Hear Isolated Tracks From Five Great Rock Bassists: McCartney, Sting, Deacon, Jones & Lee

Last week we sparked some heat­ed debate (and some typ­i­cal inter­net vit­ri­ol) with a post fea­tur­ing iso­lat­ed drum tracks from six of rock’s best drum­mers. Well, here we go again, this time with iso­lat­ed bass tracks…. Bear in mind that the bassists fea­tured here are some of the top play­ers in rock who actu­al­ly have bass tracks avail­able online. There are many more I’d love to hear out of the mix—and no short­age of jazz, reg­gae, funk, and soul bassists I deeply dig. If you don’t see your favorite play­er here… real­ly, don’t take it per­son­al­ly.

The bass gui­tar tends to be a for­got­ten instru­ment, some­times not even missed when it’s gone (think Black Keys, The Doors), but despite the suc­cess of the rare bass-less band, it’s hard to imag­ine some of the songs rep­re­sent­ed here with­out the fun­da­men­tal thump and groove of well-played basslines. We begin with John Deacon’s bassline for Queen and David Bowie’s “Under Pres­sure,” above. As we men­tioned in a recent post on that song’s evo­lu­tion, Sty­lus named this the #1 bassline of all time.

I don’t know what that acco­lade is worth, but the bassline is at least one of the most rec­og­niz­able, thanks in no small part to Vanil­la Ice. In the con­text of Queen, Deacon’s per­haps best known for the pound­ing stomp of “Anoth­er One Bites the Dust,” one of many songs he wrote for the band. He has very delib­er­ate­ly dis­ap­peared from the spot­light since Fred­die Mercury’s death, but his taste­ful, melod­ic play­ing is in no dan­ger of being for­got­ten.

Led Zeppelin’s John Paul Jones, on the oth­er hand, refus­es to leave the stage, for which the sev­er­al dozen musi­cians he’s toured and record­ed with since Zeppelin’s demise are all grate­ful. Cur­rent­ly one-third of super­group Them Crooked Vul­tures (with Dave Grohl and Queens of the Stone Age’s Josh Homme), Jones also plays man­dolin (on Zep’s “Going to Cal­i­for­nia,” for exam­ple), lap steel, and this triple-necked mon­ster. For all his con­tin­ued rel­e­vance into the 21st cen­tu­ry, Jones’s some­times smooth, some­times burly basslines for Led Zep­pelin, such as the unfor­get­table “Ram­ble On” riff above, will be his endur­ing lega­cy. One would have to be a hell of a bass play­er to keep up with John Bon­ham, and John Paul Jones is exact­ly that. He got his start play­ing jazz at age 15, and while still a teenag­er, played in a jazz-rock col­lec­tive that includ­ed John McLaugh­lin (whom Jeff Beck has called “the best gui­tarist alive”). Want to learn how Jones does it? Check out this bass les­son with the mas­ter him­self.

When the sub­ject of rock bassists aris­es, Ged­dy Lee’s name will invari­ably come up. Like his band­mate Neil Peart, Lee’s musi­cian­ship astounds, his prog-rock stylings seem inim­itable, except per­haps by Primus’ Les Clay­pool (who Lee names as one of his favorites). Bass mag­a­zine No Tre­ble calls Rush’s “YYZ” (above) “one of the great­est bass lines of all time.” It’s not exact­ly my cup of tea, but I do know at least one bass play­er who left for Berklee Col­lege of Music hat­ing Rush, then came back lis­ten­ing to this song over and over in hushed awe. Not every­one loves Lee’s over-the-top high pitched vocals, but one has to admire the fact that he plays basslines like this while singing some of the most philo­soph­i­cal lyrics in rock, cour­tesy of drum­mer Peart.

The last two bass tracks fea­ture bassists who, like Lee, are also singers. No one pulls that off with more grace and style than Paul McCart­ney. In the bassline to The Bea­t­les “Come Togeth­er” (above), you can hear the deep, res­o­nant tone of McCartney’s semi-hol­low Hofn­er vio­lin bass (many of which have been “nicked” over the years). Of McCartney’s play­ing, John Lennon once said, “Paul was one of the most inno­v­a­tive bass play­ers ever. And half the stuff that is going on now is direct­ly ripped off from his Bea­t­les peri­od.” In my own bass-play­ing days, I cer­tain­ly stole my share of ideas from McCartney—or more prob­a­bly, his basslines were etched into my music brain, and my fin­gers auto­mat­i­cal­ly plucked out McCart­ney-style pat­terns. Music Radar puts “Come Togeth­er” at the top of a list of “Paul McCartney’s 12 great­est Bea­t­les bass per­for­mances,” for the “spooky, sin­u­ous, throb­bing and groovy” track above, “as orig­i­nal as it gets.”

Our iso­lat­ed drum tracks post hap­pened to fea­ture the oth­er rhyth­mic halves of every play­er on this list except John Dea­con, and while this wasn’t exact­ly by design, it’s no sur­prise to me that’s how it worked out. A great rhythm sec­tion works as a close­ly-aligned team, find­ing locked grooves, cre­at­ing empha­sis and punc­tu­a­tion, build­ing struc­tures and spaces for lead play­ers to fill. A drum­mer like the Police’s Stew­art Copeland need­ed a bassist as pre­cise yet pas­sion­ate as Sting. Very few oth­er bands have suc­cess­ful­ly fused punk, jazz, and reg­gae rhythms into a greater whole, a feat accom­plished in part because of Sting’s ver­sa­til­i­ty as a play­er. From the mut­ed “train engine” punk of “Next to You” to the left-field pop of “Mes­sage in a Bot­tle” (above), Sting’s aggres­sive play­ing, often fret­less, most­ly finger-picked—to quote that rep­utable source Uncy­clo­pe­dia—“makes him bet­ter than all oth­er musi­cians com­bined by 12 orders of mag­ni­tude, and that’s a pop fact.”

But seri­ous­ly, he’s good, and so are dozens of oth­er rock bassists who don’t appear above. Name your favorites, and if you find their bass tracks online, share ‘em! Alright, let the bass slugfest begin, and be sure to check out No Tre­ble’s “Iso­lat­ed Bass Track Week” posts, with tracks from undis­put­ed mas­ters of the instru­ment like James Jamer­son and Jaco Pas­to­ri­ous.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Iso­lat­ed Drum Tracks From Six of Rock’s Great­est: Bon­ham, Moon, Peart, Copeland, Grohl & Starr

Paul McCart­ney Offers a Short Tuto­r­i­al on How to Play the Bass Gui­tar

The Sto­ry of the Bass: New Video Gives Us 500 Years of Music His­to­ry in 8 Min­utes

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness

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Comments (10)
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  • Marco says:

    In come togeth­er is Not an Hofn­er but a richen­backer

  • Bob Bobby says:

    On a Who doc­u­men­tary “Amaz­ing Jour­ney: The Sto­ry of the Who”, they iso­lat­ed John Entwistle bass play­ing.

  • Gospel says:

    Love this one, also:


    John Tay­lor in Rio

  • Gabriel Jammy says:

    Noth­ing by Flea (i.e. Michael Balzary, Red Hot Chili Pep­pers)? He is a true mas­ter of the bass gui­tar, a seri­ous­ly vir­tu­osic play­er! Check out his lines in songs like By the Way, Throw Away Your Tele­vi­sion, High­er Ground, Around the World, and many more!

  • The Bassman says:

    This list­ing is embar­rass­ing­ly devoid of funk influ­ences. When list­ing great bassists, it is a trav­es­ty not to men­tion Ver­dine White of Earth, Wind, and Fire. None of the artists you men­tion can come close to dri­ving a funky bass line like Mr. White.

  • mark mitchell says:

    The list­ing is also embar­rass­ing­ly devoid of HELLO, JAZZ influ­ences; has the author of this piece nev­er heard of the great Chris­t­ian MCBride or the even more great bassist Jaco Pas­to­rius? Are you kid­ding me? Dumb stuff from dumb­ed-down com­men­ta­tors who con­tin­u­al­ly mar­i­nate in rock music, know next to noth­ing about Amer­i­ca’s home-grown art music, JAZZ, but ALWAYS seem to know who the “great” one or two-note “won­ders” are. Pathet­ic.

  • Bassist says:

    The point of this post, as far as I could tell, was sim­ply to dis­cuss five great rock bassists, not to rank the five most influ­en­tial bassists of all time in any genre.nnAnyhow, here are some oth­er rock and pop bassists who can stand along­side those list­ed above: John Entwistle of The Who; Jack Bruce of Cream; Chris Squire of Yes; John McVie of Fleet­wood Mac; Flea, of course; Nick Lowe (lis­ten to “Cru­el to be Kind”); Bil­ly Cox, who played with Jimi Hen­drix; Tina Wey­mouth of Talk­ing Heads; and all-star stu­dio play­ers like James Jamer­son, Car­ol Kaye, Leland Sklar, Duck Dunn and David Hood. I’m sure I’m leav­ing out plen­ty of greats.

  • JJ fan says:

    What about JJ Bur­nel of The Stran­glers? Con­tem­po­raries, they nev­er acheived quite the lev­el of fame as The Police, yet when speak­ing of bass dri­ven rock sounds, JJ Bur­nel should not go unmen­tioned: Nice ‘N’ Sleazy: http://youtu.be/OYqllpnyWrY and Peach­es: http://youtu.be/TUoIclrvsPQ. Thoughts?

  • stray cat says:

    I see no men­tion in any of the com­ments about Robert Trujillo…I’ve fol­lowed him from sui­ci­dal tendencies/infectious grooves, up to Metallica.…he is one of the most ver­sa­tile I’ve ever had the plea­sure of see­ing live…and I have seen Les Clay­pool, I was not impressed…in fact I was bored by him.….

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