15 absolutely virtuoso performances from rock and roll history

Rock and roll lends itself to great individual performances and here are 15 of the best.
Thin Lizzy At The Marquee
Thin Lizzy At The Marquee / Michael Putland/GettyImages
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If you want to give yourself a migraine – and, really, who doesn’t? – try to figure out why the early Black Sabbath songs got the titles they did. It has to do with American labels feeling like there weren’t enough songs for Americans to buy the albums, so the band just re-labeled pieces of music as separate songs. Geezer Butler plays a kick-ass bass solo intro to “N.I.B.” which came to be known as the song “Bassically.” In live performances, he might build on the album cut – the way artists are apt to do.

Whether you hear it live, or the cleaner studio original, it remains a wonderfully melodic bass riff that maintains its metal bona fides. And, not for nothing, the bass part of “N.I.B.,” apart from the solo intro, is pretty freaking awesome as well.


The best bass riff in pop punk. Dirnt kicks off the song with his languid, loping Gibson Grabber, before pounding out the chorus. It’s the type of melodic hook that you might hear from other Grabber players like Dinosaur Jr.’s Lou Barlow.

Dirnt provided plenty of embellishments on plenty of Green Day songs, while never losing his connection with Tre Cool’s equally aggressive drum fills. But on “Longview,” Green Day’s first breakthrough from Dookie, the bass carries the song. As he has recently admitted, he wrote that iconic bass line while tripping on acid, and then spent quite some time trying to recreate it. Fortunately, he was able to figure it out while sober.

LARRY GRAHAM (Graham Central Station) – “HAIR”

There’s a nice message in the song “Hair.” One I have always subscribed to.  As Larry sings it: “I just don’t believe it’s fair to judge a man by the length of his hair.” Unfortunately, I’m not sure how many people heard it because, as I have read in multiple places, it comes in a song with the funkiest bass line ever recorded.  It’s virtually impossible to hear anything else, even though there is plenty of good stuff going on atop that bass.

Graham was the original bass player with Sly and the Family Stone. He stayed with them for six years before venturing off and forming his own band. Rumor is that had he not left, he and Stone would have likely killed each other.

Whether apocryphal or true, while playing with Sly, Graham perfected the technique of slapping the bass to get more pop out of the strings. It was a technique that became integral to funk and spread into many other genres from rock to rockabilly to bluegrass. Next time you see a bassist pounding the crap out of his instrument, think of Larry Graham, and maybe give a listen to “Hair.”