Saturday, March 31, 2012

Another Top Five Basslines - 'Chuggers'

A few months back I did my first 'Top Five' on favourite basslines and it proved to be one of my more popular posts. I said at the time that this idea would probably evolve into its own sub-series, because in the process of compiling the first selection I'd thought of probably a couple of dozen more songs that I really ought to have at least given a mention to.

I also started groping towards a classification of great basslines into three main types: hooks (quite simple bass figures that are one of the most prominent features of the song and somehow just have that 'earworm' quality - hear it once and never forget it), chuggers (even simpler and more repetitive bass figures that drive the song forward powerfully and drill their way into your brain more by sheer relentlessness than any particular 'hooky' quality), and, er, well a third category which I'm still struggling to come up with a good name for: I called it hoopy at first (the kind of bass that's often not so front-and-centre of the mix but buried in the heart of the music... weaving sinuously through it with a restless energy and inventiveness; a lot of Paul McCartney's work with The Beatles and Colin Moulding's with XTC is like this).

Anyway, that first selection was all classic hooks; so, this time out, I thought I'd go for some chuggers.

Play LOUD, and enjoy.

5)  I Won't Back Down
Ha! That might well be my theme song! Full Moon Fever by Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers was one of those albums that just about everyone bought at the end of the '80s. I don't think I'd heard of him before that, but kept an eye out for other stuff of his thereafter: I particularly liked the soundtrack he did a few years later for Edward Burns's second film, She's The One. This song comes up quite a lot on the playlist down at my local bar, and it suddenly struck me what a perfectly simple exemplar of the chugger this is: it isn't loud, it isn't fast, it isn't angry; it doesn't do anything very much; it hardly varies at all; but it carries the song along, just chug-chug-chugging like an outboard motor on medium revs. I hadn't known until just now that Jeff Lynne (of ELO and Traveling Wilburys fame) was playing bass on this. (And Ringo Starr appears to be playing drums in this video, although it was Phil Jones on the album. Not sure what's going on with that!)

4)  Smells Like Teen Spirit
Nirvana rather passed me by at the time. I was flat broke, so didn't have the wherewithal to go buying new records. And I still had some hundreds of records I'd impulsively picked up in the bargain bin over the preceding decade and seldom or never played. So, new music wasn't getting much of a look-in during the early '90s. I discovered them some years on, after Kurt's death, and while I admired the musicianship, could understand why they had been hailed as the most important representatives of the 'Seattle sound', they never found a place in my heart. This album, though, and this song have a dark intensity that's impossible to dismiss... and Krist Novoselic's bass throbs so broodingly through it, conjuring exactly that kind of relentlessness I was thinking of when I was trying to define the categories above.

3)  Paranoid
Ah, the indispensable heavy rock chugger! Crikey, I hadn't realised that this was 42 years old. I only got to know Ozzy a dozen or so years later: I don't think I've ever seen footage of him this young before - spooky! Ozzy was just 21 in this video, and Terry 'Geezer' Butler, chugging away at pretty high revs on the bass, was only 20.

2)  Lust For Life
Damn, it's hard to find a good studio version of the Iggy Pop classic on Youtube. This is the new video brought out to accompany the song's prominent use in Danny Boyle's 1996 breakout film Trainspotting, but I think it's the original 1977 studio version, with Tony Sales driving along the bass (his brother Hunt plays the drums here, which gives you that extra level of tightness you don't often find in a rhythm section).

And in the top spot this time we have...

1)  White Wedding
I used to have the 12" of this (one of the very few I ever bought), but I can't now recall who was credited as the bassist. I had thought it was Phil Feit, who I remember as being the regular bass player in Billy Idol's touring band, but it's hard to verify this online: one contributor to a bassists' forum suggests that on the record it was Sal Cuevas, who's known primarily as a salsa and jazz player. One of the GREAT chuggers, whoever was playing it! Ah, the '80s - we were young then. Well, I was.


The Weeble said...

Via Ta-Nehesi Coates' blog a while ago, this cover of "Smells Like Teen Spirit," which I like much more than I would have thought:

Froog said...

Hmm, it grows on you, doesn't it?

I could do without some of the whistly-bloopy noises, but the vocal becomes quite hypnotic. Thanks for that, Weeble.

The band naming thread is awaiting its 200th commenter. It could be you!