Monday, May 07, 2007

My Favorite Bass Lines

My favorite part of music is the bass. Sometimes I don't even hear the words, but the bass line keeps me charging, helps me concentrate, takes away pain, and any other number of marvels. I loved having a pair of 10" sub-woofers in my car for a season, precisely because the bass was so amazing. I had a 1000 watt 4 channel Audio Gods amp, and it would hit so hard my rearview mirror would often fall off.

I think one of the reasons that I can't listen to classical music for long periods of time, is that my mind craves bass. I do like other parts of music, just bass gets boring, but when the song is awesome, a good bassline can make or break the song.

Here's a list of some of my favorite bass-y songs, in no particular order. It should go without saying that if you plan to listen to these songs, you need to do it on a respectable stereo system:

1. "Concrete Jungle," Bob Marley & The Wailers. It's very simple, but it makes the song, a haunting declaration of Trenchtown political angst and rebellion that asks "Where is the love to be found? Whoa, someone please tell, because life must be somewhere more to found, instead of concrete jungles." The bass just reminds me of the pulsating energy of the listeners, as they anticipate the lyrics. This one is awesome.

2. "The Sweater Song," Weezer. Essentially the same four bars over and over again. I want to buy a bass guitar, just so I can figure out how to play along with the song.

3. "Testify," Rage Against the Machine. Holy Crap!
4. "Calm Like a Bomb," Rage Against the Machine. Holy Spit!

5. "Give It Away Now," Red Hot Chili Peppers. Flea slides funks his way into my memory. This song can get on my nerves at times, but if I just concentrate on the bass, it can become hypnotic.

6. "54-46," Toots & the Maytals. This machine like bass really drives the whole song, and when it goes away in the chorus bridge, my mind just can't wait for it to drop back in." It's really simple, but I cannot imagine the song any other way.

7. "Say it Ain't Say," Weezer. Again, this baseline is all I hear. I love to play along on my steering wheel as I drive with this song playing to loudly. Marley and I love to sing along to this song. She does the "buuuwoooow buuuuwoooow!" sounds and I play the bass. Good times.

8. "Lincoln Highway Dub," Sublime. The bass track that would become "Santería" some day. There's no words to distract from the wonderful playing. It's in my ears right now and I feel the interplay between the guitar that accompanies the bass that would later become the melody of the later song.

9. "I Shot the Sheriff," Bob Marley & The Wailers. At their very best. This song is something I love to listen to at the end of a work week. A Friday afternoon, watching the week's worries fade away. The bass at the end just reminds me of those moments in life when you feel a little cool, and that things are going your way.

10. "One Headlight," The Wallflowers. When I saw them in concert at Music Midtown in Atlanta in 1996 or 1997, this bassline hit so hard it made me cough. I love this song for its bass. It's an okay song, without the inspired base, it's forgettable.

11. "Twilight," Squirrel Nut Zippers. As this whimsical song drifts along in the ether, the bass is there as a steady source of grounding. I love the surety of the timing and how it just sits there in the background. Understated bass at its best.

12. "Paul Revere," Beastie Boys. They looped the bass backwards. Enough said.

13. "Black," Pearl Jam. The bass is turned down way low, but listen to the complexity of the notes played.

14. "Song Against Sex," Neutral Milk Hotel. It's so fuzzy and so low-fi that the bass can get lost. If you isolate it, holy crap. Just wow!

15. "Girlfriend," Matthew Sweet. The bass carries the song, and it's a really damned good song.

16. "Sabanas Frías," Maná. I don't know what's better on this one, Rubén Blades's knock-you-down powerful voice or the perfect, and I mean flawlessly perfect, bassline. Even if you don't speak Spanish, this song is spectacular.

17. "Stir It Up," Bob Marley & The Wailer/Los Cafres/Los Pericos. Every version of this song is awesome. The original is the backbone of the song. The Pericos somehow infuse it with a new sound, even if they're playing the same notes.

18. "From Your Mouth," God Lives Under Water. The bass pulsates with techno fuzz. I love it. The melody and bass overlap creating this chunky sound. The video makes it even better.

19. "Take Me Out," Franz Ferdinand. The very definition of galloping. It keeps time like a metronome, like Jerome's heart in Gattaca.

20. "Tom's Diner," Suzanne Vega & DNA. The only thing that could possibly go with the "Dut dut dut dut dut dit dut" is the heavy bass that DNA supplies.

21. "Light Up My Room," Barenaked Ladies. The bass seems out of place, and the first few listens, it bugged me, until I found the inner rhythm, and how the off sequence bass amplifies the meaning of the words.

22. "Nutshell," Alice in Chains. When I was dating my wife, I would put this song on my stereo, on loop, as I drove the 2 1/2 hours from Provo to Logan, Utah, and I would crank it all the way up. This song always reminds me of driving at night through snow-covered landscapes. It reminds me of how much I love my wife, of the lust I felt, of the anxiousness of waiting to see her. The drive was made better by the sparse beauty of this bassline. It soars and crashes and is different throughout the song. Outside of reggae, this is my favorite bass of all time. It reminds me of young love, of passion, of nostalgia, and of how great a band we lost to heroin.


Anonymous said...

Re 22: How about "Would"? It starts off with 5-10 seconds of only bass line, and then picks up from there.


Darla M. Wiese said...

what a fun post! I have a lot of these songs and am gonna re-listen to them and try to appreciate the bass.


Susanna Williams said...

You're so lovely, Pooks. Now I'm gonna go listen to all those songs you put on those mixed cds you make for me that I thought were retarded.

Mac said...


The bass is very strong there, but something about it has always bugged me. I'm not sure why.


If you weren't my sister, I might be offended. But I understand what you mean. I feel the same way about the retarded music you give me that I eventually come to love. That's also how I felt when you were born :P