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October 3, 2012 9:51 PM   Subscribe

Aspiring bassist, and advanced guitarist, wants to know: what are the canonical rock and roll bass riffs?

So I am taking up the bass after 30 years of guitar. I know my scales and chords backwards and forwards. I think I can develop my bass chops by learning to play some killer, instantly recognisable bass lines. Problem is, I can't really think of many. Thinking like "Stayin Alive" but not as dumb and popular. I'm talking what the wankers play at Guitar Center when they're testing out that Rickie 4003. What's the bass equivalent of Smoke on the Water, Back in Black, and Spirit of Radio? Any genre of music.

I don't want to sound like Les Claypool here, I just want to be familiar with the bass lines that every competent bassist should know.
posted by Slarty Bartfast to Media & Arts (50 answers total) 22 users marked this as a favorite
 
White Lines / Cavern
posted by davebush at 9:57 PM on October 3, 2012 [1 favorite]


The "Ina Gadda Da Vida" riff is pretty killer as is the bass part to "King Nothing" by Metallica. "My Girl" is good.

Finally the bass line from Pink Floyd's "Money."
posted by drezdn at 9:57 PM on October 3, 2012


"Bombtrack" by Rage Against the Machine and 46 &2 by Tool.
posted by drezdn at 9:58 PM on October 3, 2012


King Nothing.
Bombtrack,
In A Gadda Da Vida.
posted by drezdn at 10:01 PM on October 3, 2012


Ah, missed your post title. One step ahead of me.
posted by davebush at 10:02 PM on October 3, 2012


Ok, so it turns out Youtube answers this question in spades. Oh well, interested to hear what everyone says.

Superfreak. Check.

Billie Jean. Check.

this bass thing is easy
posted by Slarty Bartfast at 10:03 PM on October 3, 2012


Cannonical? Rock Bass? Lines every competent bassist should know?

First thing that comes to mind.

Ramble On

Also, the rest of the Led Zeppelin catalog meets your criteria.

Get this.
posted by j03 at 10:06 PM on October 3, 2012


Spirit's "I Got a Line on You"
posted by a humble nudibranch at 10:16 PM on October 3, 2012


Under Pressure by Queen
Guns of Brixton by The Clash
Money by Pink Floyd
posted by cazoo at 10:18 PM on October 3, 2012 [3 favorites]


Seconding Pink Floyd's "Money".
posted by marteki at 10:39 PM on October 3, 2012


Barney Miller Theme
posted by rhizome at 10:41 PM on October 3, 2012 [1 favorite]


Beatles - Come Together
Red Hot Chili Peppers - Give it Away
Cream - Sunshine of Your Love
Led Zeppelin - What Is And What Should Never Be (Seconding j03.)
Metallica - My Friend Of Misery
Police - Driven to Tears
Police - Demolition Man
Stone Temple Pilots - Plush
Adam Clayton & Larry Mullen - Mission: Impossible Theme

Also, seconding Pink Floyd's "Money" and Queen's "Under Pressure".
posted by epimorph at 10:45 PM on October 3, 2012


If you play fretless, several of the tunes off Paul Simon's Graceland, and some by Sting/The Police (e.g. Englishman in New York)

There you go, there's a bit more of a challenge.
posted by iotic at 10:55 PM on October 3, 2012


A few more...

Black Sabbath - Planet Caravan
Pearl Jam - Jeremy
The Who - Won't Get Fooled Again
posted by epimorph at 11:08 PM on October 3, 2012


Chameleon by Herbie Hancock.
posted by armoir from antproof case at 11:21 PM on October 3, 2012


Livin' on a Prayer by Bon Jovi.
posted by armoir from antproof case at 11:22 PM on October 3, 2012


I know you said you're not trying to be Les Claypool, but Southbound Pachyderm is about the funnest song to play on bass I know, and not really all that hard by Primus standards.
posted by mannequito at 11:41 PM on October 3, 2012 [1 favorite]


The intro to Sweet Child o Mine.
posted by nomis at 11:41 PM on October 3, 2012


Bruce Thomas, Elvis Costello & The Attractions Lipstick Vogue.

The Live at El Mocambo version is what you seek. It starts drum and bass heavy, with EC yelling, "These guys have the right idea, they're standing... UP!"

The album version is aces.

Here is a different live version available on YouTube.
posted by jbenben at 11:51 PM on October 3, 2012


Damn, was as I feared!!!

Don't know what is going on with that yourtube clip, but the awesome base solo is not there at the 2:05-ish mark, like it should be.

El Mocambo or album version is resplendent.
posted by jbenben at 11:56 PM on October 3, 2012


Lots of candidates, but for wankin' Guitar Center I'd say you'd have a hard time topping Anastasia (Pulling Teeth), from back in the days when Metallica still rocked
posted by gijsvs at 12:42 AM on October 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


Study also at the knee of Flea.
posted by maggieb at 1:25 AM on October 4, 2012


Queen's Another One Bites the Dust

The Commodore's Brickhouse (ok, so it's not rock, but it's one of the catchiest bass lines ever)

OOH! Flea's bass on Alanis Morissette's You Oughta Know!
posted by parrot_person at 3:36 AM on October 4, 2012


If you can do these, then I'd say you're in pretty good shape:

Rush - YYZ
Yes - Roundabout
Graham Grand Central - POW

and the ultimate bassline, courtesy of Bootsy Collins:

Parliament - Motor Booty Affair
posted by phax at 4:05 AM on October 4, 2012


"Cannonball" by The Breeders
posted by Lucinda at 4:30 AM on October 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


I Wanna Be Your Dog
Come As You Are
Shadowplay
posted by anagrama at 4:41 AM on October 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


I am shocked, shocked that no one has yet mentioned Fleetwood Mac and The Chain.
posted by Decani at 6:10 AM on October 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


The Clash "Rock The Casbah", "London Calling" and "Guns of Brixton"
Chic "Good Times" is probably one of the most famous bass lines ever.
posted by drezdn at 6:26 AM on October 4, 2012


New Order - 'Age of Consent'
posted by item at 6:43 AM on October 4, 2012


Great stuff so far. Almost all early Police is awesomeness.

I was using the term "rock and roll" broadly, as in "popular music recorded in the last half century with guitar drums and bass." Good Times and The Commodores win.
posted by Slarty Bartfast at 7:08 AM on October 4, 2012


Two that I'm surprised haven't come up yet:
In the Meantime by Spacehog
Hysteria by Muse
posted by komara at 7:15 AM on October 4, 2012


"I Want You Back" by the Jackson 5 of course!
posted by capnsue at 7:18 AM on October 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


It's not exactly rock, but I think just about everyone would recognize the bass line to Birdland, which has become a bit of a jazz/fusion standard across the centuries. Here's a more big-bandy performance of it, and also the Manhattan Transfer doing their vocal version.
posted by hippybear at 8:08 AM on October 4, 2012


Not a bass player, but I would put in a vote for what Chuck Rainey does on Aretha's "Rock Steady."
posted by neroli at 8:25 AM on October 4, 2012


I think most people here have answered with some of the best bass lines already, but this is a video I try to show everyone that is interested in talking to me about the role of bass in music, and a very poignant lesson to carry forward with you if you want to be a good bass guitarist.

Kim Deal is one of the most under-rated bass players ever, and anything from the Pixies' oeuvre (since it hasn't been mentioned here) has my vote.

Though if I had to pick, I'd go with Gouge Away. It's one of my all time go-to songs when I need to get some bass pounding in my head.
posted by mysticreferee at 8:36 AM on October 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


Pixies - Gigantic
posted by yeti at 8:50 AM on October 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


If you can rock the shit out of Lazy, you're getting the idea.
posted by flabdablet at 9:02 AM on October 4, 2012


The Jam, Start (which owes an obvious debt to the Beatles' Taxman).
posted by scody at 9:16 AM on October 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


It also seems to me that every bass player should have the courage to be as relentless as Roger.
posted by flabdablet at 9:17 AM on October 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


Dave Winter plays some lovely fluid melodic lines on Rick Wakeman's Anne of Cleves.
posted by flabdablet at 9:26 AM on October 4, 2012


Peg - Steely Dan. Get to work.
posted by emelenjr at 9:59 AM on October 4, 2012


And if it's "instantly recognizable" you're after, Pete Townshend has you covered.
posted by flabdablet at 10:11 AM on October 4, 2012


Don't know if any are "canonical" but check out Colin Moulding of XTC.
posted by like_a_friend at 11:13 AM on October 4, 2012


John Entwistle's bass line on The Real Me.
posted by digitalprimate at 11:51 AM on October 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


Another New Order song (which is slightly less obvious than "Age of Consent") is "Ceremony" Peter Hook at some of his best.

Maybe The Stone Roses' "I Am The Resurrection"?

Or The Descendents' "Myage".

And of course... Entwistle. The Real Me is amazing to play, as is all of Quadrophenia. Of course the bass solo for "My Generation" is iconic. "Boris The Spider" less so.

The only Beatles' bass line I really like is "Hey Bulldog". I used to use that at the local music store to impress the noodlers.
posted by kendrak at 12:08 PM on October 4, 2012




The bass line from Hit Me With Your Rhythm Stick is absolutely distinctive.
posted by flabdablet at 8:02 AM on October 5, 2012


Simple but recognizable:

Peter Gunn theme (featuring bonus Steven Allen).

White Stripes - Seven Nation Army.

Someone already mentioned Barney Miller but I'll throw you a link.
posted by chairface at 8:42 AM on October 5, 2012


I can't believe I forgot to mention Jaco Pastorius. He's more jazz than rock but don't hold that against his funkiness.
posted by chairface at 9:10 AM on October 5, 2012


I'm gonna keep adding to this as I come up with new ones.

Tones on Tail: Go!

Beatles: Taxman
posted by Slarty Bartfast at 9:41 AM on October 6, 2012


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