The Six Best Bass Lines Of All Time

Categories: Nitpick Six

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Bass has many forms -- electric, upright, synthesized. Whatever its shape, it is a crucial element to popular music.

Most songs don't need good bass lines, but the ones that have them are propelled into greatness. Here are the six best bass lines. Please note that bass parts that parrot guitar parts (i.e. "Day Tripper" or "Sunshine of Your Love") have been intentionally omitted.

6. Queen -- "Another One Bites The Dust"


If you haven't heard "Another One Bites The Dust" in a while, you need to. The production is insane -- backward pianos and cymbals, and some weird noise that sounds like TV static and helicopter blades. It's all anchored by the simplest, deepest bass line possible. Sure, things get flashy for a few bars here and there, but it's those three thumps that line up perfectly with the kick drum that make the track so solid.

5. Michael Jackson -- "Billie Jean"
MJ knew the importance of a good bass line, something he learned as a child (I am foreshadowing) and only forgot around the time of his Dangerous album. None of the songs released under his name hit as hard as "Billie Jean." That spry synth-bass walk is an intravenous injection of low end, a hypnotic get-yo-ass-on-the-floor call to your intestines. Just listen to the way the tune opens up during the "People always told me, be careful what you do" passage, when the line gives way to long notes. It's almost metaphorical for Michael, how the disappearance of the bass line making you realize you had been taking it for granted for so long. Unfortunately, the King of Pop can't just rise from the dead and drop in harder than ever before. Luckily for us, the chorus of "Billie Jean" can.
4. Black Sabbath - "War Pigs"
Sabbath's Paranoid opens with a sludgy waltz that is essentially a solo for bassist Geezer Butler. His work on the first 30 seconds of "War Pigs" is a treatise on rock bass. He lays low when needed but is not afraid of jumping into elongated fills. Butler plays bass like a second guitar; that's not always the best approach, but when it's good, people are still emulating it 40 years later (see: the Sword, Black Mountain).
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24 comments
juanr1214
juanr1214

Entwistle's bass line on "My Generation"—all on the low E, no?—is groundbreaking. Also, you gotta hand it to Iron Maiden's Steve Harris: he runs circles around the twin-guitar assaults in a way that would make Van Halen's Michael Anthony hide behind his mama's skirts.(Hmm. Didn't realize this article would fire me up. Cool idea!)

Danigoni1
Danigoni1

jaActually, it's the other way around with Sunshine of your love, it's Jack's riff.

Fatwally99
Fatwally99

Folks, my age will probably be showing here but the bass line to the Temptations' "My Girl" by James Jamerson and the bass line on the Archie Bell and the Drells song "Tighten Up" have to be considered classics.  I agree, tho, that any bass line by James Jamerson is classic.  Thanks!

Riflemusket
Riflemusket

Uh, the list is not complete without mention of the bass-as-lead guitar in "Roundabout" by Yes.  Chris Squire is a BASS MONSTER on that one.

Denjomilay52
Denjomilay52

Okay tweeners, ANYTHING John Paul Jones of LZ played bass on kicks serious ass!

Christopher Ave
Christopher Ave

You somehow forgot "Come Together," perhaps the greatest bass line of all time. Can you imagine that song without that swooping, snake-y bass line? Didn't think so.

Jason Rosenbaum
Jason Rosenbaum

Here are some other excellent basslines: "Not the Sun" by Brand New, "Under Pressure" by David Bowie/Queen, "Ace of Spades" by Motorhead and "Rebellion (Lies)" by Arcade Fire. These are probably not all-time greats, but I enjoy them.

crashtest
crashtest

The Hollies: "Long Cool Woman in a Black Dress"

Oh
Oh

As a native Ohioan, I understand the photo up top.

Tony
Tony

I pity all ya'll for not even thinking of the greatest bass line ever recorded, the sublime and unsurpassable "Women's Gotta Have It" by Mr. Bobby Womack. If you don't know it, get it!

Mike Appelstein
Mike Appelstein

Ditto "Good Times."  Also Talking Heads' "Psycho Killer," the Stooges' "Down in The Street," and any number of Larry Graham runs for Sly & the Family Stone.  "Thank You..." is the first that comes to mind. Don't underestimate McCartney's bass work with mid-period Beatles, too - "Rain" was one of the first that established the bass as a lead instrument.

Blood247
Blood247

Sly and the family stone .... "If you want me to stay". 

Stl_Bob
Stl_Bob

Also the best song in 7/4 is Outshined by Soundgarden.

Jason Koenig
Jason Koenig

This is where I make my obligitory mention of Bruce Thomas from Elvis Costello and the Attractions as an underrated bassist. I particularly love the bass line on "Goon Squad."

Really I just think 6 is too short a list- but I guess I'm biased.

Jjjones
Jjjones

Bernard Edwards leading Chic through "Good Times", which later became the riff behind "Rapper's Delight".

Corey Woodruff
Corey Woodruff

Anything James Jamerson played is the best bass line in human history.  Period.

Matt Harnish
Matt Harnish

"Joe McCarthy's Ghost" off the first Minutemen EP. Still almost impossible to get my head around how straightforward Watt makes such a twisty bass line sound. I could easily list another dozen Minutemen bass lines that that description could apply to...

Oh
Oh

Stevie Wonder's "I Wish" popped into my head walking home tonight. That bassline spawned a number one hit and was sampled on the inescapable "Wild Wild West."

bassnerd
bassnerd

seriously, this is possibly the most important bass line in american music, it started a revolution...

Stl_Bob
Stl_Bob

Seriously. Another One Bites the Dust is based on or at least heavily influenced by the Good Times bassline. I love your work Ryan, but any best bass lines of all time that doesn't include Good TImes is a massive fail.

Ryan Wasoba
Ryan Wasoba

ARRRGH! Good one, don't know how that slipped my radar. It's also used on Daft Punk's "Around The World," and the video by Michel Gondry was all based around that idea.

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