Lexifabricographer For when the right word just won’t do…

September 9, 2014

Bass lines

Filed under: musical challenge — Tags: , — lexifab @ 12:18 am

I got dragged into a YouTube rabbit hole today, thanks to a random tweet about the drummer from Oasis.

(The following has nothing whatsoever to do with Oasis, so do feel free to read on).

Due to one click and another, I started listening to recordings of popular music with a single instrument isolated. Just the drums, just the keyboards and – eventually – just the bass.

One track in particular impressed me with its unexpected virtuosity – Duran Duran’s John Taylor on bass for ‘Rio’. Check this out:

I’ve never particularly thought of ‘Rio’ as one of the Duranies’ more complicated pieces so it came as a bit of a shock that there’s so much going on, hidden away in the background. All the flash and glitter of the warbling vocals, guitar stings and obligatory 80’s saxophones provide impenetrable cover for what is a pretty complex bass part. Drums too, probably, but let’s not get sidetracked.

Once I started listening to these isolated bass parts, I realised I’ve been unconsciously maligning the bass as ‘the easy instrument’ for more or less ever. As long as you can keep time and remember when to change key on your four-note sequence, you’re gold, or so I imagined. Then I listened to Bootsy Collins doing slap bass (or John Entwhistle from The Who, or John Paul Jones from Led Zeppelin, or Flea, or Sting, or McCartney or a million other people I’ve never heard of because they’re the bass player) and it slowly occurred to me that maybe there might be a bit more to it than that.

At this point certain friends of mine who may have played bass for decades will likely roll their eyes and wonder why it’s taken me so long to figure this out. In my defense, my hearing’s probably not as good as it should be in the lower ranges, so I often find it very difficult to pick a bass line out of an arrangement.

So it’s become clear to me that the bass line is the glue that holds a whole song together. Bass isn’t flashy. In a typical band, the bass players doesn’t get as much attention as the lead guitarist or vocalist (although at least they get to stand in front of the drummer, so they have that in their favour). They just hang back, downstage, doing their thing and getting the job done without too much fuss.

I think I might have finally discovered my spirit instrument.

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