The greatest bass guitar riffs were the work of many famous musicians and some little-known ones. Knowledge of these riffs and how they have been written will help develop you as a bass player. The following entries have some of the best bass lines. Admittedly, the list does not follow any special order as it is quite difficult to rank these iconic compositions.
First Things First, What Are Bass Lines?
A bass line also referred to as a bass part, is a low-pitched instrumental line or part in a musical composition played at a lower register. Whether you listen to funk, blues, EDM, classical, jazz, pop or rock, you can find the bass parts somewhere within the whole song. Since these sections cover numerous genres of music, some of the best bass lines have been made using an electric bass, a double bass, a cello, a keyboard or even a tuba.
1. Billie Jean - Michael Jackson (1982)
The king of pop wrote Billie Jean to express his feelings about a girl who claimed he had a son. The infamous "groupies" of the 1960s, who hang around the backstage of concerts to get a chance to interact with the musicians, were a major inspiration to a young Michael Jackson. Although Louis Johnson from The Brothers Johnson played bass on this song, the bass lines were written by Michael in his home studio.
One of the easy aspects of this bass line is its straightforward rhythm, where you play a note on each beat of the bar. In addition, its simplicity makes it easy to learn and master since it requires basic hand positioning.
2. Cream - Crossroads (1968)
Back in the 1930s, the famed blues singer Robert Johnson, if the song is to be believed, made a deal with the Devil to exchange his soul for the prowess of playing the blues. Admittedly, Eric Clapton felt their performance of this song was disjointed at some parts. However, the bassist Jack Bruce included his trademark deftly touch and melodic awareness to show us that bass lines could dominate one's composition without being overpowering.
Cream created an icon of the British affluent blues canon. The song is originally released on its first live album, Wheels of Fire, back in 1968. The original Crossroads blues release date 1964.
3. Can't Stop - Red Hot Chili Peppers (2002)
One of the most iconic songs from the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Can't Stop, tries to teach people the importance of passion and individuality in life, as seen in the famous line, "This life is more than just a read-through...". The lyricist Anthony Kiedis collected random thoughts, and the band came up with a rhythm to throw the snippets of advice together.
This piece is certainly one of the hardest riffs to take on, and it may not be for a beginner bass player. It employs a pseudo-slap technique that isn't quite like Jaco Pistorius' Funk but isn't fingerpicking. However, the riffs get more severe as you go on through four sections of this bass line. Additionally, you could start by practicing mounted notes to get the hang of this difficult song.
4. For Whom The Bell Tolls - Metallica (1984)
For Whom the Bell Tolls by Metallica was inspired by Ernest Hemingway's unbreakable war writing in a book with the same title. However, the song deviates in the last lines from the book's message to elucidate the pointlessness of war.
Metallica's bassist, Cliff Burton, added his rare gift to this song's intro to the extent that people think it was a guitar solo. Instead, the guitarist's descending chromatic sound evokes an absolute sense of dread by manipulating light bass distortions. If you have not had the pleasure to enjoy this bass riff live, you should make a point of it, as it will stir up your passion for taming this magnificent rhythmic beast.
5. Come Together - The Beatles (1969)
Come Together is a triumph from George Martin's production of surrealist lyricism with a notorious and imprisoning bass line, originally written and performed by Paul McCartney. All his bass lines are indispensable guides for playing the instrument, as his note choices and ability to walk through the melody without leaving his post are unbeaten in pop music.
You can take a crack at this bass riff or delve deeper into the whole album. After all, Abbey Road has some of the best bass lines of all time.
6. Under Pressure - Queen Featuring David Bowie (1981)
The collaboration of David Bowie and Queen on the iconic song Under Pressure tries to tell of the dangers of letting stress rule your life. Love, as the composition points out, is the answer to having a more fulfilling existence. Freddie Mercury did most of the songwriting, although he had help from his band and the featured artist.
The Queen bassist John Deacon spiraled into an operatic dimension with this pop-culture legend by adding the famous two-note bass riffs. Luckily, you do not need to be a pro on the bass guitar to learn the bass line.
7. The Chain - Fleetwood Mac (1977)
The Chain is one of the more Janus-styled compositions in rock history. Although Lindsey Buckingham and Stevie Nicks provide the lead vocals, Nicks came up with the lyrics to talk about their failing relationship. Still, John Mcvie wrote this bass line for a different song, but it was spliced into the track instead.
Using the bass riff near the song's end makes this piece work as the bass guitar releases tension in the rhythm. The bass line of Mcvie is simple, foregrounded, and it's one everyone should learn.
8. Ramble On - Led Zeppelin (1969)
Another emblematic song inspired by a famous book is Ramble On by Led Zeppelin. The Hobbit adventures in the Lord of The Rings got Robert Plant to come up with the lyrics. But, unfortunately, the band never got to perform it live from beginning to end despite their numerous tours and decades of pleasing the fans.
Nevertheless, the genius of John Paul Jones in making the iconic bassline dominate the song from the harmonious acoustic introduction. You can learn the three-note lick and rapid hammerings that helped the bassist announce his contribution to this unforgettable song.
9. Money - Pink Floyd (1973)
The song Money by Pink Floyd tries to warn us about the pitfalls of acquiring wealth instead of a tribute to getting rich. Roger Waters was responsible for the vocals and bass for this and other songs in one of the greatest albums ever, The Dark Side of the Moon.
This particular bass line is not too difficult to grasp because of its unorthodox beginning in a 7/8 time signature. Each bar has seven beats, and the bass solo bounces between 4/4, 7/8, then back to 4/4. When you get used to playing power notes on the guitar, you could rapidly use this rhythm.
10. Bullet In The Head - Rage Against The Machine (1992)
Zach de la Rocha wrote Bullet In The Head to emphasize individuality in a world where the media brainwashes people. In their self-titled debut album Rage Against The Machine, this quintessential song adds to the well-known bass riffs that any music lover should learn.
The opening bass line from Tim Commerford cements this song's place in the annals of rock history. Playing such intricate guitar riffs without fretting requires skill that many of us don't have. However, you should look towards the message in the song and use your strength as an individual and embrace a learning attitude.
11. Hair - Graham Central Station (1973)
Larry Graham has performed with the finest funk musicians – Sly and the Family Stone and a rising talent named Prince – and that speaks volumes about his enduring influence on the bass. The Graham Central Station band has five minutes of a huge and epochal guitar riff from the man who invented the slap bass technique.
Moreover, Larry Graham introduces a unique mix of funk and R&B through the slap bass riff in thumps that run beneath the lyrics. The slower tempo makes Hair much easier to learn. Plus, the song has four sections with two parts each, so figuring out the first four bars in each is comparable to understanding how to play half the song.
12. Hysteria - Muse (2003)
Hysteria by Muse talks about the obsessions of a stalker who wants a girl so much that it drives him crazy. In terms of notoriety, this song offers one of the most intricate processed riffs out there. Chris Wolstenholme is unrelenting in this masterpiece as he brings the message home without forsaking the rock tradition of the band.
Admittedly, this composition has one of the most difficult bass solos ever performed, so learning it will not be a walk in the park. Still, you can challenge your skills by putting in the time to walk in the shoes of one of the greats.
13. Seven Nation Army - The White Stripes (2003)
It may seem like we are cheating by putting this song on this list since Jack White never used a bass guitar to play this entry. Instead, he used a normal one, dropping an octave through a pedal to mimic a bass. Nevertheless, this is a fantastic bass line to learn because it is simple and quite recognizable.
Since we are bending the rules a bit, you can find numerous tutorials to teach you to play the riff on a bass guitar. Additionally, the slow tempo and repetition mean that you do not have to be impressively dextrous with your fingers to play it.
14. Walk on the Wild Side - Lou Reed (1972)
Walk on the Wild Side by Lou Reed is about a crossdresser who traveled to New York and worked as a prostitute. The song challenges and presents a different take from the traditional views about the role of genders. Its release coincided with the period when glamour rock was the most popular genre, with the musicians dressing up in a feminine style.
The bass line was played by Herbie Flowers, a session musician, and he remains modest about his role in this and other hit songs. It is one of the most simple riffs you can learn, and the rhythm is predictable.
15. Schism - Tool (2001)
The rock band Tool won the Grammy Award for Best Metal Performance in 2002 for their famous single, Schism. The bassist Justin Chancellor admitted that the riff came to him randomly when playing with his guitar. Still, this genius never wrote the songs down since he preferred to play any great idea until he couldn't forget it.
Learning to play this distinctive bass line can be quite challenging as it changes meters and uses complex rhythms. Plus, the unique time signatures and frequency alterations that occur 47 times in the entire song can be difficult to memorize and master.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) on Bass Lines
1. What song has the best bass guitar riffs?
Making a list of the greatest bassline or merely filling up the top three positions boils down to personal preference. After all, the media of music touches something different in all of us. Our list above is unranked and does not include all the songs with an iconic guitar part.
2. What is the hardest bass solo to play?
If you are looking for a serious bass-playing challenge, then you could try to emulate the legendary performance by Geddy Lee in YYZ by Rush. Described by many as painful to learn, memorizing and mastering the piece will be the least of your concerns. It takes plenty of hard work, practice and a dash of talent to play the rigor and mutes without missing a beat throughout the complex song.
3. What is the easiest bass line?
The bass-intensive magnum opus of John Deacon in Queen's famous song Another One Bites The Dust has one of the most easily recognizable guitar riffs. Luckily, the piece is also the easiest one to play for a beginner bass player. Plus, once you get grooving to Another One Bites The Dust, the transitions are quite simple to master.