This week I saw an article that said Bassists Are The Most Important Member Of A Band – According To Science. It was on the internet, so it must be true. The essence of it is that we can hear the rhythm in a melody better if it’s played on low notes; no surprise there – but they proved it with brain wires.
So I’ve been adding bass-heavy classics to my Infinite Running Music playlist, and the highlights are here, in a compilation I’ve called All About That Bass – don’t worry, though; there’s no Meghan Trainor on it.
The mighty Prodigy could have a list all to themselves, but this song is particularly great, one of the two best tracks on their Fat of the Land album in my book – and without the violent misogyny of the other one. Climbatize is particularly run-friendly, with its cinematic sound, steady beats and long builds – and the bass riff is fantastic. I actually heard it on a run the very morning I saw the article above, and it facilitated a satisfying turn of speed on my last mile. The only negative is a temptation to Air Bass whilst running, but I think I’m more susceptible to that than most.
If you are tempted to get the mime bass out, this funky epic will make you the talk of the park. The one-note, sixteen-beat groove the bass sets up at the top is relentless, and creates the space for all the brassy syncopation that follows; this is a prime example of how great running music doesn’t have to be fast – it’s an inspiring song with incredible rhythm that just keeps on coming. What more could you want?
This is basically the same deal as What Is Hip, but with rock instead of funk. The band start with a leisurely time signature, but then fill it with beats, making the tune both fast and slow at the same time, resulting in a kind of compressed energy – the sound of a kettle that never boils. It’s perfect for running, or indeed any exercise. I’m sure Tower of Power and Placebo must feel the same inspiration playing the actual songs. When you hear this you certainly want to be in Placebo, hammering out the bassline – and headbanging sweatily, natch.
The ultimate posturing bassist is, of course, New Order’s Peter Hook – essentially, he’s a lead bassist – even beating out the late great Lemmy from Mötörhead, by virtue of a) not singing and b) wearing his bass down so low he has to stand like a legend just to play it. There actually isn’t that much of his bass on Thieves Like Us – it makes such a statement, it needs to be carefully rationed. A bit like Alec Baldwin’s one, incendiary scene in Glengarry Glen Ross – but I’m off the point. Bass aside, Thieves Like Us is a tremendous song – running along the canal towpath in Manchester listening to it is to be in a scene from a movie yourself. I suppose coming to it for the first time now it must sound very ’80s – lots of hard-edged, simple, bold sounds – but it’s not camp or ironic – not all ’80s pop sounded like Take On Me, Don’t You Want Me Baby or Total Eclipse of the Heart.
Those songs are all fantastic, mind.
I just realised, writing about Hooky just then, that this song wasn’t on the list. My bad – it is now. It’s quite short for running to, but that’s probably for the best, as it will make you run as if being chased by wolves.
Let’s shake the ’80s off for a moment and bring things back to the present day – after all, despite the compression and smoothed off edges of contemporary pop, beefy basslines are in vogue at the moment – Justin Timberlake’s Can’t Stop, for example, has an impressive amount of junk in the trunk for a sunny Summer hit from a film about Trolls. The Weeknd’s behind-the-beat bassline sits in the engine room right under the titular vocal hook – and is perhaps the reason that hook bears repetition, rather than outstaying its welcome. Of course, the words are preposterous. If you actually can’t feel your face – particularly whilst running – seek medical attention.
This is older again, but like all Leftfield it sounds FRESH! If you’ve been paying attention, you’ll know that Leftfield are my favourite running-music-providers of the lot – well, except Public Service Broadcasting – ok, joint favourite. We’ve already had Phat Planet, but a bass-based list would be incomplete without it. Runningwise, this is quintessential – that dirty, relentless bass the foundation of a monolithic-yet-minimal groove that I think I could listen to literally all the way through a marathon. Every detail is perfect – listen for the bit, for example, around two and a half minutes through; as the main loop comes back in, with a new note on top, there are no drums on the last beat, just for a couple of bars… You don’t need to know this to enjoy it, you don’t even need to care, but this is simply perfect music.
As is this. Curtis Mayfield’s Superfly soundtrack was far more culturally significant – and financially successful – than the movie it came from, and the title track is the icing on the cake, a funk soul symphony. The beautiful bass anchors the whole track, and the whole track, superb anyway, changes up a gear in the ‘trying to get over’ section. I say up a gear – this bass goes down. Deep. I joked about it before, but I have definitely played that lick on the air bass during a run in real life. Don’t worry – I made sure there was no-one around.
The Chemical Brothers’ Block Rockin’ Beats sits between the electronica of Phat Planet and the lush live performance of Superfly. The bass is a processed loop, but it’s from – and sounds like – a real guitar. It kicks things off and holds things down, but sits more traditionally down in the mix once everything gets going – you’re more likely to do air drums than bass to this one. Alright – I’m more likely to. And then those drums get upstaged by the woo-woos… In running terms, this is the aural equivalent of people at the side of the road cheering you on.
I’m quite excited to share this one, because I think it’s fairly obscure – I’m hoping you don’t know it, and I’m giving you a lovely gift.
Fad Gadget – the late, great Frank Tovey – was darker, harder and less famous than his early ’80s synth contemporaries, and his basslines and beats really stand the test of time. This was, I believe, the first bassline I ever thought ‘woah!’ about – in my brother’s totally red bedroom in around 1984 – specifically the moment late on in this remix where, the track having gone all sketchy and light, the bassline, in all its stupendous, echoey, deep enormity, plays just once, like someone jumping out at you from behind a door. Good lyrics too – the ‘Love Parasite’ of the title is a baby. ‘You lack the gift of speech but you suck like a leech’ – this is not a Cow & Gate advert.
Most of these tracks kick off with a bass that means business, but for a lower-octave statement of intent, none of them can beat the opening to this song – a noisy, three-note bass guitar figure that’s barely begun blasting into your ears before a voice says, ‘will you just turn that bass up a little bit more?’ Last week I was writing about songs to get you going, keep you going, and wind you down, and like the best of those, It Overtakes Me has the whole package – it’ll start you off in the morning – ‘it wakes and bakes me’, to use Wayne Coyne’s own words – but I’ve put it towards the end of this playlist because it goes to a completely different, chilled-out place – ‘and I’m there’, he sings, as the music slows and beautifies into Nirvana. Not that Nirvana. Of course, this song’s probably actually about strong drugs – but hey, running is a strong drug.
I can’t believe I keep putting U2 tracks on these lists – my teenage self wants to slap me – but the photo Simplemost used to illustrate their importance-of-the-bassist article was of U2’s Adam Clayton, and that seems only right. Vertigo is more about the Edge’s back-to-basics guitar riff, but Clayton keeping it coming in the verse is what rock-band bass is all about. Plus Vertigo is important to me as a runner for two specific, personal reasons – it played on one of my very first outdoor runs, towards the end, and, inspired to press on, I got a proper endorphin rush – I felt the hair on the back of my head stand up, in real life. And now I use it to plank to – starting as the riff kicks off, ending at the Edge’s ‘I’m done’ guitar slide at the end. It’s exactly three minutes – or I tell myself it is – and I couldn’t do it without climbing the power-pop, riff-verse-chorus-middle-eight ladder of this gem. Sorry teenage me, but hey – check these abs out. You’re welcome.