Every instrumental element in a band has a distinct personality; the guitarist and lead singer are either one and the same or battling for the frontman; the drummer is soft-spoken, mysterious, and commanding. What of the bassist?
We often forget about the key role the bassist plays, that steady, repetitive, deep presence that is as important to each song as any other instrument in the song but somehow often goes unnoticed, drowned out by a guitar shred or howling vocals. Songs with good bass can make a huge difference in sound.
The bass player is often the coolest band member. They have nothing to prove to anyone, bobbing their head and slapping their instrument in a detached yet fully immersive groove. They are the steady, collected rhythm guitar player.
We’ve come up with a list of the best bass songs that’ll highlight the talent and innovation of the bassist as well as how crucial an awesome bassline is to make a song memorable.
Top 44 Best Bass Songs
No matter what type of music you love, this eclectic, all-encompassing list of bass-heavy hits is sure to impress. We hope this list will open your eyes to the magic of a bassline and garner respect and admiration for the instrument and musicians that create them. So brace those subwoofers for some serious bass exploration.
Herbie Hancock is one of the jazz greats, playing alongside the likes of Miles Davis before embarking on a solo career that produced hit after hit, including this funky jazz fusion song. Whether you’re familiar with Hancock’s work or not, you probably recognize Chameleon. It starts with that super funky bassline that dominates the song despite the diversity of elements that enter in layers.
Funk music is some of the best music for bass players to strut their stuff, and Carl Carlton’s She’s a Bad Mama Jama is a prime example. It wasn’t just Carlton’s voice that propelled this song to the top of the soul charts and earned it a Grammy nomination; that bassline is equally responsible.
This is one of the most iconic funk songs in history, and you know exactly what song it is within 2 seconds of listening to it. We dare you to resist shaking your booty to this baseline.
Another soulful classic by the great Ben E. King, this song begins with yet another unforgettable baseline that cradles King’s rich, sentimental voice. This song has made appearances in countless movies, including one by the same name.
It was hard to choose just one song by this absolute Motown legend, but “Superstitious” wouldn’t be the sensation it is without that epic baseline that compliments Wonder’s funky voice so perfectly.
The Fatback Band debuted this funky song with disco tones back in 1975 with Johnny Flippen on bass, laying down this masterful bassline.
The late and great Jaco Pastorius played with the likes of Pat Metheny and Joni Mitchel, but also composed, sang, and produced countless jazz hit songs that landed him a coveted spot in the Downbeat Hall of Fame alongside Miles Davis, Billie Holiday, Louis Armstrong, Charlie Parke, and John Coltrane to name a few.
Finally, a hip-hop song on the list! The Pharcyde is one of the more prolific hip-hop groups of the ’90s who combined intricate rap rhyming with jazz melodies. Passing Me By is my favorite song by them, and the bassline is a big reason.
The Gorillaz are one of the most revolutionary bands of the 21st century, and we have no idea what they even look like. Apart from being utterly mesmerized by the amazing animation and storylines in their unique music videos, we have to give their musical authenticity a 10/10.
Feel Good Inc was the song that brought the Gorillaz to the forefront of popular music, opening the door for unsuspecting listeners to discover their gem of a discography.
It’s not too often that the bassist is also the lead singer, but in Pink Floyd’s case, Roger Waters fills the role of bass frontman better than anyone. Of the thousands of songs that comprise their discography, Money has to be in the top three.
Move over Bohemian Rhapsody; it’s John Deacon’s time to shine. While no one can deny that Freddie Mercury is probably the best frontman that ever lived, Another One Bites the Dust is one of the best examples of how a bassline made a song into a platinum hit.
We had to include one by the most famous rock n roll band of all time, and not just because their music revolutionized the world, but also because McCartney’s baseline in Come Together is one of the most memorable basslines of all time.
One of the Door’s greatest hits, Riders on the Storm, offers a jazzy, groovy bassline that is the perfect background music for an epic road trip.
If I could put 20 Red Hot Chilli Peppers songs on this list, I would. Flea is one of the greatest bass players of all time, and his bass lines are what distinguish the Red Hot Chili Peppers’ sound and puts them in a music class all their own.
You might not have heard of Charles Write. Still, there’s,no doubt you’ve heard this irresistibly catchy funky R&B song that has been used in countless commercials, not to mention dance parties, weddings, and to just put you in a good, inspired mood to be unapologetically you.
Billie Jean is another one of those songs that you can decipher within seconds of hearing its bassline. Apart from being one of the biggest hits in Jackson’s colossal collection, it is also the inspiration for one of the most iconic dance moves in history: the Moonwalk.
This Rock n Roll Hall of Fame folk-rock band won multiple awards for The Chain, but mostly for the group’s epic group singing feat. All that you can really hear other than their voices in this song is the unforgettable bassline and drum beat that fills in the gaps between the lyrics.
Walk on the Wild Side is one of the most famous Lou Reed songs of all time, and not just because of the edgy, ahead of its time lyrics, but because of the musical composition. There’s so much going on in this song that makes it so iconic, from the doot-doot back up girls to the bassline that has been co-opted in later songs, including A Tribe Called Quest’s most famous hit, “Can I Kick It.”
London Calling is a song that defines a generation, and the bassline is as menacing and foreboding as the message Strummer articulates so well in the controversial, politically charged lyrics.
Sly and the Family Stone helped define a new genre of funk and were one of the first racially integrated bands. If you haven’t seen their performance at the famous Rock festival, Woodstock, in 1969, you should definitely check them out. This song epitomizes the sentiment of the era, and the bassline couldn’t be funkier. They also make their way on our list of the best songs about family, so check that out too!
So What is arguably the most famous song on the most iconic jazz record in the world, and we all know it for its dueling, call-and-response between the bass and the piano and horn section. Simply put, this song is a masterpiece. And while Davis’ trumpet may dominate a lot of it, the bassline is how we know it.
You might not know it, but The Who were the pioneers of punk music, and My Generation is a perfect example of that rebellious spirit characteristic of punk rock. Bassist John Entwistle delivers this wrecking ball of a bassline with plenty of solos to highlight his bass skills.
John Paul Jones deserves recognition as one of the best bassists in Rock n Roll. Ramble On displays the mastery of Jones’ skill, as neither the shredding of Jimmy Page’s guitar riff nor Plant’s unmistakable waling are a match for the bassline in this song.
Bass and funk go together like peas and carrots, peanut butter and jelly, and beans and rice. And you can’t talk about funk without mentioning the father of funk himself, James Brown. So we’ll use his most controversial and consequently most famous piece of funk to exemplify the power of the bassline to bring sass, sex, and passion to the dancefloor.
25) Hysteria – Muse
According to the authoritative site MusicRadar, this epic song by the British alternative rock band Muse has an impressive ranking of the 6th best bassline of all time. If you’ve heard it, we’re sure they’d get your vote as well.
Yet another awesome British rock band makes the cut! Motorhead’s “The Ace of Spades” has a fast and furious bassline that almost sounds like a guitar. The mastermind behind Motorhead, the late Ian Lemmy Kilmister, who has written and sung all their songs and been the only constant band member since their formation is also the bassist.
Motown’s Prince of Soul made history with this revolutionary song that launched Gaye’s career as an activist soul singer and eventually helped him break away from Motown’s tyrannous reign of his music production.
The bassline may be harder to distinguish among all the different layers and the song’s important message, but it acts as a crucial anchor that keeps the song flowing.
This gem of a song is the fruit of an epic collaboration between two of the all-time greats, and it starts with one of the most widely recognized basslines of the 20th century. You’ve probably heard it in plenty of other songs, too. For instance, rapper Vanilla Ice uses it in his most famous song, “Ice Ice Baby.”
While the bassline in Lovely Day is unmistakable, smooth, soulful, and everything you want a bassline to be, Bill Withers steals the glory in the end by belting a sustained note for a whopping 18-second hold. He might be a record holder. Good luck trying to sing along to that part!
This fleeting supergroup cranked out some serious hits before their egos got the best of them. While “Crossroads” is written and sung originally by Blues pioneer Robert Johnson back in the 1930s, Cream lead singer and bassist Jack Bruce takes this song to new heights.
Nirvana is another band that made history in its short but prolific existence. They are the defining band of the ’90s and brought the grunge scene into the mainstream. Come as You Are opens with a bassline that we all know, becoming the foundation of a string of contradictory lyrics that characterize Cobain’s call for authenticity in the face of growing conformity.
Ten Years After could be considered a one-hit-wonder band, and “I’d Love to Change the World” is that one hit that put them on the charts. Not only does every instrument in this song make a mark, but the lyrics themselves are an anthem for the turbulent times of the late ’60s
Named for the Hemingway novel, For Whom the Bell Tolls is one of the songs that brought this pioneering band of heavy metal to the forefront of international acclaim, and soon to be one of the top-selling commercial successes in world history.
Unfortunately, the original Metallica bassist Clifford Lee Burton died in a bus crash during their 1986 tour, but this bassline lives on forever.
I Want You Back is The Jackson 5’s first hit and the first song to reach number one on the charts and remains on the Rolling Stone’s list of the 500 greatest songs of all time. Who can forget the bassline to this song? We don’t know if it was the bassline or Jackson’s impeccable voice that made this song so iconic, but neither will ever be forgotten.
35) 1612 – Vulfpeck
The quirky, garage funk band Vulfpeck easily makes the list with this soulful, funky, and irresistibly catchy song. Who knows what the lyrics are on about, but who cares? This band is proof that nerdy white dudes have as much soul and R&B cred as any 1950’s Motown artist we can think of.
MC Hammer is one of the most iconic rappers of the 80s and 90s, gaining immense notoriety for his unique style, dance moves, and of course, the catchy rap music that still makes us all want to bust out in that running man move he made so famous.
“Can’t Touch This” may sound a bit arrogant, but hey, he’s allowed to be arrogant. No one can touch the musical genius of this song.
I can’t talk about the best bass-heavy songs of all time without mentioning Primus. It was also difficult to choose just one song from monster bassist and lead singer Les Claypool’s unparalleled repertoire. Primus’ musical genre is Funk Metal, characterized by the combination of heavy metal guitar riffs with funky basslines that use the slapping technique.
They may be grouped in with funk-punk bands like The Red Hot Chili Peppers, but Primus is a whole other animal. His technique involves styles from a diverse array of musical styles, and there are countless tutorials and in-depth study sessions on Claypool’s impossibly complex and intricate basslines.
There are very few songs where the bass is the centerpiece, but Marcus Miller’s Hylife brings the bassline front and center. We don’t even hear a guitar riff until nearly a minute into the song, and even then, it is nearly imperceptible next to the funky, slapping styles of this multi-talented modern jazz sensation.
Not only is Miller a filmmaker, composer for dozens of musical scores for films throughout the ’90s and 2000s, Grammy-winning producer for jazz greats like Miles Davis, and Grammy-winning jazz musician, but he is also a UNESCO Artist for Peace. Miller is the very definition of a musical prodigy, and listening to his music is a privilege and an honor.
The bassline in Them Changes might win our funkiest bassline award. You may know Thundercat’s basslines from his collaboration on Kendrick Lamar’s Grammy-winning album To Pimp a Butterfly, but his solo work is highly lauded in the music industry. His most recent album, It Is What It Is, got him a well-deserved Grammy award for the Best Progressive R&B album in 2018.
You might not think an electronic band would make it on this list, but Daft Punk isn’t your average electronic group. This French duo may put on the best, most over-the-top concerts in the world, and it’s not only due to outrageous production stunts.
The defining characteristic around which this momentous hit revolves is the bassline. The single lyric of “around the world” on repeat is a hypnotic mantra that underscores the bass’s funky melodic anchor that really gets listeners hooked.
Speaking of mesmerizing in the weirdest way possible, if you haven’t seen the music video for this song, drop everything and watch it!
It’s not a coincidence that we put Good Times by Chic right after Daft Punk’s Around the World pick on our list of bass-heavy songs because the two basslines are almost identical. You might not ever put the two together since the musical context of each song is completely different.
Still, if you want to do a musical analysis of basslines that span musical genres and cultural generations, play these two songs one after another. Funky basslines have far-reaching influences indeed.
This fine piece of instrumental funk from the New Orleans funk band The Meters has been covered by nearly 30 different bands since its release in 1969. The bassline in this song is one for the books, deeming The Meters, along with James Brown, as the originators of Funk music.
They don’t have very many other hits, but with a song like Cissy Strut, they don’t need any. It’s kind of hard to top this level of funky perfection.
Better known for being one of the greatest songwriters of all time, Paul Simon’s most popular solo work, Graceland, an album inspired by South African street music and American southern music genres like Zydeco, also has a truly unique bass element.
The song Graceland conveys all the musical influences Simon drew from to create this Grammy-winning album. The bassline is highly intricate, at times mirroring the riff of Simon’s guitar but also providing a steady river of background beat and rhythm that is really the foundation for all the other instruments and vocals.
Victor Wooten may be the greatest bass player of all time, and anyone who has ever touched a base admires and even idolizes this absolute bassmaster. His bass solos are other-worldly, and while he plays accompanied by other instruments, all anyone cares about is watching him play the bass.
It’s impossible to pick just one song that showcases Wooten’s incomparable talent, but this version of Amazing Grace on the bass chills me to the bone every time I listen to it. It’s sure to initiate your fall into the bottomless rabbit hole of Wooten’s musical repertoire that is as vast and varied as music itself.