The bassline is neglected by most non-musicians. But if you want to write or produce music, you quickly find out how important it is. The bassline is the foundation of the whole musical structure, both rhythmically and harmonically. The best basslines interlock with the drums and other rhythm instruments to propel the groove, without you necessarily even noticing them. I like the complex walking lines in jazz and melodic lines in highbrow rock, but the ones that really hit me where I live are basic riffs that loop and loop until they lift you into an ecstatic trance.
Here are my favorite basslines of the last fifty years, across genres.
John Coltrane – “My Favorite Things”
Simple, hypnotic, effective. Read more.
John Coltrane – “Equinox”
Another devastatingly simple groove.
Duke Ellington – “Half The Fun”
Paired with an incredible Sam Woodyard drum part. I love sampling it.
Duke Ellington – “Fleurette Africaine”
Charles Mingus’ strumming on the intro might be the most beautiful few bars he ever played.
The Beatles – “Dear Prudence”
I could have chosen any of a dozen Beatles tunes here, I love those McCartney lines. But this one has the most emotional power for me. Here’s a blog post about it, and here’s a mashup I did of several different versions of the song.
Miles Davis – “It’s About That Time”
From my favorite of Miles’ funk albums. Read a blog post about it.
James Brown – “There Was A Time (I Got To Move)”
Pretty sure that’s Bootsy Collins playing bass, and he kills it.
Herbie Hancock – “Chameleon”
Here’s a visualization I made of this loop.
Talking Heads – “Once In A Lifetime”
Read more about this track.
Michael Jackson – “Billie Jean”
Janet Jackson – “What Have You Done For Me Lately”
The song that made the Latelybass sound famous.
Paul Simon and Ladysmith Black Mambazo – “Diamonds On The Souls Of Her Shoes”
Bakithi Kumalo on the fretless makes this tune for me.
Michael Jackson – “Remember The Time”
Love those Teddy Riley sequenced lines.
Digable Planets – “Rebirth Of Slick”
The bassline is sampled from “Searchin'” by Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers, but the Digables flipped it into something new.
Black Sheep – “The Choice Is Yours”
Another creative flip of a jazz sample, from McCoy Tyner’s recording of “Impressions.”
Morphine – “Buena”
Two-string slide bass and baritone sax!
Daft Punk – “Around The World”
Never get tired of this one.
Kanye West – “Love Lockdown”
Kanye has been using tuned 808 kick drums to play his basslines lately, which is a dazzlingly hip idea. The kick and the bass are supposed to be in tight sync anyway; why not just fuse them into a single part? I know he’s a ridiculous human being in a lot of ways but the man knows how to put a track together.
Let me know if I missed anything critical, I’m sure I did.