Best Bass Lines - James Jamerson and his Fender P-Bass

Five of the best bass lines ever recorded…

Recently, the NME published a list of the best bass lines ever, as chosen by writer Anna Conrad. As you may expect from a publication such as the NME, these had a decidedly indie-rock flavour. This, of course, is fine. However, it seems a bit odd to us to produce a list of the best bass lines that doesn’t contain a single funk or Motown record. In fact, the most groove-heavy bass line amongst the bunch was Daft Punk’s ‘Around The World’. There is clearly no reason that a bass line has to be funky to be great, but to have not a single one in the top ten? That seems wrong to me…

Here, we have no particular preference to bass lines played on a Fender Precision Bass or a Mini Moog– if it grooves, it grooves. And so, to provide a touch of balance, some ‘ying’ to their ‘yang’ (or possibly the 2 and 4, to their 1 and 3…), here is five of our best bass lines ever, in no particular order.

5. Bobby Womack – A Woman’s Gotta Have It (1972) – played by Mike Leech

The second track on Womack’s album ‘Understanding’, this swinging, soulful bass line seems heavily informed by legendary ‘Funk Brother’, James Jamerson. Melodic, lyrical, and with beautifully loose rhythm, this is a classic bass line that is perhaps, lesser known than some others.

4. Sly and the Family Stone – If You Want Me To Stay (1973) – Played by Sly Stone

A funk soul classic that has been covered by Prince and the Red Hot Chili peppers, among others, Sly Stone played the bass line that is the anchor of this track. Playful, with a slightly bittersweet melodic flavour, the performance has the slightly imperfect charm of many Sly Stone records. No over-production here…

3. Parliament – Flashlight (1978) – Played by Bernie Worrell

There is a piece of advice in a highly regarded DJ tuition guide that says, with regard to purchasing records, something along the lines of ‘If you see anything from the ‘70s that has a picture of the band in front of a spaceship on the cover, buy it’. This is good advice, and largely because of Parliament and Funkadelic.

It would be inconceivable (we think, at least) to create a list of the best bass lines ever without one of George Clinton’s projects figuring somewhere. This was the arguably Parliament’s most commercial single ever, and features a Moog bass line so ludicrously funky, it’s like your brain has been taken over by sequinned aliens, with star shaped glasses and 3” platform boots. And in many ways, it has.

2. The Jackson 5 – I Want You Back (1970) – Played By Wilton Felder

The first Jackson 5 single to be released on the Motown label, ‘I Want You Back’ features what is unarguably one of the most recognisable, if not the best bass lines ever committed to tape. Played by Crusaders bassist and sax player Wilton Felder, the bass on this track is essentially its biggest hook. Again, played in a manner reminiscent of bass legend James Jamerson, this funky, but poppy riff was in no small part responsible for propelling the Jacksons to the very top of the music world.

1. Stevie Wonder – For Once In My Life (1968) – Played by James Jamerson

To leave out a James Jamerson performance in a list of best bass lines would be frankly, unthinkable. To pick one from the countless classics he recorded during his time with legendary Motown backing band, the Funk Brothers, however is a task. Jamerson had such incredible feel, both rhythmically and melodically, and could play in a manner that was individual, and instinctive, often acting as a counterpoint to the vocal line.

His style always added massively to the track, without ever resorting to showiness. Whilst his performance on Marvin Gaye’s ‘What’s Going On’ is possibly his most famous, Stevie Wonder’s ‘For Once in My Life’ is a great illustration of why Jamerson is still held to be one of the greatest players ever to wield a P-Bass.

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