Top 5 Favorite Bass Guitar Songs

What do you think of when you think about your favorite bands? Maybe their singer has a great voice, one that could get you ready to kick some ass or move you to tears, depending on the band or the song. Or maybe their guitarists come up with some of the coolest riffs and solos you’ve ever heard, making you want to air guitar along, boot up your copy of Rock Band, or even learn the instrument yourself. Or maybe the drummer is just completely insane, pounding away at the skins like he’s got an extra pair of arms.

But there’s another guy in the band whose contributions can be pretty easy to overlook since his instrument of choice is usually lower in the mix than everything else. Yet without him, the band’s sound wouldn’t be quite as full. And if you listen closely, you just might hear something cool in its own right. Today, my friends, we gather to celebrate perhaps the most underrated instrument in rock n’ roll — the bass.

My top 5 favorite bass songs are coming up after the jump. And I know a lot of big-name bassists are absent from this list. So really it’s more like my favorite bass songs among the stuff I listen to most often. But feel free to list your favorites in the comments!

5. Nirvana, “Lounge Act”

Ah, Nirvana. They’re one of the most celebrated bands of the last 20 years, and with good reason — Nevermind and In Utero are still damn good rock albums to this day. And their influence is still felt all over rock radio, what with all the post-grunge bands with singers who would like very much to sound like Kurt Cobain. Oh, and then there’s that drummer of theirs. He’s been keeping himself pretty busy with a number of projects that earned him a Godlike Genius award from the NME. But “Lounge Act” always stood out to me for having a really, really catchy bass line courtesy of Mr. Krist Novoselic.

So what’s he been up to? After Cobain’s death in 1994, he formed a couple of short-lived bands and had a two-year stint as the bassist for Flipper. He also became more politically active, publishing a book, starting a political action committee, and blogging for Seattle Weekly. And he plays accordion on the Foo Fighters’ “I Should Have Known,” which will be featured on their new album Wasting Light, which was produced by Butch Vig. That’s right — three of the four men responsible for Nevermind, together again for one more song.

4. Green Day, “Longview”

If music fans were to get together someday and create a list of the best bass lines in rock history, I’m willing to bet that “Longview” would rank pretty high. It’s that memorable, and that instantly recognizable. I feel like I don’t even need to provide the music video for your viewing and listening pleasure, since not only do you already know exactly how it goes, you’re probably humming that bass melody to yourself right now. But I did it anyway.

I’ve been playing bass for about a year and a half now. I remember the first time I ever picked up a bass guitar and started fooling around with it. I was at Guitar Center (or possibly Accent Music in Delaware) with my dad and had been itching to give this a try. The first thing I did as soon as I got a bass in my hand was teach myself how to play “Longview.” No joke.

3. Muse, “Hysteria”

I’m going to be honest — it took me a while to realize that the intro to “Hysteria” was not played on a guitar with a very fuzzy and muddy tone. No, this was Chris Wolstenholme’s bass. But come on, given the kind of crazy sounds Matt Bellamy’s been known to get out of his guitar (dude’s got a custom model with a Korg Kaoss touch pad built into the body) I don’t think it’s entirely unfair to get a little confused. Of course, this was also the first Muse song I’d ever heard, so I didn’t even know there was only one guitarist in the band.

And it isn’t just that main bass line either. Wolstenholme tears it up for pretty much the entire duration of this song. I haven’t even tried to learn this one on my own, because I just don’t think my fingers are nimble enough to handle it.

2. Radiohead, “Dollars And Cents”

As I said earlier, I consider the bass to be perhaps the most underrated instrument in rock. And Radiohead’s Colin Greenwood is perhaps one of the most underrated players of that instrument. Their best-known bass riff is “The National Anthem,” and that was actually written and played by Thom Yorke on the record (Greenwood plays it live, of course). Greenwood’s style is pretty subtle and understated, and there’s often so much else going on in Radiohead’s music that it might be easy to overlook him. But if you take the time to focus on his playing, he makes it worth your while. He may not be as flashy as Mr. Wolstenholme or the guy at #1 on this list, but the man knows how to craft a bass melody.

“Dollars And Cents” is a jazzy little number that arrives toward the end of Amnesiac and features my favorite Radiohead bass line. The tripped-out guitars and swelling strings create an incredibly spacious soundscape, almost as if “Dollars And Cents” was specifically written to soundtrack a person wandering aimlessly through the desert amongst pyramids and mirages, and yet all the while there’s that mesmerizing bass hook and Phil Selway’s jazzy groove hanging around to anchor this baby in the lounge. It’s the kind of song that makes me want to close my eyes and just let my imagination run wild.

1. Red Hot Chili Peppers, “Around The World”

Oh, come on. You didn’t honestly think I’d make a list of my favorite bass songs and not mention Flea, did you?

Quite frankly, pretty much any Chili Peppers song could have made this list. For starters, they’re one of the only bands I can think of (at the moment, at least) that treats the bass like a lead guitar. Prog-metal bands like Intronaut and Between The Buried And Me do it from time to time. Metallica with Cliff Burton could definitely qualify as well. The other reason is simply because I love listening to Flea play. The man is practically a bottomless well of funky bass hooks.

“Around The World” sticks out mainly because of how effortlessly Flea is able to transition from going absolutely insane on his bass to funky staccato melodies in the verses to a soothing groove in the chorus and back again. He’s all over the place in this song (fitting, given that it’s called “Around The World”) and makes it look so easy. Also, go back and watch that Scott Pilgrim vs. the World clip at the beginning of this post — I’m pretty sure the first thing Todd (evil ex #3, hence the big 3 on his shirt) plays is the intro from “Around The World” in a different key. That’s right, Flea’s playing in this song is so awesome that he manages to kick Scott Pilgrim’s ass in a bass battle without even being there to play anything.

Well, that about wraps up my favorite bass guitar songs. And like I said at the start of the post, feel free to add your favorites in the comments. I leave you now with Paul Rudd discussing his admiration for the instrument in a vaguely Jamaican accent.

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7 responses

  1. satyajit

    nice list :) I personally realised the influence of bass very late on and I instantly formed the opinion (like you) that bass is probably the most underrated instrument.. my favourite bass lines include longview from your list. then nancy sinatra’s “these boots are made for walking”, Jethro Tull’s version of “Bouree”, The Animals “We gotta get outta this place”, a couple of Fleetwood Mac’s tracks, and many more.. Since then I’m always scouring the net for bass track lists which is how I landed here incidentally :)

    July 18, 2012 at 11:44 am

  2. satyajit

    Oh and how did I forget Yes- Roundabout and Rush- pretty much all songs but my personal favourite bass driven song- yyz !

    July 18, 2012 at 11:46 am

  3. jfauser

    So just mainly modern bands? Songs by The Who and Yes are probably more held up than these.

    July 29, 2012 at 10:17 am

  4. satya

    jethro tull? Yes? Rush? modern bands?? and what rhcp, nirvana, muse, green day are from the 20’s???? I don’t know why I bother… douche.

    October 17, 2012 at 2:24 pm

  5. Vinay

    The bass-line of the song ‘Orion’ by Metallica motivated me to learn playing bass. You quite visibly missed out on that one.

    March 7, 2013 at 4:25 am

  6. Brenda madani

    How about Under Pressure by Queen. John Deacon is amazing on that song.

    November 13, 2013 at 10:47 am

  7. Hoola

    Bass line in “Jenny was a friend of mine” by the killers <3

    March 21, 2014 at 7:26 pm

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