BASS IN YOUR FACE: Isolated bass parts of Sonic Youth, Rolling Stones, The Police, Rick James & more

Poor bass players. In the hierarchy of rockbandland, even the mercenary backup singers get more love. Like a drummer, a crummy one can wreck your band, but unlike a drummer, even a superb bass player can fade into the background, seeming for all the world like a mere utility placeholder while the singer, guitarist and drummer all get laid. Before the ‘80s, the bass player was perceived as the would-be guitarist who couldn’t make the cut and got offered a reduction in strings as a consolation prize. Since the ‘80s, bass has been the “easy” instrument a singer hands off to his girlfriend to get her in the band.

It’s all a crock of utter shit. A good bass player is your band’s spine, and is a gift to be cherished.

An excellent online resource for bassists,, has links to an abundance of isolated bass tracks, from celebrated solos to deep cuts to which few casual fans give much thought. There are, of course, song-length showoffs like “YYZ” and “Roundabout,” but there are unassuming gems to be found too. Check out how awesome Tony Butler’s part is in Big Country’s kinda-eponymous debut single. It wanders off into admirable weirdness, but when the time comes to do the job of propelling the song forward, this shit is rocket fuel.


Though Sting has been engaged in a long-running battle with Bono to see who can be the most tedious ass to have released nothing of worth in over 25 years, listening to his playing in the Police serves as an instant reminder of why we even know who he is. The grooves in “Message In A Bottle” are famously inventive and satisfying, but even his work on more straightforward stuff like “Next To You” slays. You can practically hear the dirt on his strings in these.



Funny, as much of a trope as “chick bass player” has become, loads of time spent searching yielded almost no isolated tracks from female bassists. Which is ridiculous. The only one I found was Sonic Youth’s Kim Gordon, heard here on “Teenage Riot.” It takes a bit to work up to speed. Taken on its own, it’s a minimal, meditative, and quite lovely drone piece.


Here’s a gem—a live recording of Billy Cox, from Hendrix’s Band of Gypsys, eating “All Along The Watchtower” for breakfast.


This one was a revelation—the Rolling Stones’ Bill Wyman on “Gimme Shelter.” I knew this was a great bass part, but there’s stuff in here I’ve never heard before, and it’s excellent. I should have been paying more attention.


But is there “Super Freak?” Oh yeah, there’s “Super Freak.”


I searched mightily to find isolated bass tracks from Spinal Tap’s gloriously excessive ode to both low-ends, “Big Bottom,” before I realized there would be absolutely no point in doing that. So I leave you with the unadulterated real thing.

Previously on DM: The incomparable James Jamerson: isolated

Posted by Ron Kretsch | Leave a comment
‘Rock ‘n’ Roll Nightmare’: The origin of Spinal Tap
01:09 pm


Spinal Tap

Spinal Tap
Legend has it that the initial creative spark for This is Spinal Tap was generated from a serendipitous moment at the Chateau Marmont in 1974, when Christopher Guest overheard the following “duncelike” dialogue between the bassist for a rock band and his manager:

Manager: All right, well, we’ll take our instruments up to the room.
Bassist: Don’t know where my bass is.
Manager: I beg your pardon.
Bassist: I don’t know where the bass is.
Manager: Where is it?
Bassist: I think it’s at the airport.
Manager: You have to get back there, don’t you?
Bassist: I don’t know, do I?
Manager: I think you better.
Bassist: Where’s my bass?
Manager: It’s at the airport.

Guest let that idea ping-pong around his head for a while, and in 1978 Spinal Tap made its first appearance on an ABC sketch program called The TV Show, which aired at 11:30 pm. The initial target of the sketch was an NBC music show called The Midnight Special. In the book Risky Business: Rock in Film, R. Serge Denisoff and William D. Romanowski explain that the three main characters of the band were developed during video shoot. According to Harry Shearer (bassist Derek Smalls), “We were shooting a takeoff on ‘Midnight Special,’ just lying on the ground waiting for the machine that was supposed to make the fog effect to stop dripping hot oil on us—and to relieve the tension of that moment, we started ad-libbing these characters.”

In the clip, Rob Reiner introduces the band not as “Marty DiBergi” but as Wolfman Jack. The video is a kind of repository of heavy metal video tropes—the endless over-emoting on stage, the quasi-choreographed physical interplay between the band’s members, a video montage including a trippy poker game and a death’s-head judge pronouncing the band to be “guilty,” complete with gavel. There’s also a sublime Busby Berkeley moment that no real heavy metal band would ever be caught dead executing—this is the reference to “lying on the ground” in Shearer’s comment above. And just to top it off, there’s a shot of a playing card—the ace of spades, natch—on fire.

You can’t tell from watching it—at least, I can’t—but the keyboardist in the video is none other than Loudon Wainwright III.

Posted by Martin Schneider | Leave a comment