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10 great basslines.

February 14th, 2009 | No Comments | Categories: bass ideas · journalism · Musing on Music |

10 great basslines from Bass Guitar Magazine

A few months back, I was asked to put together a list of 10 of my favourite basslines by Bass Guitar Magazine. I sent them a list of 10, and a little note about each one, but the article is now out without the little blurb. So here’s the blurb. They also numbered them, as though there’s an order to them, which there clearly isn’t. Music doesn’t work like that. and If I wrote the list again today, it’d be different.

But anyway, here’s the list, with links where possible, and a little bit about each one…

Le FreakChic : one of the funkiest lines ever from the Beatles Of Disco. I could’ve picked just about any of their hits. Bernard’s tone and feel are a thing of wonder.
Refuge Of The RoadsJoni Mitchell : My favourite bassline from my favourite album ever. Every note Jaco plays on the whole Hejira album is sublime.
Maxwell MurderRancid : carrying the ‘punks that can really play’ torch forward, Matt Freeman manages to be full of energy, inventive and a chops-monster at the same time.
OrphansDeacon Blue : one of the first pop songs I ever heard with chords on a 6 string bass. This is almost all just bass, voice and tambourine. Beautiful
Chicken Grease D’Angelo : Pino was The Man in the 80s, and he’s still The Man now, only instead of slide-y fretless and a curly mullet he’s the cool king of hip-hop. My whole understanding of rhythm changed when I heard this album.
SeleneMichael Manring : not exactly a ‘bass line’ but without a doubt one of the most beautiful pieces of solo bass music ever recorded.
I Keep Forgettin’Michael McDonald : what locking in with a kick drum is all about. Louis Johnson shows restraint, digs deep and has a bass tone to die for.
Forget Me NotsPatrice Rushen : My favourite ever slap line. Freddie Washington probably even has a funky heartbeat.
I’m In Love Frank Dunnery : Matt Pegg, son of Dave, basically soloing through most of this tune, in a way that sounds neither wanky nor out of place. Exceptional playing and writing.
Spirits In A Material WorldThe Police : again, could have picked one of about 15 Police lines. Something magical happens when Sting gets with Stuart Copeland, even though they both play ‘out of time’ most of the time. Proof if ever it were needed that you don’t need protools to make incredible music.

Feel free to post your lists in the comments. Would be interested to read them. But please, don’t bother with the ‘what??? how could you miss out ********** (insert bassist here)’ – there are only 10, it’s not a definitive list, as I said it’d change now, and it’ll be different again tomorrow. So relax, and gimme a list of great lines. 🙂

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  • John Anealio

    I love “I Keep Forgettin'”. I never thought about it before, but I think the kick drum and bass line groove really create the intensity that drives the song.

  • James Stark

    Good call with the Michael Manring!

    Tony Levin – Peter Gabriel’s ‘Sledgehammer’ and King Crimson’s ‘Elephant Talk’ – the latter is the bassline that relaunched KC’s 1980 career, the former is what makes a good 80% of the song.

    Trey Gunn – King Crimson’s ‘ConstruKction of Light’ (instrumental part) – probably the best playing of the Warr touchstyle Guitar anywhere. Made me get the live DVD just to see how such a bassline was being pulled off (or is that hammered on?).

    Flea – RHCP’s ‘Mellowship Slinky’ – more of an equal band effort. The whole album this is on represents the Chillis at their peak which they have never bettered since. I tried to choose a track that had the most prominent bass but ‘Apache Rose Peacock’ also has a perfect groove to it.

    I guess I need to listen to more bass players. Will certainly check out the songs on your list.

  • Flemmingdoerken

    Some people hate these kinds of lists because of the ‘what??? how could you miss out ********** (insert bassist here)’ thing. I love them 🙂
    In no particular order:

    1 Jaco – Teen Town (inevitable IMO)
    2 Michael Manring – Selene (again, not a bass line as such, but possibly my favourite piece of music of all time)
    3 Rush – YYZ (a bit cliché maybe, but I can’t deny having played it a billion times without getting bored with it)
    4 Ian Drury – Hit me with your rhythm stick
    5 Brecker Brothers – Some Skunk Funk
    6 Prince – Let’s work
    7 Pleasure – Glide
    8 Graham Central Station – Hair
    9 Herbie Hancock & The Headhunters – Actual Proof (I’m a sucker for Paul Jackson)
    10 Stanley Clarke – Lopsy Lu (I’m a big fan of Stanley’s solo albums of the 70’s)
    10 Bernard Wright – Haboglabotribin’ (learned about this one quite recently. Marcus Miller is great)
    10 SMV – Los Tres Hermanos (Speaking of Marcus, his bottom work on this one gives me goosebumps every time at a certain point in the song)
    10 Yes – Roundabout

    Hard to pick just 10, but I knew I could do it!

  • Brian Norwood

    I like your list. I could not have composed a similar list of my out without a bass line from Earth, Wind and Fire’s Verdine White. I’d have probably went with “Way of the World”.

  • Carol @SheLives

    I see a few on your list (And Flem.’s 10+) that I’m not familiar with.

    Looks like I’ve got some listening to do!

  • paddy

    being an absolute funkateer i could probably just list 10 james brown songs here, i’ll try and be a little more inventive.

    Cold Sweat – James Brown/Pee Wee Ellis

    I feckin love this song, super cool groove

    I want you back – Jackson 5

    Bet you can sing it in your head just now. top line eh?

    Billie Jean – Michael Jackson

    The driving force of this bassline and the drums makes this tune *so* kicking. ultra tight stuff

    Coundown – John Coltrane

    quite a short bass part in this tune but i love how it drops in at the end of the song when trane comes back to the tune.

    munchies for your love – Bootsy Collins

    if ever there was a song that was the musification of sex, this is probably it.

    Money – Pink Floyd

    despite not being a floyd man i really like the 5/4 groove of this tune, plus it has a hillariously cheap guitar solo (with a kicking bass behind it)

    Cosmic Slop – Funkadelic

    This is probably my favourite bassline ever. totally meaty bass line, and the bridge is SUCH a good set up for the guitar solos

    Shake everything you’ve got – Maceo Parker

    More awesome funk, just keeps on truckin

    Joe Frazier – bill bruford group

    a friend of mine did his degree project on bill brufords bassist who i’ve forgotten the name of, but i thought this song was in credible!

    and last but by no means least:

    MMFSOG – Some guy called steve lawson 😛

    i bought live in nebraska after listening to abot 30 seconds of this song. go listen to it on steve reverbnation player!

  • Daryl Shawn

    I’ll share a few favorites. I know this is not an innovative choice, but Kool & the Gang’s “Jungle Boogie” just fascinates me. Not so much a bass line as a whole-band turnaround, the crazed chromaticism and length gives it this certain sense that it may never end and never resolve. When it dives back to the I, the relief is incredible.

    “Taxman” – the Beatles. the earliest “lead bass” I know of.

    So many by the Clash. What an amazing rhythm section. “Bankrobber”, “Guns of Brixton”, “Magnificent Seven”, “Train in Vain”, even “Rock the Casbah”.

    And maybe the most distinctive bassline in hardcore punk, Fugazi’s “Waiting Room”.

  • Simon Cross


    for me it’s gotta be Guns of Brixton just for that unforgettable riff, but I do really rate Simonon as a bassist anyway. I like the Jam’s ‘Town Called Malice’ too – probably not an all time classic I suppose. Good call on Orphans though…

  • Trevor Raggatt

    When I saw the lists in BGM it got me thinking about what my choices would be and it made me remark how far away from some correspondents choices mine would be. Unsurprisingly in the magazine (Steve’s list excepted, of course!) where were so many “show-off” pieces name-checked it made me remark all the more that my list was quite the opposite. I guess that reflects my taste in how I listen to music – I rarely listen to be “impressed” and so most of my (very personal) choices are good tunes with bass-lines that really complement them and get the toes tapping. Like Steve says, another day another list but for today, here’s mine in no particular order…

    Your Smiling Face – James Taylor (Lee Sklar): for me a quintessential bassline. Straightforward but unfeasibly joyous and catchy. Somehow it sums up the sentiment of the song. Another day it could be “How Sweet It Is (To Be Loved By You)” filling this slot

    Dancing In The Moonlight – Thin Lizzy (Phil Lynott): my single favourite line/riff to play. Again, it just forms the backbone of the song and typifies the adolescent carefreeness of the lyric. Loved this line since I first started playing the bass

    A Walk In The Country – Mo Foster: a wonderfully lyrical fretless line from a session stalwart on his “Bel Assis” solo album. My kind of bass player album it is never flashy and is so… tasteful. A friend heard this tune once and said, “That can’t be a bass, it’s so lovely”. Ah, so much to learn!

    Good Times – Chic (Bernard Edwards): could’ve been any of a dozen lines but this is a classic!

    The Enemy Within – Rush (Geddy Lee): a little known track from the early 80s but I love the busy, reggae (! Yes, reggae!) inspired feel of the line.

    L’Arc En Ciel De Miles – Incognito (Randy Hope-Taylor): I just like it. Spent a while studying in some bass lessons a while back and it kinda stuck. Great groove.

    Takin’ It To The Streets – The Doobie Brothers (Tiran Porter): This one makes the list just for the tone of the bass. From the exposed single notes and little exposed riffs at the start the tone gives be goose-bumps. And that’s before Tiran Porter starts to lay down the main line.

    Fool For Your Lovin’ – Whitesnake (Neil Murray): Could also have been “Ain’t No Love In The Heart Of The City”. Neil Murray was a big influence on me as a kid starting out on bass in the early ‘80s. His lines were funkier than any ‘80s metal band had any right to require.

    Dearg Doom – Horslips (Barry Devlin): A band I heard a lot growing up. Just love it. That’s all. You might recognise the track from a Magners advert a few months ago, I think.

    Quote Unquote – Abe Laboriel: So hard to narrow it down to one of Abe’s tracks but this one from his “Dear Friends” album is just an awesome groove.

  • steve

    Wow, I either need to reply to comments more often, or get a threaded comment plug in, fast!

    Anyway –

    James – I could easily do a list of ’10 perfect basslines by Tony Levin’, that would serve as a list of all-time greatest basslines I’d be happy to put my name to. Same goes for Lee Sklar, Bernard Edwards, James Jamerson, etc. etc. etc. 🙂

    Flemming – cool list. Will have to check out the SMV track. Haven’t given the album a proper listen.

    Brian – I loves me some Verdine. Lots of faviourite lines on the EWF greatest hits…

    Carol – give us a list of your faves then!

    Paddy – another cool list, thanks. I do prefer the later Bruford stuff, with Mark Hodgson or Tim Harries on upright though – def. worth checking out!

    Darryl/Simon – I love a lot of that Clash stuff, though I think most of my fave lines (Magnificent Seven etc.) were ghosted by Norman Watt Roy.

    Trevor – great list. Your Smiling Face is a fave of mine too, for sure. Also one of my favourite bass tones ever. Lee Sklar’s THE man.

    Wow, some great stuff listed here people, thanks very much!

  • Anders

    Aha, I’ll have to think a little while to come up with my list. Though I have two comments, locking in with the kick drum is supposed to be easy with Jeff Porcaro doing the kicking.
    And Steve you naughty boy, you misspelled Mr. Copelands first name.

  • Mike R

    Totally agree about The Police track.

    I remember trying to play it when I was younger. Never could get it.

    I think that’s why I’m an artist, and you’re a bass player LOL

  • Brian Norwood

    By the was, as a Yankee, I am extremely jealous of the quality of English music magazines. Bass Guitar Magazine, if it gets here, is 16 or 17 dollars and a subscription is upwards of 65 dollars a year. And yet, what I get out of Bass Player here for 20 dollars makes BGM a tempting offer.

  • Mike Smith

    Enjoyed the D’Angelo bassline there. Another few from out of left field, but featuring some great playing:
    o Sweet – Lamb. Meshell Ndegeocello just ripping it up on this. Great stuff.
    o The Groove – Global Communication. Very funky playing.
    o Spanish Castles in Space – The Orb. Featuring Guy Pratt. Spacey, but this had a big impact on me when I was a lad.
    o Airbag- Radiohead. I love the way the bass isn’t playing the obviously line.

  • Ben Poole

    Some fab tracks in the post and comments, thanks! It’s good to see some less-obvious choices, knowing what we bass players can be like sometimes ;o)

    Coming up with a list like this is way too hard, so I forced myself to pick a few tracks from this morning’s listening ONLY!

    – O My God (The Police; Sting) A great line, and quite busy for Sting. Works really well though.

    – Mother Stands For Comfort (Kate Bush; Eberhard Weber). Utterly captivating song, and the bass just sings.

    – Malignant Narcissism (Rush; Geddy Lee). OK, OK, so maybe this one IS a bassist’s wet dream, but I couldn’t resist!

    – The Pump Rooms Of Bath (Kajagoogoo; Nick Beggs). No, not the ’80s slap-fest Kajagoogoo, but an interesting instrumental, with some nice Jaco-esque bass

    – Radio Musicola (Nik Kershaw; synth bass). Lovely synth line—Paul Geary does an excellent live interpretation of this on bass too.

    – Stumbling Block (Ashley Maher; bassist unknown). I need to dig out the sleeve notes for this. But anyway, two tracks of lovely fretless bass.

  • Ben Poole

    Addendum: “Stumbling Block” features two bass players: Hilarire Penda, with the splendid Phil Sewell taking the fretless line.

  • steve

    Anders – thanks for the correction! Feel free to post 10 great drum parts we all need to hear – I totally trust your judgement on that. Would be great to find something new.

    artibizness Mike – happy to teach you how to play ‘Spirits…’ it’s tough, but doable 😉

    Brian – yeah, the international magazine deal is pretty rough… Bass Player originally cost a fortune here. It’s better now. IMHO, the last 18 months of the existence of Bassist Magazine (the last UK bass mag, which folded in 2000, I think) was the best bass journalism I’ve read anywhere. But there’s a whole post in that…

    Mike MKS – you SO need to get the whole D’Angelo album. You more than anyone would really dig the rhythmic side of it. Great suggestions too, thanks!

    Ben wow, another fan of the synth bass on Radio Musicola. Magic stuff. And I agree, Paul Geary did an amazing job on it live. Thanks for the other suggestions, love the Kaja track too!

  • Anders

    Steve, always happy to help. 🙂
    It’s always fun when I can help you with English spelling.
    10 drum tracks hmmmm let’s see?
    I was still trying to get my 10 bass lines together,
    By the way alot of the bass tracks you guys are suggesting would also qualify for a drum list
    What can that possibly teach us?

  • Bill e Bob

    10 Top Basslines

    Oh goody, time to show myself up. It probably won’t come as any surprise to Steve but most of these are from pop songs rather than bass virtuso pieces. I think that probably speaks volumes for my whole take on music but I digress.

    Guns of Brixton – Paul Simon. A hummable bassline? The man’s a genius. I also nicked it in a church service and loved the startled looks of recognition from some in the congregation.

    Wherever I lay My hat – Pino. I know I’d be strung up by every bass guitarist on the planet, but Pino over Jaco every time for me.

    The Real Me – John Entwistle. Can’t believe no-one’s mentioned him yet. The song where his brand of flash works to perfection.

    Mr Big – Andy Fraser. Can’t believe no-one’s mentioned him yet (2). The man’s a genius (2). Such taste. (1)

    Billie Jean – can’t recall who played this, but it proves simplicity is best.

    Je Suis Tombee Amoreuse – Carmel. James Paris almost always plays an upright and the one person who convinced me that upright can be as good as a proper bass.

    Hit Me With Your Rythmn Stick – Norman Watt-Roy. Busy and great. Not often convincing bedfellows in my humble.

    The Sun Does Rise – Jah Wobble. See comments above

    Dazed and Confused – JPJ. Alright I know it was nicked by Jimmy Page from some other chap, but you can’t deny it’s simple, memorable and effective. And if you can, I’ll poke you in the eye.

    Another One Bites The Dust – John Deacon. Always underated. As they say, it’s not being able to play them, it’s being able to creat them.

    Having lit the blue touch-paper, time to run

    Cheers Steve and great to see you and the GLW yesterday.

  • Zach

    Yeah, not sure if I’d ever try to pass these as “best lines ever”, but I think a fairly good representation of where my head’s at. . . at least for now. :o) This is hard, man!

    1. Untitled (How Does It Feel) – D’Angelo

    Steve, I know exactly what you mean about Pino’s rhythm on this album. Before this, I’d never heard so few notes sound so goddam POCKET. IMHO this song’s as chill as it gets.

    2. Teen Town – Jaco

    Gotta go with Flemming on this one, this track’s inevitable for me.

    3. What Is Hip – Tower of Power

    Rocco Prestia’s just relentless with the 16th’s on this track. Undoubtedly one of my tops all time.

    4. Jerry Was A Racecar Driver – Primus

    Hard to decide which Les Claypool line to get on here, but I had to see his name on someone’s list!

    5. Waiting for the Axe to Fall – Gil Scott-Heron

    Some super nasty, old school bass playin. Every single lick is spotless and pocket as hell. (Incidentally, I don’t s’pose anyone knows who’s playing on this album, Real Eyes? I’ve been trying to find out for years, but there’s so little info on it!)

    6. Subway to Venus – Red Hot Chili Peppers

    Flea’s disgusting on this track. ‘Nuf said.

    7. Too High – Stevie Wonder

    I could easily play this line every single day for the rest of my life and be happy as pie(?). Sooooo funky. . .

    8. Ten Mile Jog – George Duke

    Christian’s McBride’s playing on this album (Black Messiah), and this song in particular, NEEDS to be heard. As Christian described, George asked him to “go balls out” on this track and he totally comes through. Wow.

    9. Really anything off “Soliloquy” – Michael Manring

    Talk about some amazing bass playing! There’s really no one else on Earth that can do what Michael does. How do you narrow it down to a single song off this album?

    10. Maxwell Murder – Rancid

    Not to totally rip off your answers, but as a kid that started out playing punk, Matt Freeman tore my f*ckin face off with this song. Seein him solo on it live like changed my life.