Whether it’s a hooky riff blazing through the song, commanding attention every second of the way, or a slinky groove, oozing swagger and igniting a phantom urge to bust out and dance. Good basslines breathe life into music by weaving the rhythm and melody together into a seamless, transportive groove.
But, the all-time greatest basslines? They’re the ones that steal the show entirely - without showing off. Here are 10 of our favourites!
10. Daft Punk | 'Around The World'
The bassline from Around The World isn’t just hooky, it’s downright infectious. The song may have been released over two decades ago, but it still sounds like the future; a dreamy, fuzzy, synth-bass future.
9. The Breeders | 'Cannonball'
If anyone would know how good this bassline is, it’s Kim Deal – (in this writer's opinion) one of the tastiest bass players of all time. The band confidently tease out the intro with some tinkly drumming and false starts until, at 29 seconds in, you get slapped in the face with one of the punchiest, catchiest basslines you’re likely to ever hear. You can’t say they didn’t warn you!
8. Nancy Sinatra | 'These Boots Are Made For Walkin'
Nancy Sinatra's boots may have been made for it, but it’s the bassline doing all the walking. Telling its own story, dripping in confidence as it struts all over the song, all swagger and style.
7. Nirvana | 'Come As You Are'
The Come As You Are bassline is basically a magnet for angst. It almost feels as though the iconic, melancholy anchor was designed to be easy to play, inviting you to join in and find your own voice in the universal anthem.
6. New Order | 'Blue Monday'
You’d be hard-pressed to find anyone who has lived up to their name more than Peter ‘Hooky’ Hook. The octave leaping bassline of Blue Monday inspired an avalanche of dance music with its relentless hammering that somehow sounds so buoyant and human amid the wash of machine-beat synths.
5. Lou Reed | 'Walk On The Wild Side'
There’s a lot going on in this song, but it’s all held seamlessly together by Herbie Flowers’ use of two, yes two, interlocking basslines. The double bass and fretless bass mesh together in a swirling push and pull that makes you float airily through the wild tale of transsexuality, drugs and gigolos.
4. Talking Heads | 'Psycho Killer'
This song definitely warrants the question –what came first? Whether it was the bassline or the title, Tina Weymouth nailed it. She sets a scene Hitchcock would be proud of with the punchy, staccato bassline, kicking with all the pent-up energy and calculated control of a silver screen psycho killer.
3. Pixies | 'Debaser'
Reiterating our previous point- in the hands of Kim Deal, the bass is a force. Debaser has the kind of bassline that makes lead guitarists cry – a formidable, propulsive rush of pure adrenalin that instantly puts all other instruments in a supporting role. Judging by the title, that's exactly what they were going for.
2. David Bowie & Queen | 'Under Pressure'
You can both fear and empathy in the melodic scatting of Bowie and Freddie Mercury in Under Pressure. As the pair trade lines, building into powerful crescendos and deeply moving harmonies, you can’t help but wonder if there’s a not-so-silent message to each other hiding in the subtext. But the iconic bassline steals the show, balancing all the angst like a wise friend reminding you that life would be boring without a little pressure, so you may as well have some fun.
1. Joy Division | 'Love Will Tear Us Apart'
The bassline from Love Will Tear Us Apart is surely one the most tear-jerking, heartrending riffs of all time. The kinetic, post-punk rhythm hypnotises your emotional circuitry with a desolate drive, pulling you into Ian Curtis’ haunting trance-like delivery.
Listen to Joy Division on Apple Music: