The article below was written in 2008 but it’s remained a popular article on my website.
Since it was first written my concept of learning how to play the bass in 50 songs has been through four iterations. The last iteration is now available from your local Amazon store. Simply search for HOW TO PLAY BASS GUITAR IN 50 SONGS and you’ll find it. More details on the methodology here: THE ONLY SIX THINGS BASS BEGINNERS SHOULD PRACTICE
The 50 Songs – Soul Version
Here are the 50 songs plus a bit of annotation.
1) STAND BY ME. A nice simple line to start with that repeats throughout the song.
2) MY GIRL. The first (of many) Jamerson lines. A simple line with a memorable hook underpinning the soulful sound of the Temptations.
3) DOCK OF THE BAY. The song that (posthumously) made Otis Redding an international superstar. Legend has it that the whistled outro was an adlib because Otis forgot the words. A simple Duck Dunn bassline.
4) I SAY A LITTLE PRAYER. The Groovemaster himself – Mr Jerry Jemmott – underpins this Aretha Franklin tune.
5) MUSTANG SALLY. Duck Dunn again – this Wilson Pickett song is a staple in the repertoire of cover bands. Most players reference the version played by The Commitments – but the Wicked Pickett’s version is superior!
6) IN THE MIDNIGHT HOUR. Another cover band staple, another simple yet effective Duck Dunn line.
7) SATISFACTION. The only song in both the Rock and Soul 50 Song list – this version is Otis Redding’s and features – yeah, you guessed it – Duck Dunn again.
8) TIME IS TIGHT. I love Duck’s work with Booker T – Time is Tight is a great tune with a great unison line.
9) I HEARD IT THROUGH THE GRAPEVINE. Jamerson’s line on the Marvin Gaye classic. Another must know song from most cover band’s repertoire.
10) SAME OLD SONG. This Four Tops classic has a typical mid sixties soul style bass line (see also I CAN’T HELP MYSELF and CAN’T TURN YOU LOOSE below for similar), at a faster tempo than some of the earlier tunes. The challenge is to keep the picking hand technique even and consistent.
11) KNOCK ON WOOD. Another Duck Dunn tune – he truly had mastered the greasy soul 8th note feel of the period. This tune features a bit more syncopation and some higher register notes.
12) YOU CAN’T HURRY LOVE. A memorable Jamerson line. Here’s a challenge – try playing the song with a totally different bass part, different notes, different rhythms. That exercise will go a long way to teaching you about Jamerson’s genius – the bass line MAKES the song!
13) I CAN’T HELP MYSELF . See 10 above – more of the same!
14) LOST IN MUSIC. We fast forward to the late 70s for this Bernard Edwards classic – it’s deceptively simple note wise but it’s all about note length and the groove.
15) LET’S GROOVE. An EW&F tune, as with LOST IN MUSIC there’s nothing fancy notewise but the tune is all about the groove.
16) I FEEL GOOD. James Brown. The Godfather. ‘Nuff said.
17) THIS OLD HEART OF MINE – another mid sixties Motown tune with a Jamerson line. Great tune, great to play.
18) UPTIGHT. Early Stevie Wonder. Another great tune that’s fun to play.
19) I CAN’T TURN YOU LOOSE. More Duck Dunn 8th notes. Keeping it even at the song’s tempo is the challenge.
20) SHAKE A TAILFEATHER. The Blues Brother’s version. A good workout for left and right hand co-ordination.
21) GREEN ONIONS. We start looking at shuffles with Green Onions. Simple minor blues, but a great illustration of the shuffle feel.
22) BABY LOVE. A tune with a really subtle shuffle feel. This is from back in the day when Jamerson kept it simple.
23) MY GUY. And so’s this – the original was played on Jamerson’s upright and you can really hear his jazz background in some of his pull offs chord descends. Great outro too, very cool.
24) 634-5789. Another Duck Dunn shuffle on this often overlooked Wilson Pickett tune.
25) SWEET HOME CHICAGO. And here’s another Duck Dunn shuffle. Check out the upper register work on the extended version from the Blues Brothers soundtrack.
26) YOU SEND ME. Jerry Jemmott put in a class performance on this Aretha tune. Technically speaking this is a tune in 12/8 rather than a shuffle, but the bassline is so good I couldn’t resist putting it in.
27) HEATWAVE. This is an interesting Jameson line. he plays a ‘walking’ shuffle on this tune in the same way that McCartney does on ALL MY LOVING in the rock tunes version of the list.
28) THIS TIME IT’S REAL. Finally we can get Rocco Prestia in on the action! Rocco is a master of the shuffle and this tune is a great example of it – for the virtuoso example of it check CREDIT below.
29) HOW SWEET IT IS. Junior Walker’s version of this tune let Jameson stretch out – compare this with Marvin Gaye’s reading of the same tune which I believe was recorded a year or so earlier. Jameson could play a nasty shuffle when he wanted to, check out this tune for the proof.
30) I’LL TAKE YOU THERE. We’re starting to introduce 16th notes now – this Staple Singers groove is a modest tempo but has a great line with a great feel.
31) SHOTGUN. More Jameson and Junior Walker. Predominantly an eight note groove with some sixteenth notes in the intro.
32) SOUL MAN. Duck Dunn again with Sam and Dave this time. Great song. Great line. What else is there to say?
33) SEPTEMBER. A Verdine White classic. My favourite EW&F tune to boot.
34) SEX MACHINE. James Brown. AND Bootsy? That’s tooooo funky.
35) I WISH. I think long time Stevie sideman Nathan Watts played this line – but I could be wrong. Whoever played it, it’s a very cool line to get under your fingers.
36) SUPER BAD. More James Brown. More Bootsy.
37) GOOD TIMES. This tune is played by loads of cover bands so it’s always worth knowing. Bernard Edwards’ grooves are always deep in the pocket and this one’s no exception.
38) THINKING OF YOU. This tune is often overlooked when bass players look at Bernard’s work (Le Freak, We are Family, Everybody Dance etc etc often get the attention). But it’s deceptively difficult, nailing the chorus is a great left hand workout for any bassist.
40) CISSY STRUT
41) ATTITUDE DANCE. This is one of my favourite Tower of Power tunes from my favourite TOP album – Monster on a Leash (always reminds me of a four week gig in St Tropez where this was never off the stereo). The bassline is a great example of how muting can really lift a line and make it drive.
42) WHAT’S GOING ON. Reportedly this was one of Jameson’s favourite bass lines/songs/sessions. And one of his first published credits. See STANDING IN THE SHADOWS OF MOTOWN for a poignant account of his life story – and 49 transcriptions of his work.
43) REACH OUT I’LL BE THERE. Levi Stubbs belting it out. Jameson laying it down. A match in motown heaven.
44) WHAT IS HIP. Rocco’s 16th note anthem. A great study in right hand picking (unless you’re left handed!).
45) ONLY SO MUCH OIL IN THE GROUND. Ditto but with more time appropriate lyrics than when the song was first released (mid 70s).
46) HOME COOKING. There’s a great transcription of this in STANDING IN THE SHADOWS OF MOTOWN – it’s a truly great bass line. Only bettered by….
47) BERNADETTE. More Levi Stubbs. More Jameson. This IMO is almost the pinnacle of Jameson’s motown work.
48) CREDIT. This should really be in the shuffles section (Song 20 to 29) but the technical demands of this Tower of Power tune are such that it got bumped down to Week 48. A killing bassline, almost Rocco’s finest hour (IMO)…
49) COUNT ON ME. A totally overlooked song in the Tower of Power canon – with a wicked percolating 16th note bassline. Master this one and you’ll be funking for the real thing!
50) FOR ONCE IN MY LIFE. This tune is the pinnacle of Jameson’s work at Motown. You could study it for months and still be taking lessons out of it. Here’s two staggering facts: the line was probably improvised, every SINGLE bar is different. It’s like a concerto for bass. Seriously STANDING IN THE SHADOWS OF MOTOWN is worth buying just for the transcription and play along of this tune (played by another truly great bass player, Pino Palladino).