The last 60 years of Rock`n Roll are riddled with amazing bass lines. Whether it be through technical proficiency or creative tone choice, rock bassits continue to push the limits of the instrument to this day.
Personally, I`ve been playing rock since I first got my bass 15 years ago, and still enjoy the genre immensely. Thus, I felt it appropriate to make a list of the best rock bass lines of all time to celebrate the bassists that have inspired me, as well as countless others.
To keep the list versatile I`ve only included one song per bass player. I`ve also tried to include tracks from several different epochs to give the genre as wide of a representation as possible.
With that, my hope is that these rock bass lines allow you to relive some classics you already know, as well as discover some tunes you haven`t heard of before.
17. Jefferson Airplane – White Rabbit
- Bass Player: Jack Casady
- Year: 1967
- Album: Surrealistic Pillow
Jack Casady`s bass line on White Rabbit is both haunting and groovy at the same time.
The main riff consists of him playing an inverted A and an inverted A# power chord. While melodically simple, the rhythm is complex. This is because Casday is essentially mimicking a marching drum, which makes for a unique bass groove.
He also doesn`t shy away from adding melody to his line during the other parts of the song. Through his use of octave jumps and chromatic ascents, he is thus able to showcase several strengths of his style in this one song.
16. The Eagles – Hotel California
- Bass Player: Randy Meisner
- Year: 1976
- Album: Hotel California
While mainly known for its guitars, Hotel California also has a groovy and solid bass line.
On the track, Randy Meisner cleverly ascends and descends power chords, which makes for a line with a lot of movement to it. What`s interesting about it, is that he also occasionally incorporated harmonics into the bass line.
Thus, the bassline provides a groovy foundation as well as a high-end ambiance to the track. Thus Meisner`s playing is a big part of what gives this classic song its one-of-a-kind character.
15. Aerosmith – Sweet Emotion
- Bass Player: Tom Hamilton
- Year: 1985
- Album: Toys In The Attic
Tom Hamilton`s fast and high-pitched bass riff serves as the driving force behind this classic Aerosmith track.
He plays the same riff during the intro of the track and during the chorus. Thus, this riff both sets the feel of the track and is what enables the song to have a soft chorus and a hard-hitting verse.
While other bands have done this in the past, this breaks with the convention of a soft verse and a heavy chorus. This is hard to pull off, but it is Hamilton`s riff that makes this work so well on the track. Thus, he not only uses the bass as a lead instrument but shapes the song as a whole in doing so.
14. The Shadows – Nivram
- Bass Player: Jet Harris
- Year: 1963
- Album: Released as a 7″ Single
While commonplace in jazz, walking bass lines have also seen their fair share of use in rock music. More specifically, an amazing example of how well they can work comes from Jet Harris on Nivram.
The main part of the song consists of a walking line that is dynamic in both its melody and rhythm. The highlight though comes in the form of one of the best bass solos of all time toward the later track.
While not technically demanding, the solo manages to build on the main theme of the song. It also transitions perfectly from the main theme and back to it, all while sounding unique and cohesive in its own right.
Thus, Nivram, more than anything, is a perfect example of how simple is often better, and how clever songwriting can make a bass line the highlight of a song.
13. Muse – Hysteria
- Bass Player: Chris Wolstenholme
- Year: 2003
- Album: Absolution
Like many other aspiring bass players, I tried covering the bass line on Hysteria way before I had any business doing so.
It took a long time before I could play the line comfortably, though through rigorous practice I eventually got it down. What speaks to the influence of this line, is that I`ve talked to many bass players who’ve had the exact same experience.
It`s essentially a metal riff, but in the context of Muse`s sound, the line works perfectly on a rock track. Not to mention, it is attention-grabbing, gritty, and fills up the mix thanks to Wholstenholme`s fuzzy tone.
The result is one of the best C minor bass lines ever and a track that defies the limitations of the rock genre.
12. Grateful Dead – Fire On The Mountain
- Bass Player: Phil Lesh
- Year: 1978
- Album: Shakedown Street
The bubbly and upbeat bass line on Fire On The Mountain is quite different from your typical rock bass line.
It consists of Phil Lesh playing a high lead throughout the song. He uses the 5th and octave of chords to keep the lick harmonically sound. Through precious articulation and a fitting tone choice, he is thus able to give this track a laid-back character.
With that, Fire On The Mountain is a great example of not only the bass being used as a lead instrument. It also shows us how, in the right hands, it can singlehandedly give tracks a character that is 100% rock, while still sounding completely unique.
11. Pearl Jam – Jeremy
- Bass Player: Jeff Ament
- Year: 1991
- Album: Ten
Jeff Ament kicks off Pearl Jam`s Jeremy with one of the most iconic bass intros ever.
Here, he combines a deep and gritty groove with high harmonics. This makes for a wide-sounding and memorable riff. It also perfectly sets the mood for the lyrical content of the track, which just like the bass line has a bright and a dark side to it.
As for the rest of the track, Ament keeps things groovy and adds further spiciness to his line by strumming chords. This gives the bass line a lot of punch, and he manages to do so in a way that never feels overdone or out of place.
10. Joy Division – Love Will Tear Us Apart
- Bass Player: Peter Hook
- Year: 1980
- Album: First released as a non-album single
While many bassists stray away from strumming chords altogether, Peter Hook`s bass line on Love Will Tear Us Apart sure makes one question why this is the case.
In the intro, he builds the track up by playing an A power chord repeatedly. As the song kicks off he starts playing the main bass riff of the song, which almost solely consists of chords.
These combine ‘using a droning D string while using the G string to add melody. Then, he uses the open G and open A strings to round out the riff. It is thus an incredibly clever groove and one that is memorable both for its creativity and its catchiness.
9. Led Zeppelin – Ramble On
- Bass Player: John Paul Jones
- Year: 1969
- Album: Led Zeppelin 2
John Paul Jones` bass line on Ramble On showcases how the bass can make a song hit hard, even when it`s played at a higher register.
Large parts of the song consist of him playing a high-end bass riff. He does thus by combining sustained notes with 16th-note licks to give the groove a sense of movement.
Then, as he steps away from this groove during more hard-hitting parts of the song, he largely continues to play at a high register. However, due to his interplay with the drums and guitar, and the contrast to the preceding part, he still makes the track sound wide and heavy.
Ramble On thus continues to impress me, as Jones showcases an understanding of his instrument that most of us can only dream of achieving.
8. Pink Floyd – Pigs (Three Different Ones)
- Bass Player: Roger Waters
- Year: 1977
- Album: Animals
When it comes to the best Pink Floyd bass lines, it is hard to choose which is the very best.
Most notably, Roger Water`s opening riff on Money is one of the most iconic bass intros of all time. Then there is Echoes, where he shows off his ability to hold a complex song together through clever melodic decisions.
Yet, to me, his most notable bass line is Pigs (Three Different Ones) of Floyd`s 1977 album Animals. This is because the track showcases all the strengths of Roger`s playstyle.
From the haunting bass intro to the funky groove that dominates most of the song, the bass is a highlight throughout the whole track.
He adds melodic elements in just the right spots and takes a step back when the song calls for it. Thus, this is a song that shows how the bass can shine on its own, while also keeping a complex prog-rock piece grounded at the same time.
7. Cream – Outside Woman Blues
- Bass Player: Jack Bruce
- Year: 1967
- Album: Disraeli Gears
In rock music, there are few things that are more satisfying to listen to than a bassist and guitarist that are perfectly in sync. Few have managed this as well as Jack Bruce and Eric Clapton in Cream.
The main theme consists of Bruce playing a groove that is vastly different from Claptons guitar riff. At the same time, it sounds like two riffs that are variations of one another. When played together, this makes for a dynamic riff that takes a while to fully wrap your head around.
This makes the guitar solo a highlight for the bass line as well, as we now get to hear the bass groove separated from the guitar riff. In addition to the genius songwriting, the bass line is also groovy in its own right and one of the most underrated bass lines ever.
6. Yes – Roundabout
- Bass Player: Chris Squire
- Year: 1971
- Album: Fragile
With its initial success combined with its resurgence in internet culture, Roundabout has one of the most famous bass lines ever.
The main attraction of the track is without a doubt the main bass groove. It consists of Chris Squire playing a fast ascending line that makes use of 8th and 16th notes combined with muted notes.
The result is a fast bass groove that is punchy, funky, and catchy at the same time. What`s most impressive is that melodically the riff is simple at its core. However, few bassists have ascended up the E minor scale with as much finesse as Squire did on this track.
5. The Beatles – Here Comes The Sun
- Bass Player: Paul McCartney
- Year: 1969
- Album: Abbey Road
Paul McCartney`s iconic intro on Come Together is often praised as one of the best rock bass lines of all time. While there is nothing wrong with that claim, this is also a man who deserves to be recognized for his versatility.
A notable track where he shows his ability is Here Comes The Sun. It is one of the most upbeat and positive songs you will ever hear, thanks to McCartney`s A Major bassline.
His ability to maintain the positive vibe of the track is especially impressive during the later parts of the song. This is because here the track goes through a multitude of time signature changes.
While this can quickly make a song sound chaotic, McCartney keeps the song sounding tight and shows us why he is one of the all-time greats in the process.
4. The Who – The Real Me
- Bass Player: John Entwistle
- Year: 1973
- Album: Quadrophenia
If you`ve ever wondered how John Entwistle got the nickname “Thunderfingers”, The Real Me will give you the answer.
Most notably, he plays several fast fills, consisting of 32nd and 16th notes at 147 BPM. If that wasn`t enough, he does so in a triplet feel which further increases the speed of the notes. This also makes it significantly harder to keep the rhythm sounding tight.
He starts the track off with a lead bass line and adds a lot of melody to the song throughout the track. Towards the later part, he goes completely crazy, incorporating unintuitive rhythms and bends into the line. Despite all of this, he still manages to keep this track sounding cohesive throughout its entirety.
For these reasons, there is no denying that the bass line on The Real Me is among John Entwistle`s best work.
3. Primus – Tommy The Cat
- Bass Player: Les Claypool
- Year: 1991
- Album: Sailing The Seas Of Cheese
While Les Claypool has written tons of great bass lines, Tommy The Cat is at the very top both in terms of how iconic it is, not to mention its sheer difficulty.
For the most part, the track consists of a short 1-bar groove. However, Claypool slaps this groove consisting of 16th notes at 128 BPM. It also includes mutes, hammer-ons, and strummed chords.
The result is a funky and unique bass line that will take even experienced bassists years to play proficiently. This easily lands it a spot on this list, and that`s without giving Claypool extra credit for somehow being able to sing while playing it.
2. Queen – Another One Bites The Dust
- Bass Player: John Deacon
- Year: 1980
- Album: The Game
Not only is Another One Bites The Dust one of Queen`s best bass grooves. It is one of the most well-recognized bass riffs of all time.
And that`s no accident. John Deacon`s groove is incredibly catchy and memorable. It is also more of a funk groove than a rock groove at heart. Thus, when a creative band like Queen uses it to write a song that blends funk and rock the result is bound to be great.
While Freddie Mercury is often regarded as the star of Queen, this song also shows us just how important John Deacon was to the band.
Not only did he write the bass riff, but he is the main writer of the whole song. This showcases his genius, as the way the song is structured to highlight the bass riff, is exactly what makes it so iconic.
1. Rush – YYZ
- Bass Player: Geddy Lee
- Year: 1981
- Album: Moving Pictures
Rush is well-known for their skills as musicians. Thus, it comes as no surprise that the fast-paced instrumental YYZ has one of the hardest bass tabs you will ever run into.
It starts off with a bass and guitar riff that spells out Y-Y-Z in morse code. Then, with the help of a couple of fast bass licks, we are taken to the main riff of the track.
Here, Geddy Lee plays a descending rock bass riff, mainly consisting of 16th notes at 141 BPM. This makes for a bass line that is equally catchy as it is technically impressive.
Through the later parts of the song, the rest of the band also makes space for him to play 3 short bass solos. Thus, the track showcases what makes Geddy one of the best bassists of all time, as he is both supporting the band and showcasing his own ability throughout it.