Saturday, June 16, 2012

Another Top Five Basslines - getting 'hoopy'

My last roundup of great basslines focused on chuggers, those simple but insistent lines that drive the song along with a relentless energy. The opening entry in this series had been on hooks, bass figures that are also usually quite simple and repetitive but have such a beautiful shape to them that they have that 'earworm' quality - impossible to ignore, impossible to forget. When first trying to organise my thoughts about this series back then, I realised that there needed to be at least one further category - for basslines that might be rather less forceful or prominent but where... there's just much more going on. I still haven't settled on a definitive name for this category; so far, I've been calling them hoopy basslines.

As before, I found I had soon amassed a list of candidates that was too long for one post; so, expect one or two more hoopy anthologies later in the year. (And don't immediately start abusing me because I appear to have omitted one of your favourites!!)

Well, here we go with a......

Top Five 'Hoopy' Basslines

5=)  Bring It On Home
When I think of John Paul Jones' work with Led Zeppelin, it tends to be the grinding rock riffs of Heartbreaker or Immigrant Song that spring first to mind. Bass aficionados usually cite his playing on The Lemon Song (allegedly all improvised on the spot) as his finest hour, but I rather prefer his work here on their adaptation of the Willie Dixon blues classic. You can hear the album track here, but this extended version from their 1970 Royal Albert Hall concert is awesome.

5=)  My Generation
JPJ is probably duking it out with John "The Ox" Entwistle for the accolade of 'Greatest Rock Bassist of All Time', but I often find that, on The Who's studio albums, his intricate playing is drowned out or at any rate distracted from by there being so much else going on. I notice and appreciate him more in live performance videos (like this mind-blowing version of Won't Get Fooled Again). Amongst the studio tracks, though it's not my favourite of their songs by a long way, I think My Generation best shows off the hoopiness of his bass (and he's touchingly protective of his instrument at the end in this video, when Pete and Keith go mental smashing their gear up).

4)  Sweet Emotion
I wouldn't call myself a huge Aerosmith fan, I don't have any of their albums, but... every once in a while I come across something of theirs that I really like, and I start to think that maybe I should delve into their catalogue more thoroughly. This seems to be an untypical song of theirs - slower, more complex, and allowing space to Tom Hamilton to really show off what he's capable of.

3)  Public Image
These days, John Lydon is probably remembered mostly for The Sex Pistols, but the fact is that he's led TWO of the most important British rock bands ever: his post-Pistols project, Public Image Ltd, was a pioneer of 'post-rock' and arguably an even better band than The Pistols - musically rather than socially iconoclastic. Their key asset was the superb - jazz and reggae influenced - bass playing of John Wardle, aka Jah Wobble.

2)  Coyote
I am indebted to Beijing Beatles guitarist Troy who recommended this track to me in the comments on my first basslines post [Well, I had been led to believe it was that Troy, but I later discovered it was another one.]. I knew of the egregiously talented but sadly self-destructive bass player Jaco Pastorius through his work with Joe Zawinul's electro-jazz ensemble Weather Report, but I hadn't realised that he'd enjoyed a close collaboration with the lovely singer-songwriter Joni Mitchell through the late '70s. The album version can be heard here, but this is an interesting, slowed down live performance. [I found an extended reminiscence of Jaco by Joni that is worth reading.]

But in the top spot this time I'm going for...

1)  You Can Call Me Al
It's hard to pick out just one example from Sowetan musician Bakithi Khumalo's gorgeous playing on the two Paul Simon albums Graceland and Rhythm of the Saints; there's something interesting going on in almost every track he's featured on. This is the one that particularly sticks in the mind because of the exuberant little run at around 3.45 - but it's MARVELLOUS all the way through. The album version is here, but this is a great live show.

A sad footnote: I just discovered that the great bass player Donald 'Duck' Dunn died a few weeks ago, peacefully in his sleep at the age of 70. He was performing to the end, on a tour in Japan with his lifelong friend, the guitarist Steve Cropper, with whom he had formed the backbone of Booker T & The M.G.'s (the house band at seminal Memphis recording studio Stax Records, and hence the sound of many classic '60s blues and soul tracks), and later of The Blues Brothers Band. When I started doing this basslines series at the start of the year, it soon occurred to me that I could probably do a whole post - at least one! - just on M.G.s basslines. I'll try to get around to that next month, as a tribute to The Duck.


Mike said...

"JPJ is probably duking it out with John "The Ox" Entwistle for the accolade of 'Greatest Rock Bassist of All Time'"

Um... PAUL McCARTNEY...?!?


Nice to se the PIL. Bess bass SOUND in rock, Jah Wobble. So ocean-deep.

Froog said...

Oh, you and your Macca!

I suppose McCartney would be in consideration for a Top 10 or Top 20, based on inventiveness and musical sensitivity rather than virtuouso technique. But would anyone really argue for him as the No. 1? Even you??

And that's assuming you allow him in the category. The Beatles were really pop rather than rock (although the boundaries were a lot less distinct back then, as the genres as we know them were only just beginning to emerge). If you throw it open more widely to all areas of 'popular' music, there's a raft of soul, funk, and reggae (and jazz?) players who are going to beat him out too.

I think most people would agree that Entwistle and Jones are the pinnacle in the 'rock' field. But I didn't say who else might be duking it out with them at the top...

I'm just glad you didn't say, "Wot - no Geddy Lee?"

And have patience. I nearly included Macca here; and he is pencilled in for the next instalment - along with Geezer Butler, John McVie, Colin Moulding, and Lucky Scott.