A comparison between a football team and a rock band.
A hard rock band can be compared to an offensive unit of a football team. In both, each player is assigned to a position that has a specific job to help achieve a victory on the field, or on stage. For the football team it’s scoring the touchdown. For the rock band its working up an audience into such a frenzy that the band actually controls them. The football team does this through a series of plays while the band does this through a series of songs. If both are successful in doing their assigned jobs they will easily win.
The singer and quarterback are the same in the sense that it is their job to call the play (song), get it started, and make sure that the play is properly executed. The offensive line is similar to the drummer since both are required to keep their teams moving forward. Every great team has a featured player--for football it is a running back or wide receiver, for a rock band it is usually a guitar player. The last position of an offensive unit and band is usually the least heard of or talked about. The tight end and bassist are both unique because both are required to work with the offensive line while making big plays on their own to help their teams win. Whether it be Mark Shockey of the Giants catching a touchdown pass, or Jim Kliensassar making the key block to help a Vikings running back score, or Flea laying down the bass line that gives the song ‘Under the Bridge’ a special meaning, or Billy Sheehan’s bass solo which introduces ‘Feels Like Paradise,’ the fact remains that in order to have a successful team it is essential to have a strong tight end.
The tight end of the rock band has separated “want to be” bands from the superstar groups. Even during the 1980's when rock music was basically focused on the singer and guitar player, the focus was so heavy on them that the bass was respectively an unknown instrument. This was different with the football tight ends of the time. Everyone knew who Steve Jordan (Vikings) and Kellen Winslow (Chargers) were but ask who Cliff Williams (AC/DC) or Michael Anthony (Van Halen) were and nobody knew. Yet these bassists were just as important. Listen to the back up rhythm of AC/DC and it becomes apparent that if Cliff wasn’t there AC/DC would not be as successful as they were. Michael had a double job to do as he was required to play the melody to songs when Eddie Van Halen, the guitarist of the group, was off doing a solo and also mesh Alex Van Halen with brother Eddie when the four were playing together. In fact, in the evolution of rock music the bass is one of the essential elements, even more so than the guitar.
In the late 1960's and throughout the 1970's the bassist played an intricate part in forming the hard rock music of today. Bass players like John McVie of Fleetwood Mac and Jack Bruce of Cream contributed to so much of the songwriting within their groups that the guitar became a filler as opposed to the main instrument. Fleetwood Mac’s ‘The Chain’ as well as Cream’s ‘Badge’ are prime examples of this. During the sixties and seventies songs dominated rock music, not individuals. Therefore, bands were more of a team than in the eighties. For example, Dave Casper- who was surrounded by a great defense, two all-pro wide receivers, an all-pro quarterback, and an all-pro running back- was still well known as being part of the great Superbowl Raiders of the 1970's. The Beatles’ Paul McCartney, who was known more as a singer than a bass player, was encircled by three other superstar musicians. Therefore, most people knew all of The Beatles. In the late nineties and early into this new millennium the attitude of today’s bands has changed back to this total team concept. Therefore, we now again recognize the bassist along with his band.
Billy Sheehan, bassist for Talas, The David Lee Roth Band, and Mr. Big once said, “You need a real good song. Back then (1960's) the bass was such an important part of the song. In fact, you could tell a song by it’s bass line.” That view seems to be the trend today as the bass again has become an important part of the songs that we hear, not only with hard rock bands but also other musical styles such as pop and hip hop.
Britney Spears’ song ‘Slave For U’ is a prime example of the bass being used extensively in an arrangement. The mood of the song is filled with deep notes and slow, rhythmic beats to give it an erotic feeling. In ‘Gangsta’s Paradise’ by Coolio the bass again dictates the theme. The hip hop tune tries to explain why gangs are so prevalent in South Central Los Angeles. The bass line brings out the violence and anger of the song’s message.
Football tight ends are also being used in more roles in the new millennium as they are being asked to split out with the wide receivers and placed in the backfield to block for running backs. Both the bassist and tight end have changed as their games have changed. However, both also remain quietly in the background of other players. But the next time you listen to a song on the radio or CD from your favorite artist try and listen for the bass player. Then try and listen to the song without him or her. It would be like watching a football game without a tight end. What fun would that be?