Sometimes, it seems, bass players can find joy in the most commercially-orientated of places. In this case, we’re presented with the best-selling song of 2016 in the US; a song created by über-producer Max Martin, sung by a former teen boyband member and packaged as the lead single for a film aimed directly at children: not a promising start.
But then, after 25 seconds of listening, we’re greeted with bass. Proper bass. Lots of proper bass, positively dripping in envelope filter and funky enough to make even the most stubborn of heads bob.
The liner notes credit Swedish producer Jonas ‘Shellback’ Schuster as the bassist. Unless you get a kick out of obsessively scouring Wikipedia, Allmusic.com or CD booklets for detailed performance and production credits (which I genuinely do…) then you probably won’t have heard of Jonas, but he’s had a hand in writing and producing a staggering number of hit songs. Granted, some of them might be utter garbage, but he certainly knows his way around a hook.
Speaking of which, the bass hook of ‘Can’t Stop the Feeling!’ is the main focal point of the song. It sounds like there are at least 2 bass tracks; in the first chorus I can hear both the low F and its octave at the same time (bar 27), so the transcription is my best attempt to give an overview of everything that might be going on. Harmonically speaking, we only have two sections; the verse (which gets recycled as the chorus) and the prechorus. Let’s take a closer look at the chord progressions:
The chord sequence here is entirely diatonic (I – vi – IV – vi in C major), but the chord voicings help to make a familiar progression more interesting; the top part of the chord voicing remains almost constant throughout while the bass note changes. The C/F chord could be described as F major 9, but the slash chord notation gives a better impression of how the keyboard part moves.
In contrast to the strictly diatonic verses and choruses, the prechorus sections employ some common non-diatonic chord substitutions, most of which sound like they were stolen from Quincy Jones’ work with Michael Jackson. Again, I’ve opted for slash chord notation rather than spelling out the chords as that’s how most keyboard and guitar players that I deal with prefer to discuss them.