Singers and guitarists get all the love and everyone knows the coolest member of any band is inevitably the drummer, which brings us to bassists: the often-overlooked — but fundamental — cogs in the rock & roll machine. Some are shrinking flowers who prefer to remain in the background while others stand loud and proud at the front of the stage — but all provide their own key elements that form the concrete foundation for any good, heavy groove. From the doomy, jazz-tinged stylings of Black Sabbath's Geezer Butler to the cocksure riffing of Motörhead's Lemmy Kilmister, here are the top five fan favorite four-string heroes.
Peter Steele might be better known for his larger-than-life stature, raw sexual magnetism and deep hypnotic croon, but the late Type O Negative frontman is also still remembered for his skillful mastery of the bass. Without the rumbling, fuzzy bottom-end of the group's sensual paeans to romance, women, passion and death, the gothic rockers wouldn't be nearly the enticingly dark idols we recall so fondly today. Also never forget Steele's ability to pick up an upright bass and pluck away as if nothing about the situation was out of the ordinary.
Fact: Lemmy is God, and his style of playing bass irrevocably changed the landscape of rock and heavy metal forever. The Motörhead frontman's tilted mic and iconic style combined with the outline of his famous Rickenbacker came together to create something larger than the sum of its parts, and something perhaps larger than the man himself. Lemmy gets bonus points for normalizing the bass solo as well, a trick still vastly underutilized by rhythm sections today.
Beyond being Iron Maiden's primary songwriter, Steve Harris has a true mastery over his bass guitar, able to provide basslines as memorable as the guitarists' riffs. His bass is just as important and runs independently in cuts like "The Trooper," galloping his own path through songs in a way that vastly improves the overall composition. Very easily, Harris can add a multitude of affectation to his playing, making his bass sound foreboding or creepy, before the band jams into a huge section of a song.
What would heavy metal look like without the influence of Geezer Butler's basswork? In the context of the 1970s, absolutely nothing sounded like the menacing lower end of Black Sabbath. Butler realized the power of sometimes less meaning more, allowing his bass to hang over songs to cast a cloud of sound, and follow up with a more intricate bassline. It would not be an overstatement to say he is responsible for the birth of doom metal, and all its intricacies.
The stunning truth of Cliff Burton's limitless talent helped lead Metallica through their greatest years and established their far-reaching fame and influence. As well as being the band's spiritual center, he could unleash thrashing riffs as easily as he could lead you on an epic sonic journey (See: "Anesthesia [Pulling Teeth]" or "Orion"). It's hard to believe such a legend died at only 24 years old way back in 1986, but it's a testament to his true skill and finesse that his brief years writing and playing music left such an indelible legacy that continues to inspire today's generation of learning bassists.