When we think about the word “riff”, that precise musical phrase that repeats itself to become the key element of a song, too often we tend to associate it with the guitar. Still, the history of rock was not only written with hose six strings: most of the times it’s the bass line that starts the construction of all those songs for which we fall in love at first sight. Rock music is immortal bass riffs, which created new sounds from scratch and re-established the role of the instrument, from secondary to primary, within the song.
Below you will find the 10 bass riffs that have historically renewed the concept of rock music, with a fair balance between classic and modern. One of those lists that excite everyone in a personal way, having all us involved in the classic game of adding personal elements or underlining the exclusions. But, you know, that’s what makes every list or chart interesting.
Pink Floyd – Money (1973)
The famous song in a milestone of rock like The Dark Side of the Moon, with a bass riff that is captivating and simple at the same time. Born from the genius of Roger Waters, inspired by George Eliot’s book Silas Marner, the song is about a topic delicate and “sinful” like money, considered the true dark side of human nature.
The Beatles – Come Together (1969)
Sir Paul McCartney is of course behind this extraordinary song? The legend says that initially the riff was supposed to go faster, but it was slowed down afterward in order to obtain that hypnotic effect.
Jaco Pastorius – The Chicken (1981)
Jaco Pastorius was one of the greatest bass players of all time, famous for his solo career and for his period on The Weather Report. In addition to his unregulated life, he must be remembered for his contribution to reinventing the role of bass in contemporary music. His innate talent and his passion enabled him to bring an instrument first considered marginal in a prominent position: and after him, nothing was like before. Small curiosity: basing on the legend, it was precisely Pastorius to invent the fretless version of the bass, removing the frets from the handle of his own instrument.
Red Hot Chili Peppers – Around The World (1999)
Red Hot Chili Peppers, a band with an explosive temperament and sound. Flea is the author of one of the biggest innovations in contemporary alternative rock owes: his particular technique of “slapping” the bass, hitting the strings with his fingers, which eventually became his real trademark. You can hear it inside Around The World.
Queen – Another One Bites the Dust (1980)
In this energetic track, the rhythm of the bass notes played by John Deacon is so recognizable that everybody today is able to hum it. And it’s everywhere, from advertisement world to phone ringtones. Besides, this line is perfect for a bass player who wants to test his skills in the beginning of his career.
Led Zeppelin – Black Dog (1971)
Writer and keyboardist of the famous British band, John Paul Jones has proved to be an exceptional bassist too: after a first collaboration with Jimmy Page, the riff that’s going to mark an era comes up and it’s going to influence the future rock music. This song, contained in the fourth album published by Led Zeppelin, takes its name from the Labrador retriever which was prowling near the studios during recording sessions. However, lyrics has nothing to do with it: the song talks actually about love for a woman. Curious, isn’t it?
Rush – Tom Sawyer (1981)
Written by the members of the group with the help of the lyricist Pye Dubois, this track features an extraordinary bass line composed by Geddy Lee. Lee was a master not only with keyboards but also with bass, and he was able to give birth to this complex piece. He was the only Rush member added in the Canadian Songwriters Hall of Fame.
Yes – Roundabout (1971)
If you talk about musical excellence, Yes are always there. Among other innovations made in the field of progressive rock, they included in their music complex and incisive bass lines. This comes from the album Fragile and confirms all Chris Squire‘s skills: a great bassist for a great band.
Nirvana – Come As You Are (1992)
Directly from the grunge rock scene, Nirvana gave us songs that were epic, rich, full of sentiment. If we consider their incisive sound, it’s impossible to miss the heavy notes played by the bass of Krist Novoselic. A harmonious pattern that, once heard, is impossible to forget.
Muse – Hysteria (2003)
Much more recent publication than the above mentioned, this song opens with a bass riff so incisive and powerful that it marks a difference from all other songs in the album Absolution. This time the opening is all about the bassist, Chris Wolstenholme, who gives to his bass a fundamental role for the sound of the whole song.