In a typical pop-rock band,
the singer and guitarist collaborate closely, and
the bassist and the drummer collaborate closely.
The guitarist and the singer take turns coming to the fore in the performance. For example, it is rare that a guitar solo is played during the singing of the verse. Classic pop-rock bassistry dictates that the bass-guitar and the drummer operate together, that the drummer’s kick drum and the bassist’s notes are together. The green lines in the following diagrams indicate which players are “best-friends”, indicative of the most intense collaboration. Here is the situation in a classic meat-and-potatoes four-piece band:
We see that there are essentially two autonomous bands operating within the four-piece band. One of these sub-bands is called “the rhythm section”, and consists of the bassist and the drummer. The other sub-band are the self-anointed “leads”, the “lead-singer” and the “lead-guitarist”. Notice that the songwriters could be hidden behind any of these performance monikers.
The Irish Rock Band U2 is a classic example of the four-piece “lead-singer and lead-guitarist” band.
The self-anointment among the “lead” section of U2 is accentuated by the fact that only the singer and the guitarists have pseudonyms (“Bono” and “Edge”), which attempt to amplify the mythology surrounding their personae. The rhythm-section retain their birth-names, which make them the more accessible, less glorified sub-band within U2. This duality has its advantages for the band, namely, that fans can find both idols and normal people in the same band. But the songwriting is vaguer and less unified, because there are in fact two bands playing on the stage!
The extreme case of the “leads-vs.-rhythm” band-configuration is that of the guitarist-led trio:
The cohesion of a guitarist-led trio is just as shaky as that of a conventional four-piece band, and the band must struggle to “fill in the (acoustical) gaps” because the same person must sing lead and play lead guitar. It is difficult for the fans to consider the band as a unit, because the most obvious impression is that of “the singing-guitar-wizard and his loyal drum’n’bass-minions”. Guitarist-led trios often opt to perform with a fourth musician on “rhythm guitar” or keys.
The bassist-fronted three-piece leaves no ambiguity as to who is in the driver’s seat. The bass-guitarist unifies the drummer with the singer and with the guitarist. The singer collaborates with the guitarist.
For the songwriter, the role of singing-bassist affords the maximum in unison and cohesion in performance.
|The Police, from England, are the ideal case-study in a bassist-led three-piece band. With the exception of less than five songs, their singing-bassist, Sting, wrote and composed all of the songs for the Police. In performance mode, Sting coupled the drummer and the guitarist into a highly cohesive single band.|
The singing-bassist has larger control over the band’s performance than does any other member of his band or any member of any other band-configuration.
You can’t argue with a bass-guitar
– Steve Kilbey, The Church
An element of serendipity also exists which gravitates the roles of songwriter and singing-bassist together. Often, a songwriter inherits the bass-guitar, due to either the exile or resignation of the band’s prior bass-guitarist. However, emerging songwriters can opt to form stronger, more highly-cohesive bands, by performing as Singing-Bassists.
One remaining good reason for a songwriter to play bass and sing is that of accelerated band formation. A quick glance in the want-ads will reveal a surplus of guitarists. A songwriter who sings and performs on the bass-guitar only needs two further musicians to form a road-ready band.
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