From Led Zeppelin to The Who: Rush’s Geddy Lee selects his 5 favourite bass songs
Some people are synonymous with their instrument. Hendrix and his guitar, Elton and his piano and Rush’s leading man Geddy Lee and his bass. We were thrilled then to see the singer reveal his five favourite bass songs of all time.
Rush are famed for their musicianship, their complex compositions often allowing the band to really open up on their lyrical themes of science fiction, fantasy and wider philosophies. A lot of this was driven by Geddy Lee and his nose for an unbelievable bassline.
“I can’t remember the first song I learned to play on bass, but the first song I learned to play on guitar was ‘For Your Love’ by the Yardbirds,” Lee once reflected on his early days in music. “That kind of was the beginning for me. I thought it was a great song and I loved the open chord progression at the beginning of that song.” From there, of course, he didn’t look back.
So when Rolling Stone asked the man himself to pick his five favourite bass-driven songs of all time we were thrilled. Lee, who conducted the interview ahead of the release of his new book all about the instrument called, Big Beautiful Book of Bass, was in a reflective mood about those pioneering musicians who helped shape his creative vision.
Below are Geddy Lee’s five favourite bass songs and what a wonderful list.
Geddy Lee’s 5 favourite bass songs:
The Who – ‘My Generation’
First up is The Who’s teen anthem, ‘My Generation’, released in 1966.
Arguably The Who’s most recognisable hit, ‘My Generation’ is widely regarded as one of the greatest rock and roll songs of all time and John Entwistle’s bass line comes in for high praise.
Discussing the track, Lee the magazine: “Seriously? A Pop song with bass solos? John ‘The Ox’ Entwistle was arguably the greatest rock bassist of them all, daring to take the role and sound of the bass guitar and push it out of the murky depths while strutting those amazing chops with his own kind of ‘Twang!'”
Cream – ‘Crossroads’ (Live)
For a serious musician, like Lee undoubtedly is, Cream must represent one of the peaks of the rock and roll generation.
Lee admits that the legendary Jack Bruce was a big influence on him: “Having seen Jack Bruce roam wildly up and down the neck of his Gibson EB3 in concert, I can testify that it not only made me want to play bass but play bass in a rock trio.”
‘Crossroads’ by Cream, which was originally recorded by the blues musician Robert Johnson in the 1930s, would go on to become a staple of the rock band’s live set. “Cream was a shambling circus of diverse personalities who happened to find that catalyst together,” Eric Clapton said in a statement after a previously unreleased live version was unearthed.
“Any one of us could have played unaccompanied for a good length of time. So you put the three of us together in front of an audience willing to dig it limitlessly, we could have gone on forever… And we did…. just going for the moon every time we played.”
Well it certainly did the trick for Geddy Lee.
Led Zeppelin – ‘What Is and What Should Never Be’
Up next, the songwriting duo of Jimmy Page and Robert Plant with Led Zeppelin’s 1969 effort ‘What Is and What Should Never Be’.
While Lee suggests: “There are so many songs I could choose from Zep that feature profound but understated bass playing,” and admits, “this one is my fave.” The band’s bassist is too often overlooked, fairly reasonable considering the band contained Jimmy Page, Robert Plant, and John Bonham.
Lee is here to appreciate the bassist: “The way John Paul Jones changes gear, holds down the heavy bottom and adds terrific melody throughout the song. He is such a fluid player and all-round musical talent.”
Yes – ‘Roundabout’
Fast forward three years from Led Zep, enter Jon Anderson and guitarist Steve Howe from the progressive rock band Yes
Like Led Zeppelin, Lee found a plethora of choice from the next band, Yes. He tells, RS: “I could have chosen any one of a dozen Yes songs that shows off the melodic and rhythmic genius that was Chris Squire. “It was a pure privilege to play this song with Yes in 2017 at their (long overdue) induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.”
While a song about roundabouts may not sound like the most exciting number in the world, Anderson once explained how he had smoked marijuana during the trip “so everything was vivid and mystical”.
“It was a cloudy day, we couldn’t see the top of the mountains,” he added. “We could only see the clouds because it was sheer straight up… I remember saying, ‘Oh, the mountains–look! They’re coming out of the sky!'”
Strong stuff, then.
Weather Report – ‘Teen Town’
Given the focus on bass lines, Lee turned his attention to pioneering jazz fusion band Weather Report for his final choice.
On his last selection, Lee reflects on the passing of some of the instrument’s greatest players: “Sadly, many of the bass heroes on this very short list are no longer with us. But no matter how short the list, Jaco Pastorius’ name would have to be on it.”
Lee picks the Jaco’s band Weather Report single ‘Teen Town’, which he says “has everything that Jaco’s genius stood for: profound complexity, incredible melodic structure, and terrific groove.”