Today would have been the 70th birthday of John Entwistle, the groundbreaking bass guitarist for legendary classic rockers The Who who died in 2002. Entwistle redefined the role of the bass in rock music and changed the way the instrument sounded and was played. His lead breaks on the band’s 1965 anthem “My Generation” may or may not be the first bass solo on a rock n’ roll record, however it is the most well known and possibly the best. And though it took a couple years to catch up, others soon followed suit, inspired by “The Ox”’s aggressive playing style and impressive musicianship. From fellow travellers like Jack Bruce and Tim Bogart through to present day bass ragers Billy Sheehan and Les Claypool, thanks to Entwistle’s innovations the bass guitar is no longer banished to the back of the bandstand. Celebrate John Entwistle’s birthday today and check 15 of the greatest bass guitar solos in rock history.
15. Rancid “Maxwell Murder”
Punk rock and instrumental virtuosity are often considered opposite impulses, despite a long line of accomplished punk musicians from The Stranglers to Bad Brains. These Bay Area punk revivalists get most of their musical muscle from bassist Matt Freeman who drops a fierce 4-string solo in this 3-chord rager.
14. Deep Purple “Fireball”
One of hard rock’s most underrated bassists, Roger Glover held down low-end duties in the legendary hard rock band’s famed Mach II lineup. This song rates as one of DP’s fastest numbers and Glover’s noisy bass solo kicks the whole song into complete overdrive.
13. The Allman Brothers “Mountain Jam”
Though known for their mind blowing lead guitarists, these Southern rock pioneers also featured a bassist that could hold his own in Berry Oakley. Hear him trade solos with guitarists Duane Allman and Dickey Betts in this 30 minute plus jam band opus.
12. Dream Theater “Dance Of Eternity”
John Myung shows off his chops several times over in this progressive metal tour de force which features 104 time changes in 6 minutes.
11. Cactus “Oleo”
One of the first 4-string heroes of the 1960’s, Tim Bogart’s playing with Vanilla Fudge and Cactus influenced many an aspiring bassist with his clawhammer technique and use of fuzz, as heard in this bass solo from the latter band’s debut release.
10. Yes “The Fish (Schindleria Praematurus)”
This bass-heavy instrumental’s title is a tribute to Yes bassist Chris Squire (it’s his nickname) whose bright, overdriven sound and melodic playing had a deep impact on all those who came in his wake.
9. Motorhead “Stay Clean”
Other bassists on this list might be “better” players, but none are as badass as Lemmy. Check out his tough as nails bass solo on this track from his band’s groundbreaking 1979 album Overkill.
8. The Winery Dogs “Time Machine”
This song proves that not only is Billy Sheehan one of the greatest bass players that’s ever lived, but also that bassists and guitarists can create beautiful guitarmonies together when they put their minds to it (or, are they they’re bass-guitarmonies?).
7. Black Sabbath “NIB”
Vastly underrated and also vastly influential, this Geezer Butler intro off the band’s first album was one of the first solo bass parts in rock music, proto-metal or otherwise, and a perfect example of his jazzy yet heavy playing style.
6. Primus “Tommy the Cat”
Not only does this song feature a wicked off the wall solo, but the entire tune is a showcase for Les Claypool’s zany but funky lead-rhythm bass playing style.
5. Cream “Crossroads”
Yeah, we know this song features some amazing prime-era Eric Clapton lead guitar work, but have you every bothered listening to how hard Jack Bruce is laying it down underneath? Cream was a band of musical equals and Bruce was one of the first musicians to show bass didn’t have to stand in the back of the bandstand.
4. Rush “YYZ”
While usually content to lay down the foundation for his bandmates to shred over, this song features some pretty sick bass solos and grooves courtesy of bassist Geddy Lee.
3. Led Zeppelin “The Lemon Song”
Among rock’s greatest musicians, John Paul Jones is an adept arranger, writer and keyboard player but his playing on the breakdown of this song was a textbook lesson in Hard Rock Bass 101.
2. Metallica “Anesthetisia (Pulling Teeth)”
This solo showcase for original bassist Cliff Burton showed a new generation what the instrument could do in a metal context. The bassist was an inspiration to many young players and his tragic death in 1986 was a watershed moment in the history of thrash.
1. The Who “My Generation”
The granddaddy of all rock n’ roll bass solos. When Who bassist John Entwistle plugged his Fender Jazz bass into his Marshall stack and played those fast, aggressive breaks on this quintessential mod anthem, it changed people’s ideas about what the bass could do in rock music context and forever brought the instrument out of the shadows and into the spotlight.