I had a lot of time to listen to the radio today (thank YOU very much, idiot drivers of Tysons Corner and Gaithersburg), and one of our local radio classic-ish rock-ish stations cranked up Green-Eyed Lady. Hadn’t heard that one in so long that I’d forgotten who recorded it. (The answer is: Sugarloaf, which also recorded another candidate for this series — Don’t Call Us, We’ll Call You.)
I’d forgotten much of this song. I remembered the verse “Green-eyed lady, passion baby …” I didn’t realize that verse and the second (very similar to it) are roughly one minute out of 6:49.
And now I’ve forgotten most of it again, just a couple of hours later. What lingers is that bass line. Stuttered arpeggio, three-note riff, stuttered arpeggio, three-note riff, stuttered arpeggio, three-note riff, then walk it on back. It punches its way into your brain.
Little wonder it popped up on a Blogcritics list of rock’s greatest bass riffs.
I’m glad someone started the discussion, and I love the Barney Miller and Spinal Tap shout-outs. But like all these lists, it’s a conversation starter.
So let’s start adding:
Rush, Tom Sawyer. I agree with the distinction between soloing and riffing, and most of Geddy Lee’s best work is the former. But even people who think Lee’s voice puts the “grrr” in “grating” can get into this bass line. (One of many worthwhile bits in The Knights of Prosperity — the gang adopting this as their theme song.)
Our Lady Peace, Naveed. Yeah, I know. No one’s heard it. Yet if you heard it, you’d swear it was a classic of FM radio. It’s a concise distillation of foreboding and uneasiness that sets the tone for the song.
Allman Brothers, Whipping Post. Blues-based songs need a sturdy bass line to let you know that the lead singer’s laying down some serious shit. Most blues bands can’t deliver because the bass player is too shit-faced. But these guys were serious about their music, even shifting this one through 11/8 time for that added dose of urgency.
U2, New Year’s Day. The Wikipedia entry on Adam Clayton makes a big deal of Clayton’s long-delayed formal training on the bass (circa 1996). BFD. Clayton is the perfect example of a guy who knows his place in … hey, I’ve covered this before. He should appear in this list several times — Bullet the Blue Sky, Two Hearts Beat as One … even the four-note drone of With or Without You.
Belly, Feed the Tree. Yeah, it’s doubled by the guitar, but so is the riff on Sunshine of Your Love in the original list.
The Breeders, Cannonball. Hear that? Pretty cool, huh? And again? And then we go … WHOA! Bet you thought it was in that first key, didn’t you? Ha ha ha ha. And Kim Deal didn’t even play this one. She’s busy singing something that sounds like “Pinochet.”
Carbon Leaf, Paloma. Active, with an air of mystery. Another one that sets the tone — it’s the first instrument heard and the most important.
Concrete Blonde, Bloodletting. Ominous, but with a little swing to it. Perfect for a tale of vampires and New Orleans.
The Cure, Let’s Go to Bed. Just plain fun.
The Dazz Band, Let It Whip. Fun and funky.
Deep Purple, Hush. Yes, I know it’s a Joe South song, but I have no idea if the original bass line was as emphatic as this one.
The Doors, Riders on the Storm. Technically a keyboard part, given Ray Manzarek’s ability — rare for a rock keyboardist — to use two hands. (That’s my subtle Spinal Tap reference du jour.)
Edgar Winter Group … Do I even have to name the song?
Fleetwood Mac, The Chain. Second half of the song, obviously.
Foo Fighters, Everlong. Sounds like a distant radio station keeping you company on a lonely drive through the night.
Go-Gos, We Got the Beat. Everyone do the Belinda Carlisle shimmy to this Kathy Valentine bass riff.
Husker Du, Powerline. A rare moment in the spotlight for Greg Norton. He’s now a chef and restaurateur.
Kasabian, Club Foot. Wow. Might be the best of the millennium so far.
Led Zeppelin, Immigrant Song. Jonesy doubles the guitar through the verse than shifts into overdrive on the chorus. I guess that’s technically two riffs.
Living Colour, Wall. The most righteous smackdown of barriers — racial, political, religious, whatever — leads with a punch to the gut from Doug Wimbush, who had filled the large shoes of Muzz Skillings. (Interesting trivia according to Wikipedia: One bassist who was considered for the vacated spot was Meshell Ndegeunspellable, and King’s X bassist/vocalist Doug Pinnick filled in on vocals during a recent tour while Corey Glover was busy playing Judas in a production of Jesus Christ Superstar.)
Midnight Oil, Beds Are Burning. And the bass line is churning.
Aerosmith, Sweet Emotion. In case you’re wondering why I mention it here — yes, I’m going alphabetically through my iPod. And you’ve heard the Mighty Mighty Bosstones double-speed version of this song, right?
Motorhead, Ace of Spades. Weirdest bass style ever — Lemmy strums like he’s a freaking rhythm guitarist. Not sure how often it works, but it does here.
Primus, Wynona’s Big Brown Beaver. Tough to pick just one Claypool line, but I’ll go with this one.
R.E.M., South Central Rain. Again, could go with several Mike Mills riffs. Like John Entwistle, he was essentially the lead instrument at times, with the guitarist playing rhythm.
Rare Earth, I Just Want to Celebrate. Doubled by the guitar at times but a classic bottom-end riff nonetheless.
Temptations, Get Ready. I’m surely forgetting many great riffs from this era because (A) I haven’t covered it at iTunes and (B) many of them weren’t recorded quite as well as this one.
Young MC, Bust a Move. I believe this was Flea. (Quick check at Yahoo.) Yep, it was.
Smashing Pumpkins, I Am One. Have I ever mentioned that Gish is essential listening and should be in the classic-rock and alt-rock canons?
Smithereens, Blood and Roses. Stuck it in your head just by mentioning it, didn’t I?
Pretenders, My City Was Gone. Trivia quiz — name the bassist and the band for which he’s more famous … AND name the solo artist with whom that bassist and his longtime rhythm section partner rose to prominence.
Waitresses, Christmas Wrapping. It’s basically a rap song, right? And what’s a rap song without a good bass line?
XTC, Mayor of Simpleton. One of many great Colin Moulding efforts.
Yes, Roundabout. And Tempus Fugit. Chris Squire falls into the “soloist” category most of the time, but these two qualify as great riffs.
So that’s … yikes. That’s 34.
OK, folks — it’s up to you. Let’s push it to 50.