Moving from reggae to hip-hop via dubstep, funk, and even indie...

Bass frequencies simple resonate further, deeper, harder than any other aspect of the aural spectrum.

Think about it: when you're at a festival travelling towards the various tents and arenas, the area with the biggest, boldest bass sound resonates further, faster than anywhere else on site.

Yet often the bass aspects of popular culture are shelved in favour of its more immediate cousins, with focus falling on songwriting elements - lyrics, melodies, even guitar riffs.

It's a shame, then, that the bass is overlooked, and it's doubly cruel when surveys go wide of the mark.

So, the Clash team decided to take time out to detail some of their favourite basslines from across the full spectrum of music, moving from reggae to indie via hip-hop, dubstep, and more.

As The Slits so memorably put it: we heard it through the bassline.

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U Roy – 'Natty Rebel'

Dubbed The Originator in Jamaican music for his forward-thinking stance, U Roy pilfered from the past to detail the future in a style that echoed and presaged hip-hop culture.

With his chatty flow leaning on emerging rap styles, he took the sounds of dub and dancehall and fused them to craft something that was truly his own.

Jamaican music would be nothing without bass, however, and we've opted for his seismic 'Natty Rebel' as an example of how this is used - it's a rock solid foundation but deeply rhythmic, this suggestion, entirely open platform for U Roy to do his thing while remaining an overtly musical component in its own right.

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Sly & The Family Stone – 'If You Want Me To Stay'

A rainbow coalition that traversed race and gender, Sly Stone bound his Family Stone together by a fondness for ruthless bass lines.

From 'Dance To The Music' through to 'Luv N Haight' the band's output found its funky edge in those phat bass lines, helmed first by the inimitable Larry Graham. Later departing to steer his own ultra-funky outfit, he was replaced by Rustee Allen, who crafted the four-dimensional four-string that governs 'If You Want Me To Stay'. 

It's actually one of Sly's tenderest vocals, a lyric born from domestic strife and his regret over the treatment of partner Kathleen Silva. At root, though 'If You Want Me To Stay' is little more than sheer, raw groove, powered by Rustee Allen's astonishing bass line.

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James Brown – 'Talkin’ Loud And Saying Nothing'

Famously disciplined - band members could be fined over everything from loose ties to missing their cue - James Brown's funky ensembles drove themselves to astonishing, unsurpassable heights.

Yet the Godfather of Soul's disciplinary streak could also break the hardest individuals. In March '70 virtually his entire live band walked out on him, forcing James Brown to adopt Cincinnati group The Pacemakers, who employed a then-unknown Bootsy Collins on bass.

A star almost as extrovert as his employer, the bass player quickly revolutionised the instrument, laying down lines that would provide future hip-hop producers with a library of possibilities.

Here in in the UK, 'Talkin’ Loud And Saying Nothing' would become rare groove classic, with Gilles Peterson even naming an entire record label after its irresistibly elastic groove.

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Big L – 'Put It On'

This head-noddy bass line leads one of Big L’s best loved tracks, glowing and swelling, nimbly skipping up and down the fretboard, mirroring the way Harlem’s finest delivers his infamously arresting (not to mention downright funny) bars.

‘Put it On’ was produced by Bronx hip-hop producer, Anthony Best aka Buckwild, who gave us a great example of the power of a straightforward, boom bap beat and a simple yet compelling leading bass line: hooking us in while giving the rhymes and rhythm room to breath.

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Beastie Boys – 'Root Down'

This crackling warm bass line feels decidedly analogue and funky, hooking you into the track from the word go and later melding with similarly organic samples, contrasting with those wacky high octane bars we know and love the Beasties for.

It’s sampled from Jimmy Smith's 1972 live jazz recording ‘Root Down (And Get It)’ and as well as being the reason its hard to tear your ears away from this particular track, is emblematic of that sweet spot Beastie Boys found on ‘Ill Communication’ - drawing on hip-hop, punk rock, jazz and funk, while powering forward their own idiosyncratic sound.

As the Beasties say themselves: “Oh my God, that's the funky shit.”

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Shy FX ft UK Apache – 'Original Nuttah'


When hip-hop breakbeats and Jamaican soundsystem culture came crashing together at London dances, nobody knew what to expect. A heady, chaotic brew, from this mesh of sounds came first jungle, and then drum 'n' bass, arguably two of Britain's finest contributions to club culture globally.

'Original Nuttah' sits at the crossover between the two styles, an astonishing piece of programming with a drum track that feels like Mozart let loose with an Amiga and armed with a stealth awareness of ragga.

Overlapping this is a stunning bass sweep, something that gives 'Original Nuttah' the edge on its peers - to this day, those opening bars will send crowds rushing forwards, lost in a cosmos of bass reverberations.

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Missy Elliott - 'Get Ur Freak On'

The bass line that isn't a bass line. Then and now, 'Get Ur Freak On' seems impossibly futuristic, with its sparse template acting as an antecedent for a thousand production styles in the 21st century.

At its core is a bass section that operates in a completely distinct way, leaning heavily on Bhangra while interpreting this through Missy's own hip-hop style.

The repeating six note part is a Punjabi melody, while the bass section itself is on tabla - tuned percussion, it fulfils the bass role and acts as a reminder that bass is a truly universe artefact.

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Red Hot Chili Peppers – 'Give It Away'

One of the Chilli’s most instantly gratifying, archetypal ‘Red Hot Chili Peppers’ tracks, Flea’s sexy, wonky bass acts as the perfect drop, spiralling its way in after a drum-led intro.

Winding and snaking its way under the mix, it anchors the more psychedalic instrumentation above - what gives the track its ‘magik’ - and Anthony Kiedis’ rapid-fire vocals to something much more earthy, much more funky, much more red blooded...basically the stuff you dig the Chilis for.

There are many reasons Flea is one of the best-loved bassists of all time, but ‘Give It Away’ tells you all you need to know in one track.

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Benga – '26 Basslines'

Dubstep emerged from the darker, dubbier end of garage; initially a highly localised sound, it was more a coalescing point, a series of different styles held together by an emphatic commitment to low end frequencies.

In short: it wobbled hard.

In fact, dubstep's bass wobble became its distinctive characteristic, from the heady brew of Digital Mystikz through to the more lairy, brostep diversions.

Benga's '26 Basslines' threads a path through both. It's opening synths are a clarion call, before the producer opens out to those endlessly undulating bass lines, his playful curiosity teasing out each fragment to the furthest reaches of possibility.

It kicks hard, too. While many dubstep producers were indebted to that sparse, alien sound, Benga's precocious energy found an intense outlet, and '26 Basslines' remains as emphatic as the day we first heard it played out.

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In 1970s South Bronx, the Scroggins sisters’ mum unwittingly gave the world a lot when she bought instruments for her girls in the hope that they’d focus on music (and the weekly living room performances they put on for her in return for the instruments) and stay out of trouble.

Bass lovers especially have a lot to thank Ma Scroggins for – their stripped back, bass-heavy dance funk went on to power post-punk, no-wave, hip-hop...the list goes on.

‘Dance’ is the perfect example of why - a throbbing bass line drives this infectious track forward, pinning futuristic vocals and skippy percussion down to the dance floor. It’s totally infectious.

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Words: Robin Murray + Emma Finamore

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