10 Awesome Bass Performances by Duran Duran’s John Taylor
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At Duran Duran concerts, chances are at some point you’ll hear frontman Simon Le Bon leading a chant of “Play the f–king bass, John! Play the f–king bass, John!” This isn’t a case of intra-band turmoil, however: It’s a complimentary rallying cry for stalwart bassist John Taylor.
The Birmingham, England, native is one of the most talented bassists around – a player’s player, as evidenced by the hundreds of YouTube clips featuring musicians filming themselves recreating his bass lines to Duran Duran hits and deep cuts alike.
The secret to Taylor’s success? Much like Duran Duran, he keeps pushing forward and isn’t afraid to take chances or try new things. Plus, his inventive bass parts are an amalgamation of disco and rock ‘n’ roll grooves – studied and deliberate without losing the loose, danceable feel required for Duran Duran’s music.
Chic‘s Bernard Edwards is an inspiration, of course – Taylor has cited him as an idol many times — and Taylor added in a 2015 Bass Player interview that Paul McCartney, James Jamerson and George Murray (a bassist with David Bowie circa the mid-late ’70s) were influences.
“I’ve never liked bands where the bass just sits behind everything,” he added. “Lots of famous players are entirely uninteresting to me because their bass parts lack musical imagination. I know that not everyone is a James Jamerson, but you have to make the music move – and nothing does that more than bass.”
Here are John Taylor’s 10 best bass lines – a subjective list that could easily contain double or even triple the number of tracks.
After lineup turmoil rocked Duran Duran in the mid-’80s, the band’s sound expanded and included elements as horn sections and more contemporary-sounding electronic elements. The apex of this experimentation was Notorious and a song such as “Hold Me.” Although the bass line was tough to hear on the song’s studio version, vintage live takes reveal the stone-cold funkiness of Taylor’s work, and the way this part subtly nudged the music forward.
Duran Duran’s early ’90s reinvention led to mature songs such as “Ordinary World,” which illustrates Taylor’s growth as a player. Namely, his evocative part has slinky velocity, but is subtle, and adds to the song’s wistful atmosphere. Taylor and keyboardist Nick Rhodes are always a well-matched rhythmic pair, and this song especially illuminates their chemistry.
This Duran Duran song, which features Janelle Monae and Nile Rodgers, is “a standout for me because it’s all about feel,” Taylor told Bass Player in 2015. “I spent three days writing it while sitting just inches away from Nile, and by the end of my session, my fingers were in shreds. In the end, it really raised my game, and it made me promise myself I would keep my chops up.” The effort is obvious: “Pressure Off” is an exuberant song that manages to be both retro and futuristic, not least because of the way Taylor’s fluid part interacts with Rodgers’ guitar.
“My Own Way”
A list of the best John Taylor bass lines could include all of Duran Duran’s Rio, although his contributions to “My Own Way” are particularly striking. That’s mainly because there are multiple versions of the song — and he slays all of them in different ways. In 1981, Duran Duran released a disco-riffic, stand-alone version of the song with a frantic low end. The slower version on “Rio,” meanwhile —
whether the “Carnival Remix” or 2009 remastered take — puts his circular grooves higher in the mix. And then there’s the so-called “Night Version” take on the track, which strips out a lot of the music and prioritizes his no-nonsense, darting part alongside shrieking strings.
“Girls On Film”
Another song with multiple versions, “Girls On Film” is an early example of how Taylor made busy bass lines work for Duran Duran. Although not as lightning-quick as songs on Rio, his part on this early hit is crucial: setting the rhythmic tone on the chorus, burbling merrily in between the guitar melody on verses and, during the lead-up to the bridge, exhibiting funky squiggles alongside Roger Taylor’s drum solo.
Speaking to the A.V. Club in 2012, Taylor elaborated on the lead-up to making Duran Duran’s All You Need Is Now with Mark Ronson. “Red Carpet Massacre, with Timbaland and Nate Hills, it was just, like, ‘Let’s try anything we can try to have a hit,'” he said. “But it was so polarizing, that album, for the audience. And then to meet Mark and have him say, ‘I just want an album with JT’s bass on it! And Nick’s keyboards!’ He didn’t want any power ballads.” All You Need Is Now certainly delivered in the bass department: “Safe (In the Heart of the Moment)” begins with a disco boogie low end, while highlight “Girl Panic!” has Taylor’s trademark bustling lurking below glamorous keyboards.
“A View To A Kill”
“A View to A Kill” is a study in contrasts: Duran Duran’s hit James Bond theme is an icy synth-pop tune full of sharp angles and stop-on-a-dime arrangements, but also a glass-like keyboard foundation. Taylor’s circular-feeling bass line on this song contributes to the former feel by being a steady, no-frills counterpoint to the song’s more dramatic parts.
“Some Like It Hot”
Power Station – a supergroup which, besides John Taylor, featured Robert Palmer, Chic drummer Tony Thompson and Duran Duran guitarist Andy Taylor — added sizzling glam-funk to music in the mid-’80s. “Some Like It Hot” was the apex, as it features a monster John Taylor bass line that lurks in the shadows, adding shady funk to the syncopated rhythmic stutters and horn stabs.
Talk about propulsive: Taylor’s galloping bass line on “Planet Earth” is one of the major reasons why this song is so distinctive, as it provides urgency matched by Le Bon’s wailing chorus and Rhodes’ sparkling keyboards. And then there’s his bass solo, which is perhaps one of Duran Duran’s most memorable early moments: The song pauses and clears the way for Taylor to tap out an inquisitive-sounding part complete with a little leap at the end that puts a neat bow on the bridge.
Bassists widely consider Taylor’s work on the title track of Duran Duran’s Rio to be one of his finest moments. Although he’s frequently joked that he overplayed on early the band’s records, his nimble bass lines on this song are simply awe-inspiring. “It’s a big, confident track,” Taylor said of “Rio” in 2012, speaking to The A.V. Club. “There’s a lot going on. It shifts gears several times. We were thinking along the lines of ‘I Wanna Take You Higher,’ by Sly And The Family Stone. It was a lot of everything.”