The bass is one of those instruments that can drive a song, but you may not always notice it. It’s also sometimes out front enough with its own melody (or bass line, as they are generally referred to). Sometimes the bass line is so good that it not only lifts the song to great heights, but also becomes a distinctive little piece of music history.
“10-9-8,” Face To Face (Face To Face) – This is the ‘80s pop band Face to Face, not the hard rock outfit that came along in the 90s. This band featured a female lead singer (Laurie Sargent) and hooks that stretched from their native New England to Florida. In this song, one of their few hits, bassist John Ryder plays a unique, bouncy line that holds everything together, yet brings out the other instruments.
“Eyes without a Face,” Billy Idol (Rebel Yell) – The bass line in this song is simple, but the sparse production and occasional improvisational bass embellishments make it an integral part of what is the closest thing Mr. Idol has released to a ballad.
“Close To You,” Maxi Priest (Bonafide) – The melody is what drives this song, and it has an endearing 1990 feel to it as well. Maybe that’s because the album came out in 1990. (Insert laugh track). But it’s an R&B pop song with a great beat, and, as you might expect, a stellar bass line.
“Jumping Someone Else’s Train,” The Cure (Boys Don’t Cry) – This is one of my favorite Cure songs, and it features three distinct parts going in different directions — Robert Smith’s vocal, guitar counter-melodies, and a fantastic, bopping bass line that never stops moving.
“Smooth Operator,” Sade (Diamond Life) – You kind of expect great bass lines in pop music that is rooted in jazz and R&B. Still, in what was Sade’s first hit song, the bass line is as sexy as the sultry singer’s voice.
“Call Me,” Go West (Go West) – A lot of the music of the mid-‘80s featured bombastic production, such as on Go West’s first album. There are layers of drums and vocals, synthesizer hits, and some really prolific bass playing.“No One Above,” Michael Tolcher (I Am) – Yeah, the dude is a singer/songwriter, but he’s got one of the funkiest bands you’ve ever heard. Case in point, this song with the thundering bass line and ultra-funky rhythm. See if you can put it on without jumping around.
“Fools in Love,” Joe Jackson (Look Sharp!) – The bass line in this melancholy song -- one of Mr. Jackson’s best ever -- is distinguishable, spot on and simply awesome. In fact, I could listen to it with the rest of the song muted.
“Come Back and Stay,” Paul Young (No Parlez) – On Paul Young’s debut album, this single featured bass that not only slapped its way to making the song groove, but also added sound effects and little melodic riffs throughout. As if you needed to be reminded the bass player was still there.
“Lovely Day,” Bill Withers (Menagerie) – This song and its happy, bouncing bass line is now relegated to smooth jazz radio, but if you know a thing about good songs, there’s a really good chance it’s in your digital music player. And if not, it should be.
“The Bed’s Too Big Without You,” the Police (Reggatta de Blanc) – It’s not just that Sting comes up with great bass lines. It’s the fact that he can play them and sing a song’s melody at the same time. And this is one of his best efforts on the bass, period.
“Desert Rose (Higher Than a Lover),” Alana Davis (Surrender Dorothy) – If you can imagine a cross between Sade and Ani Difranco, that’s Alana Davis. She’s remained under the radar, but she’s definitely on mine. The bass line in this one is steady, but just enough to be really cool.
“Sea Legs,” the Shins (Wincing the Night Away) – The Shins just ooze cool, but they are really great musicians too. The bass line on this particular song from their latest is worth the price of the album.
“Silly Love Songs,” Wings (Wings at the Speed of Sound) –And now, the song we built this list around. Like Sting, Paul McCartney can weave sick bass lines around vocal melodies, and perform them both at the same time. On this track, he really outdoes himself. In my opinion, “Silly Love Songs” has the best bass line in the history of rock music.