Saturday, January 07, 2012

Top Five Basslines

A little New Year's musical treat for you!

Well, I've been pondering a post like this for ages, but the idea had dropped off my agenda for a while, and I've only just got around to resurrecting it. Of course, once I started thinking seriously about it, I couldn't limit myself to just FIVE. I think I'm going to sneak in six here; and I have enough nominations left over to fill one or two follow-up instalments later in the year...

[Thanks for inspiration to the formidably knowledgeable Bucketoftongues, another Beijing-based blogger (and copywriter/editor, it would seem), who I happened across for the first time a few days ago.]

Anyway, off the top of my head....

My Top Five (or so) Favourite Basslines

5=)  My Baby Just Cares For Me
Here's the rather sweet claymation video from Nick Park's Aardman studio which helped to carry the classic Nina Simone version of the song to the top of the UK pop charts (well, No. 5, anyway) when it was re-released in 1987. Most of the bassline is carried by the piano, but if you listen carefully, there is a very mellow upright bass underlining it as well - though I can't discover who was playing this. (You can also hear an extended studio version here, or watch her tearing it up live at the Montreux Jazz Festival here.)

5=)  Stand By Me
Here's a rare TV clip of Ben E. King performing his great hit; alas, the opening and closing are clipped a bit. Ruby informs me that his bass player was called Wendell Marshall. A year or so ago on Froogville I found another marvellous version of this song by the Playing For Change project, which supports street musicians.

4)  I Scare Myself
Possibly my favourite Thomas Dolby track (and I'm a big fan): Matthew Seligman playing bass, from the 1984 album The Flat Earth. You should really listen to the album version to enjoy the bass in all its richness, and for genuine trumpet rather than synthesizer (the video isn't that interesting, and seems strangely just a little short); but this is quite a good live performance from Channel 4's great '80s music show The Tube (which gave Jools Holland his start as a presenter). It's also interesting to check out the original version by its composer Dan Hicks, with his band The Hot Licks.

3)  Caramel
Yes, I've posted this on here before, in my 'Great Songs' series. But no apologies - it's a fabulous song, one of  the marvellous Suzanne Vega's very best. And it all hangs on that lilting bossa nova bassline. I'm not sure who played this; two bassists are credited on her Nine Objects Of Desire album, Bruce Thomas (who used to play with Elvis Costello's band, The Attractions) and Sebastian Steinberg.  Here's the video for the song; but there are some good live performances worth checking out as well, particularly this one from the TV show 'Sessions at West 54th'. You should also listen to the unaccompanied version (missing the bass, of course) from her recent series of Close-Up albums.

2)  The Love Cats
Hmm, are all my selections here played on an upright bass? I think perhaps they are (I have a feeling Caramel might be an electric bass; but the rest are all definitely uprights). I wonder what that signifies?? There don't seem to be any good quality postings of the original video at the moment; this rather grainy MTV screening is the best of a very bad lot. However, this clip - from a German TV show called Bananas - is pretty good (apart from Robert Smith's refusal to even attempt to mime in sync!). Great stuff from Simon Gallup here. On reflection, I realise that the basslines are actually the thing I like most about The Cure. Robert's voice has always irritated me, but they have some great basslines.

Ah, but in the top spot, it can only be....

1)  Fever
I discovered just the other day that Peggy Lee's bass player, Max Bennett, introduced this song to her and begged her to add it to her repertoire. That probably tells you all you need to know about what a fantastic bassline it is. The great lady, of course, made the song her own, adding half of the lyrics we know today herself. You can listen to the original recording here (accompanied by a montage of photos of Peggy). This, however, is an interesting - rather speeded up - live performance from the late '60s, with Max on bass and Jack Sperling on drums. No other accompaniment on this song: just a rhythm section, some finger snaps, and that wonderful voice.


Anonymous said...

Thanks for that compliment, which flatters me outrageously - I'm merely an enthusiast. Nice post, though, with good variety. Top marks for Stand By Me, a killer bass riff there, and Fever is just fantastic.

Froog said...

I'm beginning to think there might be a division that will guide my picks in this field: hooks (quite simple bass figures that are one of the most prominent features of the song), chuggers (often even simpler bass parts, but because of that very simplicity, they drive the song forward powerfully), and, er, well, more hoopy or complex stuff.

These were all hooks.

Paranoid and White Wedding would be chuggers.

Froog said...

And I'm sort of surprised no-one - here or on your post - has yet mentioned Every Breath You Take. It's so 'obvious', it's easy to overlook!

Anonymous said...

Yes, that's a great division - hooks and chuggers. I'd never thought of it like that, but it's so obvious! Good work :-)

Every Breath You Take - hmm. I find The Police so banal, so dull, that I guess I overlook even their nice touches. It is a nice bassline, okay, but creepy song and well, it's The Police with squeaky-voiced Sting.

Froog said...

I've often thought that I'd like The Police a whole lot more if they had a different vocalist.

I liked Andy Summers' guitar work (and people who know drumming assure me that Stewart Copeland is the shit - although that's a rather technical appreciation that passes me by). Actually, I don't even mind Sting's voice that much. I wouldn't call it "squeaky", but that hoarse, overdriven, frequently on the verge of cracking sound can get grating after a while. A decent songwriter on occasion, too. As with Bono, I think it's the aura of SMUG he emanates that's really alienating.

Froog said...

Jaco Pastorius, Bakithi Kumalo, and perhaps Colin Moulding from XTC and a few others would be in that third category. I need to find a decent name for that!

JES said...

Wonderful post and commentary (yours and others'). Interesting that in the "Fever" video, Sperling is playing the snares with his hands, like bongos -- none of this muted-drumstick or -brushes stuff. Very much enjoyed watching that (thanks for the heads-up about it!), as well as the others.

Somebody really needs to start up a music blog named Hooks & Chuggers.

I think I shall have to do a post tomorrow which I've had in the Drafts hopper for a few months now...

Froog said...

It is an interesting performance, isn't it, JES? Strikingly different from what we're used to. I suppose by this point, it has been her signature song for at least 10 or 12 years, and there must have been a danger that it was getting tiresomely over-familiar for audience and performers alike. This seems to me a great success in changing it completely by changing it just a little bit.

I look forward to this week's Midweek Music Break with breath even more bated than usual - gasp...

Froog said...

Don't you feel there should be a special Hazard sign - 'White People Dancing' - displayed on '60s videos like the Ben E. King one?

TroyH said...

Dear Froog, I really enjoy your Froogville blog, keep up the great posts! As a Beijing based bass player, when I found myself on the barstool blog this particular day, I simply had to make my first contribution... my top five (with bass player in brackets).

Walk on the Wildside - Lou Reed
(Herbie Flowers - prolific session musician)

I was made to Love Her - Stevie Wonder
(James Jamerson - played on most of the motown greats)

Taxman - The Beatles
(Paul McCartney)

Son of a Preacher Man -Dusty Springfield
(Tommy Cogbill - famous Memphis session player)

Cayote - Joni Mitchell
(Jaco Pastorious)

I could go on and on...

Froog said...

Welcome, Troy - it's always nice to flush someone out of lurkerage.

And it's especially interesting to hear the viewpoint of someone who actually plays.

Your picks are particularly in tune with the tastes of 'booksandmusicandstuff' Mike, whose own post on this (linked to in mine) prodded me into doing this; he's a BIG McCartney fan. Many of the same players, though not all the same songs.

Son Of A Preacher Man was definitely bubbling under somewhere, as was Walk On The Wild Side. (I think this is likely to become a monthly series; so, more reader suggestions are very welcome!)

I didn't know Jaco had played with Joni Mitchell; I must go and check that out. I had thought of including Weather Report's Birdland.

I lose track slightly, because this is now a conversation going on in three different places (as well as every bar I go into!) - Mike's post and JES's post, as well as here - but I perhaps haven't yet said here that: a) I was trying to avoid soul/funk/R'n'B in this first run at the topic because the field is just too rich; and b) having happened to hear Soul Man in the bar last night (for the first time in many, many years, I should think), I realise that I should do a 'Top Five Booker T. and the MGs basslines' post (or two...).

Please do share more of your favourites with us.

JES said...

One things which always impresses me about bass players, regardless of specific instrument: the way they can "hang onto the rhythm" for so long, without wandering.

Ditto drummers (not that I want to open up this comment thread any further; still...) My dad was a drummer who grew up during the Big Band era, and turned me on particularly to Gene Krupa. He was an explosive, almost lunatic soloist at times -- sort of the Seinfeld's Kramer of drummers -- but listening to him play behind the band on just about any long piece (like the complete "Sing, Sing, Sing" from the Benny Goodman Carnegie Hall concert) amazes me. That talent for sustained "doing something physically complicated OVER and OVER" activity in rhythm players makes me wonder: What must be going on in their heads, nervous systems, limbic systems, whatever, the whole time they're playing?

Froog said...

JES, Barman Mike said to me just the other night, "Hey, what about those little bits of slap bass in Seinfeld?" Who plays that, and is it part of a larger piece of music, or just isolated bits of 'incidental' stuff for the TV series.

And speaking of Gene Krupa (it has been been a week full of coincidences!), some of the best lines I found on a first browse through that Jazz Quotes website you introduced to me came from the guitarist Eddie Condon (I suspect he must have been an author as well, like Artie Shaw). I particularly liked: "Krupa's drums went through us like a triple bourbon."

JES said...

Wikipedia -- should I add, "of course"? -- has a little bundle of information about the Seinfeld music.

And I even found a guy demonstrating it on YouTube (that's actually just one of many)... and another guy offering a nearly-six-minute lesson in playing it.

Froog said...

Ah, thanks for that, JES. Once more "the tireless trufflehound of the Internet"!

Gary said...

Just got back from vacation, and I find there's a ton of stuff on here I missed. Don't have time to listen to all these now, but it looks like a lot of fun.

And you found some new commenters too? Well done.

Froog said...

Welcome back; hope you had a good trip, Gary.

Please share some of your own picks with us.