My Spine (Is The Bassline)...
During the interminable drive to Salem today to swap out my piece of shit Denon DVD player for another piece of shit Denon DVD player, I was rockin' my iPod and pondering on the fact that in the 80s, bass players had to work a lot harder than they do today. These days, if a pop song has anything other than the ol' Root On The Foot bassline, it's usually a synthesizer or sampler instead of an actual person playing.
I had made a Crandall's Super Sounds Of The Eighties playlist, and it had Japan's "Visions Of China" followed by Ian Dury's "Hit Me With Your Rhythm Stick," then English Beat's double-time version of "Tears Of A Clown," and I was struck by the shear number of bass notes contained in those three songs, in sum total about 9 minutes of music. There were probably more bass notes played in the Ian Dury track than in the entire Top 40 chart released last Tuesday.
I'll grant that Mick Karn is kind of a ringer; he could have been playing to some other song entirely. I've never been able to figure out what the fuck it is he's doing in any given Japan song (or any other band he's played in, for that matter); all I know is I generally like it. Imagine a Japan song with any other bass player, and you end up with a shit 80s outfit like China Crisis or something.
The master of the P-Bass, Norman Watt-Ray, from Ian Dury's band (and about 70 others) really has to move along, though. 16th note bass fiesta at a not-slow clip of 110bpm or so. I'd like to see some dude used to having his shit groove-quantized in PT try to pull that off for 3:43 in one take, and still front the beat like that.
(And please note that I'm perfectly aware that it's a P-Bass with a non-standard neck and J-Bass pickups. You don't need to post the inevitable and unnecessary correction, if you were planning on doing so.)
Or take Graham Maby, Joe Jackson's long-time bass player (since Look Sharp.) On the first three Joe Jackson records (before he got all post-punk on us) Graham has to carry the whole band; there's no guitar solos at all, and the guitar is mostly kind of discordant. The bass carries the melody for the most part in every song, _and_ he has to do the solos. "Got The Time," anyone?
There's no real reason to this line of thinking. It just sort of occurred to me that the bass was more of a front-row instrument in the 80s than it is now. Interesting when you think about it. Most people call it "synth pop" but really, it was "bass pop."