Don’t you just hate when someone asks you to list your favourite songs! It’s just such a controversial thing to do. How do you decide? What criteria to use?
In fact, when music is such a subjective art, what use are criteria? How do you measure musical perfection?
In the end, musical appreciation is simply personal opinion. So, In my opinion, here are some great songs that are all about the bass. Not the best bass riffs or the best bass lines… but the best bass songs you’ve ever heard.
Billie Jean – Michael Jackson
You could choose many of Michael Jackson’s tracks to add to a list of best bass-driven songs: Thriller and Smooth Criminal are way up there with bass-driven classics. In fact you could probably do a best bass songs of Michel Jackson list without too much effort! But I chose Billie Jean, and not just because of its legendary place in pop’s history. If you want a classic version of the song that also shows off MJ’s stage craft, have a look at this You Tube clip. It’s difficult to know where to focus your attention – the show or the bass line? But turn up that bass – it never rests. It drives everything along, pulling the drums and twitching MJ around the stage like he’s a mere puppet. And when it holds a few notes in the bridge, it only pulls the tension tighter … until it drops back in to that famous groove that is now echoed in pretty much every bass line you’ll ever hear.
Back In Black – AC/DC
You’ll appreciate that its live music that inspires me. Check out this electric performance from Donington. AC/DC have such a simple format but they do it so well. Just listen to the way bass and drums integrate and lock into each other. It’s text book rock band style dialled up to 11. Just when you think the singer is the star of the show or those lead guitar strikes are the high spot, the bass line powers through to remind you who’s really in charge. This track is not the fastest of AC/DC’s Stormers, nor the most intricate, but it does highlight the unity of their playing – all integrated around the bass line.
Won’t Get Fooled Again – The Who
Widely credited with pioneering bass guitar as a solo instrument within the world of rock and pop, The Who’s John Entwhistle is held up as a hero by many bass guitarists. This is a classic track for all kinds of reasons. Here is a really weird showing which focuses on The Ox so you can hear the complexity of his bass part. How does he get so many notes into his runs? Such an awesome range of tones, sounds and rhythms going into a song which is essentially a simple rock format. You could be watching a jazz master at play. And if you want the full song, go here but, be warned, once you’ve seen Ox Cam, the song will never sound the same again.
Goodbye Pork Pie Hat – Charlie Mingus
Here’s something a little more laid back and serious. Up front this comes across as a sax solo but just wait until that stand-up bass slides in and takes control of the emotions – you get a beautiful fusion of musical voices but they all seem to talk with the same aim in mind. They all want you to remember Mr. Pork Pie Hat (Lester Young, saxophonist who used to play with Mingus). The bass solo is such a gentle piece of virtuoso playing that you start to wonder if it’s really only a double bass being used to pull those sounds out of the ether. It’s pure bass magic on a completely different level. Bass as delicate, impromptu invention.
Hysteria – Muse
Here’s another bass-heavy track in a live performance from the loudest 3-piece on the planet. Chris Wolstenholme’s bass drives in and withstands any attempts to slow it down or even drown it out. A full crowd inside Wembley can’t bring it down! None of those jingle-jangle guitar solos interferes with its relentless flow. Nothing gets in its way as it pushes everything before it in a tide of power and hedonistic pleasure.
My Sharona – The Knack
There aren’t many rock songs with quite so many parodies as this track from short-lived power pop punchers. The Knack. But the bass line is up front and heavy. It’s an overt homage to 60’s surf pop with its bright, breezy drum track, clean tones and space around the music that was quite a breath of fresh air at the time. The Knack were short-lived. The track itself is pretty short … but it still lives and inspires today’s pop bands, partly because it was itself inspired by the band’s own musical heroes.. The real Sharona herself also featured on the cover of the original album sleeve.
I’ll leave you with one more thought about bass players and their contributions to the best bass songs you’ll ever hear.
Why do some people have an instant aversion to bass solos? Simply because it saves time in the long run.