Discover some of the best bass songs in music history and see what makes them special. Learn what makes a good bassline and how it can transform a good song into a masterpiece.
The bass is the unsung hero of popular modern music. It may not be the most noticeable element of the song, but it has the undeniable ability to get our toes tapping and our heads bobbing. Good bassists compliment the song they are playing on, but great bassists can make themselves the star of the show and give the song that extra spark to make it a classic.
Music history is filled with great basslines of all genres. Whether it's classic soul or funk, or headbanging metal, the best bass songs have unforgettable baselines. You may not remember them off the top of your head, but as soon as you hear the first few bars, it all comes rushing back to you, and the magic is reborn. Let's take a look at some of the best basslines in modern music and revisit the good old days.
How We Chose Our Ratings
Music is, of course, subjective, but that doesn’t mean there is no such thing as good music or bad music. The best bass songs are memorable and impressive because of the creativity and technical acumen of the bassists playing them.
It’s not just a popularity contest!
We also looked at how influential the bassline was. Great music not only inspires its listeners and the fans but also other musicians who stand on the shoulders of giants and progress music forward. Basslines that were known to have an impact on later generations either through inspiration or direct sampling score higher on the list than others.
Finally, we would be lying if we said that coolness wasn't a factor in our decision making. Clinics and demonstrations are great. But awesome basslines are designed to get you out of your seat and into the groove. Songs that are any combination of the words cool, hip, dope, rad, far out, sick, wicked, brutal, heavy, groovy, tight, funky, sweet, psychedelic or rockin' scored well with us.
Top 12 Best Bass Songs
Standard disclaimer: this list was made with specific and carefully considered criteria. However, music is still art, and as such, this list has a healthy dose of opinion. There’s no sinister reason your favorite band didn’t make it.
The list is only so big. On to the best bass songs list!
1. Good Times - Chic
It’s possible that you have never heard this song. A shame since it is a classic disco jam beloved by millions. However, you’ve still likely heard this bassline in one of the many songs that sampled it including Sugar Hill’s Rapper’s Delight. It’s so good it even inspired John Deacon of Queen to the write the bassline for another one of the best bass songs in existence, Another One Bights the Dust. So really this is like a double entry.
This bassline has it all. It’s technically proficient and irresistibly funky. If this bassline doesn’t get you moving, check your pulse. You might just be dead, or a robot that has yet to be programmed with an appreciation for music. Go get that update so you can enjoy one of the best bass songs and far out song.
2. Ramble On - Led Zepplin
No list of the best bass songs or basslines would be complete without John Paul Jones. The legendary Led Zeppelin bassist/Jack of all trades turns their mythical song Ramble On into something really magical. Maybe that just happens when you sing about Lord of the Rings, or maybe he’s just that good.
The bassline in Ramble On is not only a delight to the casual listener, but to the musician as well. You can almost see his fingers flying as he breathes life into the chorus. Very few bands in rock history are as influential as Led Zeppelin, and this song and its bassline are some of the many reasons why.
3. Schism - Tool
To prove that we aren't a bunch of old farts, and because the bassline is phenomenal, we've added this classic song from Tool off their groundbreaking album Lateralus. The bass here is phenomenal, displaying craftsmanship of the art that is hard to come by. The intro, in particular, is technically exceptional.
This may not be a dance song per se, but it will still evoke emotion nonetheless. It is at the same time complex and contemplative, with a bassline that cuts its way into the brain and keeps you hooked. Nobody said you have to be catchy to be cool!
4. I Want You Back - Jackson 5
However, if saccharine and catchy pop music is what you want, look no further than the Jackson 5. Their breakthrough hit I Want you Back, and its infectious bassline from session man Wilton Felder is permanently entrenched in the pop culture psyche of Americana. The song helped lay the groundwork for modern pop music, and it's guaranteed to be stuck in the head of someone, somewhere at all times.
It may not be a technical masterpiece like a John Paul Jones or Justin Chancellor (Tool) bassline, but it does what its supposed to do better than almost any other bassline. It gets you up and dancing. An instant dance floor filler or karaoke hit for any event.
5. Orion - Metallica
Clifford Burton, Metallica's bassist for their first three studio albums, died in a bus crash in Europe in 1986. However, he will always be remembered for his impressive and innovative bass playing. Perhaps the best display of his talent is from Metallica's 1986 album Master of Puppets, in a song named Orion.
The song is not an adrenaline pumping thrash, but it is a methodical and technical display of acumen that builds up into a rhythmic and hypnotic soundscape. It's not one of Metallica's better-known songs, but it is one of their best bass songs. If nothing else, this song is a good reason to go back and listen to Metallica's earlier albums, as if you needed another reason.
6. Rain - The Beatles
We debated which Beatles song was going to make this list, as Paul McCartney could not in good conscience be omitted from this list. We decided to go with a lesser-known track, despite many Beatles songs fitting the bill for this slot. This way, maybe someone can find a new deep cut song they can love from the Beatles rather than hearing Come Together for the millionth time. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, of course, that song has a just as good if not better bassline than this track.
But this bassline is perhaps more historically important than Come Together. The Beatles recorded Rain as a B-side to Paperback Writer, but as they did they began to experiment with the capabilities of their studio’s technology. During the famous Revolver sessions, they began to bang out and experience new soundscapes that created an undeniably psychedelic feel. This development would inform the subsequent evolution of the band.
The bassline here in Rain is also fantastic, as well as being historically significant. The high-register bass is both new and familiar sounding for McCartney and is influential on the Beatles themselves as well as many other bands over the years.
7. Hysteria - Muse
Back to more modern times, Hysteria by Muse has one of the most intricate and sought-after baselines in recent memory. It is both hard hitting and delicate and has been a meter of talent for aspiring bassists since its release. It even has become a favorite in guitar video games. People will resort to pretending to play it they have to!
This processed bass riff provides the perfect backdrop for the wild and flamboyant guitar playing of the frontman Matt Bellamy. It is a good example of how a bassline can be standout and unique while still performing its function of providing a backbone for the song as a whole. Hysteria’s bassline has become something of a gold standard form modern bassists and goal to work toward, making it one of the best bass songs ever.
8. Give it Away Now - Red Hot Chili Peppers
Picking the best Flea bassline is like trying to find the most delicious food at an expensive buffet. You knew it would be a tough job, but it will be fun as hell finding out the answer. A legendary bassist from a nearly mythical band, Flea has single-handedly changed how the bass guitar is played and heard. One of the best examples of this is Give it Away Now.
Give it Away Now’s bassline runs the whole neck of the instrument, creating an arguably peerless display of talent. The song and its bassline have irresistible energy and appeal. Even a music novice can hear the complexity and controlled fury of Flea’s bass playing; it’s the reason a lot of bassists picked up the instrument in the first place.
9. Ain't No Mountain High Enough - Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell
Shifting gears a bit, this one on the list of best bass songs is not as ostentatious as a previous couple of entries, but it is no less impressive. Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell’s classic song Ain’t No Mountain High Enough has a near perfect bass accompaniment. It blends seamlessly with the vocal line and chorus in a masterful way.
The bassline, performed by James Jamerson, forms the solid backbone of the song. It undoubtedly propelled this Motown hit into the stratosphere and as such became influential to the Soul and R&B genres that followed. It's subtler than most basslines but is worth a re-listen just for an appreciation of the bass.
10. Plastic Love - Mariya Takeuchi
Switching gears even more extreme now, let’s get super obscure. This song, Plastic Love from 70's and 80's Japanese Pop darling Mariya Takeuchi has a fantastic bassline. You can be forgiven for not hearing it before but do yourself a favor and check it out. It, of course, has a healthy appreciation from Japanese fans but it is understandably not well known over here. At least it was anyway.
Recently, the song has been discovered thanks to the internet and has seen an enormous, nearly unprecedented resurgence in popularity. It’s pure, funky and lighthearted bassline is endearing and technically impressive, leading many new and emerging artists from experimental musical genres to sample it heavily.
Plastic Love is now an anthem for a younger generation of internet artists who observe 80's pop culture like archaeologists. The song has become very influential in new and underground music scenes emerging online like vaporwave and future funk. See? Even internet meme lords can have a healthy respect for best bass songs.
11. Love Will Tear Us Apart - Joy Division
Speaking of obscure sounds from the 80’s that hipsters love, Joy Division. This groundbreaking band helped change the music landscape forever, and they did it with songs like Love Will Tear Us Apart. It is at the same time catchy and melancholic, perfectly capturing the ethos of its audience. The bassline does the lion’s share of denoting this dichotomy.
Peter Hook's bass playing is furious and aggressive, despite the lilting vocals and muted aesthetic of the rest of the song. Rather than feeling disjointed, the two aspects of the song come together to form a masterpiece. The bassline is so intense, that legend has it Peter Hook snapped three strings at once from his mad picking. Pain and destruction for art's sake. Heavy, man.
12. Under Pressure - Queen & David Bowie
We'll end with a crowd pleaser. The addition of Queen should never be an empty gesture, but they are a great way to close out a list. Also, they have already been mentioned on this list at the beginning, so it now has some nice Queen bookends. Since the arguably better bassline from Another One Bites the Dust has already gotten some love, we’ll go with Under Pressure because it is both fantastic and includes David Bowie.
Two for one!
This bassline isn't a technical marvel, nor is it a clinic on how to slap and pick the bass to force out experimental and mind-blowing sounds. What it is, is a master's class on how to write a hook, simplify it so everyone can get on board then turn it into something iconic and unforgettable. If the quality of a song is measured by how many people love it, then this song is way up there, with a boost from its phenomenal bassline. It's not only one of the best bass songs out there, but it's also one of the best songs, period.