Ideas and phrases in bass lines... they used to be common.

Discussion in 'Miscellaneous [BG]' started by NCD, Mar 28, 2011.

  1. NCD


    Mar 19, 2011
    I think that's what the main issue is when we say music has gone down hill over the past 30 years. It used to be common to have a line that was full of clear, distinct phrases that formed a melodic groove but over time the idea of using a computer to play root - fifth as a foundation for other things has really dumbed bass lines down to nothing.

    Nirvana's "Come As You Are" is a prime example not only because it's so simple but because it just repeats so often that it's reduced to nothing but mindless foundation for other instruments to play over.

    With the advent of drum machines, are the drummers next? 30 years from now will brilliant pickups from drummers be a thing of the past?

    Look at the lines to "Sitting on a dock of the bay", "What's Going On", "Darling Dear", "For Once in My Life" and, to a lessor extent, "Signed Sealed Delivered" and "Superstition". Every one of those has parts that sound out clear phrases that make sense and form ideas.

    Personally, I'm convinced that the lack of those phrases and ideas are what's dumbed popular music down to the point that it's gone stupid.

    Simple can be good... "Dock of the Bay" is nice and simple, and it yet it flows beautifully.

    But without feeling, voicing, intonation, phrases and ideas, what do you need a bassist for? A computer can play root-fifth. If a computer did that then the result would be uninspiring, lifeless and dead...

    Much like today's popular music. :meh:
  2. I'm glad you were more specific in your last line because there is a huge volume of music out there nothing like what you describe.

    Popular music has been dumbed-down. Absolutely. But so has most of popular culture...
  3. Russell L

    Russell L

    Mar 5, 2011
    Cayce, SC
    I can't say for sure if it's the root of all evil, but I know what you mean about some bass lines. The songs you mentioned have bass parts that are a motif within themselves, they're hookish. You can whistle them walking down the street like a melody. On the other hand, some genres have always used simple bass lines, like how some country songs are just 1-5. Even then, though, it's up to the player as to how to make those parts interesting, to the listener, and to themselves. One has to concentrate on expression.

    Something I don't like in modern music is the over-use of the bass drum. It practically has replaced the bass. The bass I hear in that kind of stuff is just a floating thing in the background. One band I was with until last year eq'd the bass drum so loud and deep that I could never hear myself on bass. It was no fun playing.
  4. intheory


    Nov 17, 2009
    SW Florida
    Great topic-I was just having a conversation with my wife (a keyboardist) the other day about the challenge of playing bass lines with anything but the 1-3-4-5-8 without pulling from the main melody. The truth is that our instruments are generally accompanying instruments, and we have to be careful with where we put in lines that are in the key but not spelling the chord (i.e. often the half steps in scales that, although correct in the key, often have a musical "pull" from the melody or chords being played to support the song).

    Great topic, and one that I've been thinking about.

  5. Eh, can't say I agree. Truth be told, every time a genre is popularized we hear the whole "music has gone to sh*t" argument. It happened in the 70's with disco, 80's with pop, and 90's with grunge. Though I can't say I heavily enjoy the new flavor of the week, there are great melodies to be heard.

    Seems like the new trend is do-everything songwriters who take the new standard popular formula (techno/dubstep/trance) and fuse it with their muse. Since most guys are do-everything musicians, they aren't particularly great at one instrument but more so constructing melodies, raps, choruses etc. As you mentioned many bass lines are in fact computerized, but if you've ever heard a Gnarls Barkley or B.O.B song, great basslines CAN be produced electronically if the musician is capable.

    To be more specific, IMO great bass phrasing is just one aspect of an entire song. I've heard great songs with eighth notes on the root and I've heard awful songs with super lyrical bass work. I feel there is A LOT more going on than just bass phrasing.
  6. Febs

    Febs Supporting Member

    May 7, 2007
    Philadelphia, PA
    Take out the word "mindless," and you've just described ostinato, a compositional device that has been recognized for hundreds of years.
  7. music, well "popular" music, keeps getting ever more simple. I wonder where it will head. There was a Christina Aguilara tune a few years back that summed up a lot for me - I forget the specifics, but it was something like the track harmony should have went to the V chord (the vox did), but the track stayed on the same chord.

    As a songwriter by trade I have a hard time dumbing it down this much - and I'm the guy CONSTANTLY fighting w/ colaborators to simplify. I just cant bring myself to write a one chord song.

    I'm not looking for 20 changes in a verse . . . just common musical sense. who knows, maybe I'm getting old and becoming one of those "music these days sucks" guys
  8. I am going to take that thought and go on a wild tangent.
    first off the entire nevermind album was written intentionally with simple music, extreme dynamics, and well laid out melody lines. Having said that Come as you are is very basic and simple, however Lithium, Breed, and In Bloom are not as simple. But then again , as you said, expect simple when talking about Pop music.

    Now on to pop music. It is really all about something that is easy to listen to that is vaguely familiar from the onset. To the producers and radio stations it is about making the most money and gaining the most popularity with the least risk.
  9. Bingo. But I still stand and say there are good basslines buried in today's pop culture.
  10. That song was released in 1991. That's 20 years ago. I suspect that the OP may not be familiar with "today's popular music".
  11. NCD


    Mar 19, 2011
    I think Russel hit it on the head:

    The songs you mentioned have bass parts that are a motif within themselves, they're hookish. You can whistle them walking down the street like a melody.

    I realize it wasn't that way prior to around 1960 but a few bass players changed the way bass was played by introducing that melodic element. The way they did it without stepping on the rest of the musicians was to employ a walking line approach that kept the bass line from being disruptive while still opening it up in a way that really enhanced whatever music was being played.

    I really feel that the producers of pop missed the boat and didn't get the memo... because one the one band that consistently used this kind of approach, The Funk Brothers, created more big hits than the Beatles, The Beach Boys, The Rolling Stones and Elvis all combined.

    But most people don't realize that because the songs were credited to the many different vocalists who sang on track 8, after the instrumentals were cut. For decades, no one realized that there was actually only one core band behind all of Motown.

    With that kind of success, and the root of it being Jamerson's complex melodic style, I just can't understand how anyone could believe that the more simplistic direction things have gone in since would be more marketable than that.

    Instead they promote things like "Friday" by Rebecca Black.

    The evidence that complex and melodic music sells is irrefutable. Fourteen years of Detroit's Motown sessions have settled that question long ago. The problem is that the people with the money keep betting on the wrong horses.

    If producers would back music that has more of that kind of music, I bet it would outsell anything else they have going. After all, it's been done before.
  12. I think I see what you're trying to say but I have to disagree with the OP at this time. A few reasons:
    1) Drum machines have been around for 30 years already.
    2) There are good basslines in newer music (*Mariah Carey "Stay the Night" and Alicia Keys "You Don't Know My Name" come to mind)
    3) There are boring basslines in older music (nearly ALL classic Country comes to mind--if you want to talk about Root/5th pumping)

    I think the differences are in the genres--not the eras. You compared the rock of Nirvana (which is not popular music, BTW, they've been gone for 20 years already now) with R&B/soul music of Stevie Wonder.

    *While the line in Mariah Carey's song is very tight and sounds computerized, according to what I read, it's recorded by an actual bassist doubling on an upright and and electric. I think they call that recording technique "tic tac".

    I think it's more about WHAT you listen to and not so much WHEN the song came out.
  13. avvie


    Oct 12, 2010
    Maui, HI
    I'm kinda jaded against the entire "today's music" argument no matter what the specific complaint is; invariably it comes from someone who limits his/her listening scope. This point got really driven home to me when I went to jam with some old white guys and they didn't recognize ANY rock standards I threw at them because they haven't turned on a radio since 1973. SERIOUSLY.

    I went and played a party a couple of years ago and the host got ill at me for playing "Don't You Forget About Me" because he didn't know "any of that contemporary stuff". The song is over 25 years old.

    I always challenge the complainant to name a current artist and why they don't like them, and they can't name one.. at least not until the Black Eyed Peas appeared in the Super Bowl.

    In this day and age, there are entire websites and phone apps specifically designed to introduce you to new music that fits your listening tastes. If you can't find new music you like then you're not looking.

    Referring to bass specifically, I thought the instrument was dead in the 80's due to MIDI synth bass. Boy, was I ever wrong on that one. One day we'll look back and maybe think we were wrong here too.

    And why does everyone keep acting like Rebecca Black's "Friday" is the only song that's been released this past decade?
  14. NCD


    Mar 19, 2011
    Something more like "Friday" by Rebecca Black?

    Okay, that's a cheap shot. I take it back.

    But the general approach still holds true. It's simply a matter of how people see the role of bass. Jamerson and a few others took it in a far more active, melodic direction and the public responded by buying that kind of music like crazy.

    But these days the commercially produced popular music is going back to simple stuff that has little to no hook or melody.

    Even when Jamerson himself went to CA to try to follow Motown out west, many of the producers on the west coast argued with him and told him to just play what they had written instead of doing what made Motown great.

    I bet those fools are kicking themselves now.
  15. Yea, things will eventually come back around. But unfortunately these producers are unwilling to take risks and the ones that have, usually keep this high-paying pop gig as a day job and work on "their" projects on the side.

    The way I see it there are two formulas to music.

    1) Music is art, regardless of how awful, amazing, simple, complex etc. it is. Music invokes emotion and thats all that matters. I will persue it, struggle, be different until someone hears me.

    2) Music is a business and the business is a game. If you play by the rules, you make more money, play bigger shows, and live "the life." No self-respect required.
  16. My head is spinning right now because I can't decide which part of your post I like the most!

  17. JTE

    JTE Gold Supporting Member

    Mar 12, 2008
    Central Illinois, USA
    People who whine about this stuff give curmedgeons a bad name...

    Pop music has always been terrible. The folks who post here about how putrid contemporary music is and who yearn for the days of great music like we had in the '60s and '70s are exactly the same mind-set and voice the same arguments as the old guys who wrote to Guitar Player Magazine in the late '60s and early '70s used.

    There were always these letters decrying the scruffy looking rock "so called guitarists" they put in the magazine, longing for the days when music meant something and to be a respected guitarist you had to have Joe Pass or Chet Atkins skills. It's the same rant. Comparing The Funk Bros. to contemporary hits (however that's defined these days....) is sad. Go back and look at was was actually in the top-40 for the years when the "good" stuff like The Stones, Beatles, Traffic, Hendrix, Zep, Pink Floyd, et. al. were really creative and active. It's stuff like "The Ohio Express" (NOT "The Ohio Players"), Helen Reddy, Starland Vocal Band, etc. The LCD (lowest common denominator for those who have been victimized by modern education) always becomes the ear-candy. The good stuff persists however and gets played more over the years. A classic rock or oldies station is much more likely to play "We Can Work It Out" than "Yummy Yummy Yummy" now, but guess which one got more radio play in the day?

    Now, get offa my lawn before I notify the proper authorities...

  18. I am going to argue, for the sake of argument that Nirvana IS or at least was Pop Music. Now I think it is considered classic rock

    Kurt said he needed to write more pop Music

    Their Album label was called Sub-POP
    Nevermind came in at #1 on the POP chart in several countries. defines pop music

    noun -
    music of general appeal to teenagers; a bland watered-down version of rock'n'roll with more rhythm and harmony and an emphasis on romantic love

    and that definitely applied to Nirvana in 1991-1994.
  19. That also applied to the Beatles in the 60's, Todd Rundgren in the 70's, and Oingo Boingo in the 80's. Would you still call any of that music "today's popular music" (a phrase used in the OP)?

    Seems you're arguing that Pop music is a genre in and of itself. While I can see that argument and many people seem to refer to Pop music as a genre, what is popular each decade changes and what WAS pop music, finds itself recategorized into other genres and is no longer Pop. Nirvana is considered Alternative Rock. It came from Alternative Rock, it sat for a time on the menu of Pop and it returned to Alternative Rock. Genres are categories. Songs can and have moved back and forth between these categories for various reasons.

    Nirvana isn't Pop music anymore than Stevie Wonder. Neither are Pop. One is Alternative and one is Soul and both splashed onto the Pop scene for a time then went away again.
  20. P-oddz


    Apr 7, 2009
    Milwaukee, WI
    @Avvie - well said.

    I would also add, that I think "pop music" can at times, be a completely subjective term. If your definition of pop is overly auto-tuned songs about clubs, or whatever "hit" the newest celebrity is trying to peddle, then yes - you'll probably get full agreement from me. But pop music can also be a much broader genre than that, encompassing more than what is merely current on the Top 40. There are a lot of solo "pop" artists today that use incredible session players, or who have back up bands that delve beyond just playing root-fifth combinations. There are even popular artists today that are somewhat of a throw back to motown-esque or old-school type of vibes.

    And also as mentioned prior by Avvie, there are many outlets to discover new music these days. It's really easy to find new music, and there is a lot of GOOD music to be found. You just have to look.
  21. Primary

    Primary TB Assistant

    Here are some related products that TB members are talking about. Clicking on a product will take you to TB’s partner, Primary, where you can find links to TB discussions about these products.

    May 23, 2022

Share This Page