The Smiths are widely regarded as one of the most influential bands of the 1980s, thanks to their unique blend of indie rock, post-punk and jangle pop. But what made them stand out from their peers was not only Morrissey’s witty and melancholic lyrics, but also Andy Rourke’s funky and inventive basslines.
In this blog post, we will explore how Rourke’s bass playing contributed to the Smiths’ musical identity and legacy, and how you can apply his techniques to your own songs.
What made Andy Rourke’s basslines so special?
Andy Rourke joined the Smiths in 1982, after being recruited by his childhood friend Johnny Marr, the guitarist and co-songwriter of the band. Rourke had a background in funk and soul music, which influenced his style and approach to the bass.
Rourke’s basslines were characterized by:
- Using syncopation and groove to create rhythmic interest and contrast with Marr’s jangly guitar chords.
- Playing melodic hooks and counter-melodies that complemented Morrissey’s vocal lines and added depth and texture to the songs.
- Varying his tone and dynamics to suit the mood and atmosphere of each song, from warm and smooth to bright and punchy.
- Experimenting with different techniques, such as slapping, popping, hammer-ons, pull-offs, slides and harmonics.
Some examples of Rourke’s basslines that showcase his skills and creativity are:
This Charming Man
This Charming Man was the second single by the Smiths, released in 1983. It is one of their most popular and recognizable songs, featuring a catchy guitar riff by Marr and a witty lyric by Morrissey about a young man who is picked up by a wealthy older man.
Rourke’s bassline in this song is a masterpiece of syncopation and melody. He plays a series of eighth notes that accentuate the off-beats, creating a bouncy and energetic groove that contrasts with Marr’s steady guitar strumming. He also plays a memorable hook in the chorus that echoes Morrissey’s vocal melody, adding a layer of harmony and richness to the song.
Barbarism Begins at Home
Barbarism Begins at Home was the ninth track on the Smiths’ second album, Meat Is Murder, released in 1985. It is a long and complex song that deals with themes of child abuse, domestic violence and social conformity.
Rourke’s bassline in this song is a showcase of his funk influences and techniques. He plays a slap bass riff that drives the song forward with its percussive and rhythmic sound. He also uses hammer-ons, pull-offs and slides to create variations and embellishments on the riff. He also plays a solo in the middle of the song that demonstrates his virtuosity and flair.
I Want the One I Can’t Have
I Want the One I Can’t Have was the second track on the Smiths’ third album, The Queen Is Dead, released in 1986. It is a fast-paced and upbeat song that expresses Morrissey’s frustration and longing for an unattainable love interest.
Rourke’s bassline in this song is a perfect example of how he played counter-melodies that enhanced the songs. He plays a descending chromatic line that contrasts with Marr’s ascending guitar chords, creating tension and resolution in each verse. He also plays a high-pitched harmonic at the end of each chorus that adds a bright and sparkling touch to the song.
How can you learn from Andy Rourke’s basslines?
If you want to improve your bass playing and learn from Andy Rourke’s basslines, here are some tips you can follow:
- Listen to the Smiths’ songs carefully and try to figure out what Rourke is playing by ear or by using tabs or sheet music.
- Analyze how Rourke uses syncopation, melody, tone and dynamics to create interest and variety in his basslines.
- Practice playing along with the songs or with backing tracks to develop your groove, timing and feel.
- Experiment with different techniques, such as slapping, popping, hammer-ons, pull-offs, slides and harmonics, to expand your vocabulary and expressiveness on the bass.
- Try to write your own basslines using Rourke’s style as inspiration. Think about how you can create rhythmic contrast, melodic hooks and counter-melodies that suit the song you are working on.
Andy Rourke is one of the most underrated bass players of all time. His funky basslines elevated the Smiths to melodic genius and influenced generations of musicians. By studying his style and techniques, you can improve your own bass playing and create more interesting and original songs.
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