Top Ten Most Recognizable Basslines

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?

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77 Comments

  1. Where are Queen´s “Another one bites the dust” and “Under Pressure” ???????

  2. How could this list not include David Ellefson’s bassline from Megadeth’s “Peace Sells…But Who’s Buying?”. That bassline was the opening bumper music for MTV News for quite awhile.

  3. I have to say Jack Bruce from Cream made some truly memorable bass lines. Pick any of them! I think the theme has to be songwriting Bass players. Ok. Chill!

  4. A great list. I like the fact that, since these bass parts are so integral to the song, they don’t stand out as “solo” parts. It makes me think of Tom Petersson on “Need Your Love.” Without knowing that’s a 12-string bass, you’d swear that there was another guitar playing along with him in the intro. Kudos!

  5. Weak list. How can these be omitted in favor of “Chameleon” by Herbie Hancock??
    “Money” – Pink Floyd
    “Another One Bites The Dust” Queen
    “Good Times” – Chic
    “Sweet Emotion” – Aerosmith
    “Under Pressure” – Bowie/Queen
    “Stand By Me” Ben E King

      1. The disclaimer doesn’t help. You need to distinguish between your favorite bass lines and recognizable bass lines. In a list of ten most recognizable bass lines, you need to include the latter, not the former.

        1. Recognizable is totally up to the person doing the list. I’ve had people send me lists that could easily be the “Top Ten Most Recognizable METAL Bass Lines,” and had the “Top Ten Most Recognizable MOTOWN Bass LInes,” which will all still be your favorite, whether you know it or not. There’s no real way to definitively state that, yes, these are the most recognizable because even if you poll a group of people, it’s all based on what they listened to.

    1. yes and
      “Raisin In The Sun” – Violent Femmes”
      “Seven Nation Army” – White Stripes
      “Don’t Go” – Yaz
      “Let’s Dance” – David Bowie

  6. “Living In The Past” by Jethro Tull, you left that out too. And “Closer To Home” by Grand Funk is another instantly recognizable bass line.

  7. Goodbye Tonight – Paul McCartney, Twilight Zone – Rush, Dazed And Confused – Led Zeppelin, Another One Bites The Dust – Queen, Money – Pink Floyd, Invaders – Iron Maiden, War Pigs – Black Sabbath, Theme song from Barney Miller

  8. Something? Silly Love Songs? How Many More Times? Money? Even simple but vital ones like Baba O’Riley and Papa Was A Rollin’ Stone….

  9. the bassline in rhcp pretty little ditty/crazy towns butterfly is pretty good, if you strip back and ignore the little riff and the annoying raps in butterfly its actually a pretty decent bit

      1. I forgot to mention jamiroquai’s traveling without moving (I think it’s Stuart Zender who plays that bass lineS all along this song)

  10. So many great recognizable funk bass lines:
    Fire by Ohio Players
    The intro to Love of Money by the OJays.
    Good Times by Chic (later sampled by Sugar Hill Gang)
    What is Hip by Tower of Power
    Every song James Brown ever recorded.
    The bass line on the Barney Miller TV show, every bassist I know used to play that to show off.
    And the most horrible but recognizable bass part of all time:
    The cheesy synth slap bass riff at the beginning of every Law and Order TV episode.

  11. I figured Michael Jackson’s “Billie Jean” was a shoo-in, but there’s been a lot of ‘lectric bass on records since the late 50’s…

  12. Real list:
    1. Come Together – The Beatles
    2. Money – Pink Floyd
    3. Another On Bites the Dust – Queen
    4. Stranglehold – Ted Nugent
    5. Stand by Me – Ben E. King
    6. The Wall Part 2 – Pink Floyd
    7. YYZ – Rush
    8. Seven Nation Army- White Stripes (if you really want things that simply sound like a bass but aren’t)
    9. What’d I say – Ray Charles (again not a bass, it’s the bass end of an electric piano. but who doesn’t INSTANTLY know what they’re listening to?)
    10. Rosenrot – Rammstein (say what you will about simplicity but yet again, once you hear it you know it’s Rosenrot)

  13. Other notables…
    Under Pressure – Queen.
    Spirit of the Radio – RUSH
    YYZ – RUSH
    Freewill – RUSH
    Dancing in the Moonlight – Thin Lizzy
    I Want You Back – The Jackson Five (Wilton Felder)
    Billie Jean – Michael Jackson (Louis Johnson)
    Walk On the Wild Side – Lou Reed (Herbie Flowers)
    Come Together – The Beatles (Paul McCartney)
    Roundabout – Yes (Chris Squire)
    Good Times – Chic (Bernard Edwards)
    On Bon Jovi…if you didn’t realize it was great until you learned it…. why is it on this list?
    ??

    1. Let’s revisit the sentence you’re attempting to quote me on: 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.
      As I originally stated, prior to learning the song I didn’t realize how great that whole line is; the bassline in the chorus carries it. But I didn’t have to like the entire thing to recognize it; we all have songs we despise that, when they come on the radio, we instantly squirm and flip the channel.

  14. Wow… Where’s the love for The Wrecking Crew? Carol Kaye’s bassline from ‘Good Vibrations’ alone would easily replace ‘Call Me Al’…

  15. Great post
    – No More Tears by Ozzy
    – Wrathchild by Iron Maiden
    – Radar Love by Golden Earing
    – The intro of Time by Pink Floyd, its a freaking clock ticking!!!!!
    – Give It Away by Ret Hot Cilli Peppers.
    – Do You Take This Man? by Diamanda Galas and John Paul Jones
    – Peace Sells… by Megadeth
    – This must be the place by The Talking Heads.
    – The Boys are Back int Town by Thin Lizzy
    – Sinister Minister by Bela Fleck and the Fleckstones

  16. Yeah, I also think John Deacon is the master of bass intros, with Another One Bites The Dust, Under Pressure, Dragon Attack, Breakthru and more.

  17. No Primus? This list is shit. How many average people could identify half of those songs, let alone the bass riff? Take ‘I’ve Got Sunshine’ down to just the bass and see how many people can identify it.

  18. Lists worth nothing but to be corrected by third parties according to their criteria and taste.

    1. Tried it, accidentally punched my thermostat. Now my hand hurts and the heat won’t turn off. I’m getting sleepy…

  19. Tool’s “Schism” has made a huge leap frog into No. 1, over Megadeath’s “Peace Sells…”. All props must go to: The Michael Berry Show(radio show in Houston) who literally just used “Schism” as an opening…which I would’ve let slip my mind otherwise,(embarrassingly truthful) .

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