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Music

Tim Commerford's seven best basslines

Tim Commerford is one of the most well-respected bass players of the past 30 years. The muscle behind all of Rage Against the Machine’s (RATM) work, his style combines funk with a metal edge, and his dynamism is what gave the rest of the band the room to flourish. His link-ups with drummer Brad Wilk are legendary, and together they helped to define what a rhythm section could and should be in the modern era.

Whether it be on his Fender Jazz bass or Music Man StingRay, Commerford has given us countless iconic basslines over the years. It’s a testament to his style and skill that as soon as one of his songs comes on the airwaves, you instantly know it’s him.

His idols include Kiss’s Gene Simmons, Sid Vicious of Sex Pistols, Steve Harris of Iron Maiden and Geddy Lee of Rush, and it is fair to say that he has not let his idols down. He’s cultivated a style over the years that is so influential, you hear his work across alternative music today.

Commerford first met future Rage Against the Machine bandmate, Zack de la Rocha, in fifth grade and it would be the future RATM frontman who first introduced him to the bass. Enduring much trauma as a young man, including his parent’s divorce, abuse from his father, and his mother’s death from brain cancer when he was only 20 in 1988, Commerford found an outlet in music and poetry.

He first played bass in the band Juvenile Expression. Afterwards, he played in the Los Angeles metal band, Lock Up, where he really cut his teeth, and the lineup also included future Rage Against the Machine guitarist, Tom Morello.

When Lock Up split in 1991, Commerford and de la Rocha started jamming with Morello. They then called in Wilk who had unsuccessfully auditioned for Lock Up, and before too long, they were Rage Against the Machine. They quickly began turning heads on the Los Angeles scene and were signed to Epic Records in 1992.

That same year, they released their eponymous debut album, and the rest was history. Seemingly overnight, Commerford had established himself as one of the most essential and unique bass players of all time, inspiring legions in the process. 

Rage Against the Machine then released three more albums before splitting up, and afterwards, Commerford played in the supergroup, Audioslave, alongside Morello and Wilk and fronted by the late Soundgarden frontman Chris Cornell. Since then, he’s performed with Future User, Wakrat and rap-rock titans, Prophets of Rage, alongside Wilk, Morello, Chuck D and B-Real. To our delight, Commerford is now back with Rage Against the Machine who reunited for the second time in 2019.

A heavyweight of bass playing, join us as we list Tim Commerford’s five best basslines. A word of warning, they all came in Rage Against the Machine.

Tim Commerford’s best basslines:

‘Bombtrack’ – Rage Against the Machine (1992)

What a brilliant album opener. It draws you in with the muted progression before it absolutely explodes with de la Rocha’s primal grunt. Whilst there’s so much to love about this track, including Tom Morello’s guitar work, it has to be Commerford’s bass work that steals the show.

Just how about those bar chords he delivers during the main phrase? Muscly, angry and infused with the power of hardcore punk, there’s no surprise why ‘Bombtrack’ is lauded by bass players everywhere. Commerford fuses the strength of his punk edge with a musical tact, and the funky verses are vintage RATM.

‘Killing in the Name’ – Rage Against the Machine (1992)

No list of Tim Commerford basslines would be complete without 1992’s ‘Killing in the Name’. It was the track that introduced both the band and Commerford to the world. Heavy, sprawling, and topped with a killer groove, Commerford perfectly ballasts Morello’s work on this hit.

For both guitar players, it’s a multi-faceted performance, with many different parts, but Commerford has to get credit for the way he glues the track together, and that little run he does in the second verse is pure genius. He dovetails with both Morello and Wilk, crossing every inch of the fretboard, giving the track its beating heart.

‘Take the Power Back’ – Rage Against the Machine (1992)

‘Take the Power Back’ makes a strong claim for being Tim Commerford’s best bassline. The way it starts, by teasing you with the two-note hit, is a stroke of simple but effective musicianship. Furthermore, the atmosphere that Commerford creates at the start by leaving space in between each play of the main riff, is just so good.

On the track, you hear the other three members take more of a backseat, allowing Commerford to do his thing and blow us away. A masterclass in slap bass, this is a must-learn for budding bassists everywhere.

‘Wake Up’ – Rage Against the Machine (1992)

The seventh track on Rage Against the Machine’s debut, I’d argue that this is their ultimate song. Expansive, dynamic and in your face, it’s quintessential RATM. The bassline between the introduction and the main riff that Commerford delivers is stellar, and it weaves the song together like a silver thread.

His work here is atmospheric but punchy, and across the song’s enthralling six minutes, it is Commerford who’s pulling the strings. He lets Morello do his bit with his wah pedal, and then pulls us in for the meaty riff before the breakdown. His work here is perfect.

‘Bulls on Parade’  – Evil Empire (1996)

The first single from RATM’s second album, ‘Bulls on Parade’, didn’t disappoint when released. A ramped-up bassline on Commerford’s part, you see his bass playing gets taken to the next level here. Heavy as hell, the clank of his strings give the song an extra rhythmic edge, and added to his use of distortion, Commerford had augmented his formula.

Angrier than his work on the band’s first album, the slight bends he plays in the chorus create a tension that’s so tangible it has you wanting to break something. If you’re a bass player and want to learn how to create a heavy dose of tension, this is the lesson for you.

‘Down Rodeo’ – Evil Empire (1996)

A fan favourite of RATM’s ‘Down Rodeo’ is perhaps the best track on Evil Empire. Here, Commerford dovetails with Tom Morello, creating a heady but visceral listening experience. Of course, his use of fret harmonics is iconic, as is his off-beat, G-funk inspired work in the chorus.

There’s an argument to be made that this is actually Commerford’s bassline, as it goes one step further than his work on ‘Take the Power Back’’, and is the most high-octane that he’s ever released. Creating tension again, and helping to add an edge to the beat. This is how the bass should be played. It’s full-frontal and belligerent, and we’re here for it. 

‘Calm Like a Bomb’ – The Battle of Los Angeles (1999)

The song where Commerford really arrived with the wah pedal, it would have been wrong to have not included this. Noisy as hell, this is the song where Commerford really pushed his bass playing to the limits. He and Morello deliver an effects-laden soundscape, and the way that it manages to not overpower the rest of the music really is quite something.

Brilliantly, Commerford also works on the off-beat for a lot of ‘Calm Like a Bomb’, giving de la Rocha’s vocals the space to throw down some lyrical vitriol.