16 February 2016

Riddim Killers, I

(or, Bass & Infrastructure, Installment the First)

And speaking of the Decades blogs, it looks like the time has come again; the time when one of the old inter-bloggal musical rifferama/shootout things gets underway. We’ve done riffs, intros, geetar solos, and drummige. And now it looks like Simon Reynolds has chosen this season’s topic -- bass!

Quite frankly, I had been waiting on this one some time ago. My own listening affinities have always tilted toward the low end. But still I think I might this one a bit challenging, given the fact that I a difficult time separating the bass out from its interlocking role in a given rhythm section as a whole.

To get the ball rolling, one of the first things that leaps to mind was prompted by my having recently seen the documentary The Wrecking Crew, which I deeply enjoyed. The thing was an endless parade of pop tunes I knew from my childhood in the early 1970s, lots of songs that were -- well before the advent of "Oldies” or "Classic Rock" radio formats -- still fairly ubiquitous at the time. What’s more, I was struck by the number of times I learned that specific parts of these tunes -- the instrumental hooks or portions that had first grabbed my ear, that had been my favorite part due to the way it made the tune exceptional or snappy, the parts that stood out and stuck with me -- were those parts executed by one or another of a network of (seldomly credited) studio musicians who played on countless West Coast sessions throughout the 1960s. Sometimes it was a guitar riff or what had been laid down by the drummer, but more frequently these tended to the bass parts. Once instance would be when Joe Osborn’s bass gallops ahead of the rest of the backing on the Fifth Dimension's version of "Let the Sunshine In." But most often it was the work of bassist Carol Kaye...

Soon as the film was over, I found myself picking through my record shelves, checking to see if any of the musicians in question turned up on certain favorite records. Sure enough, the first two I reached for featured Carol Kaye and "Wrecking Crew" drummer Earl Palmer, serving as the elegantly-played rhythmic backbone for the arrangements on David Axelrod's Songs of Innocence and Songs of Experience LPs...

Serge Gainsbourg and arranger Jean-Claude Vannier cooked up a similar type atmosphere a few years later on Gainsbourg’s album Historie de Melody Nelson, complete with a similarly laid-back, funky grooves from the sessions’ bassist and drummer...

More to come, naturally.

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