Keep it on the Down-Low: Some Essential Bass Lines in Rock

Admittedly, I might be biased on this issue. However, despite my admitted prejudice, there is something very integral to solid bass line in rock music. Sure, there are bands like The Doors and White Stripes who were able to write catchy, brilliant rock music without the aid of a bass player. However, for the most part bass lines will make or break a song’s impact. These are some the most crucial bass lines in rock and roll history.

“My Girl” The Temptations – James Jamerson was the bass player for a more than a handful of Motown’s greatest bass lines. What makes the bass work Jamerson did on “My Girl” so great is the way that it leads the song, setting up a bed for the beautiful melody to rest in. The bass is why this song sticks in your head.

“Pump It Up” – Elvis Costello – If you were to have a list of “songs whose titles describe the bass work” this would have to be on the top. The bass playing of Bruce Thomas is pumped up into the mix of the song, laying down a funky, walking backing for Costello’s vocal and guitars.

“Another One Bites the Dust” Queen – Any time your bass line can be hummed simply and everyone in the room will know the song is a bass line played to perfection. John Deacon, who also happened to write the song, provided one of the most iconic bass lines in recorded music history.

“Orion” Metallica – Undoubtedly Cliff Burton was one of the most influential bass players of his generation. Despite tragically dying in a bus accident in 1986, Burton’s flawless technique and melodious approach influenced many heavy metal and hard rock bassists after. This song, on “Master of Puppets” is an instrumental that is absolutely worthless without Cliff’s presence.

“Taxman” The Beatles – In talking about Paul McCartney’s nearly unmatched gifts in writing and performing pop songs, often his skill as a bass player is sometimes forgotten. For George Harrison’s song on the “Revolver” record, Paul contributed a bouncy bass line that proved vital for the song to be as catchy as it was.

“Longview” Green Day – Mike Dirnt is the yang to Billy Joe Armstrong’s yin.This pop-punk staple is anchored solidly to Dirnt’s bass line. The song is void of guitar strumming in the verses, allowing the bass and Armstrong’s vocals to cooperate perfectly with each other.

“Once In a Lifetime” Talking Heads – Another ear-worm of a bass line. The lower end of this song punctuates the empty spaces in the vocal phrasing, and the signature tone that Tina Weymouth trademarked buries this track into your brain.

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