Since Leo Fender began mass-producing bass guitars in the 50s, they have played an essential role in music. Whether you’re playing funk or punk, music isn’t the same without cranking up the volume on the bottom end.
Unfortunately, bass players are often the unsung heroes of the band and are criminally underappreciated. That’s why we’ve compiled a list of 8 songs with bass solos.
Keep reading to pay your respects to the fathers of the four-string.
8 Songs with Bass Solos to Listen to
The Who (John Entwistle) – My Generation
John Entwistle took the bass solo to a dizzying new height in The Who’s 60s defining hit, “My Generation.” While polite solos abound in jazz music of the era, Entwistle’s crushing flits of melody sound poised to rip the doors off the music establishment.
Entwistle is notorious for his hard-playing style on the bass, one that mimicked the chaotic stage show of The Who. But he wasn’t attacking the bass merely for looks – by plucking the strings aggressively, Entwistle produced a unique sound from his bass.
Often imitated but never duplicated, Entwistle is considered one of the greatest rock and roll bassists of all time. If you’re looking for proof of his greatness, look no further than his frantic bass solo in “My Generation.”
Ben Folds Five (Robert Sledge) – Song for the Dumped
Ben Folds Five confounded many music fans after gaining notoriety with their 1997 album Whatever and Ever Amen. To begin with, the band only had three members, leaving many to question what the deal with the “five” was. Even more perplexing was the band’s total lack of guitar.
That’s where Robert Sledge comes in. The bass guitarist for Ben Folds Five, Sledge had one of the most outsized gigs that any bassist could imagine, as his playing was responsible for melody and texture throughout the band’s catalog.
With the help of a Big Muff Pi fuzz pedal, Sledge has a melodic style of playing that often helps fill in the gaps left by not having a guitarist. This style, along with an impressive solo, can be heard on the Ben Folds Five classic “Song for the Dumped.”
Rush (Geddy Lee) – YYZ
Perhaps no name looms as large as Geddy Lee’s in the arena of progressive rock. As Rush’s bass guitarist, Lee’s influence on modern bass guitarists, especially those in heavy metal and rock bands, cannot be overstated.
Lee is known for his highly proficient playing, though he rarely took bass solos. Lee generally wove his intricate playing with the rest of the elements that built each Rush song. This dedication to the craft of songwriting made Rush stand apart from its prog-rock peers.
On “YYZ,” Lee does allow himself to indulge in his skills. The instrumental is a workout for the entire band, as per usual, but without Lee’s signature falsetto to work around, the bass has more room to shine. And shine it does. Blink and you’ll miss it, but between musical breaks, Lee lets his Rickenbacker bass twist and snarl.
Marvin Gaye (James Jamerson) – At Last (I Found a Love)
Between the 60s and early 70s, if you were recording for Motown Records, odds are your backing band was the Funk Brothers. Though this group of musicians did not receive credit for their work at the time, their fingerprints are all over the era’s hit pop and soul records.
James Jamerson was the regular bassist for the Funk Brothers and played on scores of Motown tracks. Because his fluid and melodic style is on display on the biggest hits of soul, Jamerson is highly influential. Rolling Stone magazine named him the best bassist of all time.
On Marvin Gaye’s “At Last (I Found a Love),” Jamerson gets the opportunity to show his stuff, making the most of a rare solo to bolster Gaye’s impassioned vocals and send the song to an even higher level of funk.
Ween (Mean Ween) – Joppa Road
The credits on Ween’s 1994 album Chocolate and Cheese list Mean Ween as the bassist for the album. Obviously, Mean Ween is not a real person. The band seems to revel in the mystery, answering fan questions regarding the identity of Mean Ween with subterfuge and nonsense.
So who is it that is playing the bass solo on Ween’s sublime “Joppa Road?” While recording Chocolate and Cheese, Ween did not have a dedicated bass player. Either principal member, Gene Ween or Dean Ween, could have played on the song. Or perhaps the album’s producer, Andrew Weiss, is the culprit.
Maybe the mystery is part of the appeal. Regardless of who is playing the bass solo on “Joppa Road,” it’s a surprising turn for the largely acoustic tune, one that rewards the listener with a dose of funk.
Foghat (Nick Jameson) – Slow Ride
Foghat stumbled upon “Slow Ride” while jamming with their new bassist, Nick Jameson. After the group locked into the riff, they knew they were on to something good. It wouldn’t be long until the entire song was fleshed out, and a classic 70s rocker was born.
There are two versions of the classic Foghat single “Slow Ride.” One is a little under four minutes long, is played heavily on classic-rock radio stations, and has found its way onto several different movies and tv shows. The other is an eight-minute epic that delivers on the titular promise of the track.
If it’s a bass solo you’re looking for, be sure to listen to the LP version of “Slow Ride” on the album Fool for the City. After about five minutes of a slow ride, that’s when Jameson shines.
Red Hot Chili Peppers (Flea) – Aeroplane
Rarely do bass players become household names, but Flea of the Red Hot Chili Peppers is one of the most famous names in modern rock. Though stage antics and pop chart appeal have propelled the Red Hot Chili Peper’s career, the band is just as highly regarded for their musicianship.
Flea’s unique brand of punkish slap bass brought funk music to an alternative audience, injecting rhythm into the flannelled grunge terrain of the 90s. His popularity has transcended music. As an actor, Flea has appeared in dozens of movies, including My Own Private Idaho and The Big Lebowski.
But music is Flea’s true passion, and on the Red Hot Chili Peppers’ “Aeroplane,” a song about the power of music, Flea gets a musical star turn with his grooving bass solo.
Led Zeppelin (John Paul Jones) – The Lemon Song
There are more technically impressive bass solos, but few have the bluesy swagger of John Paul Jones’ line in Led Zeppelin’s “The Lemon Song.” Jones’ ability to craft melodic basslines that still resonated melodically came from his experience as a composer, which Jones did before his stint in Led Zeppelin.
Jones’ impact on bass guitarists is impressive. He has influenced some of the best rock bassists of all time, and music fans often cite him as the best in rock polls. Jones’ notoriety led to post Zeppelin work scoring an orchestra for R.E.M. and playing mandolin with The Foo Fighters.
But “The Lemon Song” is all about that bass. Jones plays loose and groovy before Jimmy Page rips the song to shreds with a blazing guitar solo. The potent one-two punch makes this song one of Zeppelin’s best.
Final Thoughts on Bass Solos
Whether it’s smooth like butter or crashes like thunder, the bass plays an essential role in music. Though basslines generally define the structure and rhythm of songs, the best bass players always have more to add.
A bass solo is a wondrous thing, which is why we made a list of 8 songs with bass solos. Enjoy these rare sightings of bass guitarists in the spotlight and cherish all the funky fun they provide.