Bass Transcription: David Bowie – ‘Absolute Beginners’

This transcription of Absolute Beginners was requested by the winner of the Free Bass Transcriptions Summer 2019 Subscribers’ competition. If you’d like to be in with a chance of winning a bespoke transcription then all you have to do is sign up to the email list.

The title track of the soundtrack album for Julien Temple’s 1986 film Absolute Beginners (an adaptation of Colin MacInnes’ novel of the same name), David Bowie’s ‘Absolute Beginners’ reached number 2 in the UK singles charts and the top ten in eight other countries; the film did not fare quite so well commercially.

Although the single edit is a lengthy 5’36” in duration, the transcription here is of the full-length album version, which weighs in at over eight minutes. Matthew Seligman’s bass part shouldn’t cause too much trouble, although the chart will definitely give you a surprising amount of high-register ledger line reading practice and ample opportunity to make sure that you’re comfortable reading dotted and tied rhythms. Seligman repeats himself an awful lot (which is one of the hallmarks of great bass playing; listeners need something to latch on to), but there are still plenty of melodic fills scattered throughout the line that create interest without disturbing the peace. The melodic figure in bars 15-16 forms a simple yet effective sub-hook that reappears several times throughout the song, while the ascending, wide interval fill in bars 203-204  is definitely worth a closer look. Tone-wise, it sounds like a jazz bass (or similar) played with a pick to give a bit of ‘bite’ to the notes.

David Bowie – ‘Absolute Beginners’ Bass Transcription PDF

As you might expect from David Bowie, there are some unusual elements in the structure and harmony of ‘Absolute Beginners’; the song doesn’t really conform to the traditional verse/chorus pop song structure, containing verses that are six bars long and plenty of two-bar breaks between sections. The Thin White Duke’s songs are frequently found to contain surprising non-diatonic chord sequences, and ‘Absolute Beginners’ is no exception; this could well be down to pianist Rick Wakeman’s involvement in the track (listen to Bowie’s ‘Life on Mars’ to hear Rick’s advanced harmonic sense in all its glory).