I was thinking about bass players the other day. It seems to me, they don’t get anywhere near the recognition they deserve. It’s not surprising I suppose, they lack the flash of lead guitarists or the charisma of vocalists. Even the drummer is more front and center as a rule. Sure, some bassists also front; Sting, Suzi Quatro, Phil Lynott, but they are celebrated more for their fronting personas than their playing.
No, I’m thinking of a different breed; the ones who stand solidly to the side and just do their damned job; the rhythmic, throbbing engine room of any band. And a thankless job it is too sometimes. I’ve actually known people who can’t distinguish a bass line in the music they’re listening to – just can’t pick it out – and to those people, I generally say You’d certainly notice it if it wasn’t there.
With all this in mind, I thought I’d make this post about my five favourite bass players. Now, this is not open to debate, I’m not claiming these are the five best players of all time; just my personal favourites. Feel free to share yours in the comments.
In no particular order then, here they are:
Carol is a living legend. One of the first women to break through into the world of early Rock and Roll, her playing has appeared on a staggering 10,000 recordings. Still active today, her career has lasted over 50 years.
She’s shared studios with so many of the greats, from Frank Sinatra to Frank Zappa. Her bass can be heard on the Beach Boys Pet Sounds and several tracks by Simon and Garfunkel. She devised and played the classic intro to Glen Campbell’s Wichita Lineman. She contributed to the sound of the Righteous Brothers and was part of the famous Phil Spector house band the Wrecking Crew.
You can also add: The Doors, Quincy Jones, The Buckinghams, Ritchie Valens (she played guitar rather than bass on the timeless classic “La Bamba“), Nancy Sinatra, Sonny and Cher, Barbara Streisand, Ike and Tina Turner, Joe Cocker, Ray Charles, Herb Alpert, Buffalo Springfield, and the Monkees.
Like I said, she’s a legend.
Bruce was, in my opinion, a fairly underrated contributor to the sound of The Jam. His Bass, for me, defined the sound of that punk-mod trio. As a band, they weren’t to everyone’s taste, but their aggressive, rumbling sound, largely attributable to Foxton’s bass playing, was a soundtrack to my laddish years.
Bruce and the boys will always hold a place in this old rocker’s affections.
Gail Ann Dorsey
Most famously an essential part of Bowie’s touring band over the past twenty years. Gail Ann Dorsey has also played with the likes of Tears for Fears, Lenny Kravitz, Bryan Ferry, The The, and The Indigo Girls.
I personally had the very real pleasure of meeting Gail (along with Mike Garson) at a side gig she and Bowie’s band played in Melbourne during the Australian leg of the Reality Tour.
The Philly girl (I love that about her) is a consummate player and her voice when she steps up to the mic is phenomenal. Bowie has wisely used her as his foil onstage for years, but no matter how elaborate their theatrical antics, her pumping bass lines never waver.
What can I say? Joy Division until I die. The sound of this band launched a thousand copycats. Without them, there would have been no Cure for starters. And Hook’s hooks were an essential component of their dark creations. Was he the most technically proficient bass man on the planet? Of course not, the band was famously messy onstage, but that sound…that terrible, portentously wrist slash inducing sound.
He was also part of the pop weirdness that was New Order.
The E Street band has consistently been hailed as one of the greatest live acts of the past thirty years and this is due partly to the not inconsiderable talents of Mr Tallent. Regarded as the quiet one in this stellar line-up (as is so often the case with wielders of the four stringed thunder stick) Tallent has lent grace and power to many of Springsteen’s greatest compositions.
A master of the fretless and fretted bass, he effortlessly weaves his guiding rhythms through the often complex arrangements of songs like Incident on 57th Street and Rosalita (Come out Tonight) or sparser compositions such as Something in the Night.
Unforgivably, if you type great bass players into Google, Tallent doesn’t even come up. What further proof is needed that there is something deeply twisted and unjust about the state of the culture?
So there you have it; my top five. As I said, this is not open for debate. Each of these fine musicians have impacted my life in a positive way and have earned my undying loyalty.
Mick Karn, John Deacon, Flea, Tina Weymouth, Kim Deal, Dave Allan, John Entwistle, Jack Bruce, Mark King, and… whoever you happen to love most.