The three issues with this post are firstly those who not like any popular music at all [and I can say that I’m preparing this just before I do my Tuesday evening classical post], secondly those who are not into obtrusive bass, thirdly, those who don’t like my criteria for classic popular songs anyway.
However, I’m hoping there might be one or two of like mind.
To me, in an ensemble, be it Baroque or a modern day band [the exception being jazz] – in other words, in a band with only a few instruments – the bass needs to lift out of continuo, out of just accompanying the other instruments and has to play a major role – the song needs to be remembered just as much for an “authoritative” bass line, like a boss, as for the other elements.
Obviously the beat comes into this too but the rhythm and underlying riffs come from the bass. Peter Hook, of Joy Division and New Order, had this written about him:
Peter Hook: the man who turned playing the bass into an art form… or at least a full contact sport.
One of their songs is further down. Now, something he said was crucial to how bass should be played:
Peter Hook stated in an interview w/ Bass Guitar Magazine that “One of the strange things is that having such a distinctive style doesn’t lend itself to much experimentation.”
Absolutely. Bassists seem to have three ways – firstly, they are employed to provide a rhythmic backing and that’s that, e.g. when Mark Knopfler dominates but I still say now that this song would have been nothing without that strong bass:
The second way, especially with girls who play bass, is that they try so hard to impress and lose all rhythm, all sense of what the bass is for.
It is NOT a lead instrument, therefore to dominate, it needs to play a strong, simple melody line, a bass riff, and then sometimes, only sometimes, slide up and down and divert from that for variety.
It needs to show “authority” without “Eric Clapton slowhanding” all over the place. Bassists must not be show ponies, as this girl is:
No, no, no, she’s wrong. That is the import of what Peter Hook was saying. Bassists are phlegmatic, no nonsense people and if they deviate here and there with no expression on their faces, then that’s a quiet delight for listeners.
Regarded as one of the best bassists in the world, PH did not experiment in a song, he worked out a simple and classic riff, then varied it a bit but anyone hearing him knew that this was a master:
Bass sets the tone, it can even be melancholy, it gives drone, it does the job of bagpipes.
That is why this post opened with Tina Weymouth and the guy presenting knows his stuff.
Tina was that third type of bass … self-effacing, not all that adept, technically, and some have said she was even out of tune on Found a Job, nevertheless she was highly idiosyncratic, just like her band and this is what gave that band that edge –
They played to her, not she to them. David Byrne was a rhythm guitarist, not a lead. The lead himself was a multi-instrumentalist, quite self-effacing but adept. Many loved that convolution of roles in them.
Amon Duul were a heavily experimental, and therefore uneven band, the starters of Krautrock and yet even here, the bass dominates once it eventually kicks in around 3 minutes:
In fact, you need go back no further than Paul Simon who took this bassist from South Africa back with him because PS understood just what the man had done for that song. Even his fellow players up on the podium were watching the bassist once he started:
To me, the bassist is not unlike the backman on a football field, the stopper, the headkicker, [or the forward in rugby], laying down the law.
I confess to preferring the female bassists once they understand what it’s about and can be forward enough to take the lead, without playing it as a lead guitar and without trying to show pony.