For the June edition of the collaborative blog, the collective lays down some of their favorite funky basslines. Whether it's from disco, hip hop, or hard rock, these bass riffs will be sure to get your feet movin' and your soul groovin'. Can ya dig?
Song: “Boogie Oogie Oogie”
Artist: A Taste of Honey
Album: A Taste of Honey (1978)
Pure disco. When I started learning bass a few years ago, this was one of the first basslines I had to learn. It’s so simple, which actually happens to be a core requirement for great disco songs. As captivating as a complex symphony may be, as mind-bending a death metal or drum & bass track may be, as intricate and painstaking a concept album may be, a disco song asks for only a few essentials: some accents of melody and/or vocals, a four-on the floor drum beat, and, most important of all, a groovy mothereffing bassline. At 3:10 in the song above, the vocalist recognizes this as she sings, “Listen to my bass play.” That’s Janice-Marie Johnson, the band’s co-vocalist, the song’s co-writer, and one of the most badass bassists I’ve ever heard, right before she starts slapping the strings with soul.
Song: “The Game of Love”
Artist: Daft Punk
Album: Random Access Memories (2013)
The funk doesn’t live within the played notes. Rather, it’s in the space between. That’s why I think this slow, emotional ballad from Daft Punk’s last album has one of the funkiest basslines ever. The drums, the bass, the keys—all the instruments hold back as minimally as possible in support of the crooning, electronic vocals. They hold back, but they’re perfectly locked in. And the bass holds back most of all, hardly playing at all. You really only ever around the fourth and first beat, and only ever so lightly. Studio bassist Nathan East, who has worked with everyone from Eric Clapton and George Harrison to Michael Jackson and Stevie Wonder, lays down the robots’ vision by playing the game of love. Give and take, give and take.
[ sadly, no YouTube links are available because Prince is hardcore anti-free streaming ]
Song: “Lady Cab Driver”
Album: 1999 (1982)
Ever since I started listening to Prince in high school, this has been one of my favorite of his tracks. It’s certainly not one of his most famous hits, but it’s just as good as any of the classics. From the beginning, cars honking, Prince yelling for a taxi, drums joined by funky guitar and bass, and then finally the man’s lovely alto singing about his lady cab driver—although we’re left wondering if this is a metaphor à la “Little Red Corvette.” Of course it is. And of course sex is involved. But we know this even before we get to 3:10, the point when Prince gives it some very lucky, loud girl for… a wide variety of reasons (“this is for whoever taught you to kiss in designer jeans,” “this one’s for the rich—not all of them—just the greedy—the ones that don’t know how to give”). We know it before then because it’s Prince, yes, but also because of that bassline! It’s just sexy as hell.
Song: “Strawberry Letter 23”
Artist: The Brothers Johnson
Album: Right on Time (1977)
One of those songs that never lets a DJ down because it’s one of those songs that never lets the crowd down. Doesn’t matter if you just mixed up the sloppiest transition after the last song, once these guys lay down that bassline, everything disappears. Supplemented by the divine chorus, the cool main vocals, shimmering keys, and a bunch of different percussion, this bassline takes your feet to another planet.
Artist: Carly Simon
Album: Soup for One (1982)
Carly Simon? Funk? What? I know, I know. But trust me on this one. If you must know, it’s actually a Chic song, so we got Nile Rodgers on guitar and Bernard Edwards on bass, so now you’ll believe me, right? Chic were ahead of their time by so many measures. They didn’t just perfect a completely unique disco sound, but they also pioneered styles that would become staples to electronic dance music production. Their 1979 hit “Good Times,” for example, didn’t just lay the groundwork for the birth of hip hop, but also pushed the limits of repetition and minimalism. “Why” does the same. It hardly changes at all over the course of eight minutes, mostly revolving the spotlight between the guitar, the keys, the vocals. But one thing remains constant: that bass. Smooth, delicious, and funky as hell, the bassline (played at high volume, mind you) makes eight minutes feel like a second.
Song: “Reach for It”
Artist: George Duke
Album: Reach for It
This is the funkiest song I’ve ever heard. You gotta wait for it; you gotta wait on the funk just a little bit, and then the song’ll drop you off into it, and then the bass bubbles in. It sounds like a burbling roil of water at the spout of a hot spring, speaking of bubbling. The whole first three minutes of this not-so-long song remind me of like a sort of boiled bass mess--whose funkiness is the very thing that affords it its curative properties. It’s therapeutic bass. It’s restorative bass. Are you gonna try some of this restorative boiled bass? Are you gonna drink the funky water? Is it even a bass that’s getting boiled, and not another, more futuristic electric stringed instrument? I don’t know a whole lot about George Duke and his crew, but I feel like I have learned a whole lot about funk from him and them.
Song: “Ahh...The Name Is Bootsy, Baby”
Artist: Bootsy Collins
Album: Ahh...The Name Is Bootsy, Baby
Not so much a song as an extended statement, this is the sound I hear after I hear the phrase “funky bassline.” It’s like a celebration of that phrase, this song. As it proceeds--as Bootsy asks his fellow funk conductors if they heard that--the bass keeps the pace of the celebration. It’s a big funky bassline party with lots of fanfare and confetti falling and funky freaking out. It’s the bass tells that tale--the celebration of the funky phrase, “funky bassline.” And meanwhile Bootsy’s rappin’ about his rubber band boinging and bouncing in from Cincinnati, Ohio to take your good sense and make you dance like a fool. It’s like an introduction to “funky bassline,” as much as it is also an introduction to Bootsy and his band. And then the name, you know, naming himself and his band so often throughout the song and rapping about it and whatnot, all set to the funky bassline, creates a contract with the listener: you will funk with me, my name is Bootsy, hear me, hear is my bass. “Why not take all of me?” he asks. It’s really a generous song.
Bonus: I would be remiss if I didn’t mention here “We Want Eazy” by Eazy-E, who loved to sample Bootsy songs, and whose samples of Bootsy always manage to marry the funkiest subject matter with the original funky bassline.
Song: “Get Up to Get Down”
Artist: Brass Construction
Album: Brass Construction V
A brutal bassline. It goes deeper than a big ass whale. And it chomps harder. And it swallows more funky fish. Than any other mammalian bassline on Earth! This bassline is like your pal for exploring the unexplored submarine caverns of sound. Something about bass and water, isn’t there. It’s voluminous, isn’t it? Bass is voluminous. Just like whales. Of course, Brass Construction’s thing is having this whole brass band. But picture like the brass band of a big boat coasting through at so many knots when suddenly a great whale breaches the sea and engulfs the band in one blinding all-consuming chomp.
Song: “Doing It to Death”
Artist: The J.B.s
Album: Doing It to Death
I’m putting this song down here just after having rolled a pair of dice to decide which James Brown number to pick. There are at least 11 other James Brown songs worthy of being put down here, in other words. But the roll of the dice…it’s fate. It’s death. What’s funkier than that? In order for James Brown to get down, he says, “I need to get in D.” Funky D. Stanky D. Down D. And then there it goes, one level funkier, as though you are descending with James Brown into a deeper circle of funk. James Brown, your poet-guide through the funkerworld. And you just keep going deeper and deeper. The bassline just drives on and on and on and on and on and on, deeper and downer and funkier and funkier. It stays the same. It’s an inevitability, a certainty. It sure is funky, now, ain’t it? There is something really primally funky about a bassline that’s as eternally unchanging as this one. And this is just one of 12!
Song: “All Day Sucker”
Artist: Stevie Wonder
Album: Songs in the Key of LIfe
FEE-FI-FO-FUM. This bassline is the sound of a monstrous funk giant stomping its way through the track. Stevie commands the start of the song saying, “Play as funky as you can for me” as if he’s directly talking to this funk monster (though I recently found out that Stevie played the bassline himself on this recording, and on a synth no less!). The riff isn’t complex, but what makes it one of the funkiest basslines I could think of is its sheer weight. Each note rings out for half the bar, laying down a funky, heavy as fuck groundwork while leaving physical space for that shredding lead guitar. I also love the way this deep bassline mimics Stevie’s sassy vocals in order to emphasize the stanzas stating that he “will once again, get nothing from [her] love”. It’s hard to pick a favorite song off of Songs in the Key of Life, seeing as how every track is a classic, but I’d say hands down that this is the best bassline on this album and on Stevie’s discography overall.
Artist: Herbie Hancock
Album: Head Hunters
THE JAM OF JAMS! THE STANDARD OF STANDARDS! THE FUNKIEST OF RIFFS! Jazz, funk, and even rock ‘n roll wouldn’t be the same as we know it without this song. Though there are many technically astounding moments in this fifteen minute jam, the bass riff, which was influenced by the ‘70s dance movement and Rufus Thomas’ “Funky Robot”, is what sets this apart from anything the jazz/funk world had heard before. Similar to Stevie’s “All Day Sucker”, the main bassline is not too complicated - it’s mostly a two-chord vamp recorded on Hancock’s ARP Odyssey. The simplicity, though, is what made this riff applicable/inspirational to artists of all genres, thus making "Chameleon" a timeless classic.
Song: "Seinfeld Theme Song"
You know, throughout the entire funk music catalog this must be the most recognizable and iconic bass riff of all time. I don't even have much more to say about this song besides that I get hyped af every time I hear it and know that I'm about to watch Jerry and friends embark on some NYC adventure. Big ups to fellow T&E writer Melanie for reminding me that this song should make its way onto the list.
Song: “Jerry Was A Race Car Driver”
Album: Sailing The Seas of Cheese
Traditionally, bass has taken the backseat in a song while the guitar gets most of the attention. This song reverses that notion and brings the bass to the forefront. This heavy presence allows Larry Lalonde to paint the song with his psychedelic guitar leads that accentuate the song rather than carry it. Les Claypool’s two hand taps are even more impressive when you consider that he’s also singing his way through this 3 minute narrative about the titular character. It's funky, weird, and exemplifies why Les Claypool is one of the best bassists in the world.
Song: “King Kunta”
Artist: Kendrick Lamar
Album: To Pimp A Butterfly
The hype surrounding this album when it first came out was massive to begin with, but Kendrick absolutely blindsided me when I first heard this song last year. The G-funk groove that carries this song is built off a sample from “Get Nekkid” by Mausberg and DJ Quik, and the result is totally infectious. To Pimp A Butterfly is already considered a modern classic, and the groove on here still brings me back to this song all the time. The back-and-forth key changes throughout the song are also a nice touch that help keep the song from getting too repetitive. The truth is, you don’t hear songs this funky in the mainstream anymore. I’m happy that Kendrick decided to make a throwback song like this as a tribute to his Compton roots.
Artist: Limp Bizkit
Album: Significant Other
That’s right. I went there.
There are many perfectly valid reasons as to why Limp Bizkit are one of the most hated musical groups of all time. I, myself, don’t listen to them. Except for when I do. I feel like 95% of the hate this band received was due to Fred Durst, his frat boy antics during Limp Bizkit’s peak, and his truly terrible and obnoxious raps. That being said, I do think they had underrated talent as musicians and have some bright spots in their catalog. Wes Borland came up with some seriously creative, outside-the-box guitar riffs. John Otto and Sam Rivers made up a pretty solid rhythm section. And DJ Lethal.... Okay, I don’t listen to turntablism so I won’t comment on his skills but that was the popular sound back then and it doesn’t bother me here. I’m just going to leave it at that.
“Re-Arranged” is a song that displays how good Limp Bizkit can be as a band when they get everything right. The song is built around a mellow, mantra-like bassline from Sam Rivers while Wes Borland peppers the song with an equally funky two-hand-tapped guitar line. They play off each other so well and give the song such a laid back vibe that I don’t even end up paying that much attention to Fred Durst, who isn’t really obnoxious here but still sounds uninspired. This is the only Limp Bizkit song that I actually go out of my way to listen to every now and then. If only they could have gone in this direction more often.
Song: “Take The Power Back”
Artist: Rage Against The Machine
Album: Rage Against The Machine
I just noticed 3 of my 4 picks were rock songs from the 90’s. I was only a kid back then but damn if that wasn’t a funky time to be in a rock band. Rage Against The Machine embraced funk and hip hop with open arms, and I can’t think of a funkier bassline in their catalog than “Take The Power Back.” This is the song I always use to test out new speakers, headphones, and stereos, and how well I can hear the bass plays a huge role in what I ultimately end up buying. Tim Commerford’s slaps and pops that hold down the groove are funky as hell. One thing I’ve noticed about this song, as well as “Re-Arranged” and “Jerry Was A Race Car Driver,” is that they all have one thing in common: the bass carries the song so well that it frees up the guitarists to be playful with counterpoint in their riffs. While Tom Morello, a guitarist known for his atypical playing style, delivers a fairly straightforward performance here, his verse riffs in this song work in conjunction with Brad Wilk’s drums to keep a steady rhythm for Zack de la Rocha to rap over.
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