The first bassist I ever took real notice of was Iron Maiden's Steve Harris. I was still in my single digits and truly hadn't yet developed my listening skills. In other words, if you had asked me to signal out specific parts of songs, I wouldn't have known the difference between a rhythm guitar or bass guitar part. Not that I cared yet.
As I got a bit older and started to appreciate things like musicianship (what a novel concept!), I gravitated towards bassists that did more than just sit on root notes throughout a song. Naturally, guys like Steve Harris (Iron Maiden) and Cliff Burton (Metallica) became heroes to me once I started playing bass. The more I got comfortable around the instrument, I started to fall in love with bassists who provided more than just bottom end to their recordings. I'm not talking about showy guys like Primus' Les Claypool, rather players who offered up melodic runs that were every bit as important to a song as its guitar, or in many cases, its vocal lines.
Instead of listing heavy metal guys, I decided to focus on musicians on the rock side of the spectrum for this list of my five favorite melodic bassists. I left Paul McCartney off the list because he was too obvious of a choice.
Graham Maby (Joe Jackson, Marshall Crenshaw, They Might Be Giants)
Throughout the many sessions that make up his discography, Graham Maby has shown his versatility. From the reggae-informed bass lines of his early appearances with Joe Jackson to his tasteful work with singer-songwriters Marshall Crenshaw and Freedy Johnston, the UK native always makes whatever song he's appearing on a much more melodic affair. The most obvious example being Maby's work on Jackson's 1982 hit single, "Steppin' Out."
Bruce Thomas (Elvis Costello & The Attractions, Suzanne Vega, Billy Bragg)
Like Maby, Bruce Thomas also mined from reggae and ska during his earlier recorded output. The stuff Thomas did on Elvis Costello & The Attractions albums like Armed Forces and Get Happy!! are bass clinics, showing how you can offer a melodic counterbalance to a song while never becoming too distracting. He's never taken a "Look at me!" kind of playing approach, but it's nearly impossible to ignore Thomas' beautifully melodic runs.
Colin Moulding (XTC, Sam Phillips, The Dukes of Stratosphear)
Colin Moulding might have largely retired from performing live in the late '00s, but he's left behind an impressive body of work filled with one delicious bass line after the other. A self-taught player, Moulding helped co-write such XTC staples as "Making Plans for Nigel" and "Life Begins at the Hop," but it's his sticky sweet bass work that makes him a favorite within power pop and psych-rock circles.
Peter Hook (New Order, Joy Division, Monaco)
Within a few seconds of hearing one, you know you're listening to a Peter Hook bass line. Where most bassists favor the lower notes of the instrument, Hook works the higher frets, establishing a sound that cut through the guitar and electronic atmospherics of Joy Division and New Order, his two most famous former bands. The bass lines in "Regret" (New Order), "Guilty Partner" (New Order), and "She's Lost Control" (Joy Division) are the catchiest aspect of each of those songs.
John Taylor (Duran Duran, The Power Station, Arcadia)
Dear "Oh, but Duran Duran isn't a rock band" people: FUCK YOU!