Poor bass players. In the hierarchy of rockbandland, even the mercenary backup singers get more love. Like a drummer, a crummy one can wreck your band, but unlike a drummer, even a superb bass player can fade into the background, seeming for all the world like a mere utility placeholder while the singer, guitarist and drummer all get laid. Before the ‘80s, the bass player was perceived as the would-be guitarist who couldn’t make the cut and got offered a reduction in strings as a consolation prize. Since the ‘80s, bass has been the “easy” instrument a singer hands off to his girlfriend to get her in the band.
It’s all a crock of utter shit. A good bass player is your band’s spine, and is a gift to be cherished.
An excellent online resource for bassists, notreble.com, has links to an abundance of isolated bass tracks, from celebrated solos to deep cuts to which few casual fans give much thought. There are, of course, song-length showoffs like “YYZ” and “Roundabout,” but there are unassuming gems to be found too. Check out how awesome Tony Butler’s part is in Big Country’s kinda-eponymous debut single. It wanders off into admirable weirdness, but when the time comes to do the job of propelling the song forward, this shit is rocket fuel.
Though Sting has been engaged in a long-running battle with Bono to see who can be the most tedious ass to have released nothing of worth in over 25 years, listening to his playing in the Police serves as an instant reminder of why we even know who he is. The grooves in “Message In A Bottle” are famously inventive and satisfying, but even his work on more straightforward stuff like “Next To You” slays. You can practically hear the dirt on his strings in these.
Funny, as much of a trope as “chick bass player” has become, loads of time spent searching yielded almost no isolated tracks from female bassists. Which is ridiculous. The only one I found was Sonic Youth’s Kim Gordon, heard here on “Teenage Riot.” It takes a bit to work up to speed. Taken on its own, it’s a minimal, meditative, and quite lovely drone piece.
Here’s a gem—a live recording of Billy Cox, from Hendrix’s Band of Gypsys, eating “All Along The Watchtower” for breakfast.
This one was a revelation—the Rolling Stones’ Bill Wyman on “Gimme Shelter.” I knew this was a great bass part, but there’s stuff in here I’ve never heard before, and it’s excellent. I should have been paying more attention.
But is there “Super Freak?” Oh yeah, there’s “Super Freak.”
I searched mightily to find isolated bass tracks from Spinal Tap’s gloriously excessive ode to both low-ends, “Big Bottom,” before I realized there would be absolutely no point in doing that. So I leave you with the unadulterated real thing.
Previously on DM: The incomparable James Jamerson: isolated