Sunday, April 10, 2011

The original mop top

By Al Tays

The first album I ever bought was Meet the Beatles! -- which, if I remember correctly, cost $3.49 (which was big bucks for an 11-year-old kid).

The album was released in January 1964, but I didn't buy it until after I watched the Fab Four on the Ed Sullivan Show in February of that year. (That was a great month -- I also listened to the radio broadcast of the Clay-Liston fight from Miami Beach.)

The Beatles WERE music, as far as I was concerned. I'd heard other stuff on the radio and shuffled though my older brothers' records (the Kingston Trio's "From the Hungry i" is the only one I can specifically remember), but nothing made any impression on me until I heard the Beatles.

I bought the album, devoured the liner notes, memorized all the lyrics. I started collecting Beatles cards. Them I could afford.

It was only later that I learned about Stu Sutcliffe.

Sutcliffe died 49 years ago today, on April 10, 1962. He suffered a brain aneurysm and died in the ambulance on his way to the hospital. He was 21.

Sutcliffe didn't live to witness a lot of Beatles milestones. He left the group to pursue a career as an artist in July 1961. They had their first recording session at Abbey Road Studios under the direction of George Martin two months after he died.

Even if Sutcliffe had lived and not left the group on his own, it's possible he might have met the same fate as original drummer Pete Best, who was -- wait for it -- drummed out. By many accounts, Sutcliffe was a mediocre bass player. He also apparently had a personality conflict with Paul McCartney (but he was very close to John Lennon, a relationship dramatized in the movie Backbeat).

But without Stu Sutcliffe, the Beatles' history might have been very different. His girlfriend, Astrid Kirchherr, is credited with transforming the band's look from slicked-back hair to the famous moptop.

Kirchherr has said her role has been over-dramatized (gee, imagine that). In 1995 she told the BBC that her then-boyfriend, Klaus Voorman, wore his hair in what would become the Beatles style, and Sutcliffe liked it and adopted it. Harrison, Lennon and McCartney followed. Manager Brian Epstein is credited with getting them out of leather jackets and jeans and into suits, and the rest, as they say, is history.

In honor of Sutcliffe, here are my 10 favorite songs with great bass lines. This is by no means a definitive Top 10 list. I'm sure there are dozens of songs I missed or am not aware of. So help a brother out and gimme your picks.

1. My Generation, The Who (John Entwhistle on bass)
2. Get Out of Denver, Bob Seger (Chris Campbell on bass)
3. Crazy Little Thing Called Love, Queen (John Deacon on bass)
4. Sunshine of Your Love, Cream (Jack Bruce on bass)
5. Green Eyed Lady, Sugarloaf (Bob Raymond on bass)
6. Play That Funky Music White Boy, Wild Cherry (Allen Wentz on bass)
7. Midnight Confessions, The Grass Roots (Rob Grill on bass)
8. Take a Walk on the Wild Side, Lou Reed (Herbie Flowers on double bass and overdubbed fretless bass)
9. Come Together, The Beatles (Paul McCartney on bass)
10. Seinfeld theme (composed by Jonathan Wolff; I think he played it -- on a bass synthesizer, not a guitar -- but I'm not sure)

C ya next time.


  1. The bass line in "Used to be a Cop" off the Truckers' newest album has quickly become one of my favorites. Of course, if I had to make a Top 10 list, at least would feature Phil Lynott of Thin Lizzy.

    Used to be a Cop:

    Bad Reputation:

    Johnny the Fox:

  2. At least eight. Left off "eight."

  3. No love for the Barney Miller opening?

  4. Too much like homework. I know it when I hear it, but 9.9 times out of 10 I have no idea who the bass player is. Except McCarthy who amazes me on almost any bass line he plays. So, that said, my latest favorite bass is on Gregg Allman's "Low Country Blues" with Dennis Crouch playing the acoustic base on the first cut, "Floating Bridge."

  5. Sorry; it's "McCartney." Damn keyboard...damn thumbs.