I’ve been having a shitty week. Were I to go off on a rant, combined with what Shane Whitbread had to say about the crowd at Wilco’s Cityfolk performance, we might just get collectively tarred and feathered. So, in honour of this week’s podcast guest (if you haven’t listened to Nick Oliveri go off on Dan, do so now), I thought I’d run down the top 4 bassists whose departure drastically altered the band of which they were a part. I could go on about significant bass players, but I thought it would be fun to focus on bands that went right the fuck downhill after their 4-string slingers left. In no particular order –except totally in an order that makes sense to me:
Cliff Burton – Metallica
You know I had to go there. Cliff Burton is, was and ever shall be the soul behind Metallica. Self-dubbed as the “major rager on the 4-string motherfucker” (watch the documentary Cliff ‘em All, if you don’t get the reference), Burton never once sang on a Metallica record, yet has songwriting
credits from their 1983 debut Kill ‘em All through to his last album with the band in 1986’s Master of Puppets before he was tragically killed in a bus crash while on tour. But to show you how amazing the guy was, his bass solo was featured as the middle track on their first record, and was performed live throughout their entire career. Opening for Ozzy? Fuck set times, Cliff is doing his solo. Titled “Anasthesia (Pulling Teeth)”, it remains the signature sound of the glory days of that band. Never mind the intro to Ride the Lightning’s “For Whom the Bell Tolls,” and countless bass runs you wouldn’t expect on 4 strings. After his death, Metallica would release the brilliantly penned (I’m convinced to this day from Burton’s notes) and terribly executed …And Justice For All, on which they completely mixed out new bassist Jason Newstead, and then devolved into super stardom and auto fellatio.
Lemmy Kilmeister – Hawkwind
Most people only know Lemmy for his ridiculously long and consistent tenure as the frontman of legendary 3-piece Motörhead. Prior to this, however, Lemmy would spend 3 years taking Hawkwind to new heights of depravity and fame. In fact, Lemmy is single-handedly responsible for the band’s biggest chart hit, “Silver Machine”. What’s particularly awesome about his departure from the band in 1975 is that he essentially did it because they took the wrong kind of drugs. As he admitted in a recent documentary, Hawkwind was about hallucinogens, and Lemmy preferred speed. That’s pretty much obvious from the video above. Everyone’s fucked out of their gourd, sure, but Lemmy’s more interested in headbanging and losing his shit while the rest of the band is pretty damn pleased with space girl and whatever it is she’s supposed to represent. Just goes to show the band that parties together stays together. Hawkwind turned to shit, and Lemmy became a God to metalheads around the world after that. Charisma or Ace of Spades? Choice is pretty obvious to me.
Nick Oliveri – Queens of the Stone Age
This one hits really close to home for me. Unlike Lemmy and Cliff, I was full-on into QotSA when Nick was summarily dismissed by Josh Homme for reasons of… I won’t get into that. I got to live with the disappointment of seeing the split between two of my favourite musicians at the time live and in Technicolor. Nick’s manic creepiness had helped to temper Josh’s obsession with hooks and taking the rock and roll of yesteryear into modern times. Sure, Songs for the Deaf, featuring drumming virtuoso Dave Grohl, signified the band’s emergence as a rock phenomenon, but it still featured Nick’s signature howl on “Millionaire” and “Six Shooter,” not to mention a pretty unconventional album structure that relied heavily on samples and noise. Shit, Nick’s first appearance in the band was in a voicemail message confirming his commitment on the final track of their self-titled debut. Everything from QotSA since his firing has been undercut with pop rock and boring as hell. Nick’s aggression and tone was what set that band apart, and probably held them back for so long. And that’s fine. I’ve seen them during every album tour that’s come to Canada, and the minute he left the band their stage show became a milquetoast gathering of musicians rallied around Josh Homme, rather than the true collaboration of mad musical scientists that existed for 6 years. I don’t think either has performed as well since the split, and I’ve given up on seeing something that great ever again.
Roger Waters – Pink Floyd
I fucking hate post-Waters Pink Floyd. I’m not particularly crazy of most of the band’s output as a whole, but anything that came out from that band after The Final Cut is utter and meaningless garbage. Problem is, I don’t like anything by Floyd except one performance, and that’s Live at Pompeii, because HOLY SHIT JUST WATCH IT. I don’t even like Dark Side of the Moon, but I gave it a chance because FATS just wouldn’t shut up about it, and I have to give Waters credit. Single-handedly writing all that shit takes some genius; and even if I don’t particularly care for the output, I can recognize the Gargantuan intellectual effort it took. – JP