I`ve always found that the best walking bass lines strike a good balance between creativity and simplicity.
Keeping things too simple can quickly become stale, but too complex of a bassline can start to overpower a song. The greatest walking basslines, however, always manage to fall somewhere in between.
Therefore, I decided to make this list to showcase some of the best walking basslines out there.
I`ve kept it to one per artist and kept it diverse by including different musical eras and genres. This way, I aim to show how good walking basslines can elevate different types of songs, and why this style of playing has stood the test of time.
Related reading: What is a walking bass line?
13. Van Morrison – Moondance
- Album: Moondance
- Year: 1970
- Bassist: John Klingberg
On “Moondance” John Klingberg plays a bass groove that suits the feeling of this song perfectly. However, it is quite different from most of the basslines that are featured on this list.
The walking bassline has a very minimal amount of harmonic movement to it. In fact, a good portion of it consists of playing the same chromatic pattern from A to C.
By doing this though, it creates a tense feeling that both fits the feeling of the verse, and creates a further sense of resolution as we move on to the chorus. It also shows us why the chromatic scale is such an important jazz bass scale, and how well it can work in the right contexts.
12. Lynard Skynyrd – I Know A Little
- Album: Street Survivors
- Year: 1977
- Bassist: Leon Wilkeson
This is a fast walking line consisting of quarter and eight notes at a 215 BPM tempo. “I Know A Little” is thus the perfect showcase of how well a rapid walking bassline can work for a rock `n roll song.
The main groove plays a quarter note walking line for 2 bars, followed by 2 bars of walking eighth notes. As a result, a lot of intensity and life are added to the song.
By creating a false sense of it speeding up, the already fast song feels even faster and groovier. This effect is only made possible by playing a clever walking bassline in this manner.
11. Alice In Chains – Swing On This
- Album: Jar Of Flies
- Year: 1994
- Bassist: Mike Inez
Grunge is a genre where you won`t typically hear walking bass lines. However, on “Swing On This”, Mike Inez plays a groove that makes me wish that they were more commonplace in the genre.
The song is played in Eb standard tuning and has a dark characteristic to it; as to be expected from Alice In Chains. At one point in the line, Inez repeats a C twice but bends it the second time. This gives the line a unique feel for a walking bassline and makes it stand out even more than it already does.
10. Queen – Crazy Little Thing Called Love
- Album: The Game
- Year: 1980
- Bassist: John Deacon
On “Crazy Little Thing Called Love” he switches things up and plays a walking bassline. Its starts off with walking quarter notes and deviates slightly in its rhythm, making the song very danceable.
There are also some interesting instrumental parts where the bass breaks with the core walking pattern. However, the walking bass always quickly comes back and remains the driving force behind this song, making this one of Queen`s best basslines.
9. Rancid – Time Bomb
- Album: …And Out Come The Wolves
- Year: 1995
- Bassist: Matt Freeman
Just like with Grunge, walking basslines are not commonly found in punk rock either. However, on “Time Bomb” Matt Freeman plays a walking bass line like it was the most natural thing in the world. It fits incredibly well with the verse of the song and shows why he is one of the best punk bassists of all time.
He switches things up for the chorus, where he plays a 16th note line that is more typical for the genre. Thus, he shows that by incorporating walking basslines intermittently, they can work incredibly well in genres where they are less common.
8. The Beatles – Eight Days A Week
- Album: Beatles for Sale
- Year: 1964
- Bassist: Paul McCartney
Paul McCarney has inspired countless bassists, and I commonly hear beginners ask whether they should start on a short-scale bass just because of him. He was also well known for playing a melodic style of bass and for changing things up.
“Eight Days A Week” showcases him playing a walking bassline, and doing so with style.
It`s an interesting form of a walking line, as the 1st and 4th bar of it descend, while the 2nd and 3rd play a triad up and down. This gives it a unique feel, but one that works incredibly well for the song and easily lands it a spot on this list.
7. Billy Joel – Piano Man
- Album: Piano Man
- Year: 1973
- Bassist: Emory Gordy Jr.
Another classic song, the mellow feeling on “Piano Man” can in large part be attributed to Emory Gordy Jr`s slow-walking bass line.
He sticks to the same groove for the majority of the song. Thus, as the other instruments increase in intensity throughout the song, the bass keeps the song grounded.
As a result, he is able to work well with both the simple piano chords in the chorus, as well as the more complex piano melodies later on in the song. This also makes the bass line a ton of fun to play, despite the bass tab for it being easy.
6. Jethro Tull – Bourée
- Album: Stand Up
- Year: 1969
- Bassist: Glenn Cornick
This instrumental piece starts off with a smooth walking bass line played by Glenn Cornick. It starts off by walking a D minor triad. Then, it takes an interesting turn as it lands back on the D on the 4th bar and plays a lick that feels like it should end after the 7th bar.
Yet, the 8th bar is spent moving back down to the D again. This gives the line a really unique and mind-bending rhythm, that will take some time to settle into. It is thus a well-crafted line that doesn`t sound like most basslines out there, and one that keeps things interesting throughout the song.
5. Glenn Miller – In The Mood
- Album: Moonlight Serenade
- Year: 1944
- Bassist: Rowland Bundock
The driving force behind this old-school instrumental piece is an upbeat walking bassline.
The bass doesn`t shy away from moving around the fretboard and changing things up when needed. It`s centered around a C major triad and, incorporates both the 6th and 7th. It Then jumps down a perfect fifth to F Major and repeats the same pattern.
This results in the line having a lot of range, which perfectly suits the cheerful vibe of this classic song. If you are looking to learn how to play bass the way Bundock does on this track I recommend checking out these 7 beginner-friendly walking bass exercises.
4. Frank Sinatra – Fly Me To The Moon
- Album: It Might As Well Be Swing
- Year: 1964
- Bassist: Buddy Catlett
Another well-known classic, “Fly Me To The Moon” has a walking bassline that provides the perfect backdrop for Frank Sinatra’s vocals.
It`s a line with a lot of chromatic ascends. It also makes many big melodic leaps by jumping down an octave. This combination of small and big harmonic jumps gives the line a dynamic sense of movement, that perfectly suits the free-flowing instrumentation and vocal performance of the song.
3. Oscar Peterson Trio – All Of Me
- Album: A Jazz Portrait Of Frank Sinatra
- Year: 1959
- Bassist: Ray Brown
Perhaps the smoothest bassline on this list, Ray Brown`s line on “All Of Me” shows how impactful the bass can be in a trio where the members are perfectly in sync.
It keeps a steady rhythm with the drums, with both making slight occasional changes to keep things fresh. The bassline also moves up and down the neck to match the intensity of the piano when needed.
As a result of this, the bassline always feels cohesive with the rest of the band, and it manages to both ground and elevate the song.
2. Duke Ellington – Take The A Train
- Album: Ellington Uptown
- Year: 1941
- Bassist: Jimmie Blanton
You can`t make a list of the best walking basslines, without including The Duke.
While there are many walking basslines from his discography that could have made this list, I decided to go with “Take The A Train”. This should come as no surprise if you have read my list of the best jazz basslines of all time, where I also ranked it high.
The reason for this is that this is a line that has everything. It`s fast and groovy and does well at combining short and long harmonic jumps. It also switches up the rhythm occasionally from straight quarter notes, while never breaking with the “walking” feel of the bassline.
1. Miles Davis – Solar
- Album: Miles Davis Quintet
- Year: 1954
- Bassist: Percy Heath
Just like with Duke Ellington, it would be a cardinal sin to not include Miles Davis on this list.
Percy Heath`s smooth bassline on “Solar” serves as the perfect backdrop for Davis` trumpet playing. By utilizing the full range of the bass, he adds a sense of movement to the song. By doing so sparingly and at the right spots, he keeps things interesting while never deviating from the straight quarter-note rhythm.
This song is thus a perfect example of how exciting a walking bassline can sound, without ever having to change up its rhythm.