The Greatest Rock Bass Lines of the 70s

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Presentation photo: Jean-Luc, CC BY-SA 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons

In the age of classic rock, the bass player had a lot more power than most people realized. Although they sound like just a simple version of the guitar, the band’s bass still helps propel a great song forward, either finding a groove with the drummer or bringing a more rhythmic edge to it. what do guitars do? There have been plenty of guitar solos you can sing from memory, but that’s just a small taste of what happens when you go down the musical spectrum.

The 1970s are filled with songs with iconic bass lines. Almost every Motown album ever released, from the Jackson Five to Stevie Wonder to every other big name, is fueled by Hall of Fame-worthy basslines. Motown basslines will be reviewed in a separate article. This one just focuses on a handful of great bass lines from classic rock artists.

After Rumors set the world on fire, there’s hardly anything on the record that could be considered understated. As the chain begins to haunt and foretell, the song’s real bite comes from John McVie, its bassline a warning of what’s to come before Lindsey Buckingham’s guitar explodes into a frenzy for the last section of the song. Fleetwood Mac had become a pop band in their own right, but there’s an attitude to this song that still has a foot in the blues.

#12 – Silly Love Songs – Wings

Not every bass player cares about making your bass catchy in every song. You have to serve whatever the songwriter gives you, but after being in one of the biggest bands in the world, you have a little more leeway. Since Paul McCartney was already writing classics outside of The Beatles, “Silly Love Songs” boasts one of the best bass lines of his entire career, weaving in and around changes and, dare I say, also adding a bit of disco to the mix. . When put together, they’re quirky, catchy, and full of heart…like all silly love songs should be.

#11 – Sweet Emotion – Aerosmith

When Aerosmith cut Toys in the attic, everything seemed to be going well until they missed a song. Arriving with a spare riff he had been dragging around, Tom Hamilton practically hypnotizes you with the opener to “Sweet Emotion”, as the rest of the band create an almost psychedelic haze around him. For all of Aerosmith’s great rock and roll tunes, there was always a swing, and you can’t have a swing without something equally stable holding it down.

By the time John Paul Jones entered Led Zeppelin, he was already a veteran of the sessions scene, arranging various masterpieces behind the scenes. He knew his place in the band though, and you can practically sing along to the verses of “Ramble On”, favoring the higher notes on the neck before Bonzo roars back in for the choruses. There’s a bit of folk here and there and just a hint of the Motown sound for good measure, but it never ceases to be uncut rock and roll.

# 9 – Roundabout – Yes

Ah yes… now we come to the song that started every To Be Continued meme. More seriously, the whole journey that Yes takes us in “Roundabout” would be a shell unto itself without Chris Squire’s bass, the nasty-as-hell riff that anyone can groove to soaring when the song turns a corner in what is essentially a samba groove. Progressive rock may suit its own niche audience in rock and roll, but for a song like this, hardly any style is out of place if the music is still kicking.

#8 – This Year’s Girl – Elvis Costello

It has never really been so important to be a virtuoso in the punk or new wave scenes. It was about being the antithesis of something like progressive rock, but nobody told Bruce Thomas that, bouncing that song around while Elvis Costello is stuck playing chords most of the time. Even though the music was still pop-oriented, the mood was still to play for your life, and the bass in this song feels like every note could be the last.

When Black Sabbath first started, it was all back to the blues, and you really get along with Geezer Butler. Before NIB kicks off properly, the song’s intro gives Geezer a bass solo that sounds like someone like Eric Clapton should he decide to take a four-string instead. The second he fired up his distortion and wah-wah pedals, the early days of hard rock were over and things were about to get a whole lot heavier.

#6 – Closer to the Heart – Rush

When it comes to great bass lines in rock and roll, you can pretty much put Geddy Lee in a whole list by himself. Although he treats his bass more like a lead guitar at times, the way he locks in on Closer to the Heart is even hard to understand at times, such as during the breakdown where he matches the part of Alex Lifeson’s selection note for note. Rush may have been there even by prog standards, but it takes a certain level of genius to cram that much music into just 3 minutes.

#5 – American Girl – Tom Petty

For all good rock and roll music, it all comes down to the heart, and Tom Petty was the kind of 24k rocker we all needed in the late 70s. Right at the turn of punk rock, the tuneful bass sound of Ron Blair stepping into the intro of American Girl felt like a ray of sunshine projected onto the rock stage. The Sex Pistols and the Ramones may have been about the most self-destructive side of rock and roll, but there was also no shame in having the same rock and roll dreams as the Stones.

#4 – London Calling – The Clash

The late 70s marked a new era in rock and roll, and the Clash came right in the middle with London Calling. For all the sharp lyrics coming from Joe Strummer, the section that really catches the eye is Paul Simonon’s bass part, bouncing off the chord changes in the verses and having one of the greatest intros for a bass guitar. of rock history before the voices arrived. Strummer may have set it on fire, but Paul’s bass kicked in the door of your mind and made you pay attention.

#3 – Peace Frog – The Doors

Most of the Doors’ glory years seem to be reserved for the band’s Summer of Love era. They did, however, find their swagger in the 70s, with the bluesy sounds of Peace Frog driven by Ray Neapolitan’s bass guitar. Ray Manzarak may have taken over bass duties with his low-end keyboard when they performed it live, but the whole appeal of the song is how juicy this track seems to lock in with John Densmore.

#2 – The Real Me – The Who

There are strong reasons to believe that John Entwistle was the real lead guitarist of The Who. While Pete Townshend held it all down most of the time, the oxbite always pushed forward momentum, and “The Real Me” is practically his opportunity to stand up, move up and down the fretboard to create almost laser sounds with his bass guitar. Townshend may have been the heart, and Keith Moon may have been the muscle, but John was the pulse that took every classic song to a whole new level.

Considering how much the bassist has to hold the groove most of the time, it’s a wonder if you find something grooving in a weird time signature. Set in 7/4, Money is basically an offbeat take on the blues, with Roger Waters leading the charge with his hypnotic bassline, which was so good David Gilmour got in on the action for most of the verses as well, basically just playing the bass line. Since the whole song boils down to how money brings out the naughty side in all of us, it would make sense for the bass line to feel slightly off-kilter as well.

Article on the best rock basslines of the 70s published on Classic RockHistory.com© 2022

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