I know I’m all about that bass, are you? Nothing gets a party started like fat sub-bass.
From Hip Hop music to Electronic Rock, to Mumble Rap, a thundering bass with strong low frequencies is a common element for the best bass songs.
A great bass line is at home in any kind of music though, not just bass music and electronic music. Basses originate from the 16th century, with evidence of the first double bass style instruments being used in 1516. Obviously, they weren’t making a heavy electronic track with their instruments, but humans have always had a deep connection with bass. There’s just some indescribable satisfaction that’s achieved through listening to a sub.
I’ve been going through the sonic archives to find the best bass-heavy songs.
This includes some new songs and some classics throughout history. Ok, I’ll admit, the first few tracks won’t be what you expect, coming from the classical era. But these ancient basslines influenced everything that came later. There would be no filthy 808 sub-bass trap beats without Beethoven’s classic string quartet arrangements.
If you’re a bass guitarist, you might be interested in our Best Bass Guitar post, where we try to find the sweetest electric bass guitar on the market.
(Don’t panic, only the first 2 songs are old classical ones, all the rest are more modern!)
Table of Content
- Beethoven String Quartet No 15 in A minor – Op.132 V. Allegro appassionato
- Pachelbel – Canon in D
- Donna Summer – I Feel Love
- Amerie – 1 Thing
- Yung Lean – Hoover
- XXXTENTACION – “R.I.P ROACH DA EAST SIDE SOULJA”
- Young MC – Bust a Move
- La Roux – ‘In For The Kill’ Skrillex Remix
- La Roux – ‘In for The Kill” Skream Remix
- Dead Prez – Hip Hop
- Daft Punk – Da Funk
- Imagine Dragons – Radioactive
- David Guetta – Bass Line
- Michael Jackson – Smooth Criminal
- Kanye West – Mercy
- Linkin Park – Papercut
- Lil Jon & The East Side Boyz – “What U Gon’ Do”
1 Beethoven String Quartet No 15 in A minor – Op.132 V. Allegro appassionato
Ok, I know this first track isn’t bass-heavy by today’s standards, but the cello arrangement for this classical string quartet song was out there for its time.
This song demonstrates how to compose bass lines that interlink well with other melodic instruments.
These quartets were written in Beethoven’s later years, as his mental state deteriorated and he fell into insanity and dementia. At the time he was laughed at for writing these, although now they’re considered some of his greatest compositions of all time. The low-end arrangements are very forward-thinking, if you listen carefully you can hear how his bass writing has bled into the waters of music forever, influencing even modern basslines.
Even the most aggressive gangsta basses of today owe their lives to Beethoven’s specter.
Its flow is subtle, but moments of clear and pernicious intention can be heard.
Much like controversial artists of today, like Skrillex and other foul dubstep producers, Beethoven’s compositions were outside the comprehension of his musical audience at the time. Being reviewed as “indecipherable, uncorrected horrors”.
This was a writer on his deathbed, what left did he have to lose? This was risky music for its time, had he released it earlier in his career, he could have been mocked to destitution. Thankfully his impending death freed him to write this important suite of music.
2 Pachelbel – Canon in D
I promise this is the last antique on this list… This harmonious baroque tune is commonly associated with weddings, and you might be asking, why is this included next to Skrillex?
This is one of the original, “bassline” songs. Much of the song revolves around the simple underpinning bass progression.
The clean, hypnotic, repetitive bassline serves as the foundation for the rest of the music to grow from. The bass and cello lines are the earth or soil, holding the ground together for the flowers and plants (violins, violas) to grow.
For its time, this was a very bass-heavy song, and I believe its arrangement style has influenced many contemporary songs, whether consciously or not. The whole lyrical rhythm of the track is underpinned by the mechanical pizzicato plucks of a double bass.
Whilst I doubt Pachelbel was throwing bass-heavy yard parties in 1680, the construction of this song revolves around the driving bassline, which has inspired even the most aggressive bass-heavy sound system dubstep tracks.
3 Donna Summer – I Feel Love
Getting close to the modern-day, this song has an iconic arpeggiated synth bassline that’s moved the feet of club-goers for nearly 50 years.
Revolutionary for its time, this rolling arp bass was created with several layered bass synths and constitutes the main driving force of the song.
Hitting on each 16th note, this is a compelling bass riff beat that sucks the listener in and carries them through time, into the future.
The bass is followed by a grinding, simplistic drum beat, basically just a kick drum and hi-hats, some chords, and lyrics sung by Donna Summer.
This tune came around in the early days of what we would now recognise as the night club scene. Influenced by electronic music, drum machines, and synthesizers, this roller has come to influence many, many artists. Tonnes of house and techno tracks revolve around the bassline concept of this song, the driving 16th notes with a 4/4 kick. It is an untenable groove. The bass riff isn’t as low-end or sub heavy as todays standards, but is a great track to listen to for bass inspiration.
4 Amerie – 1 Thing
This is different to the other songs on this list, coming from a more RnB Background. The bassline is fairly minimal, only coming in with the bass drum.
The low end on this track is sculpted extremely well. The kick drum pattern keeps a groovy role throughout the whole track, the perfect underlayer for the emotional, driving vocals.
The bass sound itself is relatively high, mixed in with stabs from an acoustic piano and guitar. This simple arrangement has a humble, heavy bass that demonstrates how restraint can be more effective than bombast.
Each subsequent bass hit is a different pitch, subtly reinforcing the conflicting emotional feel. This isn’t a filth machine-like Skrillex or other dubstep artists, but the bass end of this song has an understated swagger to it. All the instrumental elements of this song convey and amplify the meaning of the lyrics.
5 Yung Lean – Hoover
Referencing the Iconic “hoover” bass sounds from 90’s rave music, this track has a dark thundering, explosive bass. It’s a growler for sure. This blown-out, the broken-sounding bassline has a satisfying warmth and fullness to it. The massive amount of distortion gives it an ambiguous, unique sound where it seems to blend with other elements of the track.
This uses fairly simplistic melodic elements, only shifting between a few notes, very slowly. This bass essentially acts as a legato, supporting the faster percussion beats. The drums use a slowed break pattern, similar to the Amen Break, but sequenced on an electronic drum machine, maybe an 808, for a more modern sound. Listen to this short, but punchy song on a subwoofer and you will not be disappointed. You can feel the low end move the hairs on your arms.
6 XXXTENTACION – “R.I.P ROACH DA EAST SIDE SOULJA”
This is an aggressive Trap or Drill beat. Not for the faint-hearted. The bassline in this track is truly nasty. Super blown out and distorted, it sounds like a synth bass runs through 10 fuzz pedals and 5 brick wall limiters. It’s absolutely flat-line destroyed.
Fuzzy, and growling, the rhythmic and melodic arrangement of the bass are fairly sparse and simplistic, sticking to the same note. The interest comes from the uniquely aggressive timbre.
Although this bass is super distorted, it doesn’t have a huge amount of subs behind it, coming in as more of a low-mid bass, the saturation and distortion pull its focus up into the mid ranges a bit more. Despite this, this is still an excellent, heavy bassline that is bound to get you an ASBO if you’re not careful!
7 Young MC – Bust a Move
Released in 1989, this funky hip-hop beat has a classic bass guitar riff accompanied by dirty drum break grooves, rap, and sexy female backing vocals.
The bassline in this song is more traditional than others on this list, sounding like an amped electric bass guitar recorded with microphones. Perhaps the bass was run into a sampler of the day, like an MPC60, for some extra, lo-fi crunch. Listening to this bass you can hear some use of the slap bass playing technique, where the strings are plucked aggressively for a chunkier, twangier, more percussive bass sound.
This is a good track for testing bass out on new speakers. If this song doesn’t sound good, you’re not listening on the right device!
8 La Roux – ‘In For The Kill’ Skrillex Remix
Skrillex, love him or hate him, he knows his s**t when it comes to creating basslines.
A dark master of sub-bass, Skrillex remixes the classic La Roux track into a bubbling, futuristic, stimulating dubstep wobbler.
This has the monster sub wobble basses that Skrillex is known for. The amount of detail and effort put into these electronic basslines is second to none.
I remember when Skrillex’s first album ‘Scary Monster and Nice Sprites’ came out. It was a game-changer. Obviously, my parents and lots of my friends hated it. But it sounded like the future of music to me, I didn’t understand how he’d make all these epic, psychedelic digital sounds, coming from a “band” background.
Anyone who is interested in bass, or electronic music production, should study Skrillex’s techniques. Even if you’re not a fan of his music, there is a huge amount of skill involved that lots of people underestimate. The music is “horrible” in a way, it creates a visceral reaction, that tears at your guts, like being on a rollercoaster as it goes over the peak. There are tonnes of Skrillex tracks that could have made this list
9 La Roux – ‘In for The Kill” Skream Remix
I know it’s the same song, but both of these dubstep remixes are great for testing out the bass and subs on speakers. Skream is a master of the deep bass genre, so it’s worth mentioning this epic playlist of Skream’s bass music.
This is more of a traditional dubstep remix, not fully “traditional”, but closer in style to the “Dub” elements that gave dubstep its name, from modern dubstep labels like Deep Medi.
This favors much cleaner sub-bass than the Skrillex remix. Where Skrillex was rude, in your face, and aggressive, Skream is much more restrained, refined. This has a very smooth-sounding, sine-Esque wobbling bass. The Filter movement and progression of the bassline gives this song a nostalgic, bittersweet, almost risky feeling, as it feels like the whole track is pushed to the limit, seconds away from bursting into flames. The final chorus of this track overlays a classic drum break, giving this beat a driving, compulsive groove.
It’s interesting to listen and compare Skrillex and Skreams remixes, as two artists playing with the same genre. You can hear the difference in their techniques and approaches. It’s interesting how two dubstep producers can remix the same song but create two completely different tracks.
10 Dead Prez – Hip Hop
This is another classic icon of Hip Hop Bass Lines.
This is a serious-sounding, spine-tingling, yet minimalistic bassline.
With a hollow, needle-square-sounding bass synth, this simplistic bassline keeps a straight groove through the whole track. The other sounds in the track playoff this emotional, all-encompassing bass line.
The closer you listen to this track, the more minimalistic you realize it is. Other than the vocals, the only elements are the bass, drums, shaker, and the odd sound effect. This shows the power of a well-made bass, it really is all you need to groove. There isn’t even much progression in the bass pattern, it’s basically the same 2 bar loop for the whole track, with elements of the arrangement coming in and out. That being said, this can through its weight around on the dancefloor.
This kind of lo-fi hip hop is a fascinating cultural movement, as it shows the democratization of music production. As the tools and gear became more accessible, it opened up production to people with working-class finances, allowing the poorer classes to express themselves and reach a wider audience.
11 Daft Punk – Da Funk
Daft Punk has so many classic bass lines in their music it was hard to pick one.
In reality, you could expect to see most Daft Punk tracks taking a place in this list, as they are known to make some of the best bass songs and dance floor moving bangers.
Each Daft Punk bassline is as glorious as the next, but one of my favorites is from their earlier years, “Da Funk” from 1997. This catchy tune is a club dancefloor destroyer.
This contains a few basslines, but the acid bass around 2min is next level. This squelchy, compelling ear ripper of a heavy bass is one of my favorite lines ever. It sounds like a Roland TB-303 on steroids.
Daft Punk has proved their mastery of electronic music even in these early days, where gear was difficult, and modern production techniques were just being born.
Daft Punk is some of the best role models when it comes to basslines. Have you heard one Daft Punk bassline that didn’t make you want to dance? I didn’t think so.
Other bass classics from the French disco warlords include Around the World, Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger, and Voyager
12 Imagine Dragons – Radioactive
This emotional song from Imagine Dragons differs in style from the typical bass-heavy tune, however, it has a modern classic bassline.
Super distorted wobbly overdriven bass. It sounds like a sub-heavy synth, being slammed through a tonne of distortion pedals, then given a wob-wob filter LFO effect. This is a very well-designed bass and you can hear that a lot of work has gone into it to make it so perfect. It packs a unique blend of clean, low end that ties the song together, mixed with some dirty, gritty mids, that enhances the dangerous feel of the track.
This takes inspiration from electronic genres like dubstep and Drum n Bass but packages it into more commercial, radio-friendly vibes. This has been one of the biggest hits in recent years, showing a new style of the band, blending pop vocals with modern, electronic sound design techniques. Imagine Dragons have many other great bass songs, including collaborations with other musicians.
13 David Guetta – Bass Line
This is a classic 2011 David Guetta big room dance beat. This is a very modern, electronic track, heavy on synthesizers and crazy, futuristic sound design. The carnival horn builds tension until the funky drop.
The bassline itself has a wonky, booty-shaking rhythm that sounds like it takes some influence from Afro-Cuban clave music, with the swinging, offbeat feel.
This track features explosive, rude basslines designed for massive, euphoric, night-long parties.
The main drop of this track is fairly minimalistic, with just the kick drum and a squelchy bass line accompanied by the carnival horn, slowly building with rolling percussion and drum breaks. This song is a fantastic club banger from David Guetta with some great synth and bass action.
Halfway through the track, we get some euphoric, nostalgic progressive trance synth chords that build up, slamming back into the bass-heavy groove. This track is a buzz for sure! Definitely a catchy tune for parties.
14 Michael Jackson – Smooth Criminal
Old, but gold, Smooth Criminal by the King of Pop Michael Jackson has one of the most iconic bass lines ever. It may not be as heavy as modern standards, but the bassline in this track is one of the most classic bass lines ever. The lyrics and vocals have an interesting groove relationship with the bass and beats. This original song has come to influence many popular artists over time.
This isn’t an organic bassline, it wasn’t played on a guitar. This was done using some kind of synth or sampler, It almost sounds like a Synclavier to me, it has such a funky, unique sound you can’t resist moving your head to the beat. Even for its time on a decent pair of headphones, you can hear the thick low end that’s been slamming out of sound systems in yard parties since 1988. Of course, Annie will be ok when she hears this bass!
15 Kanye West – Mercy
Mercy is an iconic gangsta bass song from the king of rap music Kanye West, featuring legends Big Sean, Pusha T, and 2 Chainz. This song combines a neurotic, distorted keys riff that hypnotizes. The bassline is low, sub-heavy, and sublime, sounding like some kind of 808 basses. The bass merges perfectly with the kick, without interrupting the groove. The bassline of this song rolls all the way through, accompanied by the straight 808 hi-hats and snare groove.
The subs on this song are super heavy, this is one of the best bass songs for testing out bassy speakers.
Halfway through the song a new bass appears, this is more electronic sounding, somewhere between a saw and square bass. You can hear some trance/techno inspirations in the second bassline, with its off-beat to the kick, donk feel.
16 Linkin Park – Papercut
Linkin Park is a modern “Rock” band that takes influences from rock, metal, and hardcore music, and blends them with more modern electronic influences like hip hop and rap.
Papercut is a great track, with an emotional, heavy beat. The drums are a combo of acoustic drums and samples. The heavy, metallic chugging guitar riffs support the aggressive rap-style vocals. The chorus of this track features iconic riffs and explosive bass parts, with more harmonic, slower backing vocals. Linkin Park has several great basslines, this was my favorite.
17 Lil Jon & The East Side Boyz – “What U Gon’ Do”
This gangsta party song from Lil Jon & The East Side Boyz has all the bass needed to get the club popping. This is one of the best songs to play on a stereo system with good bass. The kick drum is super tight with a fat amount of subs. This track has a great mix for sure. The fat, sub-heavy sawtooth bass is at the center stage of this track. Influenced by dancehall grooves, this bouncy beat from Lil Jon and the gang are going to put that subwoofer to the test.
With gangsta rap lyrics and a grinding groove, the bass riff in this tune will keep party goings dancing all night!
This concludes our best bass-heavy songs list. I think all these songs are important in the cultural development of bass sounds.
If you are a producer or musician these songs are great to study to learn about creating a good relationship between bases and other instruments.
If you’re a bassist, you might be looking for the best fretless bass for a new interesting instrument, or maybe some of the best bass guitar pickups.