This is a new idea that occurred to me one day in the shower (as great ideas so often do). Basically, I go through some albums that have informed my style on a certain instrument and which I’d recommend to players of that instrument. Since bass is my best instrument, I figured there was no better place to start. So…here goes!
1. Rush – Signals
Anyone who knows me knows one essential fact about me: Rush is my favorite band. Geddy Lee is, for all intents and purposes, the reason I’m a bassist, and his licks, grooves and tone are (in my humble opinion) the Holy Grail for bass players. It was very difficult to pick just one Rush album, but in the end, I had to choose Signals. From the proggae grooves of “New World Man,” and the Zeppelin-esque riffage of “The Analog Kid” to the proggy insanity of “Losing It” and the all-out bass-fest that is “Digital Man,” Lee’s playing is technical, rhythmic, and always tasteful.
Favorite track: “Losing It”
2. Yes – Fragile
What can I say about this album that hasn’t been said a million times by proggers all around the world? One of the most influential prog albums of all time, it’s one of the albums that inspired the punchy, powerful bass sound employed by prog bassists from Geddy Lee and Greg Lake to Colin Edwin and Mariusz Duda. Chris Squire is at his very best here. “Heart Of The Sunrise” is based on an instantly memorable bass riff and features one of the greatest rhythm section breakdowns in prog. “Roundabout” and “Long Distance Runaround” are absolutely made by Squire’s creative, technical lines, and it even features a bass solo in “The Fish (Schindleria Praematurus),” which is played entirely on bass guitar except for the vocals.
Favorite track: “Heart Of The Sunrise”
3. Voïvod – Nothingface
For a more “modern” selection, here’s the most underrated band in metal. Jean-Yves “Blacky” Thériault is no longer with Voïvod, but his resonant, slightly-distorted tone is instantly recognizable by fans of the band. His sparse lines never distract from the melody or guitar, but complement the higher voices perfectly and lock in with the drums. Some of the best examples are his lines on “Into My Hypercube” and the cover of Pink Floyd’s “Astronomy Domine.” Metal bassists learning to play with a full band would do well to listen to Nothingface.
Favorite track: “X-Ray Mirror”
4. Weather Report – Heavy Weather
This album and the next are recommended listening and learning for all bass players, proggers being no exception. Jaco’s biting, trebley tone and smooth fretless explorations have influenced bassmen the world over. “Teen Town” is a fantastic challenge for any player, “Birdland” shows off Jaco’s abilities within a band context, and “Havona” is a crash course for improvisation. If you’re going to play bass, you’re going to need to hear this album.
Favorite track: “A Remark You Made”
5. Red Hot Chili Peppers – Stadium Arcadium
Yes, I know. “iT’s NoT pRoG.” Why are we, as a subculture, so obsessed with what is and is not “prog”? Is the ghost of Keith Emerson going to stab me with a keytar if I admit to liking an Ed Sheeran song? I digress. This album has some of the most melodic, tasteful bass playing you’ll ever hear. While Flea is possibly better-known for his showy funk slapping (which is still present here on songs such as “Charlie”), cuts like “Wet Sand,” “Death Of A Martian” and “She’s Only 18” employ a fluid, melodic bass style. This is the album that I used to learn how to “noodle” around a repeating theme. The playing is very improvisational, but never leaves the pocket.
Favorite track: “Wet Sand”
6. King Crimson – Meltdown
Tony Levin is one of the most prolific musicians in prog, and his bass playing has graced recordings by Peter Gabriel, King Crimson, Anderson Bruford Wakeman Howe, and various supergroups. Meltdown, Crimson’s 2017 multi-disc live album, shows Levin at his best, in a live band setting. King Crimson is a very improvisational band, and every musician has to be thinking on his feet in order to stay with the group. In addition, the band’s various eras, from the psychedelic jazz-fusion in the late 60s early 70s and the almost-metal Wetton era to Adrian Belew’s quirky, world-influenced tenure, ensure that modern musicians attempting to play bits from all eras must be extremely versatile. Levin is all this and more. There is hardly a better guide to professional, creative bass playing.
Favorite track: “The Letters” (well, maybe not my absolute favorite, but infinitely better than the studio version!)
Well, there you have it. Let me know what I missed!
Bass playing on Vier from Perfect Beings is one of my favourites as well.
Didn’t know you wrote this, but I would also like to add Boston’s debut album to the list. The bass on that record really cuts through the mix and provides ample room for creative bass playing and whatnot.