I hardly ever get a chance to play guitar these days. Which is a drag because though I am an adequate lead player, I am a pretty strong rhythm guy.
But, sort of by default, I have become a bass player over the past six or seven years, and that has been interesting as part of my growth as a so-called musician.
What this has done is now when I hear a song, I not only listen to the bass on the song more carefully, but similarly do I imagine what I would play, humming the line and notes to myself.
When I do find a run I like, I have been dragging the tune the bass line is attached to over to my teacher Steve Gibson, and try to pick it apart, and learn some new stuff.
So, this list represents the last cluster of songs where I just found the bass deadly and fun to learn.
Long Way to Go (Alice Cooper): I was driving to band practice a couple of weeks ago and looked for something to sing along to while driving to get my voice warm. And, though I have loved the Love it to Death album since it came out in 1971, and even knew bits and pieces of the bass parts throughout, I had never really let the bass of Long Way to Go–which is the song that gives the album its title–hit me. Well, till a couple of weeks ago, and I stopped singing and dug just how great this bass line is.
Some wonderful chromatic walkdowns, and isolated notes are all great, but what really nailed me was the completely different path during the interlude/breakdown before the final verse. Just brilliant playing by the band’s bassist, Dennis Dunaway.
The original Alice Cooper band might well be the best garage band ever (gotta give props to the Ramones here, too), and it is such a shame that they mostly self-destructed after Killer.
I know my mate and fellow bass player Steve will love it to death that I put this song atop the list.
Secret World (Peter Gabriel): Peter Gabriel sometimes seems overlooked to me considering how what a great visionary and explorer of music and art he is.
Arguably, his Sledgehammer video was among the early really c0hesive pieces of celluloid to grace the scene.
Though I was never a big fan of Genesis, his mark on that group goes without saying. And, though I am not that crazy about Phil Collins as a singer/songwriter, he is an excellent drummer, and Gabriel’s influence on Collins as a tunesmith speaks for itself. Or at least it used to.
This song, though is such a tour de force number it is hard to deny, and the great Tony Levin’s bass playing just kills me.
The studio version of Secret World is good, but when Gabriel and his band do it live, things move, shall we say, to another planet and level.
Watch the video here and you will both see what I mean, including Gabriel’s vision as an artist.
Cold Sweat (James Brown): I probably would not have been stung quite so hard by this song, had teacher Steve not brought it to my attention. This line created by the Flames Bernard Odum is a case study in time, discipline, and the selection of notes.
Not much more I can add to that.
Dazed and Confused (Led Zeppelin): While I have always owned albums by the Zep, and dug their songs, it was not till I started seriously playing music 20 years ago that I began to really appreciate just how good they are/were.
The first eponymously titled album was influential in ways I have described before, but over the last few months, the Biletones were trying out a new drummer, whom I subsequently fired a few weeks ago.
His biggest crimes were not keeping time for the band, as opposed playing the drums and not paying any attention to the rest of us, and in the process, not locking into me. I think the drums are the heartbeat of a song, and the bass the pulse, and they need to be in lockstep, complementing one another.
There were other musical transgressions committed by Scott, but that was the most egregious, as in I simply couldn’t, and then wouldn’t play with him. Cos he would never look at me or synch with me.
Anyway, Dazed and Confused is textbook synch between drummer John Bonham and bass player John Paul Jones.
In particular, the call and response between the bass and the drums during the interlude might seem overly simplistic, but that is the feel I always want with whomever I am sharing the rhythm section.
And Your Bird Can Sing (Beatles): Anyone who doubts just how brilliant Paul McCartney’s playing is has obviously not listened too carefully. But this song, among my favorites of the group’s catalogue, just shows every piece of clever and musicianship these guys had in less than two minutes. The bass line is beyond musical. It is magical.