Insomniac's Playlist

“This bassline can soften the corners of even the most rigid of squares” - John Grant

Photo: Shawn Brackbill

From old 45s to more current compositions, the American singer-songwriter takes us through a playlist of his favourite-ever basslines

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I guess I just like rhythm sections. I mean, it’s very simple.

When somebody makes a good bassline, which is much easier said than done, it totally transforms the song – a good bassline is key for a song, and the difference between a good bass player and an incredible bass player is that, when an incredible bass player designs a bassline for a song, it transforms it. My friend Paul Alexander, who used to play with Midlake, plays bass on my new record Love Is Magic – his basslines do that and it’s a skill that I really appreciate and love. It’s not an easy thing to do and yet it’s very natural for some people. It’s something that I keep noticing and coming back to. 

Sometimes, when I’m playing around on synths and other instruments, I will come up with a bassline, but a lot of the time the bassline comes after everything else is put in place. It depends on the song; sometimes it’s the first thing and sometimes it’s the last thing.
When I hear a good bassline, it makes me happy; it makes me smile.

John Grant

1 Draggin’ the Line – Tommy James

My brother Dan had this 45 in the 70s, and we played it over and over and couldn’t get over how cool it was. Is. This list is full of fantastic bass lines like this, come to think of it. 

2 Sloppy (I Saw My Baby Gettin’) – Devo

Devo school started with New Traditionalists for me, then Gates of Steel (in this order), Oh no! It’s Devo, and then everything else. Been listening to this a lot lately and it is always good for what ails you. One of the greatest song titles ever, as well. 

3 You Are In My System – The System

Phil Winter of Wrangler and Tunng fame introduced me to this and I have been listening to it rather a lot ever since. Thank you, Phil. This type of 80s bass-synth line courtesy of David Frank is a good reason to get up in the morning.

4 99 – Hollie Cook

I was going to put Grace Jones Private Life in this spot, but then I just wanted to do an entire list of only Grace Jones tracks. I met Hollie Cook when were both guesting with Culture Club. I bought her record and thought “thank God, someone is making music like this”. Another pristine, clear voice cutting through the blood-curdling howl of the status quo. Reminds me of the type of thing Grace did with Wally Badarou. Sophia George came to mind, too.

5 Future Is Now – Nina Hagen

From my favorite record NunSexMonkRock – turn all the way up and watch the raccoons go berserk.

6 Rock And Roll Suspension – Missing Persons

From another favourite record of mine, Spring Session M. Dale Bozzio’s look and delivery is so damn cool, and Terry Bozzio’s time signature is confusing yet rejuvenating. And the other boys garnish tastefully with synth flourishes and bvs (a tad less tastefully). Not sure why this didn’t take in the UK.

7 No GDM – Gina X Experience

Speaking of severest cool, the bass line on this track can soften the corners of even the most rigid of squares. And Gina X makes Nico sound like Renée Fleming.

8 To The Music – Colder

I think Marc Nguyen Tan is one of the most talented artists in music today. Luckily for me, he has been very prolific lately and he only seems to be getting better. This bass line and Marc’s deadpan delivery make me very happy. 

9  Jenny I Read – Concrete Blonde

I have to marvel every time I hear Johnette Napolitano’s voice. I love the Mulholland Drive-esque Hollywood story in this song. Definitely one of the greatest voices ever in rock music for me.

10 Collection Privée – Come Aguiar

This is from the Yves Saint Laurent documentary L’Amour Fou. I dare you to walk through Central Park listening to this on a crisp October afternoon and try to convince yourself you’re not Ali MacGraw. Whatever the hell that means. But, seriously, this one of the most beautiful compositions for me. The instrumentation is unique and keeps evolving.  

11 Wives and Lovers – Dionne Warwick

I just get happy when I hear this. Dionne has one of the greatest voices.

12 Easy Thing To Do – Shirley Bassey

Discovered this many moons again on Shirley Bassey’s The Remix Album – she blows me away, whenever, wherever. I think we can safely say they don’t make them like this any more, which I suppose is neither here nor there, because she always will be. Love the lyrics.

13 Passeggiata Notturna (single version) – Ennio Morricone

Listened to Morricone compilation Psychomorricone practically non-stop throughout the recording of my latest. It turns any landscape into something fascinating and new, no matter how boring, ugly or beautiful.

14 Love Is Not Love – Cate Le Bon

Since I’m on a 70s kick now, I love Cate’s voice. It cuts exquisitely through the lard of everyday disappointment and makes you feel like your mother just wrapped you in your favorite towel after your bath on a crisp autumn Saturday night, and there’s pizza for supper and the Land That Time Forgot is on TV and you get to stay up late. One of the greatest singers and songwriters working today or any other bleedin’ day.

Love Is Magic by John Grant is out on 12 October

Photo: Shawn Brackbill
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