5.) Sting (The Police/Solo) – I don’t know what is in the water in Britain but bass players from across the pond are dominating this list. Sting is the kind of bass player that is completely devoid of razzle dazzle in his style but if you took his part out of the band the songs would not have the same appeal. Any bass player that is in a 3-piece band has extra duties because the band lacks other parts like a rhythm guitar or piano, which means the bass player has to fill the void when the lead guitar is soloing – or playing melody lines that don’t involve big, full chords. Sting’s guitar player , Andy Summers, played a lot of melody lines during verses and choruses and this is where Sting proved his worth. He would fill the spaces left open by the guitar giving the Police’s music the depth that it was famous for – All while singing beautiful vocal lines. Click the link below to listen to “Every Breath You Take”, a fantastic example of the interplay between a melodic guitar line and a well-crafted bass line which he plays on a stand-up bass.
4.) Flea (Red Hot Chili Peppers) – Whereas our #7 pick, Les Claypool, is always on the attack, Flea has all the technical ability in the world to give you the slap and pop funk that the Chili Peppers are known for but it’s his gift of melody and his phrasing sensibilities that puts him at #4 on this list. The melodic basslines he plays on songs like “Behind the Sun” or “Under the Bridge” (just to name a couple) provide the base of some very pretty songs. Take his basslines out and the songs are just plain. But let’s face it, balls-out RHCP is what we love and songs like “Knock Me Down”, “Give it Away” and their brilliant cover of Stevie Wonder’s “Higher Ground” are bass guitar masterpieces. Check out the link below for a 90’s flashback from their album “Blood Sugar Sex Magic”, “Give it Away”.
3.) Geddy Lee (Rush) – A man that needs no introduction north of the border, Lee and Rush have put a stamp on the Canadian identity and Lee’s bass playing and highly original voice are a massive part of the band’s sound. First of all, he plays with the greatest drummer (Neal Peart) in rock music today (sorry Zep fans but Bonham is dead), and loses no ground to him. If Peart played with any lesser of a bass player their music would be full of holes but Geddy’s phrasing and attack match Peart’s intensity perfectly. His ability to play fills that lead the band from part to part is the glue that holds the band together and gives his guitar player, Alex Lifeson, the chance to go off on his own melodic adventures. No 3-piece puts out more sound or has done it as long as Rush. Have a listen below to “Subdivisons” and pay attention to the bass runs that Lee does to lead the band from verse to chorus. The song actually changes time signatures (from 4/4 to 6/8) from verse to chorus and the cohesion between Peart and Lee makes the transition seamless.
2.) James Jamerson (Funk Brothers/Motown) – This guy landed more hits than Mohammed Ali. His resume reads like a 60’s and 70’s who’s who of popular music and his funk and soul basslines are now considered the standard when it comes to that genre. He played for everyone who made hits for Motown: Smokey Robinson & the Miracles, the Temptations, Four Tops, the Marvelettes, Diana Ross, Marvin Gaye and anyone else who recorded in that smoky sweatshop Berry Gordie was running in Detroit. The clincher that cements his position as the 2nd greatest bass player of all time is the story surrounding the recording of Marvin Gaye’s smash hit, “What’s Going On?”. Gaye was in the Motown studios ready to cut the song and he wanted Jamerson to play on it, so he went out to find him. When Gaye finally found Jamerson, he was playing at a club with a band and was shit-canned drunk. They got him to the studio but he was unable to sit properly to play and, according to Motown legend, he recorded his part lying flat on his back. The result was one of the most well-written and groovy basslines of all-time – it was a big part of the reason that the song was named the #4 song of all time by Rolling Stone Magazine. If you click the first link below you can actually hear only the bassline of “What’s Going On” isolated from the other instruments. Below that you can check out the entire song.
1.) John Paul Jones (Led Zeppelin/Them Crooked Vultures/Studio player) – Sorry, I know I can usually be controversial but this is not the time nor the place to create controversy just for controversy’s sake. When God created bass players he created stars, superstars, and then he created John Paul Jones – NOBODY ELSE COMES CLOSE!. Just look at his performances on all the Zeppelin albums. In albums Led Zeppelin I – Led Zeppelin III, his blues bass beds are downright tasty, not to mention that his playing allowed Jimmy Page the freedom to go off on his legendary 64 bar-long solos. From albums IV – Coda the band starts moving away from blues drenched riffs and became much more progressive with a roster of well-crafted songs. Jones’ abilities as both a multi-instrument performer and arranger took centre stage along with Jimmy Page’s producing skills, to move the band’s recorded product to the next level. That formula produced some very deep albums with a song catalog spanning multiple genres. By the way, he has also managed to record relevant material for 50 years as demonstrated by his bass chops with Them Crooked Vultures, and as the cherry on top – It is JPJ who arranged the strings for the Rolling Stones’ song, “She’s a Rainbow” and that is far out, solid and right on. Click below for his groove off of “Custard Pie” (Physical Graffiti). Sick chops.