Whether you love or hate the song or band, you hear two second (if that) of the bassline and immediately know what song it is, and who’s playing it. And usually, if you go into Guitar Center, there’s a really good chance you’ll hear someone play one of these lines, albeit badly. And if you’re in any sort of cover band, at some point you may be required to learn some of these. So, let’s dive into this Top Ten list of Most Recognized Basslines.
A Quick Disclaimer: There are obviously more than ten basslines that are instantly recognizable. These are mine, and the ones that if someone asked me what are my favorite basslines ever, these are the ones I’d fall back on.
My Girl – The Temptations: The opening line is a simple, thumpy, 5-1-1 pattern. But immediately, you know what it is, and start to smile, knowing that Jamerson is holding it down and the Temps are crooning. You can’t beat it.
Chameleon – Herbie Hancock: True, it’s a synth line that starts this song up well before Paul Jackson gets his hands on it. That hasn’t stopped any high school jazz band or combo from “giving the bass player some” right off the bat to set up this completely sick, yet utterly simple, groove.
Higher Ground – Red Hot Chili Peppers: When I was talking about hearing bad renditions of these basslines at your local Guitar Center, this is the major culprit. But, you can’t help it. Flea lays it down – hard – on the Stevie Wonder cover.
Livin’ On A Prayer – Bon Jovi: While most people think of Richie Sambora’s use of the talkbox on the opening riff, the bass starts it off. And it wasn’t until I was learning this for a cover gig that I realized how awesome the entire bassline is, especially when the chorus kicks in.
School Days – Stanley Clarke: I very distinctly remember listening to this album at my bass teacher’s house. Originally I thought, “Oh, that’s a decent but simple guitar part,” and then the guitar kicked in, and my mind was completely blown as to what the bass could do.
I Wish – Stevie Wonder: This groove I find is usually the one that separates the men from the boys. I mean, Nate Watts, just, Nate Watts.
You Can Call Me Al – Paul Simon: Most people will probably sing along with the horn line in this, but Bakithi Kumalo is dancing in and out of the tune, laying down a groove that you can immediately tell. And hey, if you can play the bass solo forwards and backwards, more power to you.
Everyday People – Sly and the Family Stone: The biggest thing about this that makes the song is the way that Larry Graham hammers the root…and that’s about it. The line moves, it grooves, it provides a rock solid foundation for everything else. And you find yourself singing that steady pattern.
The Real Me – The Who: You could argue that nearly every one of John Entwhistle’s lines was instantly recognizable, and you’d be right. He was one of the few musicians that had his own signature style and sound. This is just one of the favorite Ox lines that I’ve had to learn over the years in various groups.
My Friend of Misery – Metallica: Love them or hate them, a lot of people wanted to pick up an electric guitar because of one of Metallica’s albums. And for me, it convinced this classical & jazz bassist to pick up the electric bass and give it a try, specifically because of Newstead’s line in this song, and on this album as a whole.
So there you have it; ten of the most recognizable – either when you’re listening to the radio, or walking into your local Guitar Center – basslines. This is obviously a very small list, as there have been some amazing bassists over the decades; what are the ones that you can immediately pick out in two notes or less?