The greatest pre-1980 bassists, ranked by you

Geddy Lee is our pre-80s bass GOAT
(Image credit: Ebet Roberts / Getty)

We recently began our epic GOAT Hunt: the search to put together a fantasy band line-up made up entirely of the players who are considered the Greatest of All Time.

GOAT Hunt: Who are the Greatest Of All Time?

Rush's Neil Peart beat out Bonham to perch on the drum GOAT throne, and now we're working on the other 50% of your fantasy rhythm section. 

Your votes have been counted, so below are your top 10 bassists pre-1980. They'll join the winners of our forthcoming 80-99 and 2000+ votes in an epic run-off to determine the ultimate bass GOAT. 

Stay tuned!

1. Geddy Lee

The man that no-one calls Gary Weinrib any more makes the top of your list – and quite rightly so. As singer, bassist and keyboard player with the sadly no-longer-active trio Rush, Geddy embedded himself into our world across four decades of recorded and live music. 

His phenomenal grooves and fills, often delivered in synch with the much-missed drummer Neil Peart, are second to none. Let us hope we witness his return to the “lighted stage” sooner rather than later.

2. Jaco Pastorius

The unique Jaco, who departed decades before his time in 1987, described himself as the “world’s greatest bass player”, and listening to the music he gave us in his short but prolific career, it’s very hard to disagree. 

The fire within him was unequalled, and well-worn comparisons such as “the Jimi Hendrix of bass” may be tiresome, but they’re not wrong. Check out his self-titled solo album from 1976 for evidence.

3. John Entwistle

The late Ox may have been eclipsed by the bigger personalities in his band, The Who, but that didn’t stop him becoming one of the most acclaimed rock bass players of all time. 

A true innovator, Entwistle pioneered a “typewriter” picking style and wasn’t afraid to deploy massive distortion. Oh, and there’s the small matter of the bass solo in ‘My Generation’, written in 1965 when bass guitars were supposed to stay in the background.

4. Chris Squire

For decades, prog-rockers Yes retained a single founder member while other musicians came and went. That fellow, bassist Chris Squire, was literally and audibly the heart of the band, having earned his stripes as an innovator in the early days with his fabulous, crunchy tone and basses with an unreasonable number of necks. His style is often imitated but never equalled.

5. John Paul Jones

A choirmaster, organist and expert in many archaic music styles, JPJ also just happened to play effortlessly melodic bass in Led Zeppelin, the biggest heavy rock band there has ever been or ever will be. 

Whether anchoring those chunky riffs with huge grooves or adorning them with subtle upper-register flourishes, he inhabited the bass parts with the greatest of ease.

6. Paul McCartney

It’s deeply gratifying to this writer, as staff of Bass Player magazine, that the most famous musician in the world is a bass player (yes, we know he plays guitar, piano and drums too). 

Sir Paul and The Beatles came up at a time when pop music was polite and the bass parts were muffled: he kicked all of that into touch, pioneering a super-melodic style that often dominated the songs. No-one dared tell him otherwise...

7. Jack Bruce

The late Jack Bruce never quite fit into any category, whether it was as a blues session bassist, a force of nature in the jazz/rock/everything else supergroup Cream, or throughout his long and unpredictable solo career. 

Everything he did on the bass was breathtaking, though, and he leaves a legacy that is quite unlike anyone else on this list. He was a truly unique musician – and that’s rare.

8. James Jamerson

Along with Carol Kaye and arguably Macca, the Motown legend James Jamerson was the Year Zero, the founding father, the very DNA of the electric bass. You know the stories: he never changed his strings; he only plucked with one finger, ‘The Hook’; his career ended when times changed and slap bass got popular. Thankfully Jamerson’s legacy is now acknowledged and secure. We all owe him everything.

9. Stanley Clarke

A maverick in so many ways, Stanley Clarke blew our minds in each one of his creative guises, whether as a member of the fusion monsters Return To Forever, as a fiery solo artist, as a highly prolific movie soundtrack composer, or as a member of projects such as SMV with Marcus Miller and Victor Wooten. 

He’s still breaking boundaries today, at an age when most of us would be taking it easy.

10. Bootsy Collins

It’s Bootsy, baby! 

Any time you’re feeling down, find some footage of the great William ‘Bootsy’ Collins doing his supremely funky thing and you’ll suddenly feel the urge to grab a bass and power through a butt-shaking line. 

Remember to stick to the one, though – the core of Bootsy’s approach, through his time with James Brown, P-Funk and beyond. There is no-one – no-one – like him.