Bass is usually quite a subtle instrument in pop music, most of the time it just supplies the groove, the “low end mat” (in conjunction with the kick drum) that the whole song builds upon, and unlike in jazz, it rarely takes solos. While in rock genres, it can gain a wilder edge and an overall more prominent presence, the supportive background role is still usually there. It’s got mixing purposes as well. Because bass frequencies are so powerful, they need to be displayed judiciously to not overpower the mix, rendering it into a muddy and dull mess that rattles your speakers. It often means that the bass is put several levels behind the rest of the instruments that occupy more of the mid-range of the frequency spectrum. In other words, you can’t have the bass and the rest of the mix playing at the same volume level without running into problems.
When the bass steps forward
There are quite a few pop songs though, where the bass guitar takes on a solo role, even if only for a few bars. Notice that most of these times, the rest of the music pretty much stops or goes in the background, for the above mentioned reasons. Let’s check out some of these tunes!
Paul Spencer Denman has become famous for his minimalistic grooves that always serve and support the music perfectly. He played this Latin American influenced solo on Sade’s first Top Ten hit. His bass of choice was a natural finish MusicMan StingRay with a maple fretboard. Note the reverb on it! The solo starts at 1:47.
Sade – “Smooth Operator”
Powerfully simple & repetitive
John McVie is one of the underrated talents of the bass guitar. His simple but effective solo elevates the song to another level and connects it perfectly to the 2nd part with the wild instrumental solos. Even though it’s not immediately recognizable as a fretless line, it was played on a fretless Alembic with a stainless steel fretboard. Starts from 3:06 into the song.
Fleetwood Mac – “The Chain”
This short but incredibly groovy solo line below was played by the South African bass virtuoso Bakithi Kumalo, on his inexpensive Washburn B20 fretless bass. An interesting aspect of this solo is that the 2nd part of it is a reversed (by tape) version of the 1st part. Check it out at 3:44.
Paul Simon – “You Can Call Me Al”
The fluid fretless sound
The Welsh bassist Pino Palladino played beautiful fretless bass lines on a lot of recordings in the 80s and early 90s. We have chosen one of his signature solo basslines, the song starts with it. Pino played a fretless sunburst MusicMan StingRay bass with the bare rosewood fretboard on this song, plugged into a BOSS OC-2 octave pedal.
Paul Young – “Wherever I Lay My Hat (That’s My Home)”
Two precisely played and hauntingly beautiful fretless solos occur on this Pink Floyd song, both played by David Gilmour. One of them starts right in the beginning, while the other one appears at 3:28.
Pink Floyd – “Hey You”
Old school precision
Although the Shadows is considered one of the great early instrumental rock groups and they were the band behind Cliff Richard in the 50s and 60s, this instrumental is a nice, straight ahead swinging jazz tune with a walking bass line. Jet Harris played this perfect solo on his flatwounds equipped Fender Precision. His solo begins at 2:00.
The Shadows – “Nivram”