Mirrored from the latest entry in Daron's Guitar Chronicles.
Okay. About five years ago I told Daron I’d do a Liner Note. Maybe six. Not sure. I promised some day I’d give you guys my list of best bass songs ever or something like that.
What this actually is, is the list of songs that probably influenced by young mind the most and why I play bass the way I do.
We’ll start in what they now call “classic rock” but when I was a kid was just called “rock.”
Pink Floyd’s “Money” was all over the radio when I was growing up. WBCN was the main station I listened to, coming out of Boston, when we were at the Cape during the summers, and WNEW from New York when we lived in Connecticut. That first instrument you hear after the money sound effects is the bass.
Speaking of Boston, a band from there was of course hugely influential, namely Aerosmith. Listen to the bass groove on this:
Maybe a touch repetitive, but a groove is a groove and the one in Sweet Emotion is damn near perfect.
I had to include this one from Queen, too, which was written by their bass player, John Deacon, so it’s no surprise it has a great bass riff. The story I heard was that the other guys in Queen were encouraging Deacie to write a song so he could make more of the publishing and songwriting money that Freddie and Brian were getting the lion’s share of. He was hanging around with the Bernie Edwards from Chic and came up with the riff, but the song didn’t develop until later. They weren’t planning to release it as a single, but Michael Jackson (who was a close friend of Freddie’s and loved their music) told them they should. They did and it went on to be Queen’s biggest hit all over the world topping pop, rock, and disco charts and selling more copies than any other of their songs.
Of course, two of the most influential frontmen of the late 1970s to early ’80s were bass players, Geddy Lee of Rush, and Sting of the Police.
(By the way, Anna Sentina, hottest bass player on YouTube and I don’t mean that because she’s gorgeous to look at either.)
In the above track, “Walking on the Moon,” you can particularly hear the way the bass and the guitar “talk” to each other. In particular it’s always been my theory of rock song composition that the bass asks the question that the guitar answers. It’s the like straight man who sets up the punch line in a comedy duo.
And of course The Police were hugely influential on me and Daron. We don’t sound anything like them really, since what we do isn’t reggae-inflected in the slightest, but as far as musicality and the way we utilize instrumentation, yeah.
So now we come to my top five actual favorite bass songs.
1. Duran Duran “Rio”
The bass is basically the lead instrument while the guitar is the rhythm. John Taylor was self taught. That didn’t stop him from being a genius. I later heard he was trying to play like Bernie Edwards in Chic. I was too much of a white boy to hear Chic while I was growing up, but Bernie Edwards influenced so many of these guys who influenced me.
This version is a dance remix where the bass part is a little louder than on the regular radio version so you can hear it better:
2. The Cure “Killing an Arab”
3. The Cure “The Lovecats”
I couldn’t decide between the two of these so here are both of them in my top five. “The Lovecats” is another one of those ones where I feel like the bass asks the question and the rest of the band tries to answer it.
(The song isn’t an anti-Arab song, by the way. It’s all a reference to a scene in Albert Camus’ book “The Stranger” but people assumed and/or have used it that way. The Cure ended up playing various charity shows for pro-Arab causes trying to balance out the karma.)
This video of “The Lovecats” is an acoustic version. Robert Smith plays slide guitar on it. The bass part is right on.
4. The Pretenders “My City Was Gone”
There are some great live videos of The Pretenders on tour this past April (2017). They’ve still got it.
5. Shriekback “My Spine is the Bassline”
This one might be a bit more obscure, but you can tell by the title it would have interested young, bass-loving me. And it did not disappoint.
There are lots more that I love but this collection pretty much defines what I’m about as a bass player. I grew up thinking that this was what bass players did. It never occurred to me that in huge swaths of pop music the bass is never this active or even audible. I only heard what I wanted to hear, and that worked out well for me.
Okay, your turn. What are your favorite bass songs?