Bass players always get shit and it is generally because the average music listener isn’t enthralled with the thudding hum of the bass line. Musicians and music nerds know that the bass locks with the drums to lay the foundation for everything on top of it, but this isn’t a crusade to bring respect to least popular part of the band (unless you’re Gene Simmons or Les Claypool or something).
This is to bring attention to bass players that elevate their band to epic levels with their voice. The backing vocal that creates a sound that is partly what defines the band and most people hear it, but don’t realize how much they love it. My examples: Michael Anthony, Mike Mills, and Kim Deal.
We all love Van Halen (Yes we do) for Eddie’s shredding guitar, Roth’s howling and genre-defining swagger, and to a lesser extent, Alex’s super tight tom’s, but what is that sound in the background? Can you hear it? Sing the chorus to “Panama” in your head right now. Do it! David Lee’s vocals are bolstered by that high pitched choral voice. It’s Michael Anthony’s unmistakable cries in the background.
Check out the background vocals on Diver Down’s “Dancing in the Streets” Once you hone in on Anthony’s voice I would argue that it is as integral to Van Halen’s sound as Roth or Eddie.
Kim Deal added that je ne sais quoi to The Pixies. Hear that ‘oooo-oooo” in the background of “Where is my Mind?” It’s haunting and adds a great contrast to Frank Black’s male, rock vocals. She was so good as a background singer that her style worked perfect for the lead in the indie-alt outfits of The Breeders and The Amps.
“Debaser” from Doolittle is as good example as any because it highlights her interesting voice in the spoken part – the early chorus – then her ethereal singing voice in the latter chorus.
Michael Stipe gets all the credit and definitely possesses one of the most unique vocal sounds in rock, but it is Mike Mills, looking like a 4th grade teacher, that adds something sublime. He plays bass, wears 80′s eyeglasses with thick lenses and is easy to overlook. Now listen closely. “The One I Love” comes alive, like most of their songs because Mills’ voice comes pre-packaged like a full chorus of fat women. It’s crazy.
“Orange Crush” is a pretty good example of Mills’ vocal contribution.
Am I crazy or do I have a point here? Who am I overlooking? Did I take this job just to earn a quick buck? Thoughts?