Kings of bass

2 02 2009

I know little to nothing about music theory, so I’m really not qualified to talk about a musician’s technical proficiency.  I can tell you what I like, what sounds good to the ear.  These guys are (or were), to my ears, fantastic bass players.  They’re certainly my favorites.

Paul McCartney with The Beatles.  McCartney was a brilliant bassist.  John Lennon, never one to shy away from criticism of his former partner, said of his bass playing:

Paul was one of the most innovative bass players ever. And half the stuff that is going on now is directly ripped off from his Beatles period. He is an egomaniac about everything else about himself, but his bass playing he was always a bit coy about. I think Paul and Ringo stand up with any of the rock musicians.

For me, one (of many) Beatles songs that really highlights Paul’s amazing bass playing is “Rain.”  As good as the guitar and drums (it might be Ringo’s best performance), the bass really carries the song.

John Entwhistle, The Who.  There’s probably not a list of great rock bass players that doesn’t have the Ox in its top 10.  Entwhistle might have been the best rock bass player ever.  His body of work is so astounding, it was hard to pick one song as an example of his prowess.  For me, “Young Man Blues” from Live at Leeds is mildly understated but pretty convincing example of how good John was.  I never get tired of hearing his playing.

Sting with The Police.  Known now more for his ability to write jazzy pop songs, Sting was a pretty good bass player, especially in the early days of the Police.  The first three Police albums are loaded with great bass lines.  Gordon Sumner, his Christian name, definitely is not recognized as one of the innovators of the instrument.  I don’t think I’ve heard bass players talk about him as influential, but his bass work fit perfectly with Copeland’s drumming and Summer’s guitar.  His playing helped give the Police that one-of-a-kind sound they always had.  If I were playing bass, I would want to be as good of a player — and as good of a fit for my band — as Sting.   The bass on this song is somewhat simple, but I always thought it was perfect; gives the song a fantastic groove.

Flea.  I wouldn’t claim to be a big fan of the Red Hot Chili Peppers, but I will say that Flea is a fantastic bass player.  The guy can really shred.  When I hear their songs, I just listen for his lines.

Billy Sheehan.  I didn’t follow his career after his two album stint with David Lee Roth.  I couldn’t care less about bands like Mr. Big.  I know nothing of his solo work.  I do know, though, that on Roth’s albums, Eat ‘Em and Smile and Skyscraper, Sheehan was fantastic.  I couldn’t find a good video for anything from that part of his career, but check out this solo video.  It’s mindblowing.

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