Whether it’s an undeniably great groove, a masterful showpiece in skill or simple a hands-down catchy hook, there’s just something about a great bass line that really hits. While there’s no substitution for a great guitar piece, a killer bass line can lift a good song into classic status. With so many memorable bass lines throughout the history of music, it was a tall order trying to narrow down five our favorites. With that in mind, the following are five of our favorite bass line:
My Girl – The Temptations
While this line starts out simple yet prominent, it becomes instantly recognizable by its punchy tone alone. As it moves along, it creates the perfect complement to the sublime harmonies strewn across this Temptations hit. It’s easily one of James Jemerson’s most popular lines – and that’s saying a lot considering he’s responsible for a good bulk of the bass work on several Motown hits. While it is far from being the most technical bass line out there, it holds a place on our list for its transcendent groove that still sounds great to this day.
Under Pressure – Queen ft. David Bowie
While Freddie Mercury and Brian May get the lion’s share of admiration, John Deacon’s contribution to Queen cannot be stressed enough. Aside from being responsible for penning some of the band’s biggest hits including “You’re My Best Friend” and “I Want To Break Free”, Deacon is also the mastermind behind some of the best bass lines in music. While the line to “Another One Bites The Dust” is among his best riffs, “Under Pressure” just barely edges it out as our favorite. This line was infamously emulated on Vanilla Ice’s “Ice Ice Baby” and influenced several others. Drama aside, this bass line is a perfect example that even a simple bass line can be wildly successful.
Billie Jean – Michael Jackson
“Billie Jean” is as well known for its distinctive bassline – despite being an admitted knock-off of Hall and Oats’ "I Can't Go for That (No Can Do)" – as it is for Jackson's signature vocals. While producer Quincy Jones has denied the often cited rumor that he wanted “Billie Jean” off the album entirely for being too weak, he admitted that he didn’t care for the bass line and wanted to cut the songs intro (which features it prominently). Jackson refused as he felt in was a key part of the track. Seems like millions around the world agree with Jackson as the bass line and tune remain one of the most popular and recognizable in pop history.
Money – Pink Floyd
Despite its very unusual 7/4 time signature (or maybe because of it), Roger Waters’ unforgettable bass line is among one of rock’s best and the driving force behind this Pink Floyd tune. Combine that with David Gilmour’s howling solo – which pushes the song back to a more traditional 4/4 structure – and you have something truly special. The song itself was so popular it became a staple of the band’s live performances, played on every tour from 1972 to 1994 (and 2005's Live 8), with the exception of the 1980 and 1981 The Wall shows.
Give It Away – Red Hot Chilli Peppers
Interestingly enough, this song was originally denied radio play by several stations because they felt it lacked melody. That didn't stop the track from being a major hit, becoming the band's first ever number one single when it climbed to the top of the Billboard Modern Rock Tracks in late 1991. While the song itself was co-written by John Frusciante and Flea, it was the later's insane bass line that stood out above all else, even inspiring singer Anthony Keidis' chaotic vocals: “I was so struck by Flea’s bass part, which covered the whole length of the instrument’s neck, that I jumped up and marched over to the microphone, my notebook in tow."
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What are some of your favorite bass lines?