Six Best Bass Solos In Rock

Categories: Nitpick Six

Photo by Jason Stoff
First, a joke: A man visits an Indian reservation. The tribe's chief leads him on a tour, and the man hears drums in the distance. "What are those drums?" he asks. The chief replies, "When the drums stop, bad things happen." They continue the tour, but the man keeps getting distracted. "Excuse me, what happens when the drums stop?" he asks. The chief again replies, "When the drums stop, bad things happen." Seconds later, the drums stop and the chief freezes. The man nervously asks, "What bad thing is going to happen?" The chief answers, "Bass solo."

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I knew one day I'd have to make this list, but I've been putting it off. Bass solos in a rock-song context tend to be lame. Traditionally, good rock bassists are tasteful, and tasteful bassists rarely solo. But as science teaches us, improbability does not render something impossible. Excellent bass solos exist, but their frequency is lower than the extra B on an Ibanez five-string. Here are the six best bass solos in rock. Let us know your favorites in our comments.

paul simon.jpeg

6. Paul Simon - "You Can Call Me Al" (3:44)
You Can Call Me Al by Paul Simon on Grooveshark
The best thing ever written about Graceland comes from a fake Op-Ed by a fake Paul Simon posted on The Onion: "What a great opportunity it was to go to South Africa and record all these great musicians from diverse backgrounds who either had no concept of song publishing royalties or lacked the legal resources to stop me from giving myself full credit." I always thought Simon's "whiteness" was what made a track like "You Can Call Me Al" unique by keeping it from being an exact cultural ripoff. The brief bass solo at the 3:44 mark is a perfect analogy of this dynamic; a stylistically appropriate slap-bass line which succumbs to the Western world's technique of thinking things sound sweet backward. And it does. Oh Lord, it does.


5. Led Zeppelin - "Lemon Song" (2:58)
Lemon Song by Led Zeppelin on Grooveshark

4. Phil Upchurch - "You Can't Sit Down" (1:24)
You Can't Sit Down by Phil Upchurch Combo on Grooveshark

These two examples do not exactly sound alike, and if the Internet didn't tell me that Led Zeppelin's John Paul Jones was inspired to pick up the bass by the solo breaks on Phil Upchurch's "You Can't Sit Down," I might never suspect a connection. But you can hear how Upchurch's track, a blues based proto-funk soul jam, informed Zeppelin's "Lemon Song," a blues based proto-metal rock jam. Jones' bass solo is more subtle than Upchurch's; one could argue it only qualifies as a solo because Jimmy Page isn't playing at the time. But Jones has two challenges on "Lemon Song:" rather than play unaccompanied he has to hold his own with John Bonham backing him up, and he has to overcome the sex noises Robert Plant makes to justify his presence in the band during its instrumental passages.

Phil Upchurch's track dates back to 1961, and was split into two parts for its 45 release. Information is spotty, but Upchurch himself may have played the solo toward the end of the A-side; he was a session bassist and recorded with Dizzy Gillespie among others. His tone is perfectly gritty, which seems both typical for the recording technology at the time and forward thinking for the bass tones of the future.

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