Friday, June 4, 2010

Post-Punk Style Bassists

I’ve come to accept that anytime I see a “Top Bass Players” countdown, it probably won’t have any of my favorite players listed there. I understand why, too. Many of the players that end up on countdown lists are impressively fast, often slap-style, and worthy of a 2 minute mid-song solos. Funk, progressive, and metal or hard rock genres do serve to highlight the speed and range of a talented and aggressive bass player, and that is why such greats as Flea and Les Claypool, deservedly, always make the lists.

My preferences in bass players are those who play the post-punk genre of rock and roll. I love those warm, melodic bass lines that are the backbone for songs by Joy Division, the Smiths, the Cure, similar bands that emerged in the late 70’s and early 80’s, and the revisionist bands that popped up in just the last decade. I realize why they are not included in “best” lists- they are not the fastest, or have the most range, and they certainly do not “shred.”

Still, it always surprises me a little that the bass players of the post-punk style of play never get much love; I (admittedly, a bass whore) hear the bass guitar as the primary sound within this fantastic genre of music. I have yet to find a very clear definition of what characterizes the post-punk genre of rock music; some descriptions seem to merge every genre under the sun that occurred in England within a specific period of time, which - as the name suggests - followed the punk explosion of the late 70’s. I may have a narrow view of what is the post-punk sound: heavy and prominent bass and drum, punctuated by lighter and intricate guitar work, and sometimes accompanied by synthesizer sounds. Some might say that darker lyrical themes are also a signature of the genre, but I think that both light and dark lyrical themes run through all genres, post-punk included.

What I hear more than anything, and feel is the signature style of the post-punk genre, is the bass playing. The bass guitar does not play a supporting role to the drumming; it plays a starring role in the overall sound. It independently drives the melody as a rhythm guitar would in other genres, creating the rhythmic pattern that serves as the song’s foundation. Post-punk playing rests in the middle between percussionist-supporting bass playing and lead-guitar style bass playing. The players that end up on “Greatest Player” lists tend to play in a more prominent lead-guitar style. However, one ambassador for the post-punk style should be on more “Greatest Bass Player” lists, and that ambassador is Peter Hook. As the pioneer of post-punk bass playing, he launched a unique and much imitated sound in rock and roll.

Every now and then I like to share my overall appreciation of bass players and, although they may not be considered the best, the post-punkers are my sentimental favorites. Below are a few songs with awesome bass lines from some fantastic post-punk and post-punk revisionist players.

Peter Hook (Joy Division) – “Disorder”
I could pick any song in the Joy Division catalog to highlight Hook’s playing. I love how his playing brings levity to Ian Curtis' dark lyrical and vocal style. What else can I say? He is the man.

Andy Rourke (The Smiths) - “This Charming Man”
The Smiths were a tough sell for me because of Morrissey’s voice. I listen because of the guitar work of Rourke and Johnny Marr.

Simon Gallop (The Cure) – “Just Like Heaven”
As a kid, I didn’t know who the Cure was, but I knew it was fun to dance around to this song. I now realize the bass is the reason why.

Mark Stoermer (The Killers) – “Jenny Was a Friend of Mine” Live
Stoermer is a versatile player. He, along with the rest of his band drifts in and out of genres. “Jenny” feels like a post-punk style song to me, and it is one of my favorite of his bass lines.

Carlos Dengler (Interpol) – “Evil”
This is a great, thought-provoking song that I probably would not have paid much attention to if not for that bass intro. It is speculated that the song is about serial killers Rosemary and Fred West, hence the title.

Alright, that’s enough of the post-punk genre for a while. I’m going to go listen to some Charles Mingus.



  1. Love this post. Bassists are often overlooked! Mark Stoermer is such a talent (perhaps one of the highest of the four guys), for certain. Hookie was such a trademark to Joy Division, as well!

    And of course there is no denying the greatness that is John Entwistle of The Who. That man was out of control with talent and art. Absolutely amazing guys who sometimes get out-shined by the front men and guitarists. Even Paul McCartney was a remarkable bass player for The Beatles, though he is well known for song writing and even the piano.

    My sister started playing bass because of Mark! Viva la Bass!

  2. Mark was the reason that I started playing bass!!!!! And Jenny... was the first song that I taught myself. I was very pleased with myself.

    Mark is so good, as are all the other bassists you've mentioned, and Chris Wolstenholme from Muse...but that's not post punk.

    So often in bands it just seems that its the good looking singer, the cool guitarist, the mad drummer, and then ...the other guy, so its nice for them to get some recognition.

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