The first Christmas after I bought my bass, my brother decided to help me with my new hobby by getting me a book: the transcribed tablature of Metallica's self-titled black album. Although I appreciated the gift, I very quickly realized that the book was completely wrong for me. I had at that point completed a three month beginner bass course (half an hour every Thursday night, that type of thing) and I was able to read music, but generally only well enough to play 'Twinkle Twinkle Little Star' and other introductory songs like that.
Whatever you might say about Metallica, I don't think anyone can deny that they are a very technical band, and I wasn't anywhere near capable of playing the songs in that book. Not only that, but by trying to fumble through the complexities of "Unforgiven" instead of finding a simple groove to jam out, I was holding myself back in a big way. The frustration of trying to learn such complicated material smashed my confidence like an empty whiskey bottle. It's a good thing my brother didn't pick me up a Red Hot Chili Peppers book. Trying to play along with Flea might have made me give up for good.
What I needed (but didn't know that I needed-isn't that always the way?) were some simple songs that I could rock along with, but weren't too demanding when it comes to technical skill. To help those other new guitar or bass players out there, I would like to give a short list of easy songs that are fun to play, and will let a new player build some chops before moving no to more complicated stuff. Tabs or chords for all of these tunes are available right here on Ultimate-guitar.com.
This rocker from The Who is simple but allows a certain measure of head-banging. It's about as easy as you can get. The song consists of a single three note progression: F, C, B flat, played with signature Pete Townsend flair. The bling-bling-blang sound is classic. And the song has definite credibility as a learning tune: in Spike Lee's film Summer Of Sam, Adrian Brody's character rocks along with Teenage Wasteland before going on to play New York's famous CBGB's.
This now-obscure pop rock song from Jonathon Richman was immortalized by The Sex Pistols in their jam version on The Great Rock'n'roll Swindle album. It's a fun, bouncy number, that requires intimate knowledge of only two notes: D and A. As an added bonus, young players can work on their backing vocals skills, making sure they shout "Radio on!" at the appropriate time.
The Ramones have taught more guitarists how to play then every guitar teacher in the history of guitar teachers. It's possible to learn how to play a good dozen Ramones songs from memory before learning to play any other song. Blitzkrieg Bop is a four chord powerhouse, features the instantly recognizable "Hey Ho, Let's Go!" chant, and is a must-know for players of every level. Remember, the crap pop-punk bands that make millions today learned how to play by listening to Green Day, and Green Day learned from The Ramones.
This is probably one of the most-played songs in rock and roll's history, and every time another artist covers it, Bob Dylan gets just a bit richer. Jimi Hendrix's version is doubtlessly the most famous, but is almost impossible to play (due to Hendrix being a super-being who didn't die, but simply returned to heaven from whence he came). The song is actually very simple-a direct progression back and forth through A, G and F. Bass players don't even need to change what string they play. The U2 version would be pretty simple to use as a model.
This classic from The Stooges' first album is still the only song we want to hear Iggy Pop sing. It's raw as hell, provides a great introduction to the use of distortion and is quintessential early punk rock. It's also based on a simple progression, and unlike a few of the songs listed above will require the new player to actually learn a chorus that is different from the verse, although not much. Once again, this is an easy song to play, but it's one that every guitar or bass player should know. This is rock. Play it.
These songs will let you rock and have a good time without worrying too much about what you sound like. The simpler the song, the fewer mistakes you're likely to make, and your confidence will grow as you play. Remember, there's no point in playing if it's not fun, so try and have fun, even if you're just learning.