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The bass guitar has undergone a remarkable evolution since its inception, quietly becoming the unsung hero of the music world. The instrument initially emerged as a crucial but understated element in the rhythm section and has steadily carved out a more distinctive and influential role as music has progressed. New genres have emerged with musicians pushing the boundaries of what music could be, creating an optimal environment for the bass guitar to find new realms to explore. It has become a canvas for innovation and personal expression, within its technique and sound, propelled primarily by bass players themselves who continue to learn, experiment and improve upon their predecessors. These musicians, with their unique talents and visions, have redefined the role of the bass guitar, turning it into a pivotal element that could shape a song's identity and a genre's character.
This article explores 50 of the best bass lines of all time that have emerged throughout this process. It covers the most popular bass genres, including funk, rock, jazz, hip hop, and more, from household names like Flea and James Brown to unsung bass heroes like Norwood Fisher of Fishbone. Let us know in the comments if there's one we left off that you think should be included. With thousands of great bass lines to pick from it's hard to narrow them down, yet these are without a doubt 50 of the best bass lines of all time that any bass lover will love to listen to.
Best Funk Bass Lines
by Graham Central Station (1973)
Larry Graham, the bassist for Graham Central Station, showcases his pioneering "slap bass" technique in "Hair." This technique profoundly influenced the sound of funk and later genres. Graham's innovative approach to the bass guitar was a significant step in the evolution of the instrument's role in modern music.
If You Want Me to Stay
by Sly & the Family Stone (1973)
This song features Larry Graham's distinctive, melodic bass playing, which is integral to Sly & the Family Stone's sound. The band, known for its pivotal role in the development of funk, soul, and psychedelic music, blends these genres seamlessly, with the bass line driving the groove.
Pick Up the Pieces
by Average White Band (1974)
This song is celebrated for its catchy, horn-driven melody, but it's the bass line, played by Alan Gorrie, that provides its foundational groove. The Scottish funk and R&B group gained international acclaim with this track, which became a staple for both the genre and the era.
Get Up Offa That Thing
by James Brown (1976)
James Brown, often called the "Godfather of Soul," presents a bass line in this song that's as energetic as it is foundational. The bass groove is essential to the song's driving rhythm and reflects Brown's profound influence on the development of funk music.
by Stevie Wonder (1976)
Stevie Wonder's "I Wish" features a prominent, infectious bass line that Wonder himself played on a keyboard. This song is a testament to his versatility and creativity, marking a high point in his career during the 1970s when he produced some of his most innovative and acclaimed work.
by Parliament (1977)
"Flashlight" is a cornerstone of the funk genre, with Bernie Worrell on keyboard bass creating a groundbreaking and unforgettable bass groove. This song, a major hit for Parliament, exemplifies the band's influential role in the development of funk music, driven by George Clinton's visionary leadership.
A Taste of Honey
by Boogie Oogie Oogie (1978)
This song, a disco classic, features a dynamic and groovy bass line that helped propel it to the top of the charts. Boogie Oogie Oogie's success with this track highlighted the crossover appeal of disco music in the late 1970s, bridging the gap between various musical genres and listeners.
by Chic (1979)
Bernard Edwards, the bassist for Chic, delivers a sleek and sophisticated bass line in "Good Times." This song not only topped the charts but also had a significant impact on the development of hip-hop, as its bass line was famously sampled in The Sugarhill Gang's "Rapper's Delight," marking a critical moment in the genre's history.
Best Jazz Bass Lines
by Chick Corea (1973)
"Spain," one of Chick Corea's most renowned compositions, is a fusion masterpiece that blends elements of jazz with classical and flamenco influences. The bass line, often intricate and harmonically complex, is vital to the song's dynamic range and rhythm. This track stands as a shining example of Corea's genius in composing and arranging, showcasing the ability of jazz to incorporate diverse musical traditions into a cohesive and captivating piece.
by Weather Report (1977)
"Teen Town," performed by Jaco Pastorius with Weather Report, showcases his innovative bass playing, blending jazz, funk, and rock. The song from the album "Heavy Weather" highlights Jaco's technical prowess and has become a benchmark for aspiring bass players in jazz fusion.
by Jaco Pastorius (1986)
Jaco Pastorius' rendition of "The Chicken," originally composed by Pee Wee Ellis, became a bass anthem due to Jaco's funky, rhythmic interpretation. His version demonstrates his skill in turning a piece into a showcase for the electric bass, further establishing his legacy in modern music.
I Know You Know
by Esperanza Spalding (2008)
Esperanza Spalding's "I Know You Know," from her album "Esperanza," displays her skill as both a vocalist and a bassist. Her light, melodic bass playing complements her vocal lines, showcasing her ability to blend jazz with Latin and soul influences, making her a notable figure in contemporary jazz.
by Vulfpeck (2016)
"Dean Town" by Vulfpeck features Joe Dart on bass, delivering a funky and rhythmic line that has become a favorite among bass players. The song, inspired by Jaco Pastorius' "Teen Town," demonstrates Dart's precision and groove, contributing to Vulfpeck's reputation for catchy, tight, and upbeat music.
Best Jazz Fusion Bass Lines
by Stanley Clarke (1976)
Stanley Clarke's "School Days" is a testament to his virtuosity and innovation as a bassist. The title track from his album, it showcases Clarke's ability to blend jazz fusion with rock elements, creating a bass line that's both melodic and rhythmically complex, cementing his status as a pioneer in the world of bass guitar.
by Bela Fleck (1991)
"Sinister Minister" by Bela Fleck and the Flecktones features the innovative banjo work of Bela Fleck and the distinctive bass playing of Victor Wooten. The song is known for its blend of bluegrass, jazz, and classical music, with Wooten's bass providing a groovy and harmonically rich foundation.
by Victor Wooten (1996)
If you only listen to one bass line in this article, it should be "Classical Thump" by Victor Wooten! This composition is a solo bass masterpiece that showcases his dynamic Double Thumb technique, that quite literally changed the game for bass guitarists. It blends slap bass with two-handed tapping, blending elements of classical music with funk, revealing why Victor Wooten is often considered the GOAT. He's inspired a generation of bassists to explore the instrument's possibilities more than any other bassist.
by Michael Manring
Michael Manring, known for his virtuosic and innovative approach to the bass guitar, showcases his unique style in "Helios." This track, like much of his work, explores the expressive potential of the bass, utilizing advanced techniques and custom tunings to create a sound that transcends traditional bass playing. Manring's exploration of the instrument's capabilities has made him a luminary in the world of solo bass music.
Best Rock Bass Lines
Sunshine of Your Love
by Cream (1967)
Featuring a hypnotic riff by bassist Jack Bruce, "Sunshine of Your Love" is a seminal track in the history of rock. Bruce's powerful and melodic bass playing, combined with the song's innovative blend of blues and psychedelic rock, helped establish Cream as one of the genre's most influential bands.
by Beatles (1969)
Paul McCartney's bass line in "Come Together" is both distinctive and innovative, underpinning the song's laid-back groove. This track showcases McCartney's ability to craft bass lines that are complex yet seamlessly integrated into the Beatles' songs, contributing significantly to their musical legacy.
The Lemon Song
by Led Zeppelin (1969)
In "The Lemon Song," John Paul Jones' improvisational bass playing stands out, especially in the song's extended jam sections. His work on this track exemplifies his versatility and technical proficiency, further cementing Led Zeppelin's status as rock legends.
by Yes (1971)
Chris Squire's bass line in "Roundabout" is renowned for its complexity and speed, making it a favorite among bass players. Squire's innovative use of harmonics and counterpoint melodies in this song showcases his unique approach and solidifies Yes' position in the progressive rock movement.
Walk On The Wild Side
by Lou Reed (1972)
This song is renowned for its smooth, steady bass line, which became a defining feature of the track. Interestingly, it was also sampled by A Tribe Called Quest in their song "Can I Kick It?" for the track "Bonita Applebum," showcasing its enduring influence and adaptability across genres.
by Pink Floyd (1973)
Roger Waters' bass line in "Money," set against the song's unusual 7/4 time signature, creates a memorable and driving rhythm. This song is a key part of Pink Floyd's "The Dark Side of the Moon," an album that marked a significant moment in rock history.
by Ozzy Osbourne (1980)
The driving bass line of "Crazy Train," played by Bob Daisley, complements Randy Rhoads' iconic guitar riff, contributing to the song's high energy and appeal. This track marked a significant chapter in Ozzy Osbourne's solo career and is revered in the heavy metal genre.
Another One Bites the Dust
by Queen (1980)
John Deacon's iconic bass riff in "Another One Bites the Dust" offers a distinctively funky and catchy groove. This song not only became one of Queen's biggest hits but also showcased their versatility and Deacon's ability to write compelling bass lines.
by Queen & David Bowie (1981)
"Under Pressure" features a distinctive bass line, often attributed to John Deacon, that forms the backbone of this classic collaboration. The song is a testament to the creative synergy between Queen and David Bowie, and its bass line remains one of the most recognizable in music history.
Come As You Are
by Nirvana (1991)
The memorable bass line in "Come As You Are" is a testament to Nirvana's grunge sound, combining a sense of darkness and catchiness. This track played a significant role in bringing alternative rock to mainstream audiences in the early '90s.
by The Breeders (1993)
"Cannonball" features an iconic and quirky bass line that helped define the song's alternative rock vibe. The Breeders' unique sound in this track made it a standout during the '90s alternative rock scene.
In the Meantime
by Spacehog (1996)
Spacehog's "In the Meantime" features a catchy bass line that's central to the song's appeal. The bassist Royston Langdon delivers a performance that's both melodic and driving, helping to cement the song as a 90s alternative rock classic.
Forty Six & 2
by Tool (1996)
Justin Chancellor's complex and driving bass line in "Forty Six & 2" is a key element of Tool's sound, blending progressive metal and alternative rock. Chancellor's ability to intertwine intricate rhythms with melodic progressions demonstrates his proficiency and the band's innovative approach to music.
Best Funk Rock Bass Lines
Bonin' In the Boneyard
by Fishbone (1988)
With its energetic and funky bass line, this track epitomizes Fishbone's unique blend of ska, punk, and funk. The bassist Norwood Fisher's performance is a standout, showcasing his ability to drive the song's rhythm while interplaying with the band's dynamic horn section.
by Red Hot Chili Peppers (1989)
The Red Hot Chili Peppers' cover of Stevie Wonder's classic brought a new level of energy to the song, largely due to Flea's dynamic and punchy bass playing. His use of slapping techniques added an aggressive, rhythmic quality that helped redefine the song for a new generation.
Tommy the Cat
by Primus (1991)
Les Claypool's storytelling and complex bass playing are front and center in this track. The song, known for its challenging bass line, exemplifies Claypool's unique blend of funk, rock, and an almost theatrical performance style.
Jerry Was a Race Car Driver
by Primus (1991)
This song is a showcase of Les Claypool's unconventional and highly technical bass style. The track features Claypool's signature slap bass and tapping, making it a staple in Primus's repertoire and a testament to their innovative approach to rock music.
Take The Power Back
by Rage Against the Machine (1992)
The bass line in this politically charged anthem is both groovy and aggressive, reflecting Tim Commerford's ability to anchor the band's sound. His playing complements the song's call to action, reinforcing Rage Against the Machine's message with a powerful musical backing.
All Mixed Up
by 311 (1995)
This song stands out for its smooth, melodic bass line, which provides a solid foundation for 311's blend of rock, rap, and reggae. P-Nut's bass playing is integral to the band's sound, adding depth and rhythm to their diverse musical style.
Best Hip Hop Bass Lines
Bust a Move
by Young MC/Flea (1989)
This iconic track features Flea of the Red Hot Chili Peppers on bass, bringing a funky and upbeat groove that perfectly complements Young MC's flowing rap. The song's catchy bass line and memorable lyrics helped it become a defining track of late 80s hip hop.
Nuthin But A G Thing
by Dr Dre/Snoop (1992)
Marking a pivotal moment in the rise of West Coast hip hop, this song's laid-back, groovy bass line underpins the smooth flows of Dr. Dre and Snoop Dogg. It's a cornerstone of the G-funk era, showcasing a seamless blend of rap with melodic, funky rhythms.
Rebirth of Slick
by Digable Planets (1993)
With its cool, jazzy bass line, this track stands out as a unique fusion of hip hop and jazz. Digable Planets' innovative approach to incorporating live jazz instrumentation into hip hop laid the groundwork for future genre-crossing collaborations.
by Warren G feat. Nate Dogg (1994)
Featuring a smooth bass groove that samples Michael McDonald's "I Keep Forgettin'," this track is a staple of 90s hip hop. Warren G and Nate Dogg's seamless interplay over the laid-back bass line created an enduring hit that remains influential.
What's the Use?
by Mac Miller
Mac Miller showcases a killer bass line in this one, distinctively smooth and funky, contributed by none other than Thundercat. The track exemplifies Miller's talent for blending hip-hop with soulful, jazzy elements, creating a laid-back, groovy sound. Thundercat's bass playing adds a rich, rhythmic texture to the song, reflecting the collaborative spirit and genre-blending that marked Mac Miller's approach to music.
Best Electronic Dance Bass Lines
Around The World
by Daft Punk (1997)
Daft Punk's "Around The World" is characterized by its repetitive and hypnotic bass line, which forms the backbone of this dance track. The song's simplicity and catchiness are key elements of Daft Punk's pioneering approach to electronic music.
Feel Good Inc.
by Gorillaz (2005)
The bass line in "Feel Good Inc." stands out for its groovy, melodic nature, which complements the track's eclectic mix of alternative rock and hip hop. Gorillaz's ability to blend different genres is perfectly encapsulated in this song, making it a modern classic.
by Bruno Mars (2016)
"24k Magic" features a funky bass line that's integral to its throwback disco-funk sound. Bruno Mars' homage to the fun and glamour of '80s and '90s music is evident in the song's infectious rhythm and style.
Best Disco, Soul and Pop Bass Lines
I Want You Back
by The Jackson 5 (1969)
The Jackson 5's debut hit features a prominent and lively bass line by Wilton Felder. It's a key component of the song's infectious rhythm and showcases the youthful energy and charm that propelled the Jackson 5 to stardom in the Motown era.
A Taste of Honey
by Boogie Oogie Oogie (1978)
This disco hit is celebrated for its upbeat and groovy bass line, integral to its dance floor appeal. Boogie Oogie Oogie's success with "A Taste of Honey" highlighted the crossover appeal of disco music, bridging the gap between different musical genres and audiences.
by Chic (1979)
Chic's "Good Times" features Bernard Edwards' smooth and rhythmic bass line, a cornerstone of the disco era. The track's influence extends beyond its time, notably inspiring early hip hop tracks, demonstrating the bass line's enduring legacy in music history.
by Michael Jackson (1982)
Michael Jackson's "Beat It" blends rock and pop, with the bass line providing a solid rhythmic foundation for Eddie Van Halen's iconic guitar solo. This fusion of genres in one song helped establish Jackson as a versatile and groundbreaking artist in the music industry.
by Michael Jackson (1987)
"Smooth Criminal," from Michael Jackson's "Bad" album, features a driving bass line that complements its fast-paced rhythm and Jackson's dynamic vocals. The song's innovative music video and dance moves further solidified Jackson's reputation as a pop icon.
by Jamiroquai (1996)
There's no better way to close out the 50 best bass lines of all time, that with Stuart Zender's amazong and catchy bass grove on Jamiroquai's "Cosmic Girl". The song is a standout track from the band's "Travelling Without Moving" album, merging funk with acid jazz, and exemplifying their unique ability to bring classic funk into the 1990s contemporary music scene.
The Evolution of the Bass Guitar and Its Impact on Music
The bass guitar has become much more than just the foundational rhythm instrument it began as. Bass players have transcended their traditional roles, emerging as front-runners in musical innovation and genre fusion. Their creativity and willingness to experiment have given the bass guitar a prominent voice in the musical conversation, influencing everything from the infectious grooves of funk and disco to the pulsating rhythms of rock and hip-hop. The bass guitar has become a symbol of musical evolution, reflecting the ever-changing landscape of genres and the continuous pursuit of artistic expression. As music continues to evolve and new genres are born, the bass guitar will undoubtedly continue to play a significant role, driven by the talent and vision of those who choose to explore its vast potential.
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80s fusion may be the best period ever for bass guitar!
That Spacehog bass riff is so underrated!