The Ultimate Top 10 List Of Flea's Best Bass Lines
The Funk Virtuoso That Rocked the 90sby Jack Sutherland on Dec 02, 2022
Updated on Apr 28, 2023
Is Flea one of the best bass players of all time?- Yes, Flea is undeniably one of the best bass players of all time. His slap-bass technique, infectious energy, and versatility across genres, styles and musical collaborations, have solidified his status as one of the greats.
Table of Contents
- Who Is Flea?
- Is Flea One of the Best Bass Players of All Time?
- What Makes Flea's Basslines So Good
- Flea's Top 10 Best Bass Lines
- 10. "Nobody Weird Like Me" - RHCP, Mother's Milk (1989)
- 9. "Suck My Kiss" - RHCP, Blood Sugar Sex Magic (1991)
- 8. "Before Your Very Eyes" - Atoms for Peace, Live (2013)
- 7. "Blackeyed Blonde" - RHCP, Freaky Styley (1986)
- 6. "Give It Away" - RHCP, Blood Sugar Sex Magic (1991)
- 5. "You Oughta Know" - Alanis Morissette, Jagged Little Pill (1995)
- 4. The Mars Volta, Studio Recordings & Live Performances (2004)
- 3. "Mellowship Slinky In B Major" - RHCP, Blood Sugar Sex Magic (1991)
- 2. "Bust a Move" - Young MC, Stone Cold Rhymin' (1989)
- 1. "Higher Ground" - RHCP, Mother's Milk (1989)
Bassists often take a backseat to more prominent band members, but Flea of the Red Hot Chili Peppers has never been one to shy away from the spotlight! Known for his energetic slap-bass technique and eccentric antics and fashion choices (including those iconic stuffed animal pants and, at times, no pants at all), Flea has become a household name, even outshining lead singer Anthony Kiedis. Few bassists have ever achieved this level of recognition.
Flea's status as a 1990s music icon extends beyond his work with the Chili Peppers. He has showcased his talent alongside an impressive roster of artists, including Jane's Addiction, Mars Volta, Johnny Cash, Tom Waits, Atoms for Peace, Pigface, Antemasque, and Alanis Morissette. Not to mention, he even shared the stage with Nirvana in 1993, playing the trumpet!
Narrowing down Flea's extensive body of work to determine his "best" basslines is a daunting task. Nonetheless, we have compiled a comprehensive list of 10 extraordinary Flea basslines, not only from his work with the Chili Peppers, but collaborations with other artists as well.
But before we dive in, let's start with a little background on this bass prodigy first known as Michael Balzary.
Who Is Flea?
Born in Melbourne, Australia, in 1962, Michael Peter Balzary (aka Flea) developed an early passion for jazz music and began playing the trumpet at the age of 11. As a talented trumpet player, he considered pursuing a career as a professional jazz musician. However, his interest in rock and punk music eventually led him to pick up the bass.
In 1979, Flea joined a punk rock band called Anthym with future Chili Peppers members Hillel Slovak and Jack Irons. Anthym later evolved into the band What Is This?, in which Flea and Slovak played simultaneously while forming the Red Hot Chili Peppers. It was during this time that Flea honed his unique slap-bass technique and gained experience as a bass player.
As a teenager Flea moved to Los Angeles with his family. It was here that he met Anthony Kiedis at Fairfax High School, and together with Slovak and Irons, they formed the Red Hot Chili Peppers in 1983. The band's fusion of rock, funk, and punk elements laid the foundation for their distinctive sound and marked the beginning of Flea's influential career as a legendary bassist.
Is Flea One of the Best Bass Players of All Time?
When it comes to ranking the best bass players of all time, Flea frequently emerges as a top contender. His unique playing style, blending slap bass, fingerstyle, and innovative techniques, has captured the hearts of music lovers and inspired bassists worldwide.
Flea's ability to seamlessly infuse funk, punk, and rock elements into his basslines has contributed to the Red Hot Chili Peppers' distinct sound, while his live performances showcase a raw energy and unyielding passion for music. From those funky slap and rock grooves with the Chili Peppers, to the variety of rock, funk and jazz collaborations with other artists, Flea demonstrates a unique versatility and prowess on the bass guitar.
Influential musicians and critics alike have recognized Flea's talent and contribution to the world of music. With a career spanning over four decades, his impact on the modern music industry is undeniable, making a strong case for him to be considered as one of the best bass players of all time.
What Makes Flea's Basslines So Good
You can't talk about Flea's basslines without first mentioning his iconic slap-bass technique. By using a traditional Larry Graham-like thump and pluck style, he creates a funky, percussive sound that is a cornerstone of the Chili Peppers funk-rock sound. This technique shines in tracks like "Higher Ground" and "Can't Stop," where Flea's bass becomes a driving force, propelling the songs with infectious energy.
Flea's versatility and chemistry with band members also can't be overstated. He excels at adapting his playing style to match the mood of each song, whether it's the melancholy melody of "Scar Tissue" or the fast-paced, punk-infused "Suck My Kiss." His interplay with Chili Pepper's drummer Chad Smith creates a tight, powerful rhythm section, while his dynamic exchanges with Anthony Kiedis and John Frusciante add depth and dimension to the band's sound. This chemistry and versatility is also why he's excelled collaborating with artists from multiple genres, including: Jane's Addiction, Johnny Cash, Tom Wait, Alanis Morissette, and many others.
This combination of technical mastery, versatility, and undeniable chemistry with his fellow musicians are what makes Flea's basslines so good , and so fun to listen to!
Flea's Top 10 Best Bass Lines
Our journey through the remarkable discography of the Red Hot Chili Peppers and the other artists Flea has collaborated with, rekindled our appreciation of his immense talent and contribution to the world of music. Whether you're new to Flea or have been following his entire career, we believe these top 10 basslines should be on the radar of every Flea fan.
10. "Nobody Weird Like Me" - RHCP, Mother's Milk (1989)
Flea's bassline on "Nobody Weird Like Me" is as a great introduction to his fast and furious slap technique. The aggressive, high-energy slapping and popping provides a driving foundation for the track, showcasing a technique that would be a cornerstone of his body of work. It highlights his ability to elevate a song's energy and intensity, and is a great starting point for the rest of this list.
* Make sure to wait for the change at the 3:10 minute mark, where Flea completely switches up the style of the song.
9. "Suck My Kiss" - RHCP, Blood Sugar Sex Magic (1991)
Unlike the chaotic pace of "Nobody Weird Like Me", in "Suck My Kiss," Flea's punchy groove creates a strong foundation for a song with head nodding power. His technique adds both rhythmic complexity and a funk-edge, making this bassline the perfect example of Flea's ability to completely control an entire song.
8. "Before Your Very Eyes" - Atoms for Peace, Live (2013)
"Before Your Very Eyes" by Atoms for Peace demonstrates Flea's versatility as a musician. He departs from his typical funky slap-bass style with the Chili Peppers, and embraces a more melodic and subdued approach in this track. His bass work adds a layer of rhythmic depth and intricacy, complementing the song's atmospheric sound and showing his ability to adapt to different genres and projects.
7. "Blackeyed Blonde" - RHCP, Freaky Styley (1986)
The Red Hot Chili Peppers' rise to fame took some time, as they didn't garner significant critical attention until their fourth album, "Mother's Milk." It was on one of their earlier, lesser-known albums, the band's second release titled "Freaky Styley," that Flea unleashed a remarkable slap bass line.
The main riff features Flea's signature slap bass technique, employing mostly muted notes to create a percussive and popping sound. While the song itself might not be universally acclaimed, Flea's bass work undoubtedly earns high praise.
6. "Give It Away" - RHCP, Blood Sugar Sex Magic (1991)
The lead single from "Blood Sugar Sex Magik," the album that propelled the Red Hot Chili Peppers to mainstream success, features a distinctive bassline from Flea. While not his most complex or funky, it remains memorable due to an unusual pattern that requires Flea to repeatedly slide up 12 positions on the fretboard. This groove demonstrates Flea's willingness to take risks and experiment with different techniques, showcasing his confidence and comfort with his own musical abilities.
5. "You Oughta Know" - Alanis Morissette, Jagged Little Pill (1995)
Flea's contribution to Alanis Morissette's hit single "You Oughta Know" is a masterclass in understated funk. While not the focus of the song, Flea's bass part is subtly very groovy, adding an almost secret but significant layer of rhythmic complexity, without overpowering the song's emotional intensity. It's contributions like this that help fans cross-genres, finding interest in music they may not otherwise consider.
4. The Mars Volta, Studio Recordings & Live Performances (2004)
Flea's collaboration with The Mars Volta brought both intensity and melodic sensibility to their studio recordings and live performances, elevating tracks like "Cicatriz ESP" and "Roulette Dares".
Fans of these shows were treated to the sight of Flea and the members of The Mars Volta exchanging musical melodies and solos, with Flea's basslines blending seamlessly with the band's intricate compositions. It was a thrilling collaboration that demonstrated Flea's ability to adapt and flourish within the progressive and experimental rock realm.
3. "Mellowship Slinky In B Major" - RHCP, Blood Sugar Sex Magic (1991)
Continuing the discussion of "hidden gems," while Blood Sugar Sex Magik was not an obscure album by any means—it peaked at number 3 on the Billboard 200—there were still some lesser-known tracks that showcased Flea's funk mastery. On this one in particular, Flea dropped one of his funkiest bass lines to date.
By this point in his career, Flea had established himself as an energetic funk bassist, renowned for his ferocious slapping technique. However, on "Mellowship Slinky in B Major," he demonstrated his versatility by dialing down the intensity and tapping into his inner-P-Funk influences. The result is a smooth and chilled-out bass groove that oozes with style. Listen closely, and you'll catch the captivating primary riff kicking in at the 0:16 mark in the video below.
2. "Bust a Move" - Young MC, Stone Cold Rhymin' (1989)
It's truly disheartening to see the number of "top Flea bassline" lists online that overlook the sheer brilliance of his masterpiece in Young MC's late-80s rap hit, "Bust a Move." Not only is it one of Flea's finest basslines, but it also stands as one of the greatest basslines in Hip-Hop history. Considering the abundance of incredible basslines written and sampled throughout rap's rich legacy, pulling this off was an impressive feat.
Unfortunately, like many artists in the 1980s Flea fell victim to a music industry that was plagued with corruption. Despite "Bust a Move" becoming a chart-topping hit and Flea being responsible for the song's primary melody as the writer, performer, and even appearing in the music video, he was paid just a meager $200. It was an experience that taught Flea valuable lessons, as he shared with Bass Player magazine, highlighting the challenges and pitfalls musicians faced in an era of record label domination.
1. "Higher Ground" - RHCP, Mother's Milk (1989)
When the Red Hot Chili Peppers decided to cover Stevie Wonder’s 1973 hit Higher Ground, Flea did something very clever. For the melody of the original song Stevie used a wah-wahclavinet sound with a Mu-Tron III envelope filter pedal, and a Moog synthesizer with overdubs for bass. Flea recreated the entire thing in one slap bass line. The original song had a very unique choppy funk feel, that transformed nicely into Flea's slap riff. It’s one of the coolest bass lines ever written, one that kids use to learn to play slap bass, and will continue to use for decades to come.
When the Red Hot Chili Peppers took on the task of covering Stevie Wonder's 1973 hit "Higher Ground," Flea approached it with remarkable ingenuity. In the original version, Stevie utilized a combination of a wah-wahclavinet sound with a Mu-Tron III envelope filter pedal and a Moog synthesizer with overdubs for the bass parts. Astonishingly, Flea managed to recreate the entire sonic landscape with a single slap bass line. This clever adaptation preserved the song's distinct, choppy funk feel, seamlessly transforming it into Flea's iconic slap riff. The result is one of the coolest bass lines ever written, serving as a go-to piece for aspiring slap bass players, and undoubtedly leaving a lasting impact for generations to come.
Exploring the peaks of Flea's illustrious career sheds light on the lasting impact he'll have on the world of music. Beyond his undeniable talent as a bass player, Flea's infectious energy and unapologetic authenticity have inspired countless fans around the world. He has become an icon in his own right, embodying the spirit of a true 90s rock star. His ability to fuse genres and push musical boundaries, all while wearing stuffed animal pants, will leave a mark on the music industry for generations to come. Flea's legacy will go down in history as one of the transformative powers in modern music. A truly exceptional musician, performer and personality.
Be True & Don't Be Lame
"Be true and don't be lame. And just be yourself as hard as you can, and do what you do the best as you can do it. If you want to be pretty and pink like a soft rose growing in the spring time, then be that as pretty and beautiful and as slippery as you can. And if you want to just be the biggest ugliest monster that scares everybody away, do that the best as you can. And always just play every note like it's your last."
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Wow, what a deep dive into Flea's career and music! Im a huge RHCP fan and always admired his energetic stage presence and undeniable talent. Thanks for sharing these highlights. Rock on!
Thanks so much for the kind words!