30 QUEEN & DAVID BOWIE
Under Pressure (from Hot Space, 1981)
It’s D. And it’s A. And it’s, er, D again! One of John Deacon’s most instantly recognisable basslines ever, the ‘Under Pressure’ riff was perfectly counterpointed by a piano stab, a weird, live-sounding vocal and guitar and a cheesy rapper from Dallas. Who knows – the song and its iconic bass-line might have slipped into relative obscurity had it not been for ‘Ice Ice Baby’, the 1990 mega-hit by Vanilla Ice, who sampled it.
29 RAGE AGAINST THE MACHINE
Bullet In The Head (from Rage Against The Machine, 1992)
The permanently-irked rap-metal quartet RATM’s finest hour was undoubtedly their self-titled debut album, a highlight of which was ‘Bullet In The Head’. It’s the opening bass riff which qualifies the song for immortality: Tim Commerford plays E five times at the 7th fret on the A string, drones the open E string once and then plucks a chord of G# (6th fret, D string) plus D (7th fret, G string), repeating this through the verses. Playing this without fret-buzz on even the most perfectly set-up bass requires skill which most of us lack, but that’s never stopped us trying, eh?
28 JACO PASTORIUS
Teen Town (from Heavy Weather, 1977)
On his first full Weather Report album, Jaco still had plenty to prove, and contributed this iconic track which showcases several of his best moves. Well, he was the self-proclaimed best bass player in the world – whether plucking those sixteenths in the intro, spiralling up into the midrange, counterpointing the famous horn motif or playing in unison with Joe Zawinul’s sinister, ascending keyboard sequence. Few people can play this line accurately; even fewer can play it like Jaco did.
27 MICHAEL JACKSON
Billie Jean (from Thriller, 1982)
Louis Johnson’s classic bass-line makes ‘Billie Jean’ one of the late MJ’s best songs, a career highlight that still stands up today. Counterpointing the subtle backing vocals and synth wash, the line drives the song forward as it builds, leading to an understated overall tone which contrasts perfectly with Jackson’s emotional wails about the girl who is, famously, not his lover.
26 IRON MAIDEN
Phantom Of The Opera (from Iron Maiden, 1980)
One of those rare songs – a long, multi-sectioned composition that doesn’t outstay its welcome – Iron Maiden’s sumptuous ‘Phantom Of The Opera’ is, like all Maiden songs, a bass player’s dream. Bandleader and primary songwriter Steve Harris is a bass player of superb skill and panache, combining his love of 70s prog and punk to form a sleek but melodic approach that was already fully evolved on Maiden’s first album. The bass solo – a simple figure that moves down a tone for two successive bars before moving back up and repeating – is a thing of sheer beauty.
25 FLEETWOOD MAC
The Chain (from Rumours, 1977)
Like this song needs any introduction for bass players… John McVie’s slippery bass riff in A begins the second half of the song, establishing a faster tempo and causing Formula One fans to surge from their seats every time it comes on TV. The line repeats until the end of the song, surrounded by Stevie Nicks’ layered backing vocals and Mick Fleetwood’s driving (ahem) beat. Unforgettable.
24 STEVIE WONDER
I Wish (from Songs In The Key Of Life, 1976)
Back in the 70s, you could write simple bass-lines and they sounded cool because no-one had written all the good lines yet. This applies in spades to Stevie Wonder’s remarkable ‘I Wish’ – up there with ‘Sir Duke’ in terms of sheer funkability but somehow even more devastatingly catchy. How on earth did he come up with it?
23 THE CLASH
London Calling (from London Calling, 1979)
Paul Simonon was a master of his instrument, although admitting it would have got him thrown out of the 100 Club for not being punk enough. Yet his grasp of reggae and rock made his bass style unique, a fact duly noted on ‘London Calling’ with its ridiculously recognisable intro statement. The lyrics may not stand up too well after 30 years, but the sheer attitude in the song’s instrumentation and the obvious pop awareness that Joe Strummer and band injected into their songwriting has made it an enduring classic.
22 SLY & THE FAMILY STONE
Thank You (Falettinme Be Mice Elf Agin) (from Greatest Hits, 1970)
With Bootsy Collins and Louis Johnson his only 1970s rivals in terms of The Funk, Larry Graham delivered line after devastating line with Sly & The Family Stone. This ludicrously butt-shaking song kicks off with a simple slap and pop line which drills into your skull and refuses to let go. After a few minutes of this, you’re dying to play it yourself – and it’s simple enough that you’ll probably nail it, too. But will you have as much funk in you as Larry?
21 BEN E KING
Stand By Me (single only, 1961)
“When the night… has come…” Genius! A 1955 tune given a 60s facelift by Leiber & Stoller, ‘Stand By Me’ is an all-time soul classic and boasts an intro bass-line that, once heard, is never forgotten. Subtle, unhurried and sweet, the line supports vocal pyrotechnics from King and a swathe of organ and guitar that almost (but not quite) renders it inaudible. We like to think of it as a metaphor for bass players: strip away the fluff and there we are, holding everything down…