Saturday, July 11, 2009

Basslines: The Chain

Fleetwood Mac: The Chain


When I told my wife about this week's theme, she told me that I had to post Fleetwood Mac's "The Chain" from the classic 1977 album Rumours. Of course, she's the Fleetwood expert... not me. This is her take on the track.

Although he is honored in the name of the band, John McVie is arguably the least recognized of the members of Fleetwood Mac (that is, the five most well-known and long-lasting members). He doesn’t provide lead vocals like Lindsey, Stevie, or Christine, and he’s not an ebullient showman like his partner-in-crime Mick. What he provides, however, are solid basslines that make up the backbone of several of the band’s hits.

That’s never more apparent than with The Chain, off the mega-selling album Rumours. Besides the fact that its lyrical content represented the well-known turmoil going on in the band at the time, the most interesting aspect of this song is that it actually started out as two separate pieces. John, Mick, Lindsey, and Christine had worked out the part that begins with John’s memorable bassline (about 3:00 in), but that’s all they had – a great musical demonstration, but certainly not a complete song. Enter Stevie with a song she had written during the Buckingham Nicks days. After some resistance by Lindsey, the group decided to put the two together, with Stevie’s contribution leading off. It was a perfect fit.

So, here’s The Chain – featuring two demonstrably different musical movements, with an unforgettable bassline seamlessly tying them together.

Basslines : The Guns of Brixton

The Clash : The Guns of Brixton


Speaking of reggae...

Those guys were one of the rare white bands who could play reggae and make it theirs.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Basslines: No Woman, No Cry

Bob Marley and the Wailers: No Woman, No Cry


I have mentioned elsewhere that the bass line is essential to the workings of funk. The other place where this is true is reggae. Rock typically has the rhythm in the drums, bass, and rhythm guitar, with the lead guitar playing a line that helps propel the song along. Reggae, on the other hand, has the rhythm in the drums and two guitars, with the bass playing the line that propels the song.

My introduction to reggae was Bob Marley’s album Natty Dread. The music on this album is a perfect example of what I mean. The song that first grabbed me off this album was No Woman, No Cry. I am not alone in this: the song routinely turns up on Bob Marley tribute albums, and is one of Marley’s most covered tunes. What surprises me is how many cover versions somehow lose the bass line. It’s just not the same song without it.

Basslines: Back in the Goodle Days

John Hartford: Back in the Goodle Days

Haven't had a good Hartford post on here in a while... so why not serve up a nice, progressive, bluegrass bassline?

Randy Scruggs does the honors here on "Back in the Goodle Days" from Hartford's classic Aereo-Plain album from 1971. The bassline here is simple and understated, and at times buried a bit in the mix. It does, however, set the tone for the track right from the start and provide a strong, loping beat for the rest of the band (Vassar Clements, Tut Taylor, Norman Blake, and Hartford... a tremendous line up) to play over.

The interaction between Scruggs' bass and Hartford's banjo in the song's intro is especially soothing.

Basslines: Gigantic

Pixies: Gigantic


Every time I tried to think of a bass line this week, this was the song that popped into my head. It's simple and quiet, but very effective. And it's also the second contribution of the week from Kim Deal (who was better known as "Mrs. John Murphy" when this one was recorded).

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Basslines: Rapture

Blondie: Rapture


I love the bassline in Blondie's "Rapture". Since it is, at least in part, a rap song, I would be surprised had it NOT had a great beat. It was, in fact, one of the first hit songs to contain rap music back in 1981. Maybe having a popular band with a gorgeous lead singer helped rap be more palatable to the mainstream at the time. Whatever the case may be, I think this song is great. When I first heard it I hated it, I thought it was strange, but then again I was young. Now I find it completely unique, fun, and somewhat ahead of its time. Any song that can blend the funky beat, the rap music, the sultry and delicate female vocals and be by a new wave bands gets props in my book.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Basslines: Stool Pigeon

Kid Creole and the Coconuts: Stool Pigeon


This week, there has to be some funk. So here it sort of is. You will hear people talk about a “heavy” bass line. This is the sort of line that rumbles you out of your seat, and out onto the dance floor, even in places where there isn’t one. I challenge you to listen to this one, and try to sit still. In the dictionary next to the definition of heavy bass is a sound sample of Stool Pigeon.

Kid Creole is August Darnell, and he uses his given name when he does studio work on other artists’ projects. As Kid Creole, he builds from a disco/ funk base, adds a healthy dose of Latin jazz and pop, and then tops it off with light touches of any kind of music you might hear on the streets of New York City. The result is an often fascinating music al stew. Add lyrics that reflect Darnell’s wicked sense of humor, and I’m in. Incidentally, The Coconuts are the female backup singers.

Basslines: Cannonball

The Breeders: Cannonball


As one early commenter already has hinted at, The Breeder's "Last Splash" is one of the stand-out, must-haves in any talk of recently notable use of funky basslines. The 1993 hit has become a vestige for the alternative rock of the 90s. Josephine Wiggs' awesome bassline makes the song, without it, I am not sure it would have been that memorable.

Basslines : We've Gotta Get Out Of This Place

The Animals : We've Gotta Get Out Of This Place


Great bass lines are sometimes quite simple. Other examples : Ray Charles' "What'd I Say", Michael Jackson's "Billie Jean" or Pink Floyd's "Money".

You'll learn a lot about the song on this great Wikipedia article. The bassist is Chas Chandler (the last guy on the right on the picture), who was Jimi Hendrix's manager and who helped launch his career.

I'm posting this from my office, at lunch break. I really gotta get out of this job.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Basslines: Sex In A Pan

Bela Fleck and the Flecktones: Sex In A Pan


I've seen Bass Player magazine's only three-time Bass Player of the Year several times with Bela Fleck and the Flecktones, and the man deserves every Grammy. But fast isn't the only way to be funky, as aficionados of Stanley Jordan, Bootsy Collins, and their next-generation proteges well know. Founding Flecktone Victor Wooten gets full credit for letting this tune trip up to the edge of smooth without ever tipping over into tripe.

(Also, when did this theme turn into a feature on bass players, instead of basslines?)

Basslines: A Remark You Made

Weather Report: A Remark You Made


Usually, a bass line is part of the rhythm of a song. This is normally true in jazz, rock, bluegrass, you name it. And I will have some examples of that later this week. But here, the bass plays a melodic line. One could even argue that the bass has the main melody, with a counter melody in the saxophone. And I have always wished that someone would take the bass line here and write words for it. and record it. The first words would be, “A remark you made...”.

To make this work, Weather Report had to have Jaco Pastorius on bass. Pastorius, as you can hear, had an amazing tone; his bass sang. In addition to Weather Report, Pastorius leant his talents, in his too brief lifetime, to the Pat Metheny Group, and to Joni Mitchell during her jazz period. All these years later, he is still sorely missed.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Basslines: Oz is Ever Floating

Oysterhead: Oz Is Ever Floating


Primus bassist Les Claypool is renown among the Bonnaroo crowd for his earth-shattering, jazz-informed slap-and-bounce rhythms, and for good reason: where other rock and jamband bassists are content to hover in the background, Claypool plays up front and center, creating complex octave-spanning bass lines, melding heavy slap-bass style, drifting into full chords and improvisation mode as needed.

Claypool's style is so powerful and distinctive, in fact, I didn't even need to check the label to confirm his presence, along with Phish guitarist Trey Anastasio and Police drummer Stewart Copeland, on their highly recommended one-shot supergroup album The Grand Pecking Order. Though to be fair, Claypool's nasal tenor whine is equally unmistakable.

Basslines: The Real Me

The Who: The Real Me


When I think of great bass players, there are a few who come to mind. Many are jazz players, and I'll consider posting one of them later in the week, but the rock/pop player that comes to my mind most quickly is John Entwistle. His style is so unique and powerful. Entiwstle once said of The Who that they really didn't have a proper bass player, and in many ways that was a true statement. There was no one in the band who stood back and thumped notes over and over for the purpose of holding the music together. Instead, Entwistle used his instrument to create powerful melodic and harmonic structures within the songs.

The Real Me, the first (real) track from Quadrophenia, is a great example of how a bass can add just as much detail and depth to a song as a lead guitar or keyboard.