A Bassist’s importance in a band is on occasions overlooked by music enthusiasts in favour of lead guitarists and drummers. I don’t know, I guess it’s in our DNA to appreciate a good guitar solo over the lower tones of a bass guitar. But anyone who knows anything about music will tell you, that the most important structure to a song, is always the rhythmic and harmonic foundations provided by the bass. Sometimes the bass is really obvious that its deep pulsating or throbbing sound truly makes a song. At other times the bass can be so subtle that it is almost lost teasing us with an array of atmospheric sounds.
That said, I am not here to give you a music lesson. I would just like to share with you my appreciation of some of the best bass players out there. A list of foremost bassists of all time put together by me would be long and extensive. Among them you would find some truly great luminaries of rock n roll, alternative and indie rock, like Michael Peter Balzary aka Flea from the Red Hot Chilly Peppers, whose innovative bass electronic and funk hooks, made me a fan for life. Standing arguably head and shoulders above most in the bass business is also the legendary John Entwistle from The Who. He almost singlehandedly brought the bass to the forefront of rock & roll songs from the mid sixties. My Generation in particular comes to mind as one of the great bass solo songs of all time. Furthermore, how can we not mention the unsung session bassist Carol Kaye, whose prolific work (with perhaps 10,000 recorded sessions) endeared her to everyone who met her. She performed on numerous records for artists such as the Beach Boys, the Righteous Brothers and Joe Cocker. Of course, I cannot keep rattling of name after name here, so how about I briefly talk about six of my favourite bassists over the course of this short series. Without further ado I’d like to introduce to you, and in no particular order of importance, my first bass player, Paul McCartney.
During the so-called apprenticeship years of The Beatles, Paul McCartney cut his teeth playing bass guitar. He reluctantly picked up the bass, when no one else in the group wanted it, after their original bassist Stuart Sutcliffe left The Beatles in 1961. Yet almost overnight McCartney would make this instrument truly his own.
Many critics would argue that John Entwistle was one of the first (if not the first) to truly popularize the bass guitar’s importance from simply just being a link between the drums and lead guitars. I would argue that honour should go to McCartney, who I believed changed popular music with the bass lines he wrote. His memorable bass guitar work is littered throughout many of The Beatles best songs. Choosing one over the other is difficult for a Beatles fan like myself. Nonetheless, the following below are five gems that I love and repeatedly play on my stereo.
To start with, lets start talk about the gorgeous ballad Michelle. In short, McCartney’s moody bass sets the whole tempo for the song. It fades in and out brilliantly, somewhere in the middle of John and George’s acoustic guitars and Ringo’s hi hat’s, and I can’t help but to wonder how he manages to get it to sound so good. Later, of course, I discovered that he achieved it by ‘finger picking’ at the strings.
What can I say about my next pick that hasn’t already been said about Day Tripper. At first, all we hear is George Harrison’s gutsy guitar hook, but when McCartney comes in, matching George’s playing, all hell breaks loose as the song builds and peaks. It’s a classic that you can never get tired of.
If you love Day Tripper, then you will love Paperback Writer, which could be said to be arguably The Beatles answer to The Who’s song My Generation, where McCartney’s bass guitar effectively becomes a lead guitar. It delivers arguably one of the best amplified bass riffs that I first heard that really knocked me over.
Most critics will pick Come Together as McCartney’s greatest moment as a bassist. I say that moment came with Dear Prudence. Both songs, of course, have exceptional bass riffs. McCartney’s sliding technique on Come Together is sublime, but for me, Paul’s pulsating almost hypnotic atmospheric bass in Dear Prudence steals the show!
Photo Credit: The header image of the amazing bassist Melissa Aur der Maur is by flickr user Kieron and is used under the Creative-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 license. While The Beatles image is used under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Netherlands license. I am not the uploader of the You Tube clip embedded here.