Happy New Year

Wherever you are and whatever you’re doing, may 2012 be a good one for you! I hope you find many good books and albums (yes, albums) and films and TV and whatever it is you’re into.

 

All the best, and “lang may your lum reek”

 

Mike

Advertisements

Life Changers

I’ve rather neglected the books aspect of this blog so far: mostly ideas for posts occur to me as I’ve been sat on the laptop, listening to music with headphones on, working away at something else. (Is there any greater spur to blog than having some work to do?). But obviously books are very important to me: I’m a voracious reader, always have been. Some books have had a massive effect – what was it Cathy said to Nellie Dean in Wuthering Heights?

I’ve dreamt in my life dreams that have stayed with me ever after, and changed my ideas; they’ve gone through and through me, like wine through water, and altered the colour of my mind.

If books are waking dreams, then this is undoubtedly true for me. Books have affected the colour of my mind, the shape of my ideas, the texture of my imaginings. So in this blog I want to chart the books that have been deeply influential.

1. The Lion, The Witch and the Wardobe

This is the first “great” book I ever read, where it just kept getting better and better as I kept reading. I think at the time I had mostly been reading Enid Blyton and Roald Dahl, but TLTWATW felt magnificent, epic, compared to them. Not, of course, that there’s anything wrong but Blyton or Dahl – I loved all the Famous Five, Malory Towers, Twins at St. Clairs, and Five Find-Outer series, and Dahl’s gruesome imagination tickles my humour-spot, even now. But TLTWATW had great themes, like sacrifice and betrayal and redemption (I didn’t pick up the whole Christian symbolism until much later on), even while its setting seemed familiar and (as with Mr and Mrs Beaver) homely. It was the first book I ever read which expanded my vision of what life was about.

2. The Lord of the Rings

My dad and uncles, being 1970s prog rock types, were natural Tolkien fans, and were keen to press The Hobbit onto me as soon as I was old enough. Oddly enough, I didn’t think it was all that great (it suffers, as Tolkien himself regretted, occassional instances of him writing down to his audience). It did though clear the way to Lord of the Rings, and I still vividly remember the first time I took it out the library. I asked the elderly gentleman librarian (he used to wear a panama hat) if they had it; he was standing by the stack of books to be returned to the shelves, and by happenstance had it to hand. He passed it over with a great look in his eyes, one that said “You are REALLY going to enjoy this, my lad.” I spent about an hour just leafing through it before I took it out: I loved the dwarvish runes and the elven script in the opening pages; I loved the cover, a magnificent, monstrous depiction of Mount Doom; I loved the appendices with the alphabets and timelines and family trees; I loved the sense of a complete world, an imaginary universe, just waiting to be explored.

Though I barely had the reading maturity to comprehend it all (I remember getting confused between Sauron and Saruman and having to backtrack several chapters), Lord of the Rings completely swamped me. My first attempts at writing were absurd imitations, and I spent ages trying to read sundry Tolkien books like The Silmarillion and Unfinished Tales before I realised that I wasn’t interested in the “unexplored vistas” of Middle Earth. But there can be no doubt that LOTR truly is an astonishing creative effort, one in which many people are indeed happy enough to reside in.

3. Educating Rita

After Lord of the Rings, I spent a lot of time reading horror (mostly Stephen King, Shaun Hutson, and James Herbert) – hey, I was 13-14 and massively into heavy metal. Goes with the territory. I can’t say that, except from King’s fine novel IT, many of them left much of an impression. Eventually, though, we started doing books at school which spoke to me in some fashion. Educating Rita was the first: the story of a working-class woman who wants to improve her mind through an Open University course in English Lit., it dazzled me with its demonstration of how one’s mind, one’s life, could be improved through literature. Though my family were readers,  they inclined towards best-sellers rather than literary novels etc. Not that there’s anything so wrong with that, but there was a whole world out there beyond my ken. Suddenly, there was Rita reading Ibsen, Forster, Blake, Shakespeare, Ferlinghetti, and the like. This led me to seriously extend my own reading range, and I became an insanely ambitious reader, trying out DH Lawrence, EM Forster, James Joyce, Martin Amis, William Burroughs, Oscar Wilde and James Kelman within the next year. Which leads me to:

4. Maurice

Yeah, EM Forster’s homosexual-themed novel. What can I say? I was young, callow, adolescent – in other words, I was 15. But I loved Forster’s feeling for the countryside, his subtlety and lyricism, his symbolism and his rejection of conventional, unthinking morality. Maurice led me, of course, to Howards End and A Passage To India, the true greats in his canon.

5. Trainspotting

Irvine Welsh exploded into my life like the Sex Pistols: noisy, anarchic, visceral, ugly, truthful, real. Living in Scotland was then to wallow in this great sentimental image of national life, one of twee Scottishness and a ridiculous feeling of superiority over England. (Measured ever-watchfully, of course). They (the English, of course) were racist, were hooligans, had more poverty and worse schools, were less community-minded, were war-mongering, Thatcher-voting snobs. You name the lazy prejudice, it was smugly applied. Welsh exploded all those myths with a novel of extreme bravery: the first book I’d ever read which mocked the Scottish cultural cringe, the first which explored the council estates in all their gaudy, brutal, helpless squalor. (Kelman’s characters were usually so good, so honest, so stymied-by-exterior-circumstances: Welsh’s were the full technicolour range of characters you might meet down your local pub).

I immediately recognised the truth of what Welsh was saying and spent ages trying to write like him, in dialect, with working-class characters, concerning drugs and crime etc. Took me a while to realise that these weren’t really my subjects, or to find a way to something different with them. Also, Welsh’s career has been a sad decline from the visceral Trainspotting to the adequate Filth and Porno to the abject Bedroom Secrets of the Master Chefs. Still, I very much look forward to reading his prequel, Skag Boys.

6. Bad Wisdom

Being Scottish, I absorbed all the new Scottish writing, things like James Kelman, Irvine Welsh, Duncan Maclean, Jeff Torrington. All are good writers – at one point I felt Kelman was as good as Joyce, which I now think highly overvalues Kelman, who isn’t much fun to read – but most of them have a highly realist style, jagged and impressionistic perhaps, but always trying to avoid seeming literary. Fidelity to the moment and capturing the reality were always the priority. There wasn’t much space for florid metaphors, put it that way. But as Wilde says, a truth in art is one whose opposite is also true. Consequently, when I first discovered Bad Wisdom I was absolutely enthralled precisely by its overblown prose, its insistence on imagination and fantasy. Written by two musicians, Bill Drummond (formerly of the KLF) and Mark Manning (Zodiac Mindwarp), chunk by chunk, the Manning sections contain the most (intentionally) ludicrously over-the-top prose you are ever likely to read: it makes Nabokov read like Hemingway. The subject matter is as OTT, with insane fantastical sections about supermodels wrestling in shit, biker vikings with a chainsaw execution ceremony, shamanistic rituals concerning “the Lost Chord” and the destruction of the world, and the key of Elvis to world peace. It’s just jaw-droppingly mind-blowing. Never have I read such rich metaphors, such juicy adjectives, such dazzling lush prose. Bad Wisdom is an amazing tour-de-force and one which completely changed the way I look at the world. As Hamlet said, “There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, Than are dreamt of in your philosophy”.

7. The New Industrial State

Bilbo tells Frodo in Lord of the Rings that paths lead to paths, that the road is endless. The same is true if you’re a reader: books lead to other books, albums lead to others. For example, the Velvet Underground is one of my all-time favourite bands, and reading that their “Sister Ray” was an attempt to do a free-form jazz song in a rock style led to me explore Ornette Coleman, Cecil Tyaylor, Archie Shepp, as well as less wild stuff like Miles Davis and John Coltrane, which I rather prefer! Reading a book from the library called Fifty Key Modern Thinkers, I was blown away by the entry on Jean Baudrillard, my head exploding with understanding and implications. Unfortunately, I don’t find many of Baudrillard’s works very comprehensible: I can read explications of his theories and understand, but I don’t have much of an engagement with him personally. Anyway, so one book of his I did like and which is easy enough to understand is The Consumer Society, much of which is a critique of The Affluent Society by someone called JK Galbraith. I hadn’t heard of Galbraith before, but one day browsing through a second-hand book store I found a copy of The New Industrial State, and so bought it. Until then, my understanding of industry and work had been adolescently Marxist (yeah, I know), but reading TNIS gave me a sense of how the post-war economic structure actually operated. Galbraith is essentially a Keynesian, but his analysis of how corporations function and how they aggregate into a broader system seemed to accord with reality far more than anything I had ever encountered. Some of his descriptions are pre-1973, or pre-Reaganite, or pre-Milton Friedman, however you prefer to look at it, but given the current world economic troubles, Galbraith’s points seem more salient than ever.

TNIS gave me a taste for books about finance and economics, and those are the books I still tend to read: for some reason, I don’t have much of an appetite for fiction these days. So this is the last life changer amongst the books I have read.

How  about you?

https://booksandmusicandstuff.wordpress.com/2011/12/28/life-changers/

Two Campy Movies

I quite like silly-camp films: they make me laugh. I don’t think there’s ever been an introduction of a film character as brilliantly funny as Frank-N-Furter’s cloak-casting in The Rocky Horror Picture Show. See 1.24 if you don’t know it..!

But recent camp films mocking stereotypical masculinity, your Ben Stiller or Will Ferrel films, seem (to me at least!) to take a totally different approach from that in Rocky Horror, and this difference seems to me illustrative of the times we live in. I haven’t, to be honest, seen too many Ben Stiller or Will Ferrel films, both of whom seem one-trick ponies (Ben Stiller more like a half-a-trick pony), but one that forever tickles me is Blades Of Glory. The tale of two rival ice-skaters who (through an extremely unlikely set of shenanigans) become “the world’s first male-male pair”, its skating set-pieces are both extremely well-done and deliciously funny.

What has often struck me about Rocky Horror is that it has a subtext of the decline of western civilisation (not to put it too strongly). Brad and Janet listen to the resignation speech of Richard Nixon when driving. Richard O’Brien has stated that this “dates” the film – perhaps, yeah, but I think he’s also indicating this moment of the greatest weakness in the US. Battered from Vietnam, the dollar no longer convertible to (“as good as”) gold, the institution of the presidency besmirched by the egregious Nixon, faith in the political superiority of the US and therefore “the west” as a whole was at a post-war nadir. Similarly, the rise of feminism and gay liberation were undermining traditional masculine roles. The trend towards pleasure-seeking consumption (and the perceived feminizing effects thereof) can be seen in films like Saturday Night Fever, or even Taxi Driver, where the violently alienated Travis Bickle views the indulgences of the Times Square crowds with bitter jealousy: “All the animals come out at night – whores, skunk pussies, buggers, queens, fairies, dopers, junkies, sick, venal. Someday a real rain will come and wash all this scum off the streets.” (I always think it is enormouly interesting that Rocky beat Taxi Driver to the Best Movie Oscar in 1976: it’s the start of the 80s counterstrike, with the heroic protagonist, which leads to your Stallones, Schwarzeneggers and Van Dammes). Rocky Horror on the other hand celebrates this moment. Its humour largely derives from mocking the uber-square Brad and Janet and contrasting them with the magnificently decadent Frank-N-Furter, and shows their own attraction and conversion to Frank’s indulgent lifestyle.

Throughout Rocky Horror, the sense is that decadence and homosexuality are attractive, seductive. Male roles are reversed or mocked: the narrator, the overseer of the proceedings, is seen prancing about during “The Time Warp”); Brad gets seduced and ends up in make-up and stockings and suspenders; the muscle-man is a man-boy-toy for Frank, and the all-American boy, Eddie, is killed and eaten, no less! Brad and Janet don’t appear as normal people to whom the viewer can relate, but as laughable squares whose vanilla tastes and stodgy underwear make them seem obsolete amidst the “unconventional conventionists”. Rocky Horror fits its times by not just mocking convention but revelling in its subversion.

Blades of Glory on the other hand mocks the conventions of the heroic sporting film like Rocky (see above), Karate Kid, Teen Wolf or even Top Gun, where the protagonist’s passage and triumph in his sport (or, you know, fighter pilot school: it’s all the same thing) demonstrates that all-American 80s dream of overcoming if you just work hard enough (preferably via a montage). Blades of Glory subverts this by making the sport ice-skating (imagine!); and instead of the heroic protagonist overcoming the powerful rival, we have two who come to value each other. The humour here is almost entirely based on ice-skating being “gay”: Jimmy the prissy skater (that’s, like, so gay), two men skating together (dude, that’s gay!), and the bromance of their friendship (TOTALLY GAY). Blades of Glory follows the heroic sporting film structure (the initial event, the rival, the complication, the getting it together, the training montage, the triumphant final event) but simply by making all of these feminised. The sense here is always that anything gay is funny, laughable. I don’t want to say that the film is offensive or even homophobic, but it clearly suggests that feminised men are funny. This is often true, but it stands in complete contrast to Rocky Horror, and it makes me wonder what kind of progress has been made in the 30-odd years between the films.

Still, all that said, I do find this scene VERY VERY FUNNY 🙂

The Beatles – Why Are They So Good?

I occasionally use the website Quora – it’s a social site, where people ask and anwer questions. Most of the questions I answer are about The Beatles, since that’s my own particular field of expertise, and I was asked by one user to answer, “The Beatles: What made The Beatles so epically popular?” Well, I cogitated for some time, and today I wrote an answer. I thought I would share it with you.

*

I am grateful to Marc Bodnick for asking me this question, and I have been thinking about it for a while. But first I want to offer counterpoints to those already submitted:

1. JG McLean offers a techno-sociological answer which at first glance has some merit. It is true that The Beatles, more than Elvis, were perhaps the first globally popular group; they took advantage developments in global communications, and coincided with the Baby Boom making them the prime musical memory of the generation which made the largest culture mark since 1945. But this still leaves the question, why The Beatles? Why them and not The Animals or The Beach Boys or Brian Poole and the Tremeloes or Little Richard or the Rolling Stones..? What makes them stand out so spectacularly?

2. Habib Anibaba says its because The Beatles copied popular music and presented it in an acceptable fashion. While, as Paul McCartney himself said, they were “plagiarists extraordinaire”, the point is that they stole with style: they might have ripped off all their idols (and always cheerfully admitted so doing), but their genius lies in the way they synthesised it all into something fresh and new. If the old saw has it that mediocrity borrows and genius steals, this is true to the extent that genius steals in order to articulate, not to repeat. The Beatles never repeated.

My answer, then, is essentially this: The Beatles’ music is endlessly filled with the joy of its creation. Some bands have songs where you hear them discover how good they are (for example, “Porch” by Pearl Jam, “White Riot” by The Clash, “Phantom Of The Opera” by Iron Maiden, “Elephant Stone” by the Stones Roses and “The Four Horsemen” by Metallica). But most bands are lazy, or merely human, and once they have found their groove, rarely develop much further. Few do this continually throughout their career: Pink Floyd, Miles Davis, and Kraftwerk, say.

But with The Beatles, what they did was make every song its own “freshly created universe”, to borrow a phrase from Philip Larkin. Not only did they never repeat themselves, they used every trick of articulation to give as much meaning to their songs as possible. And since every song creates a fresh new world, there’s a sense of delight and wonder in so many of their songs, even in songs that are more downbeat.

To take the first songs on their very first album, Please Please Me: it starts off with the dancehall countdown “One, two, three, fouh!” of “I Saw Her Standing There”, with its insistent handclaps, euphoric “oohs!”, and onomatopoeic “boom”. It is followed by the dry send up of “Misery”, with its ironic piano, and doo-woppy vocals. Then “Anna (Go To Him)” is passionate, featuring a more prominent Lennon vocal, and superlative drumming from Ringo with that hesitant pause after the hi-hat. So many nice touches, so many individual flourishes, so many means of articulation: each song creates something new.

This is of course most vividly seen in their best songs. “She Loves You” for example has so many hooks and touches that sparks fly of it, still, after almost fifty years. The tom-tom roll sets it careening, but the first two declarations of “She loves you, yeah, yeah, yeah!” are jerked back, heightening to an impossible tension (right from the very start!!), while the third iteration releases it into the first verse with superb momentum. The verses, sung jointly by Lennon and McCartney, just sizzles with their harmonised vocals, and in the chorus, the “Yeah! Yeah! Yeah!” absolutely soars.

There’s so many examples of The Beatles creating sound-worlds that I barely know where to begin. Consider the alpine-accoustics of “Hide Your Love Away”, with the lovely flute (never again used by The Beatles, I think); the shadowy, twilit, aching “Long, Long, Long”; the psychedelic maelstrom of “Tomorrow Never Knows”; the magnificent heightened orchestral colour of “Strawberry Fields Forever”; the sighing melancholy of “In My Life”; the languid summer heat of “Sun King”; the abyss of “I Want You (She’s So Heavy)”; the roaring sexual dervish of “Twist And Shout”, the supreme fluency of “Martha My Dear”, the chiselled wintry strings of “Eleanor Rigby”; the kiddies playtime of “Yellow Submarine”.

*

I believe that much of this demand for freshness came from Lennon, who inspired by Lewis Carrol knew the effect of surreal juxtaposition. This sense of seeing things differently, and his uncertainty of whether it was genius or insanity, was immortalised in “Strawberry Fields Forever” as “No one I think is in my tree / I mean it must be high or low”. It also probably explains his intemperate appetite for LSD, which of course defamiliarises and heightens vision and impressions. Lennon thus always sought out the different, strange, vivid, compelling. This vision, allied with McCartney’s perfectionist craftsmanship and superb musicianship (not to mention their outstanding singing and harmonisation), gave The Beatles the drive to constantly create something vivid, fresh and new, and the skill to do so. This is what gives their music the joy in its creation, and is what ultimately makes them so epically popular.

Albums and What They Mean to Me #4

The Wall. I think it’s Pink Floyd’s second-biggest selling album, behind the inevitable Dark Side Of The Moon. Occasionally this puzzles me, as it’s a severe bummer of an album, and in my humble opinion not as good as Animals, Wish You Were Here, or even Piper At The Gates Of Dawn. But of course it does have several things going for it: it boasts a fantastic conceit, being a well-realised concept album (although the narrative is hard to pick out); it is psychologically profound, plumbing the depths and facing aspects of life rarely encountered in rock music (unless you’re, say, Lou Reed); it contains several hits (“Comfortably Numb” and “Another Brick In The Wall pt. 2”) and also several stand-out individual tracks like “Run Like Hell” and the exquisitely painful “Nobody Home”); the film is one of the great rock movies (though again it’s an extreme bummer); and it’s one of the cleanest-sounding Pink Floyd albums, with a surprising absence of what David Gilmour has called “psychedelic noodling” (you know, the kind of thing that the Floyd do REALLY WELL) but tremendous presence in the guitar, bass and drums.

For me, it’s inextricably linked with my childhood. My dad and uncles were and are all enormous Pink Floyd fans, and I was subjected/exposed to The Wall  – well, I don’t remember ever not knowing it. My uncle George had the VHS, and I found the box intriguing – there was no text on the back, just pictures. I remember being about 7 years old, and one rainy afternoon deciding, with my cousin Keith, to watch it. Obviously we didn’t understand any of it. We made a few observations as we watched, impressed with our own maturity, like “Good animation” during the “Goodbye Blue Skies” section and we giggled childishly during the “Young Lust” scene. Nonetheless, it was obvious that it was something that was deep, meaningful and, as Neil from The Young Ones would say, heeaavvvyy. Visually, the film is intensely striking, regardless of the lack of any plot, the shallowness of the characters and characterisation, and the gauchery of some themes. (I mean, the caricature of the  wife is really quite misogynist, and its dismissal of the heroics of the Second World War, a truly epochal confrontation, because “the High Command took my Daddy from me” seems achingly narcissistic.)

As for the album itself, as time went by, I got to know it more and more. Though the Floyd were until then known for their colour,  imagination and range, The Wall is oddly of-a-piece for a double album; it’s no rambling White Album or Exile On Main Street: the instrumentation is  unimaginative for Floyd, the emotional range varies between fiercely bitter (“The Thin Ice”) to angrily bitter (“Another Brick In The Wall II”) to depressedly bitter (“Don’t Leave Me Now”) to forlornly bitter (“Nobody Home”). Only “Young Lust”, “Run Like Hell”, “Comfortably Numb” and “The Trial” – i.e. the few tracks not exclusively by Roger Waters – offer much variety, and there’s almost no memorable contributions from Rick Wright, whose majestic playing on songs like “Echoes”, “Any Colour You Like” and “Shine On You Crazy Diamond” so informed their previous classic albums. It is curious that an album so insistent on the difficulties in human relations should be such an exemplary demonstration of their failure within Pink Floyd. Curious, too, that Waters, the great sound architect, who structured Dark Side of the Moon, Wish You Were Here and Animals with such aplomb, should make The Wall a series of fragments rather than fully fleshed-out songs. While some parts are phenomenally successful (pretty much all of Side 1, “Nobody Home”, “Comfortably Numb”, and “Run Like Hell”), the thinness of much of the material make less than the sum of its parts. (I mean, no-one’s ever going to say, “Hey, let’s listen to ‘Vera’!”, are they?). The overriding listening experience, for me, is one of a silent, white, ferocious anger, a rage that seems to verge on the autistic: something incommunicable and beyond comprehension.

For me, then, The Wall accompanied and soundtracked all the difficult parts of my childhood, my parents divorce and the difficulty in settling into high school in particular. It was the first genuinely adult piece of art I knew, by which I mean it is one which frankly acknowledges that life is often difficult and sometimes painful. (Indeed, it rather fetishises this). I suppose in some ways it’s good to have music etc to relate to when you go through tough patches; it gives you a sense of not-being-utterly-alone-in-the-universe, which does help. For instance, for some reason I found adapting into high school very difficult. I didn’t have any boys from my primary school in my class, lacked the confidence to make friends with the “cool” boys (I wasn’t very cool anyway) and despised the stupidity of those I was lumped in with. School, and life itself, seemed full of sharks ready to devour me. About this time, though, the local John Menzies (remember them?!) had a copy of Pink Floyd: The Wall, with a blurb on the back which finally explained the film to some extent. This fascinated me: I knew all the scenes and episodes from the film, but hadn’t understood them enough to work out what most of them “meant” (apart from the scene where young Pink tries to attach himself to a father playing with his kids in the park). This VHS box gave a few clues to help me figure it all out, and the fragments started to make sense. Studying the box (I was one of those inveterate music shop browsers) held a painful fascination, a grim attraction I couldn’t articulate but strongly felt.

I guess what I’m trying to say that The Wall is a powerful album, and one that soundtracked several dark patches. It’s not an album I return to at all often,  and while Waters’ plumbing the psychological depths is brave, sometimes it just gets too much. Fixating on the negative aspect of relationships isn’t a recipe for a good outlook, whichever you look at it – and while Waters does acknowledge the upsides in the final, understated, coda (which even then is sarcastic, noting the efforts of “the bleeding hearts and the artists”), the overwhelming impression is of a tormentedly bitter man deriving no pleasure from anything at all.

So I think I’ll stick to Meddle and Dark Side and Piper and Animals, thanks, Roger.

Awesome Bass Lines

If I could play an instrument, it would definitely be bass guitar. There’s just something fantastic about the deep, rich tones, and its function of outlining the melody and propelling the beat is one that appeals to me: not so flashy, but intrinsic to the music. I’ve said before that Paul McCartney is my bass-playing hero (the acclaim of Jack Bruce I just don’t quite get), but my self-image-as-musician leans more towards Peter Hook, in his Joy Division days. Played loud, with a wonderful sonorousness and a gravity and seriousness which is rare in the bass world (top bassists tend towards getting funky, with syncopation and inflection), Hook somehow encapsulates much that I find admirable in musicianship. His bass line in “Transmission” (a song memorably described as “a cold blue laser light of power”) is just fantastic – fluid yet chilly, supple yet muscular, prominent yet not flashy, propulsive yet melodic.

Paul McCartney, as in so many areas, doesn’t get the acclaim he deserves. Paul the balladeer, Paul the sap, play-it-safe Paul, Paul the crap Beatle – bullshit.  Paul was – is – an incredible musician, and the development of his bass playing over the course of the Beatle canon is an amazing journey. I would argue that his apotheosis is in “Rain”, the B-side (the fucking B-side! One of the finest songs ever, confined to a B-side! It’s not even on 62-66, thought it gets an outing on Past Masters vol. 2) to “Paperback Writer”. While “Rain” is very much a John song (Lennon’s singing sets the stage for everything Liam Gallagher has ever done in his entire life), Macca’s bass is probably the most prominent ingredient of an incredibly heady mix, with some dazzling syncopation and interplay with Ringo; it’s probably also Ringo’s finest hour – whoever tells you Ringo can’t drum, punch them in the face. Twice.

Though punk, of course, was avowedly back-to-basics, post-punk opened up many fascinating possibilities. Bands like Gang Of Four, Public Image, Magazine, Siouxsie and the Banshees, The Fall, The Cure, Joy Division of course, Wire, even Throbbing Gristle – the sense of a door opening for experimentation is unmistakable. Nowadays more often cited simply as an influence of Franz Ferdinand, Gang Of Four were one of the most interesting post-punk bands, even if their influence was short-lived. (I’d much rather listen to them than The Cure, who seem to me to rip off early PiL and Siouxsie). The song “Ether” opens their seminal album Entertainment, and the bass playing on it is military-precise, yet oddly funky – in a very white-guy sense.

Some hate The Stranglers, and with good reason, but I rather relish their ferocious belligerence and caustic sexism. Let’s just enjoy the famous bassline to “Peaches” and not think too hard about what they’re saying 🙂

Jah Wobble has maybe the single best bass sound in rock music. His time in Public Image Limited was short, but coincided with nearly all their best work. Relish the epic depth, the moronic simplicity!

But this one is amazing, too. Great playing, without being wanky: just serving the song.

Reggae, of course, is based on riddim, with bass very much to the fore. Aston Barret, bassist in the Wailers, created many brilliantly simple bass lines. “Stir It Up” is a lovely example of getting three notes and playing them just right.

While the deep groove of “Natural Mystic” is more like dub: smoky and mysterious; perfect for the song.

Other quality bass lines –

Herbie Flowers in Lou Reed’s “Walk On The Wild Side”

Paul Simonon in The Clash’s “The Guns Of Brixton”

Geezer Butler in Black Sabbath’s “Paranoid”

Captain Sensible in The Damned’s “I Feel Alright”

John Entwhilstle in The Who’s “A Quick One While He’s Away”

Andy Rourke in The Smiths’ “This Charming Man”

Adam Clayton in U2’s “Silver And Gold”

John Deacon in “Dragon Attack” and “Another One Bites The Dust” (consecutive songs on The Game, no less!)

Reni in The Stone Roses’ “Made Of Stone”

Feel free to suggest more!