Ever since I first plugged in and made my parents’ house shake I have been a proponent of fat bass riffs. I don’t ask for much in a bass line other than it keep the groove, add a touch of melody, and maybe sneak in a solo here and there. The following is a list of some of my personal favorite bass licks; some are humble while others are not. There are many I have excluded, but feel free to offer some suggestions and I can add to my ever growing list.
Nick’s Picks: Favorite Bass Licks
Rancid: Maxwell Murder by Matt Freeman
One of my first purchased and favorite albums, Matt’s bass lines in every song are dizzying and fun. His solo towards the end of this particularly succinct song is a beast; a rarity for a punk song. You can actually hear his fingers digging for gold in those strings. This is a bass player that motivates me to practice as much as I can.
311: Creature Feature by Pnut
Pnut is one of my favorite bassists because he knows what works best. His appreciation for the fretless bass comes through in this slow jam. He moves between his own bass lines and backing up Tim Mahoney’s guitar riffs seamlessly, blending old school tones with modern epic heaviness. If you like slap bass, Pnut also does some amazing work on the album “Grassroots”.
Soundgarden: The Day I Tried to Live By Ben Shepherd
It’s nothing fancy, but it doesn’t have to be. It’s ominous, groovy, and unique. It moves between two time signatures and is the undeniable pulse of the song. It’s also good for checking your intonation, for fellow bassists out there. Soundgarden is undeniably my all time favorite group, and Ben’s creative and subtle bass work is a major reason why.
Red Hot Chili Peppers: Aeroplane by Flea
Flea is simply a monster and his slap abilities never disappoint. This funky classic from my personal favorite album of theirs always gets my engines roaring! Navarro’s subtle guitar slashes only elevate Flea’s performance, and what song doesn’t need a bass solo?
The Pixies: Gigantic by Kim Deal
It’s all about that recognizable tone. This bass line doesn’t pretend to be anything special, but it’s simplicity is it’s greatest strength. It bounces along nicely with the catchy vocal pattern and balances great with her voice. It gives the guitars something reliable and strong to layer over some classic Pixies whimsy.
Tool: Flood by Justin Chancellor
Tool is known for it’s abilities to elaborate, to say the least. Starting out with an emotive and dark free form bass line saturated with fuzz, this expansive song starts out evil and slow. When it finds it’s groove about four minutes later, the bass punches out the elusive main riff to finish the epic song with some classic Tool escapades.
Rush: YYZ by Geddy Lee
I can’t leave this one off the list. It’s so precise, so fast, and so weird. I will always be a Fender-Head, and my love of the Jazz Bass runs deep. Geddy Lee gives this ax the respect it deserves. How he still does it I will never know.
Primus: Southbound Pachyderm by Les Claypool
For all the goofy awesomeness that is Primus, this song solidifies them as serious musicians with incredible technical skill. The hypnotic bass line carries most of the creepy ambiance, but drummer Tim Alexander and guitarist Larry LaLonde deserve as much credit with their unique textures. I love this song especially because of it’s darker tone.
The Who: My Generation by John Entwhistle
Entwhistle was known for his unique style of playing. Instead of traditional plucking or using a pick, he would smash the strings head on and high on the neck for a percussive and overdriven tone. This song shows that particular method nicely, and throws in a few short solos to boot. I will not argue with that. He is one of the rock greats.
Iron Maiden: Wrathchild by Steve Harris
Bass intros are the best intros, there is no doubt in my mind. Thankfully, this Iron Maiden tune understands this and obliges. Bass can get lost in the metal genre mixing board, sadly, but that is not the case for this song as the singular Fender tone cuts through nicely. It also helps that Harris was the group’s main composer, but I like to think that it’s only a coincidence.
Talking Heads: Psycho Killer by Tina Weymouth
This is a truly amazing song with a pulsing and brutal bass line guiding us through the mind of a crazy person. It’s definitely a new wave rock song but she manages to sneak in some funky textures in the chorus which give the tune some rich character. I dare you not to sing along.
The Beatles: Dear Prudence by Paul McCartney
There are many to choose from here, but this one is mine. The perfectly timed mini slides during the verse are a nice companion to the sultry acoustic and heartfelt vocals. Sir Paul keeps things together with some smooth walking lines as the song crescendos. His best skill is to add rich melodies to the song without losing that groove.
The Breeders: Cannonball by Kim Deal
Kim makes the list twice, and I’m not playing favorites here, I just love her playful bass tone. This song is a classic 90s jam, boisterous and instantly recognizable. The first few notes are purposefully awkward and out of key before it goes into the groove, but the weird intro works. When I play, I always worry that I slide around too much, then this song puts my fears to ease.
Led Zeppelin: Ramble On by John Paul Jones
JPJ’s speed is in the pocket on this one. That’s especially tough when there are two very specific grooves to a song and with a lot of guitar work in the background. He manages to sneak in some cool punchy parts in the verse that add a nice pulse to the song. It’s difficult to stand out as a bassist against the madness of Jimmy Page but JPJ does so with elegance.
Cursive: Bad Sects by Matt Maginn
The guitar work in Cursive is spastic, layered, precise, and delightfully odd. Matt has a lot to keep in line and this track exemplifies that perfectly. It’s a bit of a slow jam, but his constancy mixed with a simple drum beat and meandering guitars create an awesome tune for an equally amazing album (“Happy Hollow”).
Thanks for reading, I hope you enjoyed my selections! Feel free to share your own and I’ll give them a listen. Stay tuned for my next “Nick’s Picks”!