10 JACO PASTORIUS
Come On Come Over (from Jaco Pastorius, 1976)
When Jaco wrote his first solo album, he made the unselfish decision to write actual full-band songs rather than just recording a bunch of bass solos – and after the gobsmacking opener ‘Donna Lee’ you’ll find this song, a laid-back funk/soul workout in which his bassline is prominent but never overpowering. Catchy to the Nth degree and partially played in unison with the electric organ, this spiralling, zippy line both drives and anchors the song.
Roundabout (from Fragile, 1971)
Chris Squire did more for the art of the progressive-rock bassline than any other bass player apart from Paul McCartney and Tony Levin, and on ‘Roundabout’ he hit an early peak. The gritty tone of this bass-line only enhanced its snappy, fast-fingered qualities, and it’s energising just keeping up with the many changes the line goes through as the song changes form. Staying on top of the dizzying keyboard and vocal acrobatics, Squire’s fast-moving part is a high point in the early prog canon.
Come Together (from Abbey Road, 1969)
How do you make a song intro out of a couple of bass hammer-ons, some studio echo and a bit of wooden percussion? Like this. By 1969 Paul McCartney had taken his mastery of the bass guitar to levels that most people could never access, largely by focusing on songwriting and not worrying too much about whether the bass sounded right or not. In doing so he made his bass parts – all of them – sound perfect, even when they lacked a real presence in the Fab Four’s wacky old album mixes. This song is, perhaps, the pinnacle of his bass playing.
Another One Bites The Dust (from The Game, 1980)
A-G-E, E, E, right? Then E-E, E, G, E, A… and repeat. That’s how you play one of the most recognised bass-lines of all time. Often touted as the moment when Queen ‘went disco’, abandoning their glam-rock and proto-heavy metal roots, ‘Another One Bites The Dust’ (or ‘Duster’ as Freddie Mercury actually sings it) was more akin to a funk tune. Granted, John Deacon didn’t apply slap or pop to the line, but in terms of sheer in-the-pocketness this beautifully warm, clean line has few equals.
6 LED ZEPPELIN
Ramble On (from II, 1969)
John Paul Jones had big cojones when he wrote the bass-line to ‘Ramble On’. First, he stepped all over Jimmy Page’s gorgeous acoustic intro with a fantastic ascending motif in the upper register. Then he threw in a three-note lick after the first line of the chorus (after “Ramble on!”) which in turn sets up a bar in which he performs very fast hammer-ons, making the bass the focus of the line when there’s plenty going on already – not least Robert Plant’s wailsome vocal. Maximum respect to him for stamping his presence onto the biggest stadium-folk-blues-rock act of all time.