This is part of my Bass Guitar Syllabus post where I recommend the things you need to learn to become a good musician.
These albums will give you a lifetime's worth of inspiration and material to practise, transcribe, and learn from. It's by no means a best albums list! These are albums I've been inspired by over the years and I know I have a lot more to discover.
Listening to music (for the pure joy of it) should be the cornerstone of your practice. It is what informs everything that you are about as a musician; firing your passion, inspiring you to open new doors, and, ultimately, to become a great bass player.
There are twenty one categories with two albums to listen to. It's not in any order but I do recommend you listen to albums you've never heard of or perhaps wouldn't have thought of listening to. Inspiration sometimes comes from the most unlikely of sources.
1.To Learn About Modes
Modes are just scales and they're used to create colour and emotion in music. Learn your major and minor scales but then enter the wonderful world of modes. These two albums helped me to get my ear around some of them.
Satriani uses modes in a rock context to create space-inspired worlds. Stu Hamm's playing on this is divine.
2.To Learn About Riffs & The Minor Pentatonic Lesson
These two albums are excellent examples of simple notes played with force and creativity. A riff is a small repeating pattern usually found in rock music. These two albums use the minor pentatonic scale a lot (pus the Dorian mode in Blood Sugar Sex Magik).
Blood Sugar Sex Magik
Funk riffs played with attitude and plenty of articulations and groove.
Rage Against The Machine
One of the best rock riff albums of all time.
3.To Learn Walking Bass Lines
Walking bass lines are a specialised form of bass line requiring a good knowledge of chord tones (arpeggios) and a great sense of rhythm. Outlining the chord changes is a fantastic skill to learn.
Walking In Space
Ray Brown is masterful on this Quincy Jones album. Killer Joe is a highlight and a standard well worth knowing.
Kind Of Blue
Miles Davis' modal jazz album features again with Paul Chambers walking with authority and clarity throughout. Double bass players - especially from this era - are the original pioneers of the walking bass line.
4.To Learn About TASTE
Tone, timing, and taste are the three 'T's that, I believe, make a great bass player. Play a simple bass line with groove, feel, sumptuous tone, and - provided the note selection is tasteful - you have a great bass line. It sounds simple but it does take a while to develop taste (one thing should be to reduce the number of notes you play). These two albums are full of tasteful bass playing; an element you should think about when taking your playing to the next level.
Secret World Live
Tony Levin epitomises tone, timing, and taste like no other player. This album (and the live concert) is my favourite example of tasteful bass playing.
Anything Meshell plays seems to exude an easy groove and every note sounds just right. This is a classic bass album.
5. Rock Bass Albums
Rock is about attitude, gnarly tone, and energy. The instruments are as much a part of the action as are the lyrics and the vocalist.
Led Zeppelin II
John Paul Jones shows great technical facility and monster tone on his 1961 Fender Jazz bass.
Journey Greatest Hits Live
This is pop rock at its best. The bass lines straddle between well crafted pop and raucous rock.
Music can be hard to categorise and, to be honest, I'm not that bothered about genre. Metal and grunge tend to be heavier than standard rock, with grunge leaning closer towards punk. I'm with Miles Davis when he said, 'Good music is good no matter what kind of music it is'.
Master Of Puppets
Cliff Burton's playing on this is raw and, at times, virtuosic.
Zingy, plectrum driven bass tone played with energy and a loose, exciting feel.
7. Progressive Rock
Some people dismiss prog as when maths meet music but they don't know anything! It's awesome and if you want a challenge, you should study it. Modes, challenging time signatures, speedy passages; prog has it all.
Geddy Lee's playing is dextrous, creative, and I don't know how he sings at the same time!
Images and Words
This early '90s album is Dream Theater's most mainstream album and an easy gateway into progressive rock. John Myung's playing is relentless.
Another genre that's often sneered at, country bass playing is surprisingly hard to play authentically. There's a spirit that needs to be present when you play country music and simple note selection (often root five) involves discipline and good taste.
Country music doesn't have to be simple. It's a huge industry that attracts the cream of the crop and the playing on this is insane!
Glen Campbell was a session guitarist before achieving worldwide fame as a solo artist. This album is a good one to teach you how to play for the song; the central focus of country bass playing. It's all about the story and lyrics which requires solid, supportive bass playing.
Reggae sounds like it should be easy to play but replicating the deep tone and playing with a relaxed, behind the beat feel is anything but. Immerse yourself in these two albums to soak up the vibe.
George "Fully" Fullwood provides a masterclass in understated, simple but strong ideas.
An essential reggae album from the most famous artist of them all.
Pop bass lines are about the hook. The line needs to groove, be interesting, and contain some form of melody whilst also being understated and out of the way of the vocals. It's not as easy as it seems.
The biggest selling album of all time for a reason. The playing and songwriting are stellar all the way through the record.
Songs In The Key Of Life
Not a weak link on this album! Classic bass lines to learn include Sir Duke - the pentatonic finger twister!
11. Neo Soul
Neo soul is a genre that draws on a rainbow of musical styles. It's a bassist's dream and similar to gospel in its genre defying songs.
A groundbreaking album with greasy behind the beat grooves made famous by Pino Palladino and Raphael Saadiq.
Such a good album it features twice (it's also some of the most tasteful bass playing ever). Meshell is a genius.
12. Hip Hop
There's no Hip Hop without funk and as such, there are many moments for us bass players to shine. The grooves are hypnotic, strong, and often the basis of the song.
Sparse grooves full of economy and swagger. Mike Elizondo is on this album and has played on loads of hip hop songs.
Hip hop bass lines tend to be repetitive and fairly simple to play (although not easy to make GROOVE). Everyday People is a great example of a line that achieves it all.
One of my favourite genres. The blend of live and programmed instruments is exciting and in the case of Tom Jenkinson (Squarepusher), downright jaw dropping.
Great writing and playing. The bass is central to everything in The Egg.
This album showcases Tom Jenkinson's virtuosic chops and unique writing skills. A true bass genius.
So much of soul bass playing comes from the blues and is still relevant in modern music. This is an important genre to know about, full of bass legends and pioneers.
Full of flatwound + Fender Precision bass tone goodness. That and awesome songs.
In The Midnight Hour
Solid, foundational bass playing full of hooks and memorable lines.
Motown and soul go hand in hand and perhaps the greatest player of them all was famous for helping create hit after hit.
What's Going On
Is Whats Going On the best bass line of all time? Maybe! Check this isolated bass line out.
Supremes A Go Go
Loads of iconic songs on this album... James Jamerson proves he was and still is the master.
The genre that all subsequent music stemmed from. The importance of blues in music cannot be understated and, in my opinion, it's worth immersing yourself in simply to understand so many songs. The feel, attitude, and groove found in blues is also something worth adding to your playing. Blues scales alone are an invaluable contribution.
Live in San Diego
Any album with Willie Weeks on bass is worthy of your serious attention.
Fantastic album by the most famous of modern blues artists.
Funk is to bass players what french cooking is to chefs. It's THE genre for bass players! I love it so much I wrote a whole book on the subject: 100 Funk Bass Grooves.
Just A Touch Of Love
Mark Adams' isn't the most well known player but he was extremely influential and an outrageously talented bass player. Attitude, articulation, and groove explode from every bass line on this album.
Early funk from some of the pioneers of the genre.
Jazz is a rich genre which requires skill and study to play well. For those reasons, it's a great one for you to concentrate on as you will learn so much. It's an acquired taste but I urge you to acquire it!
Kind Of Blue
The great double bass player Paul Chambers anchors this album but it's an essential listen for us electric players too.
I literally could have chosen any from hundreds of great albums. Christian McBride's improvisation and walking bass lines on this album are simply incredible.
19. Jazz Funk
A sub genre of jazz, jazz funk is a genre where some of the best bass players in the world reside.
100° And Rising
This British combo has been creating funky music for decades. The cream of British bass crop have passed through their ranks over that time.
Try playing Leland Sklar's bass line on Stratus. It's fantastic for working on stamina.
20. Jazz Fusion
Another off shoot of the early jazz of the 1920s and beyond, fusion gave the world Jaco Pastorius, another of the all time greats of our instrument.
This live album captures Jaco at the height of his powers and there are too many highlights to mention. Just listen to the whole thing!
Anthony Jackson can play anything. Listen to his playing on Chaka Khan's album Naughty then listen to Night Sprite. His plectrum fuelled intro is amazing.
Jazz often borrows heavily from exotic sources (to Western ears anyway) . Peter Gabriel and Paul Simon are two artists also influenced by world music (listen to Peter Gabriel 3:Melt, and Graceland).
Ju Ju Music
The feel and the beat placement is unmistakably African even though this album blends the continent's roots with Western pop.
Live…One Summer Night
Paco De Lucia's playing is astonishing and flamenco music can only transport you to one region. That's the power of music!
To learn more about what to learn and why head to Bass Guitar Syllabus.
P.S. I use Spotify as it's great for listening and for education. However, I'm not a huge fan of their revenue model and the fact that their deals don't financially reflect the money artists should be earning from streaming. I know I'm part of the problem using them but it's just too good for education!
Point being, be aware that if you want to support an artist, buy from them direct. See if they're on Bandcamp (who do things properly), or buy their merchandise etc. We have to support our artists!