Joy Division – “Love Will Tear Us Apart”
Joy Division’s most well known song is icy and oddly enough, the closest the band ever came to being accessible. Ian Curtis’ singing is distant and sparse and the synthesizers in the background (which replicate Curtis’ harmony) only add to the eeriness of the song. The rhythm section however, takes no prisoners. Stephen Morris pounds his way through the song with an urgency in direct opposition to Curtis’ monotone vocals. Bass players usually tend to anchor the song, but on “Love Will Tear Us Apart” Peter Hook steers the song. The opening swirl of Hook’s bass pulls the listener in and prepares them for Curtis’ tale of desperation. As the bass bounces in and of the speaker, it becomes the only inviting sound in an otherwise chilling song.
Kings of Leon – “McFearless”
On the first few Kings of Leon albums Jared Followill proved himself to be the unsung hero of the band playing his bass like it was a lead instrument. Never one to be content in the background, Followill turns it up ever further on “McFearless” with a loud and fuzzy bass-line. Playing it more like a guitar riff, the bass propels the song into a distorted groove allowing Matthew Followill to try his best at sounding like The Edge, and Nathan Followill to give an unorthodox and frantic beat.
Sly & The Family Stone – “Thank You (Fahletinme Be Mice Elf Agin)”
This absurdly titled song has one of the greatest bass riffs ever, and is sometimes considered to be one of the first funk songs. Larry Graham’s slap bass here is instantly recognizable, blasting in and out of the speakers in a hummable melody. What’s really amazing about Graham’s playing here is the space between the notes. While his playing is certainly the star of the show here, it never overshadows the rest of the song.
The Beatles – “I Want (She’s So Heavy)”
Paul McCartney is such a brilliant songwriter, it’s sometimes easy to forget how great of a bass player he really is. While the song is probably most famous for its ending, McCartney’s breaks in the middle of the verses are the stuff of legend. While the chorus and the ending are among the loudest stuff the Beatles recorded, the verses find them at their jazziest and loosest with McCartney taking the reins. Check out the lengthy instrumental section mid-way through the song for proof.
Modest Mouse – “Fire It Up”
“Fire It Up” is one of the standout tracks from Modest Mouse’s massively under-rated We Were Dead Before the Ship Even Sank. Eric Judy’s bass takes center stage here providing a slick groove that Modest Mouse is not usually known for. Whether or not the song is about weed or not, it’s hard not to get caught up in Issac Brock’s chants. The closest the band gets to be catchy since “Float On”.
Red Hot Chili Peppers – “Funky Monks”
Flea has written so many classic bass lines that it’s hard to pick one as his best. For me, this one has always stood out. It’s the perfect balance between his slap-happy bass of the early days, and melodic. It’s also one of the funkiest songs ever recorded by a rock group. Flea’s playing is so goo that John Frusiciante is forced to mimic it throughout most of the song. As the song draws to its conclusion, Flea’s takes over the song, forcing Frusciante and Chad Smith to the backseat.
The Who – “The Real Me”
This might be the finest bass performance in the history of rock. As Pete Townshend and Keith Moon thrash away with all of their might, Entwistle’s fluid and commanding playing destroys everything in its path no matter how hard Moon and Townshend try. What makes his playing so unique here, is its existence inside the rhythm while simultaneously acting as the lead instrument. Impressive stuff.