Megan Trainor got it right in more ways than one with her double entendre singing the title song of my playlist “All About That Bass.” The upright bass prominently drives the song and lyrics forward with “no treble.”
I do love this cover of the song by Postmodern Jukebox as well:
One of the most iconic bass riff in a song is Pink Floyd’s Money. From a band whose songs are typically dominated by guitar and ethereal electronics, the song marches forward to the beat of the wandering bass.
The songs earlier on the list, similar to some wines being fruit forward, think Shiraz, Zinfandel, or Amarone, are bass forward, think Queen’s “Another One Bites The Dust” and “Under Pressure,” The Beatles “Come Together,” Lou Reed’s “Walk On The Wild Side,” The Temptations “My Girl,” Ben E. King’s “Stand By Me,” Otis Redding’s “Dock Of The Bay,” and perhaps the most bass forward song Stevie Wonder’s “I Wish.” While I like this live video of Stevie, as it keys in on the bassist:
I also just love this video as a snapshot of R&B/Soul music in the 70s:
For many of these songs, the bass line often comes to mind before the melody or lyrics.
Some songs are more subtle and balanced, with bass being a steady driver of the song momentum, but not containing a standout bass intro or solo. Some of my favorites include The Doors “Peace Frog,” Yes “Roundabout” – check out this concert footage, such a great bass line, and so much going on musically, with amazing electric guitar, keyboards, and vocals as well – classic prog rock at its best:
Also The Blues Brothers “Soul Man,” Dobie Gray “Drift Away,” Rush “Digital Man,” Led Zeppelin’s “What Is and What Should Never Be,” the last a great example of the bass moving the song along, as often is the case with more bluesy songs:
Other songs have memorable solos, such as Fleetwood Mac’s solo (at 3:04). Perhaps among the most surprising, amazing, complex bass solos is from the oft underappreciated member of one of the greatest bands of all time, Led Zeppelin. Playing bass in the shadows of the best guitarist and drummer of his era in Jimmy Page and John Bonham, John Paul Jones filled in the gaps with solid bass, keyboard, and whatever else needed to be done to fill their sound. But in this song, I think Page and Bonham were tripping on some new drugs, and Jones seized the opportunity to sneak in among the most amazing bass solos ever. Check out Zep’s music bible version of the Gospel according to John 1:27, that is 1 minute and 27 seconds into the playlist song – focus on his sprinting bass work underlying Page’s guitar licks, or on this live version check it out around 2:19 in:
A song with a more subtle but beautiful, integral bass line is perhaps one of the finest, well balanced songs ever recorded, Van Morrison’s “Moondance.” It appears on several of my playlists featuring exceptional instrumentation, including its piano, flute, saxophone, and bass work. Just spectacular.
Paul McCartney, usually remembered primarily for his being half of one of the greatest songwriting duos of all time alongside John Lennon with the Beatles, also produced some memorable bass lines, in addition to the Beatles’ “Come Together,” Wings’ “Silly Love Songs” and one of the coolest bass intros to a song, from the movie Give My Regards To Broadstreet “No More Lonely Nights.”
The bass lines of some songs seem to lend themselves to a second life. Led Zeppelin’s bass line from the 1969 release “Babe I’m Gonna Leave You” appears in Chicago’s 1970 release “25 or 6 to 4.” Vanilla Ice’s rip-off of Queen’s “Under Pressure” with “Ice Ice Baby.” And Daft Punk’s “Get Lucky,” reworks the bass riff for Chic’s “Good Times.”
And some bands became noted for their bassist and prominent bass presence in their music: Geddy Lee of Rush, Chris Squire of Yes, Adam Clayton of U2, Flea (Michael Peter Balzary) of Red Hot Chili Peppers, and Sting of The Police.
The Doobie Brothers had some great bass work in their music. Some memorable songs include “Takin’ It To The Streets,” “Long Train Runnin’,” “Minute By Minute,” and What A Fool Believes.”
Then there were some very prominent session bassists, including Chuck Rainey, who did some regular work with Steely Dan:
He also provided rhythm for the likes of Jackson Brown, Marvin Gaye, Frankie Valli, Smokey Robinson, The Young Rascals, Joe Cocker, Etta James, Aretha Franklin, Minnie Riperton, Rickie Lee Jones, and Roberta Flack. His bass contributions span from Steely Dan to Quincy Jones on the playlist. Perhaps my favorite Chuck Rainey intro is with Rickie Lee Jones in “Woody And Dutch On The Slow Train To Peking.” And some of my Steely Dan faves include “Hey Nineteen,” “Aja,” “Josie,” “Peg,” “Kid Charlemagne,” and “Any Major Dude”. And who knew he provided the delicate bass to complement Joe Cocker’s tender vocals along with beautiful piano and keyboards in “You Are So Beautiful.”
And if Chuck Rainey was among the most prolific bassists, Pino Palladino was like a god walking among mere mortals. Master of the fretless bass, he could be heard backing such an eclectic group of artists, including Paul Young, Don Henley, David Gilmour, Elton John, Eric Clapton, Phil Collins, Melissa Etheridge, Michael McDonald, B.B. King, Tina Turner, Edie Brickell, Charlotte Church, John Mayer, The Who, Amos Lee, Adele, Nine Inch Nails, Keith Urban, Jason Aldean, John Legend, Josh Groban, Ed Sheeran, and Harry Styles.
Sting also champions the fretless bass, as well as the upright bass. Listen to the selections with The Police and solo. One song and bass line I just love is “Shape Of My Heart.” Check out this bass cover playing along with Sting:
Other songs and artists featuring fretless bass beyond Pino and Sting’s work include Jeff Ament’s work with Pearl Jam, many Bad Company offerings, the Rolling Stone’s “Jumpin’ Jack Flash” and “Tumbling Dice,” Pink Floyd’s “Hey You,” Paul Simon’s “The Boy In The Bubble,” “Peter Gabriel’s “Sledgehammer,” Alana Myles’ “Black Velvet,”
Hootie & The Blowfish’s “Let Her Cry,”
Blues Traveler’s “Run-Around,” Ozzy Osbourne’s “Mama I’m Coming Home,” and Eric Clapton’s “Tears In Heaven.”
Navigating the end of the playlist, songs from The Police collection and Sting to Eric Clapton “Tears In Heaven” feature fretless bass. And from Paul Young up to Jaco Pastorius feature more fretless bass all from Pino Palladino. And the last 2 selections are by Jaco, one of the most accomplished jazz bassists who I felt worth a quick listen. However, I did not include jazz, blues, or country as a whole in the playlist, which is eternally long enough as it is at just a little over 24 hours, a full day’s worth of music.
When listening to the playlist, which obviously will need to be in sessions due to its length, try to focus more on listening to the backing bass, rather than our typical attraction to the melody or lead guitar. It will open up new horizons in appreciating this music. I also separated out a few bass sub-playlists, including bass heroes (such as Geddy Lee, Sting, John Paul Jones, Adam Clayton, as well as the Doobies, Steely Dan, Donald Fagan, and KC & The Sunshine Band being represented), as well as more extensive Chuck Rainey and Pino Palladino playlists for those interested.
All About That Bass:
I hope that this music and my blog truly serve as a “revival: a new presentation of something old,” a springboard to return to the music of your youth, or perhaps to find artists you want to discover anew. Rediscover the passion of music in your life.
Live in the moment.
Enjoy the moment.
Love the moment.
Listen to the MUSIC!
It’s all about that BASS!