Skip to main content

Enter your email below to be the first to hear about new releases, upcoming events, and more from Dig!

Please enter a valid email address
Please accept the terms
Best Andy Rourke Basslines: 10 Classics From The Smiths And Beyond
Alamy Stock Photo
List & Guides

Best Andy Rourke Basslines: 10 Classics From The Smiths And Beyond

From monster grooves to almost telepathically delivered motifs, the best Andy Rourke basslines powered The Smiths’ finest moments.


While Morrissey and Johnny Marr were The Smiths’ creative core, the best Andy Rourke basslines were just as crucial to the group’s impact.

Close friends since their school days, Rourke and Marr played in embryonic Manchester outfits White Dice and Freak Party during their teenage years, and the guitarist felt Rourke was the ideal candidate for the bass slot when he formed The Smiths. “I would elevate him and he would ground me,” Marr said of Rourke in Tony Fletcher’s The Smiths: A Light That Never Goes Out. “Aside from the fact he’s one of the most unique bass players of all time, his personality was really important to the band.”

A loyal team player, Rourke may not have written The Smiths’ songs, but he had almost complete autonomy over what he played on them, and he’s since made decisive contributions to landmark records by artists ranging from Sinead O’Connor to Pretenders. Once telling Bass Guitar magazine, “All the bass parts are my babies and you’re not supposed to have favourites,” Rourke seems reluctant to rank his own work. In celebration of this singular musician’s talent, however, we’ve cherry-picked what we believe are the best Andy Rourke basslines to date.

Listen to the best of The Smiths, and check out our ten best Andy Rourke basslines, below.

10: The Smiths: Heaven Knows I’m Miserable Now (1984)

Johnny Marr wrote the music for The Smiths’ first UK Top 10 hit, Heaven Knows I’m Miserable Now, and its terrific B-side, Girl Afraid, during a night of remarkable creativity during the band’s first visit to New York, in January 1984. Given space to breathe by producer John Porter, the studio take of Heaven Knows I’m Miserable Now captured the whole band at their best, but while Smiths biographer Tony Fletcher later homed in on Marr’s “cascading guitar lines”, Rourke’s bass playing was equally fluid and sophisticated. The way he wove his motifs around Marr’s guitar figures during the entire song was truly something to behold.

9: Pretenders: Rebel Rock Me (1984)

A handful of contenders for a place among the best Andy Rourke basslines appear on Pretenders’ widely-acclaimed 1994 album, The Last Of The Independents. His contributions were inspired on Night In My Veins and Money Talk, but his nimble, cyclical bassline on the rockabilly rave-up Rebel Rock Me was pivotal. “I played with Pretenders and went back to basics, almost like the style I was playing with The Smiths,” Rourke told Bass Guitar. “Chrissie Hynde was great to work with.”

8: The Smiths: Cemetry Gates (1986)

You can only concur with The Smiths biographer Tony Fletcher’s assertion that Andy “delivered some of his best performances” during the group’s The Queen Is Dead period: “neither the title track nor Cemetry Gates would have sounded anything so effective without his contribution”, Fletcher writes. Morrissey’s nostalgic reflection of his many long walks through Manchester’s Southern Cemetery, the (deliberately misspelled) Cemetry Gates was buoyed by one of Johnny Marr’s jauntiest and intricate tunes, while Rourke offered sterling support with a series of subtle basslines. Indeed, it’s worth hearing the song simply for the wonderful little riff he punches in and then repeats as the music fades out.

7: The Smiths: The Headmaster Ritual (1985)

Meat Is Murder’s widescreen opener, The Headmaster Ritual, found Morrissey taking verbal revenge on his teachers (or “belligerent ghouls”, as he refers to them) for the vicious beatings they regularly dished out at his alma mater, St Mary’s Secondary in Stretford, Manchester. Described by the singer as “a livewire spitfire guitar sound that takes on all-comers”, the music was equally intensive, with Marr interplaying with one of the best Andy Rourke basslines with an almost supernatural skill. “The bass sound in The Smiths came about from me trying to overcompensate,” Andy told Bass Guitar. “Because there was only me and Johnny, in the early days, we both played overtime to make the biggest sound possible.”

6: Morrissey: November Spawned A Monster (1990)

Despite The Smiths’ split in 1987, Rourke, drummer Mike Joyce and latter-day guitar support Craig Gannon appeared on some of Morrissey’s early solo records. The bassist even co-wrote a couple of great songs with Morrissey, such as Girl Least Likely To, and played on most of the singles the former Smiths frontman released between his 1988 debut album, Viva Hate, and 1991’s Kill Uncle. His playing on The Last Of The Famous International Playboys and Interesting Drug is exemplary, but it’s November Spawned A Monster – with its high-end swoops and magnificently funky lunges – which birthed one of the best Andy Rourke basslines.

5: The Smiths: This Charming Man (1983)

Rourke announced himself as a bassist of repute on The Smiths’ debut single, Hand In Glove, but he excelled himself on its follow-up, This Charming Man: the band’s first Top 30 hit and a strong contender for The Smiths’ signature song. Johnny Marr’s gorgeous jangling guitars caught the critics’ bouquets, but the Motown-esque bass motifs that drive the verses, and the walking basslines underpinning the chorus, provided the backbone and much of the song’s perennial appeal.

4: The Smiths: The Queen Is Dead (1986)

A showcase for all three of The Smiths’ musicians, The Queen Is Dead’s exhilarating title track was propelled by Joyce’s ferocious, tom-heavy drums and Marr’s savage, Stooges-esque guitars, but it was Rourke’s rumbling, rising-octave bassline which anchored the track and gave the song its vital element of danger. “Johnny made me feel good about it,” Andy told the NME in 2016. “He said it was one of the best basslines he’d ever heard, so my head was kind of swelling through the roof.”

3: The Smiths: Rubber Ring (1986)

Fans of The Smiths were usually in for a treat when they flipped over the band’s singles, though the 12” edition of The Boy With The Thorn In His Side was especially powerful as it featured both the devastating piano ballad Asleep and the haunting Rubber Ring. One of The Smiths’ most underrated songs, Rubber Ring also featured Andy Rourke playing the droning cello part, but his taut, yet nimble bassline carried echoes of both reggae and funk, providing the framework for this bona fide lost classic.

2: The Smiths: Rusholme Ruffians (1985)

Though the style doesn’t dominate the record as a whole, Meat Is Murder highlights Nowhere Fast and Rusholme Ruffians were powered by rockabilly rhythms and what Johnny Marr referred to as “that Sun Records kind of rush”. Stylistically, it was a dramatic shift from the band’s self-titled debut but, as ever, their bassist relished the challenge. Both songs feature inspired performances that vie for a place among the best Andy Rourke basslines, but the enviably dextrous, cyclical motif he worked up for Rusholme Ruffians comes out on top.

1: The Smiths: Barbarism Begins At Home (1985)

Some stalwart indie-pop fans were initially a little dazzled to hear The Smiths performing Meat Is Murder’s dancefloor-friendly Barbarism Begins At Home with such relish. In reality, however, The Smiths were anything but a typical indie-pop outfit, and their influences spread right across the spectrum.

Indeed, while Andy Rourke was a fan of bassists such as Paul McCartney and Bill Wyman, he was also inspired by jazz and funk musicians such as Stanley Clarke and Level 42’s Mark King, so perhaps it’s no surprise that our list of the best Andy Rourke basslines is topped by a performance that drives this song’s monster groove. “Barbarism Begins At Home is slap bass with a pick,” Andy told Bass Guitar magazine. “I don’t think Morrissey thought it was cool to do slap bass, but I bought Level 42’s records and went to see them. I thought they were great. I was really into that style of playing.”

You’ve heard the best Andy Rourke basslines, now check out the best Johnny Marr guitar riffs

Original article: 17 January 2021

Republished: 19 May 2023

More Like This

Best Yes Albums: All 23 Studio Releases, Ranked, Reviewed
List & Guides

Best Yes Albums: All 23 Studio Releases, Ranked, Reviewed

Seminal prog-rock classics, the best Yes albums showcase the incredible musicianship at the heart of the group’s success.

‘Animals’: A Track-By-Track Guide To Pink Floyd’s Orwellian Opus
List & Guides

‘Animals’: A Track-By-Track Guide To Pink Floyd’s Orwellian Opus

A track-by-track guide to every song on Pink Floyd’s ‘Animals’ album – a politically charged howl that captured the unrest of 70s Britain.

Sign up to our newsletter

Be the first to hear about new releases, upcoming events, and more from Dig!

Sign Up