Whether you’re a pro bass guitarist or simply a lover of brilliant bass lines, you’re about to discover some of the best bass songs ever written. This extensive list of songs highlights iconic bass lines and bass-heavy songs from across different genres. These tracks showcase the way that a good bass player does more than just lay the foundation. Good bass lines are in fact essential to many of the best songs of all time.
This article covers the following genres:
Best Rap & hip hop bass lines
Tracing its origins to the 1970s in the Bronx in New York, bass is an essential element of any hip-hop groove. As this list shows, bass lines can truly make a hip-hop song, providing that essential head-nod ingredient. Here are some of the best rap songs for bass.
Anderson .Paak, Tints (feat. Kendrick Lamar)
A funk-inspired bass line from Anderson .Paak’s 2018 Oxnard album. As a drummer himself, Anderson .Paak is a master of head-nod grooves, exemplified in ‘Tints.’ The drums in this track are very simple, creating space for the bouncy bass line.
Kanye West, Hell of a Life
A heavy-hitter from Kanye’s 2010 My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, ‘Hell of a Life’ features a big, beefy, fuzzy bass line. The fuzz gives the track a rap-rock feel, calling to mind the likes of Rage Against The Machine or the Beastie Boys.
Noname, Diddy Bop (feat. Cam O’bi & Raury)
This big neo-soul inspired tune from Noname features a sweet, understated bassline that drops in and out deliciously. For half the duration of the song, the bass line isn’t even playing, making it all the more effective when it drops. A highlight from her brilliant 2016 ‘Telefone’ album.
Catacomb Kids, Aesop Rock
A classic from hip-hop legends Aesop Rock, this simple rocky fuzz bass line takes front and centre to create a big, mean groove. The track comes from the rapper’s 2007 album ‘None Shall Pass.’
Madvillain, Figaro (feat. Madlib and MF Doom)
This fire groove from ‘Madvillainy’ (2004), like many of Madvillain’s beats, is minimal and extremely effective. The bass line is pitched pretty high, showing that a great bass line isn’t just about the low end.
Mac Miller, What’s The Use
The bass line from Mac Miller‘s ‘What’s The Use’ is without a doubt one of the best bass lines in rap music. The fruits of a collaboration with virtuoso bassist Thundercat, the interplay between this expertly funky bass line and Mac’s flows is simply perfect.
Best disco bass lines
Disco music often features a prominent bass line, with the bass guitar propelling a lot of disco tunes forward, as well as enriching the harmony. Disco sometimes overlaps with funk, soul and motown, so check out those genres (listed below) too.
Chic, Good Times
The instantly recognisable bass part from Chic’s ‘Good Times’ is probably one of the most-imitated bass lines of all time. The work of Chic’s brilliant Bernard Edwards, this is a super-fun and undeniably potent bass groove.
Sister Sledge, We Are Family
The casual listener might not realise it, but Sister Sledge’s 1979 hit would fall flat without it’s brilliantly understated bassline. Another credit to Bernard Edwards’ tightly grooving disco bass line magical powers. ‘Thinking of You’ is another Sister Sledge classic that owes a lot to the bass.
The Jackson 5, I want You Back
The clever, rolling bass line from the uplifting 1969 Jackson 5 classic comes courtesy of Jermaine Jackson. In my view, it’s one of the best bass lines ever written, and this incredible tune simply wouldn’t exist without it.
Earth, Wind, and Fire, September
Everyone loves this irresistible disco classic and its perfect bass line is fundamental to the track’s great vibes. The bass line comes thanks to Verdine White, one of the great disco bassists.
Boney M, Daddy Cool
The instantly recognisable bass line from Boney M’s 1976 classic is a popular one for beginner bass players. A simple, driving bass line, it provides exactly what the song needs – nothing more and nothing less.
Michael Jackson, Billie Jean
Billie Jean is one of the most iconic bass lines of all time. One of Michael Jackson’s biggest hits, the rolling bass ostinato perfectly interlocks with the simple disco drums to create one of the most understated, most perfect bass lines in the history of pop music.
Best funk bass lines
Above all genres, funk music is known for having prominent bass guitar parts that become signature elements to a track. The genre that pioneered the bass slap and pop technique, bassists of all persuasions can learn a lot from funk music, and the following songs in particular.
Kool and the Gang, Fresh
Kool and the Gang’s bassist Robert Bell is responsible for a number of amazing bass lines, and chief among them is ‘Fresh’ from the band’s 1984 album Emergency. The understated soul/funk groove with that micro rest in the middle of the phrase is simply flawless.
Average White Band, Pick up the Pieces
One of the all-time great funk tunes, ‘Pick up the Pieces’ is a masterpiece, and the bass line as it interplays with the guitar riff is essential to the track. Listen to the whole of Average White Band’s 1974 self-titled album for more amazing funk bass songs.
Herbie Hancock, Chameleon
The big cheeky synth bass line that opens Herbie Hancock’s classic ‘Headhunters’ album is iconic. One of the best-known funk bass lines of all time, the simple ostinato provides the perfect backdrop for those zany organs and sleazy brass hooks.
Stevie Wonder, Higher Ground
From Stevie Wonder’s 1973 album Innervisions, the bass line to ‘Higher Ground’ is legendary. This classic bass part was brilliantly reinterpreted by Red Hot Chili Pepper’s Flea, who turned it into a slap pop line for RHCP’s 1989 cover of the song.
Parliament, Give Up The Funk
The epitome of funk itself, Parliament’s ‘Give Up The Funk’ is a case study in funk bass brilliance. Showy, and in many ways over-the-top, it’s one of the most fun bass lines in the whole genre of funk music.
Sly and the Family Stone, Thank You (Falettinme Be Mice Elf Agin)
This 1969 single from Sly and the Family Stone is a great example of funk slap bass. The simple, rather ‘toppy,’ and hugely distinctive slap bass line that Larry Graham plays gives the track a light, playful feel and a totally unique sound.
Best soul and motown basslines
Like disco and funk, bass guitar is essential to soul and motown. Providing the essential groove along with the drums, the best soul and motown basslines are characterised by coolness and a deep, stirring groove.
Bill Withers, Lean on Me
Melvin Dunlap’s bass line from the Bill Wither’s classic ‘Lean on Me’ is simple and understated, but forms an integral part of the song. Following that famous chord progression, and throwing in those high notes in the bridge, and a few sweet runs, it’s perfectly executed. Another great bass line from Bill Wither is ‘Use Me.’
Stevie Wonder, Sir Duke
One of Stevie Wonder’s biggest hits of all time, ‘Sir Duke’ comes from Stevie’s 1976 Songs in the Key of Life. The bass line picks up the brass line in unison after the chorus, which is great fun. From a bass player’s perspective, this song has it all. Without a doubt, one of the best bass songs ever written.
Marvin Gaye, Inner City Blues
James Jamerson is the brilliant bass guitarist responsible for a wealth of amazing bass lines in soul and motown. All his lines on Marvin Gaye’s beautiful 1971 album What’s Going On album are examples of immaculate soul and motown bass. ‘Inner City Blues’ with its note bends and perfect syncopation is my personal favourite. For me this one of the very best bass songs in the world.
Gil Scott-Heron, When You Are Who You Are
The rapid rolling bass line from soul legend Gil Scott-Heron’s 1971 ‘When You Are Who You Are’ could almost be written as a technical exercise for bass. The sheer number of notes that bassist Ron Carter plays in the 3 minutes and 21 second track is astonishing – and it totally makes the track.
Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell, Ain’t No Mountain High Enough
The 1967 classic from Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell is another perfect example of James Jamerson’s bass playing genius. In my view, it’s the bounce, the groove, and the subtle stirs and swells on Jamerson’s bass that make this song.
Curtis Mayfield, Move on Up
One of the truly great soul tracks of all time, the uplifting ‘Move on Up’ showcases Joseph ‘Lucky’ Scott’s work with Curtis Mayfield. Lucky was Curtis Mayfield’s musical director as well as his bassist, and this 1970 classic shows him at his best with this legendary bass line.
Stevie Wonder, Uptight
Another Stevie Wonder classic, the legendary Nathan Watts has been Stevie Wonder’s bassist since the 1970s, and his musical director since 1994. ‘Uptight’ is yet another case study in the essential importance of bass for popular motown and soul music.
Best dance bass lines
The bass line can make or break popular dance music and club songs. In this genre, bass riffs tend towards being minimal and repetitive, because that’s exactly what dance music requires. Get in the groove with some of these dance classics.
Groove Armada, Superstylin’
Groove Armada’s biggest hit, the pounding 2001 ‘Superstylin” boasts one of the most iconic dance bass lines of the noughties. A massive club classic that’s nothing without that big beefy bass line.
Stardust, Music Sounds Better With You
This late-nineties dance classic from French house trio Stardust belongs to the same epoch which saw Daft Punk, Bob Sinclair and others produce some of the greatest dance tracks of all time. The simple bassline is incredibly effective and hits hard every time.
Chemical Brothers, Block Rockin’ Beats
The iconic synth slap bass line on Chemical Brothers’ ‘Block Rockin’ Beats’ takes centre stage in this big dance tune. One of the most recognisable bass lines in electronic music, the bass riff from this 2008 track makes ‘Block Rockin’ Beats’ one of the essential dance bass tracks.
Daft Punk, Around the World
The cheeky, funky, acid-inspired bass line on Daft Punk’s quirky classic ‘Around the World’ is impossible to resist. A tight disco groove that picks out some unexpected notes as it rolls round, this is one of the best of several great Daft Punk bass lines.
Basement Jaxx, Red Alert
The intense slap bass line on Basement Jaxx’s ‘Red Alert’ makes the track go down as one of dance music’s best bass songs from any era. The short ostinato comprises a simple hammer-on pop, and a couple of chromatic notes – about five notes in total for the whole song – and that’s all it needs.
Mr Oizo, Flat Beat
The big squelchy acid bass line on Mr Oizo’s ‘Flat Beat’ is the stuff of legend. Good luck to any bass guitarist who wants to pull it off – this is very much a bass synth line – but it would be wrong not to mention it here. Crank that subwoofer up!
Modjo, Lady (Hear Me Tonight)
It’s a big, evocative bassline on this early noughties club classic. French house duo Modjo dropped this heavy hitter in 2001 and it became a global hit. The track’s prominent bass line is right up high in the mix, with those nice major 9ths giving it that distinctive feel.
Best reggae bass lines
Reggae bass is all about riddim, and it’s exemplified in these songs. The rhythms used by reggae bass players are totally distinctive, and play a huge role in the feel of reggae music, providing that lucid, punchy feel.
The Heptones, Book of Rules
The minimal bass ostinato in The Heptones’ ‘Book of Rules’ does everything you want. Nailing the groove down and throwing in a cheeky accidental to expand the harmony, it’s simply a classic, perfectly-executed reggae bass line.
U-Roy, Natty Rebel
The solid bass groove on U-Roy’s reggae classic Natty Rebel is harmonically simple and rhythmically perfect. Immaculately tight and punchy, and boasting beautiful warm production, this is unbeatable reggae bass perfection.
Bob Marley and the Wailers, Natural Mystic
Most of Bob Marley’s bass lines are credited to Aston ‘Family Man’ Barrett, who, along with brother Carlton Barrett, formed The Wailer’s rhythm section. The harmonic simplicity of the bass groove in Natural Mystic only adds to its deep, heavy feel, making it one of my favourite bass lines from The Wailers.
Pablo Moses, Music is My Desire
This hit from Pablo Moses features the classic reggae trope of doubling up a pumping bass line with a guitar in unison. The transition between the verse and the chorus and the little harmonic twists and turns are perfectly structured for bass-listening bliss.
Ini Kamoze, World A Reggae
The reggae classic from Ini Kamoze featuring that classic line ‘out on the streets they call it murder’ also features a perfect reggae bass groove. The tight, spacious riddim underpinning this track is exactly what makes it pop. The bass does exactly what it needs to do, and you simply can’t fault it.
Sister Nancy, Bam Bam
The atmosphere of Sister Nancy’s Bam Bam is totally iconic. Many aspects come together to make the track so brilliant – the wild delay, the lyrics, the guitar comping, the lazy brass hits – but the bass line is what keeps its rolling and grooving. A reggae classic that simply wouldn’t work without this bass line.
Best rock bass lines
Rock bassists sometimes play ‘second fiddle’ to rock guitarists. These songs show how fundamentally important bass guitar can be in rock music, truly elevating certain songs to the rock hall of fame. Brace yourself for some serious bass riffs!
Queen and David Bowie, Under Pressure
For anyone who ever doubted the importance of rhythm for the bass guitar, consider this: one of the most famous bass lines ever written contains only two notes. Queen’s bassist John Deacon is credited with the epic bass line which was also famously borrowed by Vanilla Ice in ‘Ice Ice Baby.’ Another great John Deacon bass line is Queen’s classic ‘Another One Bites The Dust.’
Pink Floyd, Money
The bass line of Pink Floyd’s ‘Money’ is one of the most-referenced, most iconic bass lines in rock music history. Roger Waters’ classic riff has become a rock music theory case study, thanks to its use of the 7/4 time signature. The bass part itself as a key ingredient to one of the best songs on one the greatest albums of all time.
Lou Reed, Walk On The Wild Side
The prominent double bass on Lou Reed’s ‘Walk On the Wild Side’ is integral to this classic song’s enormous appeal. Paired with the shuffling snare and Lou Reed’s louche delivery, the song could never have become that classic it is today without that perfect bass line.
The Beatles, Come Together
The Beatles were ahead of their time, and Paul McCartney’s unmistakable bass line on ‘Come Together’ is a case in point. The 1969 track shows The Beatles at their high of their musical innovation, with a bass line that has gone down in history.
The White Stripes, Seven Nation Army
Love it or hate it, Jack White’s bass line from the 2003 ‘Seven Nation Army’ has become one of the most famous bass lines ever written. Extremely simple and accessible, this bass riff has weevilled its way into the subconscious of almost everyone on the planet, and for that, credit is due!
Red Hot Chili Peppers, Around the World
The eccentric Michael Peter Balzary – better known as Flea – is one of the most-respected bass players in rock music today. ‘Around the World’ characterises his brilliant blend of funk and rock, which helped to drive Red Hot Chili Peppers to become one of the most-loved rock bands of all time. Check out ‘Can’t Stop’ too, for a great slap pop riff.
A list of great rock bass lines couldn’t possibly exclude Muse’s ‘Hysteria.’ Chris Wolstenholme’s bass parts are essential on almost every Muse song, and the huge fuzzy bass line on ‘Hysteria’ is no exception. A truly iconic rock bass line.
Radiohead, The National Anthem
This simple, chromatic bass ostinato from Radiohead‘s 2000 Kid A album forms the core of this bold, experimental track, and is a great song for beginner bass guitarists. Holding down the foundations as the chaos of the track builds, this is a classic bass line from Radiohead’s bassist, Colin Greenwood – an underrated bass player, who knows how to give a song exactly what it needs.
Best metal bass lines
Metal bassists don’t merely provide the bottom end for guitar riffs. These classic metal and hard rock tunes show how bass can be essential to dictating both harmony and groove in metal.
Metallica, For Whom the Bell Tolls
Arguably the best metal band of all time, Metallica’s bass lines are all about those deep heavy throbbing grooves working in combination with drums and guitars. ‘For Whom the Bell Tolls’ is a case in point with the bass building out that fat riff.
Dream Theater, Panic Attack
One of the most technically proficient metal bands of all time, Dream Theater’s relentlessly forceless ‘Panic Attack’ demonstrates metal bass playing at its rhythmic and harmonic peak. Speedy, complex, and masterful bass playing.
Geddy Lee’s bass playing forms an integral part of Rush’s sound beneath his screeching vocals and Alex Lifeson’s wailing guitar solos. As ‘Anthem’ builds Lee has a field day on the bass, holding this classic metal tune together.
Justin Chancellor of Tool is considered one of the best bass guitarists in metal, and ‘Schism’ is a fine example of his skill. The way the bass weaves in and out of steady rhythmic grooves and time signature changes is quite the feat, building new harmonic dimensions as the track develops. Sophisticated stuff.
Ozzy Osborne, Crazy Train
Heavy metal legend Ozzy Osborne’s ‘Crazy Train’ is one of his biggest hits. With the bouncy bass line alternately locking in and breaking away from the guitar riffs, the track is Ozzy’s best bass song. The riff is also sampled by Lil Jon in Trick Daddy’s ‘Let’s Go.’
Rage Against The Machine, Take the Power Back
The blistering 1992 ‘Take the Power Back’ from Rage Against The Machine is one of the best rock bass lines ever written. The hard-hitting slap bass riff combined with Zack de la Rocha’s rap is the stuff of rock history.
Best jazz bass lines
Jazz is one of the most difficult music genres to master, but also one of the most rewarding genres to play and listen to. Technical proficiency is essential in jazz, which means that many of the world’s greatest bass players are jazz bassists. Here are a few of the best jazz bass songs.
Miles Davis, So What
Miles Davis’ modal jazz masterpiece Kind of Blue is one of the great jazz albums of all time, and ‘So What,’ the track that opens that record, is defined by the bass part. Paul Chambers’ opening riff and the walking bass that follows is totally flawless, and foundational to the greatest jazz record of all time.
Victor Wooten, U Can’t Hold No Groove (If You Ain’t Got No Pocket)
Virtuoso jazz bassist Victor Wooten demonstrates bass playing at the very highest level of technical proficiency. ‘U Can’t Hold No Groove’ is a great display of his mastery of rhythm and harmony. Highly impressive and great fun to listen to.
Jaco Pastorius, Chicken
Jaco Pastorius is one of the all-time jazz bass greats. His most famous track – the jazz-funk odyssey ‘Chicken’ – showcases his technical brilliance and fundamental groove credentials at their best. Check out his band Weather Report for more Jaco Pastorius bass inspiration.
Jamiroquai, Mr Moon
Masters of the acid jazz genre, Jamiroquai songs are great for lovers of slap bass. Stuart Zender, who played bass on the 1994 album ‘The Return of the Space Cowboy,’ totally nails it on Mr Moon, perfectly holding together those elements of acid jazz, funk, and disco.
Charles Mingus, Haitian Fight Song
Opening with the walking bass line on the double bass, it’s bass that forms the essential foundation for Charles Mingus’ rowdy classic, ‘Haitian Fight Song.’ While the brass soloists attempt to metaphorically knock each other out, this solid bass groove is what provides the structure, and the core of this epic track.
Thundercat, Them Changes
Bass virtuoso Thundercat is hard to classify in terms of genre (he’s also mentioned in the best hip-hop bass songs section), but this list would not be complete without him. The squelchy acid jazz and funk vibes of his 2017 track ‘Them Changes’ are built around that epic head-nodder of a bass line. One of the biggest bass lines of the last decade, from a true bass legend!