Vintage Sunglasses 1-26-17: Back to Bass-ics

Alright, so we've done a horns show and we've done a drums show, and now -- before all the good ones are taken up! -- let's devote a week to the best (well, my favorites, anyway) of '80s bass. On the way, I'll try to pay tribute to songs that do not appear here but have been in previous playlists...which, as a reminder, you can find on Spotify :)
  1. Queen feat. David Bowie, "Under Pressure"
    Putting together a show like this provides a great opportunity to acknowledge some really talented bassists who might not otherwise get the credit. That certainly cannot be said for John Deacon, one of the more visible bass players out there for many years, responsible for this, "Another One Bites The Dust" (which he wrote solo), and countless others.
  2. DeBarge, "Rhythm Of The Night"
    With Tommy DeBarge taking a back seat, the darting and diving bass line for this 1985 hit was delivered by studio legend Abraham Laboriel (his son Abe Jr. is the drummer in Paul McCartney's touring band). Also contributing low notes on the album that bears this song title: longtime Phil Collins collaborator Nathan East, and another Jr. -- James Jamerson, son of the '60s Motown icon and member of the Funk Brothers.
  3. Rick James, "Super Freak"
    An Internet search for the credits was inconclusive, but since James is brandishing a four-stringed behemoth on the cover of the Street Songs album from which it comes, let's say it's he himself playing the oft-sampled bass line of "Super Freak." The track, of course, gained a second life as the main sample for MC Hammer's "U Can't Touch This," much as "Under Pressure" (whether or not Vanilla Ice wants to believe it) paved the way for "Ice Ice Baby."
  4. Kajagoogoo, "Too Shy"
    Kajagoogoo did three great things for '80s music: gave us the most fun band name to say this side of Butthole Surfers, introduced the world to the "NeverEnding Story" of lead singer Limahl, and recorded "Too Shy," one of the decade's most enduring one-hit wonders. Bassist Nick Beggs not only holds down that instrument, but is also proficient at a curious, ten-stringed device called the Chapman Stick.
  5. The Go-Go's, "Our Lips Are Sealed"
    Here is an example of terrific mixing and mastering. The crew behind the Go-Go's' 1981 debut, Beauty and the Beat, must have realized that Kathy Valentine's bass part in "Our Lips Are Sealed" would be an instant classic, because it's right up front in the mix (and there's a bit of a solo section later on in the song). It kicks off the album, and the band's career, on a high note made out of low ones.
  6. Heaven 17, "Let Me Go"
    Original Human League member Ian Craig Marsh's Roland synth bass rivals that of the Seinfeld theme song for greatest rubber-band bass ever, as it dots the other keyboards, ambient guitars, and percussion in "Let Me Go." Perhaps most easily recognized by its scat-sung chorus, the song was a staple of my old Sunglasses at Midnight shows on WTSR at The College of New Jersey; that portion was the backing for a vintage station promo.
  7. Paul Young, "Wherever I Lay My Hat (That's My Home)"
    Young's introduction to the pop music world at large was his cover of this obscure, early Marvin Gaye track. And while his voice is the obvious centerpiece, both it and the fretless bass of Pino Palladino were prominent elements that would be reprised, in tandem, on the biggest hit of his career, the Hall & Oates cover "Everytime You Go Away." (Don't worry, we'll circle back to H&O later.)
  8. Sting, "We'll Be Together"
    There were almost too many great Police songs to choose from -- my favorite bass-centric one from the '80s would have to be "Spirits In The Material World," or perhaps the album track "Tea In The Sahara" from Synchronicity. But instead, let's delve into his solo career for this funky combination of expert bass skill and soaring voice. Not easy to beat!
  9. Johnny Kemp, "Just Got Paid"
    New jack swing pioneer Teddy Riley played bass synth on this track which was originally intended for a Keith Sweat album. It came into Sweat's hands as an instrumental, Kemp wrote lyrics, and then Sweat passed it to him, inadvertently green-lighting what became Kemp's signature hit. NSYNC, as you may know if you're around my age, later covered it.
  10. The Greg Kihn Band, "Jeopardy"
    Steve Wright, who played the very busy bass line on Kihn's biggest-ever single, sadly passed away just 10 days ago. It's clear just from a casual listen that this is a terrific showcase for bass, but even more so -- in fact, unexpectedly so -- when you really crank the low frequencies on the recording. Rest in peace, Steve.
  11. T'Pau, "Heart And Soul"
    Yes, this British band was named after a Star Trek character, and yes, "Heart And Soul" was their only U.S. hit. Carol Decker's manifold overdubs dominate, to be sure, but the distinguishing characteristic of the arrangement is an insistent, repetitive riff that carries all the way from the intro through the first couple of verses and into the chorus. It's played by Paul Jackson on bass, doubled by Michael Chetwood's keyboards.
  12. Lisa Lisa & Cult Jam with Full Force, "I Wonder If I Take You Home"
    Alex "Spanador" Moseley handles the synth bass duties here, on the first Lisa Lisa single back in 1985. It's actually interesting to hear how much of this song is performed without bass, a la Prince's "When Doves Cry" (and after this, "Kiss"). As far as vocal hooks go, the chorus would be...let's say, adapted...for the 2005 Black Eyed Peas hit "Don't Phunk With My Heart."
  13. Billy Idol, "Mony Mony"
    One of two mega-hit Tommy James covers I could have chosen (the other, also a #1 hit, was of course Tiffany's version of "I Think We're Alone Now," but this one has actual instruments). And in truth, the version of Idol's take on the song that went to the top of the charts -- at least by single sales -- was a live cut from 1987. But here is the unadulterated, still fantastic, studio recording from '81. If you're in an appropriate setting...feel free to do the chant. You know which one.
  14. Kenny Loggins, "Danger Zone"
    I know, I know, I know what you're thinking. Where is "Footloose"? Well, can't please everybody. And this has a good bass part too (courtesy of the terrific, aforementioned Nathan East). And plus, we're gonna come back to the Footloose soundtrack in just a few. I promise you won't be disappointed.
  15. Pretenders, "Brass In Pocket"
    Original Pretenders bassist Pete Farndon, along with guitarist James Honeyman-Scott, was only around for the band's seminal first two albums. By the time recording sessions commenced for "Back On The Chain Gang," a colossal non-album single, in 1982, Honeyman-Scott had died of a drug overdose and Farndon had been fired. He'd sadly also overdose and die in '83, but not before leaving behind top-flight work on this famous track from the first Pretenders record.
  16. Eagles, "I Can't Tell You Why"
    Sting and Paul McCartney have cornered the market, over the years, on bassists who can sing, but Timothy B. Schmit (formerly of Poco) got the chance to front a band on this sultry single from The Long Run. At a private listening party before that album's release, after "I Can't Tell You Why" played, Don Henley is said to have turned to Schmit and said to his still-new bandmate, "Congratulations. You just wrote your first hit."
  17. Deniece Williams, "Let's Hear It For The Boy"
    Deniece Williams is best known for three songs: the 1978 #1 "Too Much, Too Little, Too Late," the Family Ties theme song "Without Us" (both duets with Johnny Mathis), and her commanding solo performance of "Let's Hear It For The Boy" from, yes, the Footloose soundtrack. The well-traveled George Duke produced, and also contributed the instantly hummable synth bass part.
  18. Elvis Costello, "Veronica"
    You may also be wondering at this point, "Well, where's Paul McCartney on this list?" Costello's biggest chart hit in the U.S., "Veronica" arrived in 1989 during an extended collaboration with McCartney, who cowrote the track and, of course, played bass. The Costello-McCartney partnership also brought forth Paul's last major solo hit, that same year's "My Brave Face."
  19. Daryl Hall & John Oates, "I Can't Go For That (No Can Do)"
    Daryl and John have enlisted a lot of talented bass players over the years (most notably the late T-Bone Wolk), but the frequently-sampled bass line in "I Can't Go For That" is a Hall creation, on a Korg organ. Michael Jackson admitted years later he'd aped the part for his own purposes on "Billie Jean," which could have easily made tonight's list (as could "The Way You Make Me Feel").
  20. Aerosmith, "Janie's Got A Gun"
    One of two major hits Aerosmith bassist Tom Hamilton cowrote for the band (the other being "Sweet Emotion"), he also came up with the forebodingly ascending bass riff. Steven Tyler, the other main writer, handled the complementary keyboards. Just the main song is presented in the Spotify queue, leaving out its instrumental prelude, "Water Song."
  21. The Smithereens, "Blood And Roses"
    Few bands have begun their collective career with a singular bass line tearing into the darkness. And yet that's what the Smithereens did with their first-ever single in 1986, which is led by Mike Mesaros' tremendously melodic performance on the low end. The song, and the Especially for You album from which it came, were well-known favorites of Kurt Cobain.
  22. Joe Jackson, "Right And Wrong"
    In one of the more interesting album concepts you'll find, Joe Jackson assembled a four-person band (including himself), plus four extra backing vocalists, and recorded an entire set of songs live in front of an audience -- while instructing them to remain silent until it was certain that each individual song had ended. "Right And Wrong" still gets a fair amount of classic rock radio airplay, driven by Rick Ford's prominent bass.
  23. The Cure, "Just Like Heaven"
    The sudden thump of Boris Williams' drums against Simon Gallup's bass kickstarts what became the Cure's first U.S. Top 40 single. Gallup probably has had better bass parts ("Lullaby" comes to mind immediately), but none quite as exposed as this. And the fact that each part layers in to the intro allows his contribution to shine for just a few seconds longer than it might have otherwise.
  24. Stevie Wonder, "Lately"
    You might think, as I often have, that there's an upright bass somewhere in this achingly beautiful chestnut from Stevie's Hotter Than July album. But no, lest I underestimate him, it's Wonder on synthesizer, augmenting his own piano and electric piano parts. The sextuplet-figure run into the final key change and chorus caps one of the greatest singular performances of the master's career. (We've already played the RHCP version of "Higher Ground," Flea's bass standing in for Stevie's clavinet.)
  25. Dexys Midnight Runners, "Come On Eileen"
    Appropriate for an Irish-tinged New Wave track, the bassist on "Come On Eileen" is a gentleman by the name of -- you can't make this stuff up -- Giorgio Kilkenny. That's just another charming reason to love this song, a worldwide #1 hit in 1982-83. Just whatever you do, don't look up Kevin Rowland's solo career. Especially not the album "My Beauty." It's not like you'd be able to find it on the Google or anything.