Earlier today, a link got passed around the EW music department that made everybody chuckle a little bit: an article that appeared on the website for venerable British music weekly NME, and declared “Muse’s ‘Hysteria’ voted best bassline of all time.”
That declaration came from another website called Music Radar, who held a poll that Muse fans obviously blitzed to push “Hysteria” to the top spot, beating out such iconic low-end parts as Queen’s “Another One Bites the Dust,” Rush’s “YYZ,” and Pink Floyd’s “Money.” Honestly, we had trouble thinking of the bassline to “Hysteria,” and every time we thought we had it, we realized that we were thinking of the part from “Uprising.” Or “Time Is Running Out.”
The point is, they’ve got a ton of great songs with killer basslines (courtesy of four-stringer Chris Wolstenholme), and quite a few of them are way, way better than “Hysteria.” And in no way, shape, or form should Muse be considered better than Queen at anything, which is why a whole new list is necessary.
Being a bass player is tough, because you’re either playing stuff that nobody notices (95% of bassists fall into this category) or you’re being showy to the point of being obnoxious (the Les Claypools and Stings of the world). Being great requires incredible artistic balance (and quite a bit of manual dexterity), and it’s a very elusive sort of greatness.
So in addition to some of the clear winners on the Music Radar list — Michael Jackson’s “Billie Jean,” David Bowie & Queen’s “Under Pressure,” Red Hot Chili Peppers’ “Give It Away” — here are some other overlooked moments of low-end excellence.
U2, “Sunday Bloody Sunday”
Adam Clayton was given less and less to do as U2 evolved (though he had the strongest interest in electronic music of all the members of the band, his contributions are difficult to spot on the newly reissued Achtung Baby), but on the key song from War, he absolutely owns the song with his martial pulse.
While Frank Black provided the jagged guitar work that inspired many an alterna-clone, Kim Deal and her bass-playing skills made the Pixies strangely sexy. On Doolittle’s key track (and after-the-fact “hit”), the bass opens the song and then darts in and out of the cacophony on top.
Pearl Jam, “Rats”
Though he’s never been one to show off, Pearl Jam bassist Jeff Ament has serious skills, and his backdrop on the second side of Vs. is the closest thing the Seattle boys ever came to funk (and was clearly influenced by Flea of Pearl Jam tourmates the Red Hot Chili Peppers).
Queens of the Stone Age, “Feel Good Hit of the Summer”
Sure, it’s basically one note repeated ad infinitum, but man, what a note!
Herb Alpert, “Rise”
Better known as the rhythm track that later became the basis for Notorious B.I.G.’s “Hypnotize,” that bottom shelf is hypnotically hardcore, even with the super-saxy brass floating on top of it.
Talking Heads, “Psycho Killer”
Well played, Tina Weymouth. Well played.
That’s what’s floating around in our bass-loving heads. What are your picks for the greatest basslines of all time? Lay down the thump in the comments.