Thursday, June 21, 2012

Bottom Heavy - great bass lines

I haven't posted in a while and I'm not doing anything political today. Instead, I'm going to vent about something I know well - music.

I ran across a post through that purported to discuss the 10 greatest bass lines in rock music. I checked out the post expecting to hear some great stuff, and instead not a single song on their list would go in my top 25. Sure, a couple were iconic like Nancy Sinatra's "These Boots are made for walking" and Nirana's "Come As You Are", but we can do better than that.. (Okay, Lou Reed's "Walk on the Wild Side" would probably hit number 11 for me). The 3 best bass players in rock weren't even on the list. In fact, none of the bassists on my list were on that "best bass line" list.

I assure you, they are on mine. So here we go. These aren't in any order than in the order I thought of them. I'm sure I've missed some great ones - feel free to discuss.

Number 10 - The Eagles, "One Of These Nights":

Come on, when that bass line starts you immediately know the song. That's Randy Meisner playing it too - he was actually one hell of a bass player, not just the guy with the high voice from the Eagle's early days. He hits the note and then does that wicked slide. It's weird and it works. And then when the first verse starts the bass line sets a foundation unlike anything in rock music of the day.

Number 9 - Led Zepplin, "Ramble On":

The bass doesn't come in until 10 seconds in, but it's the moment that defines the song. Yes, Jimmy Page is playing a nice guitar rhythm from the start of the song, but when John Paul Jones brings his bass in he's actually playing a melody and it's that melody that Robert Plant is singing counterpoint to. Even when the song turns into a vehicle for Page, Jones is still messing with your head.

Number 8 -  Sugarhill Gang, "Rapper's Delight"

18 seconds in. That's where the magic starts. It's a sample from an old Pointer Sisters song, but instead of being just a bit piece here it's the whole song. I have seen dead dance clubs come alive when that bass line starts. I have seen rooms full of mullet-haired boys wearing Motley Cure T-shirts start attempting to bust a move on hearing that bass line. 'nuff said.

Number 7 - Yes, "Tempus Fugit"

There was a brief period of time at the end of the 1970s where the prog band Yes flirted with the idea of of turning into a power trio - just bass, drums and guitar. It didn't happen because Chris Squire met the Buggles, and they joined the band. However, you can find videos of Squire, Steve Howe and Alan White playing this song, with it's famous bass line. It's a bit more than 20 seconds in in this version. To this day, Chris Squire finds a way to get this riff into a Yes show, even when they aren't playing the song.

Number 6 - The Police, "Spirits in the Material World"

I was already a fan of The Police when they hit with "Ghost in the Machine", which in my opinion is their best album. This, the opening track, when I first heard it way back in the day caused me to say "where the hell did THAT come from"? Kinda reggae, kinda not, but that bass line seems to come from nowhere but it still fits. I mean, who comes up with something like that? Genius.

Number 5 - Queen, "Another One Bites the Dust"


I don't see how any list could miss this song. Bassist Roger Deacon comes to rehearsal with a riff that he shows off to the others in the band, and they all say to him that it's awesome. It becomes one of their biggest hits from one of their biggest albums, and it's all about that bass line.

Number 4 - Blondie, "Rapture"

This is the song that mainstreamed rap, and it has a pretty impressive bass line. Unlike much of rap, it isn't a sample. Can you picture this song without it though? It sets the tone and everything that comes in the next 5 minutes builds on it.

Number 3 - Rush, "Circumstances"

The problem with picking a Rush song is that there are so many - Geddy Lee is one of the best rock bassists to have ever lived, and he plays something unique on almost every song. You can make valid arguments for "YYZ", "Tom Sawyer", "Red Barchetta", and about a dozen more. I've decided to give you an early Rush song. Listen carefully to what Geddy Lee is doing. He does this on most of their songs - plays far beyond what the song calls for.

Number 2 - Green Day, "Longview"

Green Day's breakthrough hit is a punk rock song that minimizes the guitar in favor of swinging drums and a truly amazing bass line. Mike Dirnt has won multiple awards for his bass chops - the first punk rocker to ever be so honored, and it all feeds back to this song with it's very recognizable bass line.

Number 1 - The Beatles, "Come Together"

How can any list of bassists miss the most famous bass player EVER?!!? Although this is a song written by John Lennon, it's that bass line that everyone remembers as the hook of the song. Sir Paul has been doing this for half a century, putting interesting bass lines on songs that are already interesting.

Okay, let the flaming begin!