As a bass player I am always listening to records, looking for new ideas. I have mentioned that lately I have been listening to James Brown records. What strikes me about the bass playing on them is how simple the parts actually are. They are minimalistic, but played with great feeling that helps to give the tracks their earth shattering grooves. Listen to this song The Payback:
Once you get past the intro, the bass plays a repeating two note figure repeatedly for a great deal of the song. It struck me, that although the feel of the song is quite different, technically it isn’t that different from what happens in a lot of post-punk songs. A lot of Cure records, for instance, feature simple repeating bass lines.
I am always interested in how different forms of music can often share common traits. Although U2 would no longer really be described as post-punk, they definitely came out of and were influenced by that era. I was struck by how similar the bass line in The Payback and their song Zoo Station was, at least while playing on the root, before the chord changes. Here is Zoo Station:
James Brown features a more organic feel, while the U2 song has a more mechanical rhythm, but they both feature a simple too note figure that differs more in feel than in note choice.
My point is not that U2 stole from James Brown. Anything so simple could easily be thought up by different people at different times. Even if they did take Brown’s idea, and I have never read that to be the case despite reading a lot about U2, they did something new with it.
Anyway, what I find interesting is how a similar idea can be used so differently given the context and slight rhythmic changes. I also think that simple musical parts have an almost powerful zen like quality to them. Some people judge musicians on how technically they can play, but I am often interested in how stripped back you can make something and still create something with a great deal of power.
Both these baselines feature only two notes. (U2 features more, but only once the chords change. The chorus line is more complex, but again I am talking about the part played over the root or one.) But they are both integral to the song and create a giant foundation over which the rest of the band can operate.