Friday, June 10, 2005

Great bass lines

If you've heard Kasabian's Club Foot more than once, you've probably got it stuck in your head. I actually hear it a lot, thanks to the memory function on my XM receiver. I can drive around listening to whatever, and then comes the "beep." The display:

Song Found
Club Foot

I click, and then I'm back on UPop again listening to the great bass line, later echoed by the vocals in the chorus.

All together now: Duh-duh-duh-duh-duh-duh bwow bwuh-bwuh bwow bwuh-bwow duh-duh-duh-duh-duh-duh bwow bwuh-bwuh bwow bwuh-bwow

(Hmmm ... that's not a very good representation. Now I know why podcasting is catching on.)

Anyway, it got me thinking about great bass lines.

In my younger days, I actually was a decent bass player. I sometimes had to carry a string bass on a campus bus, which usually meant people would demand to hear something. The standbys were the crowd-pleasers: Stand By Me and Pink Floyd's Money. If I was feeling adventurous, I might give The Police's Demolition Man a run, but that wasn't as instantly recognizable, even in those days (late '80s-early '90s).

A few other great bass lines:

Anything by Rush: Yes, I'm weaseling out of the prospect of picking just one Geddy Lee work.

Roundabout, Yes: But I will single out one Chris Squire line, though the bass showcase Does It Really Happen? from the transitional CD Drama is equally good. The difference in Roundabout is that his Squire's active bass provides the glue between the gentle classical guitar and the flashy synthesizer fills.

(By the way, I did hear the acoustic shuffle-time version of Roundabout the other day. It's actually not that bad, though it's too much of a novelty for me to rush out and download it. It's better than Big Country's similar re-working of In a Big Country, which made me think Stuart Adamson had spent too much time in Nashville.)

Radio Free Europe, R.E.M.: I'm sure the guitar magazines could have polls for years and never mention anyone from R.E.M., and I can recall a bit of anti-R.E.M. sentiment from the guys who thought Peter Buck's guitar work was a little too elementary. If they'd been paying attention, they would've noticed that what makes a lot of R.E.M. songs so listenable is that they sound a bit different in ways that are more subtle that your typical art-student crap bands. I'm not the first to notice that Mike Mills' bass lines often took the role usually filled by the guitarist, giving the counterpoint to the vocals while the guitar chimed in accompaniment -- I think I first read it in Musician, which noted that The Who operated along the same lines.

My City Was Gone, The Pretenders: Speaking of Big Country, this classic line was a contribution from Tony Butler, who was filling in for the Pretenders as they sorted out their personnel after losing half of the original lineup.

(If I had a time machine, one of my first destinations would be a late-80s Big Country show. I've heard a couple of clips, and they ... sound ... amazing.)

A Sort of Homecoming, U2: Simplicity isn't such a bad thing. This Adam Clayton effort is straight out of the Mike Mills school of providing a melodic contrast to a chiming guitar line.

Shark, Throwing Muses: I can't tell you how happy I am that Bernard Georges has his own Wikipedia entry. He was the perfect bassist for the years in which the Muses were a power trio.

Wynona's Big Brown Beaver, Primus: In retrospect, it's a good thing Les Claypool flunked his Metallica audition. This is the high point of Claypool's skittering bass style, though Tommy the Cat has its moments.

That should be enough to get the conversation started.

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