby" the greatest rock-and-roll song of all time, insisting that when he first heard it on his car radio, he had to pull over on a shoulder of an L.A. freeway to listen. Spector was Wilson's idol, and the Beach Boys' first records were made at Gold Star with many of the same Wrecking Crew musicians.

Wilson recently returned to the studio with Blaine for the first time in 30 years to record a song for an upcoming album by his daughters, Carnie and Wendy (the Wilson part of now-defunct Wilson Phillips). Starting with "I Get Around," Blaine gave Wilson the drum sounds he was looking for, sometimes unconventionally. For instance, the hollow percussion that kicks off "Caroline No" is Blaine rapping on the bottom of an empty water cooler keg; for "God Only Knows," he stiffly whacked a small plastic orange juice bottle.

Like Spector, Wilson always thought in terms of production, not just songwriting, and was able to "imagine" a whole record. Wilson would write simple chord charts, he says, "leaving a lot blank so Hal could do with it what he wanted."

While Dennis Wilson was the public drummer, Blaine was the studio Beach Boy (drumming on a dozen surf standards by Jan & Dean, the Rip Chords and the Hondells, as well). He was also a favorite of Herb Alpert (the A in A&M Records), having played on Alpert's 1962 breakthrough hit, "The Lonely Bull." It was Blaine who came up with the famous bass drum kick in "A Taste of Honey" (to keep the other guys in time on a tricky rhythmic transition) and it was Blaine who later occupied the drum chair for one of A&M's biggest acts, the Carpenters (playing on nine Top Ten hits between 1970 and 1974).

By 1963, Blaine's sound and style (popping snare, glistening cymbals, tasteful fills and accents, the embodiment of "in the pocket" playing) had captured the imagination of the recording industry and would sustain it for the next 15 years. Jim Keltner, himself a much-in-demand session drummer, once said that "if you wanted to work in L.A. at the time, you had to sound like Hal Blaine."

"Hal's personality was always very up," says producer Lou Adler (the Mamas & the Papas, the 5th Dimension). "It was always, Let's make the best record we possibly can.' He never treated anything like it was just a session, and his enthusiasm spilled over."

"As a drummer, he had the best sense of drama of anyone that I've ever worked with -- it's what set him apart," says Bones Howe. "Actually, Hal had a bad reputation for speeding up and slowing down, things that {some producers} considered sacrilege. But when you're making pop records and you want drama, a guy like Hal is invaluable."

Blaine sees himself as the ultimate accompanist. In fact, he's been married more often (six times) than he's been featured on drum solos. "Early on we learned that less is more," says Blaine (of the music, of course). "That's from experimenting on recording sessions when you realized that one shot in the right place is worth a million of these." He mimics a machine-gun fire.

It wasn't long before Blaine was so busy doing sessions -- as many as six three-hour calls a day -- that he needed 12 identical sets of drums and his own roadie to facilitate the demand. Rick Fausher, who's now been with Blaine for 33 years, would always be a step ahead, setting up kits so Blaine could simply walk from one studio to the next and drum (they called it "dovetailing").

Well into the '70s, few people outside the studio world recognized Blaine's name, much less his face. Though he and the other members of the Wrecking Crew were on literally hundreds of hit recordings, their names never appeared in the credits. Bruce Gary of the Knack once said his biggest disappointment was finding out Hal Blaine was a dozen of his favorite drummers.

"I was living in a gorgeous mansion with my Rolls-Royce and my yacht," says Blaine, "so who cared whether they knew my name or not? I didn't think that way because I was taking the money and running, while some well-known groups were living destitute."

In addition to making up to $5,000 a day, Blaine was an innovator. Looking to stretch the range and variety of sounds available to him, he created the first monster kit with eight extra tuned tom-toms (soon dubbed the Octaplus). It allowed him to play more elaborate fills and create more syncopated offbeats.

"I always tuned to what I call mid-range," he explains. "Every instrument has a mid-range which is really its finest quality. It's the same range in which you speak -- not a high squeak or a bass profundo, but where it's natural to you. So instead of tuning my drums way up high like most drummers do, because it rolls or bounces easy, I tuned them to mid-range where I thought they spoke the best and recorded the best."

And if you laughed, it meant Hal Blaine was on the session.

"He knew more jokes than everyone else combined and was always willing to tell you them whenever there was a minute of space," producer Lou Adler recalls.

According to Bones Howe, "some of those jokes got told so many times we would just cut right to the punch line!" Blaine even recorded a comedy album in San Francisco recently, titled "Buh-doom! Gags and Grooves," providing his own rim shots, of course.

Since the early '80s, Blaine's workload has changed quite a bit. Part of this has been due to the introduction of drum machines, as well as the natural changeover of studio musicians. He toured infrequently in his heyday, most extensively with John Denver in the '70s era that produced nine chart-topping albums for the folk-pop singer. Over the last few years, Blaine's been touring again, doing some symphony dates with songwriter-composer Mason Williams and more recently, playing klezmer with the David Grisman Sextet.

The only difference between studio and stage, Blaine says, is "facial expressions. I've been an actor all my life before I got lucky in music. I know how to be onstage, believe me. It's a whole lot different than being in the studio, where there's a certain silence. On stage, there's a certain happiness that can happen. And in concert, there's an immediate rush, whereas in the record business, there's a rush when you hear the music on the radio."

What a rush it must be, then, for Hal Blaine. Every day, the radio plays the soundtrack he drummed up for many lives. HAL BLAINE'S ALMOST TOP 40 OF NO. 1 HITS

"Can't Help Falling in Love," Elvis Presley (1961)

"He's a Rebel," the Crystals (1962)

"Surf City," Jan & Dean (1963)

"Everybody Loves Somebody," Dean Martin (1964)

"I Get Around," the Beach Boys (1964)

"Ringo," Lorne Greene (1964)

"Eve of Destruction," Barry McGuire (1965)

"Help Me, Rhonda," the Beach Boys (1965)

"I Got You Babe," Sonny & Cher (1965)

"Mr. Tambourine Man," the Byrds (1965)

"This Diamond Ring," Gary Lewis and the Playboys (1965)

"Good Vibrations," the Beach Boys (1966)

"Monday, Monday," Mamas & the Papas (1966)

"Poor Side of Town," Johnny Rivers (1966)

"My Love," Petula Clark (1966)

"Strangers in the Night," Frank Sinatra (1966)

"These Boots Are Made for Walkin'," Nancy Sinatra (1966)

"Somethin' Stupid," Frank and Nancy Sinatra (1967)

"The Happening," the Supremes (1967)

"Windy," the Association (1967)

"Mrs. Robinson," Simon & Garfunkel (1968)

"Aquarius/Let the Sunshine In," 5th Dimension (1969)

"Dizzy," Tommy Roe (1969)

"Love Theme From Romeo & Juliet," Henry Mancini & His Orchestra (1969)

"Wedding Bell Blues," 5th Dimension (1969)

"Bridge Over Troubled Water," Simon & Garfunkel (1970)

"(They Long to Be) Close to You," the Carpenters (1970)

"Cracklin' Rosie," Neil Diamond (1970)

"I Think I Love You," the Partridge Family (1970)

"Indian Reservation (The Lament of the Cherokee Reservation Indian)," Paul Revere & the Raiders (1971)

"Song Sung Blue," Neil Diamond (1972)

"Half-Breed," Cher (1973)

"The Way We Were," Barbra Streisand (1973) "Top of the World," the Carpenters (1973)

"Annie's Song," John Denver (1974)

"Thank God I'm a Country Boy," John Denver (1975)

"Love Will Keep Us Together," Captain & Tennille (1975)

"I'm Sorry," John Denver (1975)

"Theme From Mahogany (Do You Know Where You're Going To)," Diana Ross (1975) CAPTION: Hal Blaine performs at Annandale High School in April: In the '60s, Blaine played drums on 107 Top 10 hits. CAPTION: Count Basie, Hal Blaine and Joe Williams at a 1959 Waldorf-Astoria gig. CAPTION: Hal Blaine signs an autograph for drum student Eric Sandler, above, and talks to the audience, right, at Annandale High School. Below, the Wrecking Crew holds Phil Spector aloft (that's Blaine to Spector's left, looking up). Blaine's also spent time in the studio with George Harrison, bottom right, and Herb Alpert, bottom left. CAPTION: Hal Blaine discusses his craft at a drumming symposium in Annandale.