10 Greatest Slap Bass Lines Of All Time
Every bass player dreams of playing those funky slap bass lines with a killer sound. The slap bass technique changes the sound of the bass guitar with a distinct percussive sound that couldn’t be achieved by picking or plucking the strings. There are many iconic songs with amazing slap bass lines.
The killer slap bass technique was invented in the late 60s when Larry Graham with Sly & The Family Stone deployed the technique in their recordings and live performances to create more funky and percussive sounds from his bass guitar. The slap bass technique is essentially thumping a string with your thumb with hammer-ons and pull-offs. This way, you get that cold and metallic percussive sound from the instrument that dramatically changes the instrument’s sound.
From Marcus Miller to Red Hot Chili Peppers’ Flea, many iconic bassists use the technique regularly. So, here are some of the best slap bass lines of all time.
- 1. Graham Central Station – Hair
- 2. Marcus Miller – Detroit
- 3. Level 42 – Mr. Pink
- 4. Victor Wooten – You Can’t Hold No Groove
- 5. Red Hot Chili Peppers – Higher Ground
- 6. Graham Central Station – Pow
- 7. Michael Jackson – Get On The Floor
- 8. Patrice Rushen – Forget Me Nots
- 9. Marcus Miller – Run For Cover
- 10. Victor Wooten – Classical Thump
1. Graham Central Station – Hair
When talking about slap bass lines, the first artist to come to mind is Larry Graham, the inventor of the slap bass technique. His band Graham Central Station’s 1974 song “Hair” is considered one of the most challenging slap bass lines ever. The riff is a milestone in bass history with the melodic approach, bass thumps, and unique lines.
The riff is one of the funkiest bass lines ever. It uses different rhythm patterns, great slaps, a surprise half-time feel, and many other techniques. Graham’s tone is also worth talking about, as it is highly funky to make the snap and pop sounds stand out. It is a great riff to learn and add to the repertoire for an experienced bass guitarist. For beginners, it is perhaps way too difficult.
2. Marcus Miller – Detroit
Marcus Miller is one of the most talented bass players of all time with his outstanding technique and innovative approach. In his tune “Detroit,” you can see his amazing talent and hard work as he plays the funky riff, articulating the notes hard to add punch and percussiveness to the song.
The riff is so amazing, with mutes, hammer-ons, pull-offs, bends, slides, and everything. It is as funky and percussive as it can be and requires very high control of the instrument to play. Miller uses many different rhythmic and melodic approaches to play the riff, which makes it quite unique.
In short, this is one of the best bass riffs ever written, with its unique approach and high elegance, and challenging technique to play.
3. Level 42 – Mr. Pink
Mark King of Level 42 is another bass guitar virtuoso who surprises the audience every time he plays. His brilliant slap bass line in the song “Mr. Pink” is one of the funkiest and fastest bass riffs ever. It sounds great with slaps, syncopated rhythms, a locomotive feel, and lots of muted palm slaps.
The riff features a very characteristic approach by Mark King, who is considered the king of slap bass. He uses traditional slaps, left-hand palm slaps, and pops to create the riff, and all of them are played very quickly. The result is an amazingly funky and percussive sound. It is a highly challenging riff to play and requires an advanced timing sense and technique.
4. Victor Wooten – You Can’t Hold No Groove
Victor Wooten is one of the most unique bass players with his innovative approach and self-developed techniques. The bass line of “You Can’t Hold No Groove” is the perfect example to see how he uses his “open hammer pluck” technique, which creates an immensely percussive groove.
The slap bass line is played with his unique technique, in which he hits an open string with the right thumb, hammering a note with the left hand before plucking another note with the right index finger. There are many muted notes that drive the groove, but the most important thing is Wooten manages to make everything melodic despite the technical difficulty and highly percussive approach.
5. Red Hot Chili Peppers – Higher Ground
“Higher Ground” is a Stevie Wonder original written in 1973 and covered later by Red Hot Chili Peppers. Flea added his own punk-funk approach to the song, creating one of the most iconic bass slap lines with the amazing syncopated rhythm with triplets and Flea’s unique playing.
The slap bass line creates the percussive side with the lowest string, while the single notes on the higher strings add the melodic side. There are great embellishments coming later to the riff, like hammer-ons and pull-offs. Flea’s tone is also worth mentioning, as always, as he is pretty aggressive on the instrument, while the bit of overdrive added helps a lot.
6. Graham Central Station – Pow
Another great slap bass line from the slap bass innovator Larry Graham is featured in the song “Pow.” The slap bass line is so funky, tricky, and jaw-dropping it became a rite of passage for funky players. Great slaps and pops, high tempo, and amazing percussive feel make this one a unique bass riff.
The riff has a very high energy with great melodic lines accompanied by wind instruments and percussion. It is one of the most challenging bass lines to play due to advanced techniques Graham uses, like the ‘flappy’ open palm muting technique for the percussive feel, ghost notes, mute notes, muted palm slaps, hammer-ons, and more. The result is a funky slap bass line that sounds like a whole band.
7. Michael Jackson – Get On The Floor
“Get On The Floor” by the “King Of Pop” Michael Jackson, features a killer slap bass line written by Louis “Thunder-Thumbs” Johnson. Johnson shows why he got that nickname with this highly melodic, groovy, and percussive slap bass riff.
Johnson’s use of techniques like impeccable slaps, ghost notes, mutes, hammer-ons, and slides, as well as syncopated rhythms and an abundance of percussive attacks, on top of a highly basic but catchy melody, elevates the riff to a legendary level. His tone is also amazing, hinting at the early R&B bass tones with a disco-floor and funky feel.
8. Patrice Rushen – Forget Me Nots
Patrice Rushden’s 1982 R&B hit “Forget Me Nots” shows a great slap bass line that can be simple yet extremely musical. The classy bass work of Freddie Washington is a joy to hear, with a highly melodic approach, fast little licks, and a great groove.
The whole track is built on the eight-bar catchy bass line as it is highly melodic to drive the song. All the riff is about the slaps and precision, while the fretting hand is responsible for the hammer-ons and pull-offs. The quick-fire slap of 16th notes in the 4th bar is the trickiest part and sounds immensely funky and beautiful.
9. Marcus Miller – Run For Cover
Another great slap bass riff from the master Marcus Miller is in the song “Run For Cover.” The tune starts with traditional fingerpicking until it gives way to one of the greatest slap bass riffs and solos of all time. He uses bends, slides, and many techniques on top of one of the grooviest lines ever.
The insane slap bass riff starts around minute 1.50 in the original recording, with some bends on the higher notes. And then everything becomes about the slaps and pops with ghost notes on the low strings driving the percussion, and pops on the higher strings add the punchy melodic lines. The riff gives way to impeccable licks here and there, making the line much more interesting. Overall, it is a highly challenging and amazing-sounding slap bass part.
10. Victor Wooten – Classical Thump
As one of the most experimental bassists, Victor Wooten likes to push the limits very often. In “Classical Thump,” he shows his freakishly wonderful skills by slapping arpeggios all over the fretboard, gradually adding more layers to the groove with super-advanced techniques.
The riff is a joy to listen to and play for every bassist as Wooten uses his “double thump” technique to play faster and faster with every repetition. The whole song is slapped while the fretting hand uses many hammer-ons along the way to raise the speed. The song sounds kind of an exercise and is also a great practice to learn some advanced techniques and challenge yourself.
It is hard to choose the best slap bass lines as most slap bass riffs played properly sound quite impressive, adding amazing funky flavor to the songs. Everyone would have their own personal choices and create different top 10 lists, so this is not a definitive list but a collection of some of the greatest slap bass lines ever.
Slaps spice up the bass riffs like no other technique can. Not only do these slap bass riffs sound great, but they also come from really cool tunes. If you are a beginner in the world of slap, do not try to jump to these songs but create a good foundation with a proper technique and build your way to these jaw-dropping slap bass lines.