This is actually one of my favourite bass lines by The Smiths, which is from their infamous album ‘Meat is Murder.’ This is the main bass riff of the track and it’s in cut common time in the Key of D Major as shown below in standard notation and TAB.
Playing with a Pick
Andy was well known for playing with a pick in the proper punk style, although unlike typical punk his bass lines were always very melodic and interesting. You can play this finger style if you want, but if you want that classic tone and attack then playing with a pick is the only way to go!
The Smiths Tone
I recommend boosting the mids on your amp, combine this with playing with a pick and you’ll get the best tone for this genre of music. In this lesson, I’m using a Fender Precision which is the bass Andy predominantly used throughout his career.
There are a few tricky little hammer on and pull offs at the beginning of each phrase, couple this with a descending walking style bass line at the end and you have a very interesting bass riff thats loads of fun to play! There’s a cheeky ghost note in the 4ths bar.
In terms of picking, try to use downstrokes for most of it while enlisting alternate picking throughout the walking section at the end and on the A after the ghost note.
Watch out for your muting as playing with a pick can really highlight any unwanted notes, work towards a clean and precise technique.
Harmony & Theory
There are quite a lot of interesting theoretical aspects to this bass line, there is a lot of Jazz inflection with the use of chord tones and chromatic passing notes. This chord progression moves around the D Major and B minor chords, with F natural added to give it that Jazzy Bluesy feel.
There’s a funky A Maj – G# Maj – G Maj chordal turnaround where the walking bass line kicks in by outlining the arpeggios. The G# Major chord is a chromatic passing chord, you can really hear this when you arpeggiate the chords.