Note: This is a text only version created especially for Steve Marinucci's Abbey Road website. For the full version, with links/photos and more information, please go to www.alstrand.com/evolution

 

Paul was one of the most innovative bass players ever. And half the stuff that is going on now is directly ripped off from his Beatles period.-- John Lennon1

I became very proud to be the bass player in the Beatles.--Paul McCartney2

He set a standard no one has ever reached--George Martin9

Paul's influence on bassists has been so widespread over numerous generations that there's no denying he's in everybody's playing at this point. We're all descendants.--Will Lee

THE EVOLUTION OF ROCK BASS PLAYING; McCARTNEY STYLE

                                              


This is an article written by Dennis Alstrand for rec.music.beatles, bass players and Beatles fans everywhere.   As John Lennon told David Scheff, McCartney was one of the most innovative bass players ever.   This article looks at some of the reasons this is the case.   If you're a doubter, I strongly advise you to read the "What do others think?" section.   This opinion is shared by some of the best known bass players in the world.

To me, this article is a means to a discussion.   I invite feedback.   

If you do send me an email, please make he subject something like "Your McCartney website". I get so much spam, I might accidentally delete your email.

One final note: I would enjoy it if readers who have differening opinions than mine wanted to share those thoughts with everyone. Let me know what your thoughts are and, if you agree, I'll gladly put them in an appropriate spot on the website.

 

INTRODUCTION

 

Paul McCartney in 2009 is better than ever at just about everything he does. Seeing him live or listening to his records now shows a musician who is strong in voice, an excellent arranger and performer in the studio and the rampart of live shows that are second to none.

When you take into account that he was one of the most influential bass players of all time (along with the fact that he is the most successful songwriter ever), that's quite a career that we've been lucky enough to watch.

WHAT ABOUT THE alstrand.com/evolution WEBSITE?

www.alstrand.com/evolution, written over a space of about 15 years (1995-2009), discusses the bass work he did with the Beatles mostly but also delves briefly into his solo career. This is because most of his influence as a player stemmed directly from his Beatles period. In fact, I would suggest his playing on the Beatles white album is the influential work that you hear in bass players to this day.

There is technical information included at the bottom of many of the pages for those interested but the discussion itself is purposely intended to be non-techincal. The reason for that is that I personally extremely dislike discussions on music that are intended to show how educated the writer is.

These days, bass players are out there, up front. There are so many lead singers who are bass players now that it's hard to realize that when McCartney became the bass player for the Beatles, he was taking over an instrument that was usually handed to the least talented (or - in Paul's case - the least objectionable) guitarist in the newly forming ensemble. Bass was simply not a cool instrument to play. McCartney changed all of this. I can think of no front line acts in the early sixties whose bass player was the (or one of the) front man.

When the Beatles exploded onto the scene, though, there was that violin shaped Hofner right up front. And it was in the hands of a guy who made bass playing look like fun. On the records, the Beatles allowed Paul's bass parts to be a big part of the song (even if it was not possible to have it too high in the mix in the early days). He (and those who followed) also showed playing bass can be interesting and even intellectual.

This website is written with the author's view of Paul's own evolution as a bass player and - as he was so incredibly influential in the world of bass playing - the evolution of rock bass playing.   It also attempts to have some fun discussing what was most likely behind the recording of the bass - and at times the other instruments - on a selection of Beatle songs.   It seems clear that all four Beatles were at their best in band situations.  When it came to recording Beatle tunes, the song was the thing.  Whatever it took to help elevate the song was generally what was done and this remained true until the final song they recorded as a group (George, Paul and Ringo recording I Me Mine).   This website celebrates that approach to recording. 

 

Thanks
Influential Bass Players of the 60s
Large Scale vs. Small Scale Bass
-
-
-
How Did He Become an Icon?
Pre 1963
1963
-
-
-
1964/1965
1966
1967
-
-
-
1968
1969
Post Beatles
-
-
-
Five String Taste
Driving Rain
What Do Others Say?
     
     

 

THANKS

Thanks to Don Monson for editing and reminding me to think about using a spell checker.  

To cousin Jerry Dicey for years of discussion on rock bass playing and for talking me into cleaning this up and making it more professional than it originally was. 

To Brian Smithey for setting me straight on James Jamerson. 

To Scott Jennings of Route 66 Guitars for much needed information on Rickenbacker (if you have questions about that company's product, find him), and to and others who offered excellent information in the rec.music.beatles newsgroup whose names have unfortunately come and gone.  

Rainer Toschke deserves a special mention here.   He lives in Germany and, upon initial publication, he wrote me to ask what "kick ass" means. Did it mean to put one's foot in a donkey?  Not only did I learn from him to try to refrain from idiomatic speech, but a great friendship was struck up and my family visited his in a very memorable visit to his homeland.  In fact, the amount of friends I made from this article is incredible to me and, for that reason alone, I place it as my most valuable writing ever.

To Ray the Travellin' Man  for recently turning me on to the skills and influence of the Shadows' Jet Harris. 

 

SOME OTHER INFLUENTIAL BASS PLAYERS OF THE 1960s

No article on influential bass playing of the 1960s would be near complete without an admiring nod to some great players of the day

James Jamerson

(Motown's one and only). If one were to write an article on the evolution of soul bass playing in the 1960s, the article would be about one man: Jamerson (it could also be written about one woman: Carole Kay but speculation about what she actually played and why its been kept secret still runs rampant in the bass world).  He influenced Paul McCartney to a great degree. After switching from upright to electric bass, he kept his action (the distance between the string and the neck) very high. This makes the player work harder to hit each note and therefore tends to keep the player from being too "cute" or fancy. Although he apparently was a very strong fingered man and could play as fast as he ever needed, he was one of the best in the world at laying in the pocket, or playing what was most needed to move a song.

John Entwhistle

(The Who) would have to be mentioned as the predecessor of the archetypal progressive rock bass player. He's the one who made playing with roundwound strings a new wave and that goes way back to My Generation (that's him ripping the bass to shreds)

 

Jet Harris

There are some unfortunate aspects of having spent my entire life in America.   One of them is that I have heard very little of the Shadows playing.   I am rectifying that now, but any discussion on influential bass players from the 1960s would be incomplete without a nod to The Shadows' Jet Harris.   I've never heard McCartney discuss Harris, but I can hear a lot of Harris' influence in his playing.  

Jack Bruce

(Cream/much solo work) was and is a major influence on rock bass playing. He was the first major bass player on the scene whose instrumental work was taken as seriously as the lead instruments in a band. During solos, Cream wouldn't feature just guitarist Eric Clapton, but all three musicians interplaying with one another.

Donald "Duck" Dunn

(Booker T/M.G.s and almost all Memphis records from Redding to Sam & Dave, etc) laid back behind the beat just a little bit along with drummer Al Jackson Jr (a much missed musician) and yet was/is so enthusiastic in his playing. This combination was in contrast to the Motown sound and always seemed perfect for such records as Soul Man, Midnight Hour, Dock of the Bay, Time Is Tight and other such great Memphis hits.

Led Zeppelin's John Paul Jones, Jimi Hendrix's Noel Redding, The Animals Bryan Jones 'Chas' Chandler, the Yardbirds' Paul Samwell-Smith, The Venture's Bob Bogle and the Beach Boy's Brian Wilson (one of Paul's influences2) all put their stamp as well on bass playing in the 1960s.

But it is safe to say that even none of these players had the effect and influence on the musical world as one J. Paul McCartney.

 

LARGE SCALE vs. SMALL SCALE BASSES

Scale, in this case, refers to the size of the neck of the instrument.   Most basses you see are considered "large scale" basses.   A point that is not so well known about Paul McCartney's early bass playing (1962-1965) is that he played on what might be the most famous bass of all time, his ever popular Hofner 500/1 violin bass.   At the time of its issue, it was really an inexpensive bass with a small neck.   If one is used to "regular" basses, picking up a Hofner will offer a surprise.   It is extremely light.  

When playing it, there is a tendency to play fast little lines and, unless you have Paul McCartney's bass in your hands - which I can guarantee none of us ever will have - it will also be "out of tune" as you play up the neck. 

Yet, even with that little bass guitar, Paul McCartney brought rock bass playing many a step forward.  He used a Hofner for every concert and recording right up until and through Rubber Soul.   There is some controversy as to which bass was used on various songs on that particular album.  It would be "safe" to claim that Drive My Car and Think For Yourself were done on his 1964 Rickenbacker model 4001S bass.

For non bass-players, there is a world of difference between the two instruments. 

Because the Hofner's so light, you play it a bit like a guitar - all that sort of high trilling stuff I used to do, I think, was because of the Hofner.   When I play a heavier bass like a Fender, it sits me down a bit and I play just bass.--Paul McCartney2

Interestingly enough, he was really only able to play up the neck efficiently when he switched to the Rickenbacker.   The Hofner's neck was not aligned until recently (by Mandolin Bros. in New York).   Until then, its intonation (best defined as its ability to remain in tune with itself) would decline after the third fret according to its owner.  The switch to the Rickenbacker "sat him down" but it also allowed him to move up the neck with a far steadier and more powerful style.   This can well be witnessed by his playing on Rain, Paperback Writer and the Anthology 2 version of And Your Bird Can Sing.  He could not have obtained the same sound or effect on his Hofner.

The interesting aspect of this whole subject of McCartney's bass playing is that he was (and is) not merely a bass player.  It is quite obvious that he hears and feels the entire range of the song as it is being developed.  He has definite ideas on what the guitars should sound like (frequently plays them), what the keyboard should sound like (frequently plays them) and what the drums should sound like (and frequently plays those as well).   Make no mistake: even with his "high trilling stuff", he remained a bass player.   His technique, while trilling, was still rhythmic and not like a lead guitar (as so many claim).   If you want an argument from me, all you have to do is say he played lead bass.  The only exception I can think of to this rule is during the end piece of I Want You (She's So Heavy) where he purposely went on great flights of bass playing fancy, and is another case of something that could not have been done on his small scale Hofner. But it is also another case of Paul having great fun on a John song.

 

HOW DID HE BECOME AN ICON?

To become the icon of bass players that Paul McCartney became, it must be then that he was born a bass player - ready from the beginning to go out and buy his first bass. Of course this wasn't the case. The Beatles' bass player, Stu Sutcliffe, stayed on in Hamburg after one of their seasons there and they needed someone to replace him. By default, it became Paul.

. . . he (Stu Sutcliffe, the Beatles' original bass player)  left when we finished the gig in Hamburg, he decided to go back to art college. At that point, Paul was still playing the guitar and I remember us saying "Well, one of us has got to be the bass player", and I remember saying "it's not me, I'm not doing it" and John saying "I'm not doing it either". He. . .went for it and he became the bass player from that point on. So then we were a four piece band.--George Harrison3

Stu said he was going to stay in Hamburg. He'd met a girl and was going to stay there with her and paint. So it was like, Uh-oh, we haven't got a bass player. And everyone sort of turned 'round and looked at me. I was a bit lumbered with it, really-it was like, 'Well... it'd better be you, then.' I don't think you would have caught John doing it; he would have said: 'No, you're kidding. I've got a nice new Rickenbacker!' I was playing piano and didn't even have a guitar at the time, so I couldn't really say that I wanted to be a guitarist.--Paul McCartney2

Thanks to this stubbornness, the Beatles sound began at that time to take the direction that would bring them the fame that no group of artists has before or since known.

In the very early days, Paul played with the style that most guitar players-turned-bass players employ. It's a bouncy style that is caused generally by hammering the pick down to the string on each note. The Rolling Stones' Bill Wyman employed this style for years.

Pre-1963

 

The tracks recorded with Tony Sheridan in Germany are the earliest I know of that feature Paul on bass guitar. Pete Best is on drums. Interestingly enough, the feel of the McCartney/Best rhythm section contrasts sharply with the McCartney/Starr section and hence the importance of this recording.

Stylings: Pete Best vs. Ringo Starr

Pete played with a much lighter-sticked attack, using snare rolls frequently. Paul's bass playing style is far heavier than Pete's drumming style and so the rhythm section tends to feel out of balance. For those that still ask the eternal question "Why did they replace Pete with Ringo", take a listen to these songs and - from a rhythm section point of view - it makes sense. Don't take lightly the importance of the ability of the bass player and drummer to lock together .It is, in rock music, crucial to the energy level coming from the sound of the songs.

 

This is as good a time as any to define the role of the bass player in a pop group setting.   When I mention that the bass and drummer "lock together" I mean that they must play in synch with each other.   Frequently the bass guitar and the bass drum are played precisely at the same time.   Further, the groove (the feel of the music being played) being employed by both musicians must work with each other.   Listen to the bass playing and drumming being played beneath the guitar solos on The End (Abbey Road) and you will find no better example of two musicians playing in synch with each other.    

But the bass player must also be in synch with the keyboards and the guitars.   He/she acts as a conduit between those instruments and the rhythm section of which they are a part.  The bass, and generally the bass alone, must compliment all the instruments playing.   It isn't often that you will hear a guitar "locking" in with the drummer.   Not many musicians who have played in a lot of bands will argue with the fact that the bass player is often told to hold back on his/her playing if they get a little rambunctious up the neck.   Why it is that the bass player is so often told how to play by those who have no idea what a bass should do (aside from play in the background) is beyond me, but this was probably not the case with Paul McCartney.   It certainly isn't now.  

McCartney knew the role of the instrument he was playing, and he had/has a great sense of what the roles of the other instruments should be.   This is why he likes to play the instruments himself.  Why not?  It's very difficult at times to convey what you want a musician to play.  Egos get involved.    Following his lead, I have found that when I play my own instruments, the musician does just what I ask!   

CRY FOR A SHADOW (from Tony Sheridan sessions)

Paul 'features' on Cry For A Shadow at the end of every chorus with a slick little run up the neck. The songs from those sessions were recorded in a school setting, far from a recording studio, and you're hearing the Beatles pretty much how they sounded live in those days. Paul's amp can barely handle the pressure and that actually adds some charm to the sound of the bass. During most of his Beatle years and then again on Wings Over America, part of Paul's unique sound was driving his amp just to the edge of distortion. What a difference this makes with sound - adding an edgy touch to it - and Paul is getting it on this recording.

What I was not aware of until listening to Jet Harris' work in the Shadows was that McCartney is doing a very close impersonation of Harris on this song.   

George Martin and Geoff Emerick, in re-mastering the tracks for the Beatles Anthology, were able to give the bass a rich deep tone that hadn't been there before. Since they used old style recording equipment, these recordings - if you like the sound -  offer a testimonial to going back a few steps with some of our technology. Tube recording and performing equipment (such as used on these recordings) will usually sound "warmer" than the more clean and slick digital recording.

Note on pushing the bass sound to the edge of distortion: The over distorted sound Jack Bruce once got with his aggressive right hand, Gibson basses and Marshall amps is not what's being referred to here. More so, the reference is to the sound you get, generally by just slightly overdriving your amplifier. The sound tends to come alive, take pulse, as if there is a bit of friction going on. The over clean (in the author's opinion) sound that bass players have sought out in the 80s and 90s loses a lot of this friction, although there are a few notable exceptions to this rule.

ONE AFTER 909 (unreleased until Anthology)

The early version of One After 909 'showcases' Paul attempting gamely to play a solid hammer rhythm without benefit of a pick. Reviewers of this track have translated his playing as an attempt at being flashy but reviewers listen again. Real bass players out there will recognize that Paul was trying too hard to play and his wrist has stiffened up. He is attempting to keep the energy of his rhythm up, play with his fingers, and harmonize with John at the same time. Like with so many things, if you attempt to push beyond your limit of energy, things begin to get shaky and loose.

Paul, being no quitter, tries gamely to keep it going. In this case, John wonders, "What are you DOING?"  Paul tries again and again. There seems to have been no possibility of having Neil go back out to the van to get a pick from his case because the final recording played on the Anthology sounds the same as the first attempt.

All that aside we can see where at this early stage, Paul is already hammering his notes (solid eight notes played on the root), an effect that wasn't all that often until then; perhaps Paul would have been the perfect bass player for Eddie Cochran (re: Summertime Blues).

1963

1963 was a huge year for McCarntey's development on the bass guitar. I equate it to his banner years of 1966 and 1968 in this regard. The studio dates had not quite yet become something to cram in between shows and tours as they would in 64/65. As stated in my notes on It Won't Be Long, I think he created rock bass playing (as versus rock 'n roll bass playing) during this year. Let's take a look at how things transpired.

 


PLEASE PLEASE ME (single)  

Please Please Me is pure excitement. The overall sound is like a big band even if the parts played aren't done in that style. As with so many of their songs, there wasn't one particular Beatle responsible for the excitement. A listen to what each of the four did reveals an exciting well-played part and they all come together to make a sound that you'll never forget. 

The role of the bass playing on this song is conceptual.   Listen to what McCartney does during the opening of this song.   After that incredibly catchy two-note guitar intro, the harmonica comes to the forefront.  But the bass "hammers" (constant steady beat) eight notes up high.  Listen to the intro without listening to the bass part and figure what you think would have been the perfect bass part for the part.  The odds are you wouldn't come up with the idea that the Beatles did.  But, I would have a very hard time accepting an argument that it is anything but perfect, just as the parts all the Beatles are playing is perfect. Everyone on that intro is hammering on your front door and it would be a sad person indeed who wouldn't throw open the door and let those brash boys in.

After the knock-down intro, the bass recedes (appropriately) to the back of the song. It's time for John and Paul to bring the voices to the fore. By the time the Beatles get to the call/response "Come on..Come on!", there can be no denying that these young men have already learned what it takes to make a record that will jump out of the flimsiest of radios or jump off the flimsiest of record players and become a hit. The interesting thing is that this was the second go at this song. John and Paul have separately talked about how they had brought the song in as a Roy Orbison style ballad, stretching out the "come on". George Martin told them to go home and think this one over. I'd like to say thanks to Mr. Martin for this because look what they brought back.

While I have this song in the 1963 section, the day it was recorded was actually November 26, 1962. While I've never heard anybody else say this, it was a huge day for the Beatles. History shows that they had, beginning with this song, a huge unbroken string of number 1 hits (in England, all the way up to Penny Lane). But what if they had not come back with a great song they themselves had written? Their first record, PS I Love You/Love Me Do had lackluster sales. George Martin was all for following the trend that was always followed in the industry. He wanted them to record songs that professional songwriters had composed. Why not record "How Do You Do It?", by Mitch Murray? It's sure to be a hit. The Beatles were up against it and, as they would do throughout their career when the chips were down, they came through in a big way; this time with Please Please Me. But what if they had not come through? Would the Beatles have been allowed to keep trying and wasting studio time with their own material? Maybe not. It's a huge credit to George Martin that he saw their potential as songwriters. Aside from some of the great rock n rollers of the 1950s (Berry, Little Richard, Lewis), it just wasn't done before the Beatles.


WITH THE BEATLES (LP)   

Notes on With The Beatles: Up until the album With The Beatles (1963), most contemporary bass playing was jazz (played on an upright bass) or rock and roll (played either on an upright or Fender electric). But it was a very primitive technique used by rock and roll bass players that generally mimicked the style of horn lines.

With The Beatles, as far as I can tell, was the first album where ROCK bass playing first crawled from the ocean and breathed air. But even with the advent of the CD and remastered tracks, the bass is still low in the mix and inaudible frequently. That's because in those days the concern was that if the bass was mixed too loud onto a record, the cheap turntables of the day wouldn't be able to handle it. It wasn't until 1965 really that the Beatles bass could really be heard.

On most of the album, George Martin and engineer Norman Smith decided to let the bass come up front and for good reason. The playing is solid and wild, especially for the times and especially on John's songs. Ringo and Paul have developed, by this album, an awesome matching of power that few other bands could boast. It must be claimed that they both avoided showing off too much, but more importantly they sought and always seemed to find just the right way to present a song. Pressing along with John Lennon's guitar on Hold Me Tight, the rhythm rolls like a Sherman Tank smashing its way through a forest. Hanging back on All I've Got To Do (discussed further), they "don't" play perfectly -- meaning that it is just important what they would leave out as what they would put in.

Every Beatles album had a particular flavor and it's easy to contrast With The Beatles with the white album on that regard. Each instrument was well defined both in sound and in style.

The Beatles, most will agree, were TALENTED. John Lennon was right when he said that they would have made it famous one way or another, because they were talented people. As a band, they could play about any kind of style, and they could do it both ways. They could create a tight, cohesive sound that would knock your doors off and draw you into their tremendous spirit -or - they could play as four musicians working expertly with each other as on both the White Album and here on With The Beatles.

On the first three songs from the album:

IT WON'T BE LONG

For those who were excitedly awaiting this, the Beatles next album, I doubt if any were disappointed for long once they put it on their little turntables. What an album opener! It Won't Be Long! And, they appear to be saying, it won't be long until you are under our power. The album starts right off with The Tried and True Knockout Call (John "It won't be long") and Response (Paul and George "yeah"). Wow. These guys are undeniable.

At 0:10, a series of events follow in quick succession to bring us to the verse. John sings "till I belong to you", Paul and George sing "ahhh" below this. Beneath that, John does a few power strums on his guitar, down in the mix. At 0:12, George plays that hook guitar line that can only be in E and it sounds great, doesn't it.

Then he plays it a second time, but this time there are hi jinx going on. The verse is coming and it's time to shift gears down a little bit. Downshift? Well, they do that by having Paul double the guitar line and Ringo add a nifty little fill of his own. To bring things down a bit, they yank it up a few notches! Please, put that CD on and listen to this little moment. These guys are enthusiastic.

The Beatles dynamics on this song are interesting. When they get to the verse, the energy drops a notch but from whom is the energy dropping? Not the drums, because Ringo goes from a semi-closed hi hat to a ride cymbal. It may be only the fact that the call and response has stopped temporarily. At the end of the verse we have the guitar line again and repeated.

(0:27). This time Paul's bass begins to follow the guitar line down but makes a quick turn at the end of the line to bring us back to the powerful chorus. This time Ringo follows the guitar line with his toms and John plays a cool roll on his guitar. On the song goes.

Paul had a slightly distorted sound on the song, especially on the hook lines. Martin/Smith (producer and first engineer) are to be given a lot of credit for not only leaving that in but also for bringing it to the fore. I'm sure I'm not the first to think about this, but it must have been exciting to be them, to be there when the Beatles were recording songs like this. To know that you had something this potentially huge being recorded in your studio.

It is dynamics that make so many of the Beatles songs what they were. They were, even at this early stage of their career, masters of when to go all out and when to lay back. Because you've gone through a mini roller-coaster ride of dynamics when listening to much of their music, you tend to reach each conclusion feeling some exhilaration. It Won't Be Long is no exception to this rule. It might be that the vocals and guitars provide the roller car you're riding in, but Ringo and Paul provide that car's wheels.

The album starts off with this song and doesn't trail off there.

ALL I'VE GOT TO DO

All I've Got To Do follows, and to the best of my knowledge it's the first time in R&R or rock where the bass player plays chords as a vital part of the song. Just as it happens when Paul starts playing chords in I Want To Hold Your Hand, the rest of the band steps back and let his sound come through. Dynamics to the fore, the bass playing really works for this song. As mentioned above, what Paul doesn't play on this song is as important as what he does play. Up and coming bass players, please take heed. The minor tension he creates with his chords is of major importance to this track, during the verses. He is riding the drum's syncopated rhythm in a herky-jerky way that is meant for dance.

Some technical notes about the drumming: Again, dynamics are well to the fore this time with Ringo at the lead. As the song heads towards the choruses (...."is call you on the phone"), he starts opening his hi hat a bit and by the time chorus is reached ("and the same goes for me. . .") the song reaches up to new heights. Beneath this line, Ringo is pounding his bass drum on the quarter notes in way that makes you smile to listen to. The chorus is full of life and strong with the vocals leading the way. But the rhythm section is playing in a very mature way for such young men. You would think there would be a tendency to rush the tempo a bit. It's an easy thing to do when things get exciting, but Ringo and Paul keep things steady. And then, even more suddenly than it started, the chorus ends. Ringo kicks a perfectly timed hi-hat stroke (telling the other musicians where the beat is) and we're back down to a low-key verse. The second time the song heads towards the chorus, Ringo is bringing the song to a higher level so that when the chorus is reached, the musicians are already pouring it out. Dynamic, exciting stuff. On this song, none of the playing, bass chords aside, is new or extraordinary, just very well done.

ALL MY LOVING

Underneath John's awesome triplet mashing, for the first half of each verse, Paul's bass walks from chord to chord in good ol' jazz style. The typical R&R bass lines would work with this song, especially considering what's happening on rhythm guitar, but the walk works even better.

The typical bass player of the day would have settled for playing a simple 1 & 5 on each chord and it would have worked, but not nearly as well as this line does. The style is ever present and dynamic.

Note: By "1 & 5" I mean the root and the fifth of each chord.   For example, if the band is playing in the key of C, many times the bass player will alternate the C and G (the fifth note of the C major scale) notes.

But then on the chorus, where you generally expect the band to really pick it up, the Beatles fall WAY back. The triplet guitar stops, the bass stops walking, and the background vocals are used almost as an organ effect. The bass, here, stands to the side as well until the guitar solo starts. It becomes a whole new song. When you consider that they were somewhere in their very early 20s when they recorded this, an age where one might not expect a lot of dynamics, all of this becomes even more impressive.

 

DON'T BOTHER ME

Dang, folks. There is some interesting bass playing going on in this song that I never really listened to until just now (here 2008, 45 years after it was recorded). I offer only the excuse that the bass is not prominent in the mix, and is a part of a hodgepodge of great groove playing by the Beatles. Okay, I admit it, I just missed out on this one all these years.

There are some songs (and the Beatles recorded many) that have such a great mix of all four musicians that no part really stands out. For this song, it was always Lennon's great tremolo guitar that caught my ear and held it throughout the song but in reality it is a top notch ensemble recording. When the Beatles were recording Let It Be, George was whining about how he never had a chance to get his songs in and when he did there was not much time put into them. John replied that they had always grooved for him right back to Don't Bother Me. I should have put this song on and listened closer then because he was right. They supply a groove for what could well have been a lackluster song at best.

The bass part during most of the verses is kind of indescribable so I recommend putting the CD on and listening to it. The bass on the verses are funk. Funky (I hate that word though), very well done in conjunction with the drum groove. And then, under "So go away" for example, here comes the patented bass chords or double stops. My favorite part of the song, and one that, yes, I've heard for years, is the little "f*** you" that Paul puts into the song at 1:58. The band stops while Paul holds his note and then lets it drop. Take that. All in all, not a bad little backup band for George's first written song, I'd say.

Little Child is pure rock n roll; Till There Was You has some accomplished playing and good understanding of chord structure; the whole album follows both concepts.


I WANT TO HOLD YOUR HAND (single)   

In Britain, I Want To Hold Your Hand (recorded on a four track recorder!) was released a week after Meet The Beatles was released in America. When the British public first heard this, and were by now quite used to great Beatle hits, we Yanks and Herns were just hearing them for the first time.

I Want To Hold Your Hand (spelled I Wanna Hold Your Hand on Meet The Beatles) is full of dynamics, stumbles and hooks. One instrument after another takes its turn coming to the forefront. At first it's the rhythm guitar playing the famous opening chords, staying somehow in 4/4 (though you wouldn't know it as it seems like it takes one beat too long for the vocals to come in). Then, there's the final little crescendo before the first vocals, anchored by Paul's repeater bass line.

On the bridge (and when I touch you I feel happy), just as in All My Loving, the guitars and drums fall way back, and Paul's bass leaps to the fore, playing chords. The whole song has changed feel for a short time, but not for long. The dynamics that result when the guitars re-enter at "I can't hide" are, at the very least, catchy.

Here, at a stage where the Beatles were conquering the world, John and George both stood back and let the dynamics flow. The boys had learned, quite early in their professional recording careers, to bring the hooks to the fore. They'd also learned not to let their musicianship get in the way of making good records.

I Want To Hold Your Hand is one of pop music's all-time masterpieces. Short and concise, it takes you through changes both subtle and obvious. So much can be learned from this song by aspiring songwriters/ arrangers/producers.

1963, Beatles style, was nothing short of great fun for everyone. They were having fun recording and we were having fun listening and watching. How could it get better than "With the Beatles"? Aside from their ability to get a better sound using a four track recorder, it probably couldn't.

 

Technical notes for 1963

Beginning with their debut recordings at EMI through April of 1963, Paul played his Hofner 500/1 bass through a Quad II/22 amp and a speaker cabinet with a 15" speaker nicknamed the Coffin. In April, he used a Vox T-60 (60 watt) solid state amp going into a cabinet with 12" and 15" speakers. The amp gave him fits, breaking down frequently so before the recording of With the Beatles, he replaced it with a Vox AC-50 amp.

In late September, McCartney picked up another Hofner 500/1 bass with a difference to his old one.. The pickups are further apart than his old one which would allow him a wider array of tones from high to low.

 

Finally (for 1963), he got new Vox amplificatiohn: an AC-100 (100 watt amp) and a speaker cabinet with 2 15" speakers. Seems like he really improved his amplification but the amazing thing is that he was ever heard with 100 watts in the huge places they were getting ready to play in.

(Note: this and all subsequent information on his basses and amp/speaker combinations is thanks to the excellent book "Paul McCartney - playing the great beatles basslines" by Tony Bacon and Gareth Morgan. Bacon and Morgan provide some very good insights into Paul's bassplaying.)

I Want to Hold Your Hand was recorded on October 17, 1963 and it was a milestone for the Beatles in that it was the first day they had use of a four track recorder in the studio. While having only four tracks seems silly now, it was a huge jump for the engineers at Abbey Road studios. It allowed them much more flexibility with recording and the general consensus is that the EMI engineers were amongst the best at using the four tracks to the fullest. With the old two-track machine, the Beatles had to play their instruments (and usually sing) live. All the instruments were recorded on to one track as a rule and all vocals onto the other. This meant there was no ability to mix the level of the various instruments up or down. If the Beatles did their take and left and it was learned later that the guitar was too loud, then that was what they had to live with. With four tracks now, they could record the instruments separately onto more tracks.

Can you imagine how good With The Beatles could have sounded if it were recorded on four tracks?! It wasn't too long after this that Les Paul developed an eight track recording machine but the Beatles wouldn't have use of one until the white album in 1968.

 

1964/1965

 

Notes on 1964/1965: The production level of the bass on Beatle albums seems to have leveled off during these two years, especially when you consider the manner in which it had been brought to the fore so often in 1963 (see It Won't Be Long).

Perhaps this is because:

  • The Martin/Smith team were informed that too much bass on a record was making the stylus' jump on the cheap little turntables that Beatles' records were being played on around the world.
  • The Beatles were falling into the shell that was to encapsulate them until late 1966. Perhaps Paul was thinking more about the songs alone than what to play on it, although that's pretty admirable in and of itself. They were involved in so much; touring, songwriting, endless photo sessions and Paul's expansion into instruments other than bass. There was just too much to think of during this period for him to be completely revolutionary with his bass playing. Footnote on this theory: reading The Complete Beatles Chronicle by Mark Lewishohn convinces me that this is a big part of it. I don't know how it's possible that the Beatles even survived 1963 and 1964. It's just amazing how much they did, how many places they went. In fact, if I were one of the Beatles I would not for the rest of my life want to hear any questions about anything that happened during those years. 1965 was a somewhat easier year for them. But I wouldn't have survived that year either. Reading that book made me appreciate what the Beatles did more than ever. But I got exhausted just reading about it all.
  • By 1965, John had turned more and more to acoustic guitar on Beatles' records and the style of the band was leaning (in some ways) towards folk music which requires far less from the bass than the rock they were playing in 1964.

A point to be made about 1964 is that Paul and The Beatles allowed the bass to actually be played when other instruments were not playing . In those days, bass playing was supposed to be only in the background. 


A HARD DAYS NIGHT LP

 

  

I'LL CRY INSTEAD

The song is recorded in an interesting fashion. Lyrically, it's sad and introspective, but the Beatles put their magic touch on it. It rolls along nicely, Paul playing a 1/5 country-western influenced style, all upbeat. But wait. Whose idea was this? At 1:05 and 1:35 the band breaks (under "show you what your lovin' man can do") and, lo and behold, a bass break! I can't think of too many of those that happened in the world of rock by 1964. When these points are reached, Paul pumps harder on the strings with his pick than otherwise throughout the song. It makes sense: if he's going to be the prime factor in the instrumental section, he's going to turn it up a notch.

THINGS WE SAID TODAY

Ensemble playing (by all four) at its finest. Listen to Paul's bass contribution on the song. Not outlandish, it's very tasteful. You might be surprised that it drives the song perfectly. Every instrument on this song is bent away from self-expression and directly toward "song expression". Little things come and go that drive the song and its mood along.

Note: In the sixties' days of dance music, songs were either "fast dance" songs or "slow dance" songs and Things We Said Today moves between both of those. Couples dancing to the song would begin by slow dancing and then (once they knew the song) break apart and fast dance in the middle sections. The song is really two separate songs skillfully blended together by the Beatles.

But, after all, what defines a slow song or fast song? It isn't the tempo, as Things We Said Today is not much slower - if at all - than Boys. It's not necessarily the drumbeat because Ringo's eighth-note hi-hat beat during the slow sections is somewhat similar to a rock-and-roll beat. In the end, it must be the energy of the performers. In Things We Said Today, Paul delivers both forms of energy to his vocal. During the slow part, his voice covers the sound almost like a blanket; it's very soothing. During the rock part, his voice carries the tension of a rocker.

This is one of the early examples, to be shown many times over their career, of the Beatles' expert ability to shift in and out of tempos, time signatures, and moods with stealth and ease. For another one of their all-time best examples of this, refer to the 4/4, 3/4 change in We Can Work It Out.


Note from Dave Ryan on TELL ME WHY

"This is a cool song with pretty basic changes, but the bass is so sophisticated for a pop tune, and sews the song together with a perfect seam. The swinging walk line underpins the changes like BUTTAH. Who else would have come up with that line?? Nobody!  Not that it's so complicated or hard to play, but it is a near perfect expression of how the bass can fit and give the song "ass" as Paul has said. It makes me think of good carpentry, when the pieces just fit  square, smooth and strong.
I know they bounced this rhythm track down, so the final mix left the bass part a tad too low in volume, I'd say. But when you tweak up the bass knob, baby- look out.
Ringo locks in so well and punctuates perfectly. Textbook. Of course, the answering harmonies are killer. Ain't nobody wrote this kind of stuff since the Fabs. I heard a cover band play this once and the bass man played just the changes in quarter notes- of course it pretty much deflated the performance for me even though the harmonies were good. If you can't respect Mac's bass parts, you should go play sax or something. This band changed my life, and I am glad of it."



HELP! LP

A close listening to the Help! album shows Paul stringing along mostly in a 1-5 (root fifth) fashion. His playing is always appropriate and in almost no case experimental. The Beatles had a lot to do by this time and not a lot of time to sit around thinking about bass parts. In fact, just as like Rubber Soul, it's surprising that they were able to produce anything listenable at all. No one could survive the schedule they had kept for the past two years and be imaginative and yet, perhaps with the help of some good pot, the Beatles were. Help! is a good album of 1965 British rock.

IF YOU'VE GOT TROUBLES (unreleased until Anthology)

This is another song that tends to be written off as an undesirable piece of work, mostly because it was never released. Reviewers have mostly had trouble relating to it. Had it been released instead of its replacement, Act Naturally, a different view of the song may well be held today.

It contains an excellent rock bass/guitar line, an early example of what was to come to the rock world a few years later. In 1965, the prevailing style in England was to come up with a catchy guitar hook (i.e., Satisfaction). While If You've Got Troubles has that line, it still appears to be ahead of the times, and the reason is that they are doubling the bass line beneath it, sort of like Drive My Car. The guitar line with bass doubling from an octave below is a potent weapon and If You've Got Troubles benefits nicely from it. The main problem with the song is that the Beatles just never finished it. I think this could have been a Beatles classic.


Note from Dave Ryan on EIGHT DAYS A WEEK

"One of the "biggest" sounding of their early hits. I heard this dong and I knew I was in the presence of greatness. (OK, the lyrics aren't their best.)
Big, huge, fat Hofner bass part underneath. To me, this defines a rolling, moving feel. Swing style line under great guitar parts, with each guitar doing its own thing to create drive, musical flavor, and interest. Where the hell did these guys come from? It's neat to hear how this song evolved from the early takes into such a dynamic piece. Like a sculptor, they knew just what to add, what to take away.
But oh, how the bass part is wicked cool. Paul is by far the best player of the four, and this proves it.
This band was indeed greater than the sum of the parts, like having that "ringing chord" in a barbershop quartet when everyone nails their note, and the blend creates something extra in the sound. The Fabs produced that essence in so many of their songs. In these songs the bass takes the song to another level, made a good song great."


RUBBER SOUL 

 

Awright, maybe I was a little hasty after all when I noted that production levels dipped in '64/'65. I've been in discussion with site reader John Martin and he's expressed his opinion, shared by many (as well as me now) that most of Paul's playing on Rubber Soul was on his new left-handed Rickenbacker 4001S bass guitar. I went back and gave that album a closer listen with the intent of discovering which songs were Hofner and which were Rickenbacker. Instead, what I discovered was that it was on this album, and not Revolver, where McCartney really laid his claim on being not only on top of the rock and roll bass playing game, but just an all around top-flight bass player.

The thing that always amazes me is that Rubber Soul was recorded between October 12 and November 11 (or, if your British, 12 October and 11 November). One month was all it took to record this album and it's considered by many as amongst their best. I've had a number of jazz and classical aficionados tell me that they were not fans of the Beatles until Rubber Soul came out. It certainly is John Lennon leading the show, this before he grew weary of Beatledom and the bass player took the reins.

McCartney, throughout this album, is right on the spot. If a song calls for a solid underlying groove bass (Drive My Car), then you've got it. If it is something that is needed to enhance a very pretty acoustic guitar part (Michelle and many others), then you've got that too. I was slow to realize Paul's bass mastery on this album because it is largely a folky album. Part of that must be due to the new instrument. There is no doubt that getting a good new instrument inspires a musician to play better. In this case, the Rickenbacker with it's longer neck providing more string tension allowed him to get much better tone and sustain (how long a note can hold a tone) than he had with the Hofner.

DRIVE MY CAR 

When recorded where both instruments are clearly heard, the sound of a good rock guitar line with the bass following it an octave beneath it is pretty exciting. The guitar/bass parts in Drive My Car are a perfect example of this, and the lines are thanks to George Harrison who persevered against Paul's will in playing it this way. Listen to the way the bass works with the song, the way it works with the drums and under the guitar, the way he sometimes plays a simple line (verses) and the way he gets heavy at times (under "and maybe I love you"). This is a bass player who is having fun and he's wielding an instrument that has power in the band. That's the reason a lot of musicians play the bass in the first place; we really are in a position of power even if a lot of it is underlying and not always noticeable. Well, he is definitely not playing like someone who was "stuck" with the instrument.

 

NOWHERE MAN 

Nowhere Man is another candidate for having been recorded on the Rickenbacker. The bass line is bouncy and fun to listen to and, as always, is in perfect counterpoint to the guitars.   I remember, upon first hearing this song when it came out as a single in the US, that I was first taken by the really trebly guitar and three part harmonies.  But as time went on, my young ears started hearing that bouncing bass line.   The whole song is done with such British cool.   I am convinced that an American band could not have done this song right.   It would have sounded too happy.   

MICHELLE

1964/65 cannot be dismissed without a mention of the lovely bass work done on Michelle. Smooth, flowing, legato. Discussing the bass (or any parts) on Michelle is like discussing a fine wine. . Observe the way the bass counters the guitar parts, subtly keeping the music interesting and yet remaining tastefully in the background so as not to disturb the superb vocalization. Ahhhh, priceless." Take that, Ian MacDonald.

I never would have played 'Michelle' on bass until I had to record the bass line. Bass isn't an instrument you sit around and sing to. I don't anyway. But I remember that opening six-note phrase against the descending chords in 'Michelle'- that was like, oh, a great moment in my life. I think I had enough musical experience after years of playing, so it was just in me. I realized I could do that.-- Paul McCartney 2

There is no doubt at all that Paul was the main musical force. He was also that in terms of production as well. A lot of the time George Martin didn't really have to do the things he did because Paul McCartney was around and could have done them equally well. The only thing he couldn't do was to put symbols to chords: he couldn't write music. But he could most certainly tell an arranger how to do it, just by singing a part--however, he didn't know, of course, whether the strings or brass could play what he wanted. But most of the ideas came from Paul. -- Beatles engineer Norman Smith 9

In reviewing some of the favorites from the Beatles repertoire, Smith's comments ring true. I wouldn't question him anyway as he was there in the studio watching it all happen from the very first recordings on through the end of Rubber Soul when he decided to opt out to become a producer. What a great job Norman Smith did for the Beatles. Everyone talks about Geoff Emerick, and rightfully so, but let's not forget Mr. Smith, the man who made the Beatles sound like they did on some of the classic recordings of all time. And he did it with very little time spent with the Beatles who were always off and running for another session at the BBC or North American tour or something. I wish, sometimes, I could meet him if only to say "Thanks!".

To recap Rubber Soul, it's amazing that the album is as good as it is. The writing and recording of it was sandwiched between major tours. It was done in a very short amount of time and two of the best songs (John's "Girl" and Paul's "You Won't See Me") were crunched in on the very last day of recording because more songs were needed. This fact is either seriously inflating or deflating. They were out of songs, out of time, and these are what they came up with overnight? It must have been nice to be George Martin.


TECHNICAL NOTES

In 1965, McCartney got a free Rickenbacker 4001S bass guitar. As mentioned above there is considerable debate about what bass he played on what song on the Rubber Soul album. One thing is for sure, starting in 1966 he was recording steadily with the Rickenbacker. There are huge differences between the Hofner and the Rickenbacker. The Hofner is hollow body and the Rick is solid body. The Rickenbacker has a longer neck and is far easier to keep intonated. McCartney's Hofner would be out of tune with itself while the Rickenbacker could stay in tune as he went up the neck. The frets are spaced further apart and this causes a player to work a little bit more for each note. Rickenbacker was pretty smart to give him the bass for free. A lot of bass players bought them just because McCartney played and that's for sure. The longer neck and better intonation freed Paul up for what he was about to do for the next few years: expand!

1966

Notes on 1966:

Who, listening to pop music in those days, will forget the sounds of 1966? Pop music decided to grow up that year and it wasn't just the Beatles bringing the new sounds. There were fantastic songs full of great sounds coming from all directions. The music of '66 brought class as well as garage. From Sunshine Superman (which really caught my ear) to Cherish to They're Coming to Take Me Away to Daydream to Kicks to Wild Thing to Happy Jack (have you listened to that song lately?), it was very cool - in my opinion it was the best year for pop music ever. On top of all that great noise, Paperback Writer blasted out of our radio speakers with a sound that was fresh and a bit wild.

When the Beatles went to record what became the Revolver album, there was a huge challenge in front of them. They could very easily have hit a dry period, having long since grown completely tired of their lives as Beatles. If you have ever read Lewisohn's book on their day-to-day lives you might have wondered how they stayed sane at all through the mid sixties. In fact, it's somewhat amazing that they didn't chuck it all in at this point.

Instead, Paul McCartney chose this time to shine and the Beatles rode the wave with him. In 1966, Paul was a part of the art scene in London and into some pretty far out stuff. It was his idea to bring the tape loops in that became such a huge part of Lennon's Tomorrow Never Knows (the banshee Indian sounds were taken from a guitar loop). While the othe Beatles were wisely trying to spend their time resting, it was Paul who was listening to strange music and wanting to bring a new sound to the Beatles. Revolver has some great Lennon songs, there is no doubt. But it's Paul's songs and sounds that seem to define the sound of the Beatles in 1966 (just as it was John who seemed to define their sound in 1965). Paul brought a certain classical influence to the album and it showed itself in a number of ways. But also, he brought some amazing and dynamic bass playing. He was using his Rickenbacker exclusively in the studio now (even though he used the trusty Hofner on stage). With it, he created a new style of bass playing that -along with his playing on the white album - reverberates through the bass community to this day. People still talk in amazement about what he did on Rain and Paperback Writer. He was on fire this year and it came through onto the Revolver album and R/PBW single in a huge way.

The recording of Revolver began in early April 1966. Paperback Writer was recorded on April 14th.

And all of this so far says nothing about what might be the best single record ever recorded and it was done in 1966: Penny Lane/Strawberry Fields Forever. John and Paul were at their individual best, in my opinion. What a year. What a year.


PAPERBACK WRITER (single)   

It's a whole new bass player who emerged on June 10th, the day Paperback Writer and Rain was released as a single.
Reviews of Paperback Writer, over the years, have tended to cast it off as being a fairly weak song. Better lyrics are demanded. But the reviewers miss the point entirely, as usual. It is not the lyrics that drive this song; it's the sound, the vibrating feel of it. It's George's lead guitar riff, John's tremolo rhythm, Ringo's driving beat and Paul's soaring bass playing. The sound of the song was completely different than anything else out in its day. The four musicians clicked together as a unit, each one completely holding his own and feeding into the wild sound.

You just about have to go back in time and listen to what else was on the charts and playing on the radio in 1966 and 1967 to really grasp how powerful these songs were when they were released. It has been said many times, but it's true. There was nothing like it around.

George played the heavy hook line on his 1962 Gibson Les Paul (SG) Standard to John's heavily tremoloed Gretsch Nashville. The two guitarists always managed to sound great together and Paperback Writer is one of the prime examples of that blend. The mix of the two really moves the song. The vocals are extraordinary; ingeniously arranged and recorded with flash and style. But, in the eyes of history, it's the bass that really cuts this song. Paul's bass fills leading into the verses are by now legendary. It was one of the first major hits- along with its flip side - that really featured bass (bass guitar--Johnny Cymbol fans, hold those letters).

RAIN (single)

In its finished form, Rain was slowed down from the tempo it was originally recorded at.  This change was engineered to give the sound a warmer, almost dripping feel. But when you consider the fact that it is slower, think about how fast it must have been recorded. Take heed, Ringo bashers, he did this drumming at a FASTER speed than the record. Those who wish to hear "monster" bass playing, 1966 style, sit back and enjoy the show. Like so many facets of the Beatles' legacy, it's as alive today as it was then.

A lot of the song is played up the neck, but there are a number of lines where he gets from down the bottom end to up high quickly. Since the song comes out in G, it's my guess that they originally played it in A, allowing Paul to play the low open A and get up above the high G on the first string with relative ease. Listen to the bass line just after "Can you hear me? Can you hear me? He gets from the low G to the high G just a little too quickly for it to be otherwise. If the song was not recorded, originally, in A, then the other possibility is that a capo was used.

Still, the bass work is at the same time heavy and flowery. An iron butterfly, if you will. It wasn't long after this that bass players in recording sessions and bands around the world found themselves facing the dilemma of having to "play like McCartney, man".

 

My favorite piece of me is what I did on 'Rain.' I think I just played amazing. I was into the snare and hi-hat. I think it was the first time I used this trick of starting a break by hitting the hi-hat first instead of going directly to a drum off the hi-hat. . . I think it's the best out of all the records I've ever made. 'Rain' blows me away. It's out of left field. I know me and I know my playing, and then there's 'Rain'.--Ringo Starr5

 


Side notes of 1966:

It was a whole new era in recording and bass playing. That same year, Cream formed and Jack Bruce with his six-string bass started dazzling the masses in England. Entwhistle and the Who started taking off that year as well. One thing you can say about Paul McCartney; he's up to a challenge. It would have been easy to just take a back seat to the virtuosos, but not so Paul because it was now that he started really making his mark. Not bad for a mop top, eh?

THE EMERGENCE OF YOUNG GEOFF EMERICK

Geoff Emerick became the Beatles engineer after Rubber Soul. What would Revolver have sounded like with the outgoing EMI sound engineer Norman Smith? Perhaps a lot drier. More like Rubber Soul, maybe, but one thing's for sure; it would have sounded nowhere near like it did. Smith left either to pursue his own producing career (as per George Martin) or because he knew it was time to hop off (as per Norman Smith himself).

Rubber Soul wasn't really my bag at all so I decided that I'd better get off the Beatles train. -- Norman Smith 6

Before the brilliant Mr. Smith departs, I think it should be pointed out that he was the engineer on some of the greatest moments of pop music of all time. The early Beatles records were fantastic and hold up well to this day. Norman Smith was engineer during the times when the Beatles had very little time for recording their records. They would basically pop in, have a huge session and run out into the world again. He didn't have the technology available to him that the later Beatles engineers had. I don't think you can deny that he did a fantastic job during his tenure.

This move, for whatever reason, is all-important in any consideration of the next Beatles records. To emphasize this major point, put Rubber Soul and Revolver into your CD (or whatever) player and just skip around between albums for a while. You'll see it wasn't just, as so often has been reported, that the Beatles had gotten better, it was also that the recording techniques went out of the universe in 1966, using compression techniques that are so evident on Revolver, Sgt. Pepper and Abbey Road. Norman Smith was great, Geoff Emerick was young and ready to burn.

'Paperback Writer' was the first time the bass sound had been heard in all its excitement. For a start, Paul played a different bass, a Rickenbacker. Then we boosted it further by using a loudspeaker as a microphone. We positioned it directly in front of the bass speaker and the moving diaphragm of the second speaker made the electric current .-- Geoff Emerick 6

What a wild process, one that is used in some stereo systems today; created at Abbey Road for that song. Note that here Emerick doesn't claim specifically that it was the first time he used the Rickenbacker, which would have been - most probably - an incorrect statement. Instead he refers to it as a "different" bass. It might do well to keep in mind that Emerick's involvement on Rubber Soul (when Paul was first seen to have it in use) may have been minimal. It wasn't until the Revolver sessions that Emerick became the main engineer.

Geoff walked-in green but because he knew no rules he tried different techniques, and because the Beatles were very creative and adventurous, they would say yes to everything. The chemistry of George and Geoff was perfect and they made a formidable team. With another producer and another engineer things would have turned out quite differently. - - Tape operator Jerry Boys 6

Geoff started off by following Norman Smith's approach because he'd been Norman's assistant for a while. But he rapidly started to change things around, the way to mike drums or bass, for example. He was always experimenting .-- Ron Pender 6


REVOLVER

    

 

Notes on Revolver:
The sound of this entire album is completely unique. I know of no other album that sounds close to it. Many fans and reviewers (and even George Martin) have referred to it as their favorite Beatles album. For this album, it was the sounds that the Beatles sought to bring to the fore. Tracks were slowed down and sped up to achieve sounds.
Much has been made of the Beatles' increasing dissatisfaction with their ability to perform to any standard in concert. It is quite possible that this fact, while a frustration for them at that point, was a significant factor in the incredible leaps and bounds they were making in the studio during these years. In other words, the worse they felt about their live work, the more attention was given to their studio work. It is possible that had their concerts given them more satisfaction, their studio work might not have been given the incredible energy and attention it was. If so, then let us give thanks to the screaming fans. Without them, perhaps Revolver wouldn't have happened.

GOT TO GET YOU INTO MY LIFE

McCartney really began to take his instrument seriously in 1966. His playing throughout the album, throughout 1966, was at a peak. At times it was bold, at times tender. Sometimes quiet, sometimes loud; whatever the song called for.

Would he agree, however, that something more might have been done on Got To Get You Into My Life. If, as books indicate he was looking for a Motown sound, he might have beefed his line up just a bit; played a line that moved the song a little more. This is not an assault on simple playing but McCartney's attack (the dynamic of how he puts pick to string) sounds as if it's back to the old style of hammer picking. Without much backing instrumentation (aside from horns), it leaves things a bit empty sounding.

TAXMAN

On Taxman, the bass playing sounds like the bass is going through a Marshall stack, giving it a power rock sound. Excellent all the way around, especially when you consider that Paul was also busy recording that incredible guitar solo. In one of the few moments I have heard of George complimenting McCartney, he has been quoted as being pleased with the lead solo, and that McCartney had worked to develop an Indian sound.

The bass part is a good rock bass line, simple and direct.  All the playing, in fact, on this song is simple and direct, with the exception of the guitar solo.   The Beatles knew no rules.  On one song (Tomorrow Never Knows) sounds and notes would fill your ears.  On this song, each note was premium. 

Here is a note from Pierre Charron who wrote to me in December of 07 to enlighten me about a detail of this song.

I am a professionnel musician and a sound mixer in Quebec, Canada. I used to play bass for many years (I still do) and I also play guitar, keyboards and drums. I'm a real Beatles fan, and to have listened to their tracks in all the possible ways, so for the drums and the bass, I could honestly say that I can't really miss some details in their recording. But in all the articles I've read or the bands I've heard, there is one detail that nobody seemed to take care about concerning the song "Taxman". If you listen carefully to the bass line, you will notice that McCartney doubles the high D note in his riff, right on the second beat instead of playing just one simple half note. This is interesting (and somewhere unusual in standard bass playing - you would play those double sixteenth note as an anticipation to fall on the beat with the second one instead of the first because it gives an off beat that is interpreted by a lot of musicians to be played by the bass drum. Even if the kick and the bass aren't always tight togheter in this song, you can clearly isolate the bass and find that the combination of both instruments (with the heavy compression) gives a real punchy sound that makes us ask: Who plays what? I found this when, for my own pleasure, I decided to track "Taxman" in my recording studio playing every part of the song. I have heard so many "Remakes" of that song in different situations and never, never that second sixteenth note was played!

I've read your article about "The evolution of Paul McCartney bass playing" and enjoyed it, it's always good to get some hints about the Beatles... even when you're 52 y.o.!. I hope you will appreciate this information.

I don't know how Pierre knew I'm 52. Maybe he meant that he's 52? But he's right, if you listen to the song you hear two quick notes in succession on the high "D". As he has pulled apart many Beatles songs, I hope he has many more insights to give to the rest of us.

AND YOUR BIRD CAN SING
(Anthology version)

Take 2 of this song seems, in retrospect, as solid and interesting as the excellent released version. The bass playing on this earlier version is certainly more prevalent. If only we could hear this without the giggling Beatles, we might have a new classic Beatles song on our hands. The bass line that brings the vocals into the song is precise and heavy. Good work.

OTHERS FROM REVOLVER

I'm Only Sleeping, obviously slowed WAAAYYY down, had a nifty treat for us - an actual solo bass line and some good crash style drumming. And Your Bird Can Sing, Dr. Robert, I Want To Tell You and the amazing Tomorrow Never Knows all feature great, solid bass playing. Yeah, it was 1966, and bass playing was starting to flourish. Rarely again would the words "bass should be felt and not heard" pass out of tired lips. The revolution that had begun over 20 years earlier with Woody Herman's amazing bass player, squelched and then revitalized for a while with Chuck Berry's bass player, and then squelched again, was back on - never to be squelched again.

PENNY LANE (single)

        This song's moods are set, one after the other, by the bass and piano. Beneath the flourishes of brass, bells, vocals and all else, the beat drives on with the bass and piano firmly at the controls. There was a lot of effort put into getting the piano sound just right and it was overdubbed many times by both John and Paul.

The interplay between the piano and bass is intriguing. At the beginning of the verses, the bass provides a happy-go-lucky feel, walking from chord to chord while the piano - with its well thought out inversions - provides an air of almost orchestral class. The bass and piano are not necessarily at odds with each other, but the difference is interesting. It's where they come together that is really striking. Here are the lyrics to the first verse:                

Penny Lane there is a barber showing photographs
Of ev'ry head he's had the pleasure to know
And all the people that come and go
Stop and say hello

At the point where the word 'know' is sung, the chord shifts to a Gm. The bass stops its jaunty walk and falls in line with the piano. This chord change causes one of the biggest mood shifts of any Beatle song. While, a moment ago, we had been walking along Penny Lane on a bright and sunny day, greeting passers-by, suddenly a cloud has passed over the sun. We see deviousness in the people, and what about that barber?It's not until the "Stop and say hello" that the sun seems to re-appear. There is a lesson for us here. One of the more effective things that can be done in a performance is to begin something and then suddenly remove it. In this case, its the jaunty bass walk. Its removal, along with the major to minor shift and particularly emphatic striking of the piano chords, was all it took to do it. Penny Lane is, in my opinion, as good or better than any pop song ever released. So much going on, so much musicianship, so much gamesmanship with the arrangement and yet it is all done under cover of a cool exterior. This is the Paul McCartney of 1966 (song recorded late that year). Talk about lessons. The Beatles were learning them and using them to excellent advantage.

I don't think enough can be said about this song, and so I will add the comments of Australian Richard Goodwin (notes sent in an email to me, used by permission):

I loved your assessment of Penny Lane ; for me it is simply the greatest single ever (because of Strawberry Fields) -- I also give an equal first place to All Along The Watchtower by Hendrix -- that's a different story though.

Can I just say that in Penny Lane, the tone of the bass from the first note got to me, and its first descending half dozen notes are like something an orchestral bass would do. Most bass players never achieve anything like this energy, joy and inventiveness in a lifetime. McCartney did it over and over, but never better (For No One is always very orchestral in its approach). The bass bubbles and pops around into and out of the song, much like the person in the song is popping in and out of the shops and locations in Penny Lane. I understand that the bass was one of the last parts recorded (possibly before the piccolo trumpet, but after the "rhythm" section had been laid down) so it is really freed from the kind of role Donald Dunn uses to ground the song in the root note of each chord (what a genius he is, too!). In fact, in this song, McCartney doesn't seem to be thinking chordally, the way guitarists do -- he's just accentuating and underpinning the melody. My other comment is that on Revolver, quite a few songs abandon chordal progression in favour of the drone (Tomorrow Never Knows, even Taxman) -- this would have dragged dreadfully with most bass players, but McCartney lightens things up and provides melodic interest. Get your average rock player to play one of these songs, and listen to what happens, as the drone becomes a dirge.

Here are some comments regarding Paul's bass playing ca 1966 from Michael Kimsal (9/28/08)

Your insight in to the impact of Geoff Emerick stepping in between Rubber Soul and Revolver was spot on, and his contribution can *not* be understated. This was probably one of the earliest examples of Emerick's work as the lead engineer, and I think his ability to bring the bass forward was as much in response to the Beatles' demands to push in new directions as it was his own interest in, perhaps, making a name for himself (using a bass speaker as a microphone, for example). What's the worst thing that would have happened? It wouldn't have worked and they'd have gone back to what they'd done before? I think the freedom the group had (beatles + emerick + martin) both in terms of time and money in the studio shouldn't be overlooked either. I don't doubt others perhaps had some of these same ideas, but few could take the time to have top notch equipment and engineers mix it up with a bottomless money machine.

Some of the bass sounds from Motown and the US (Brian Wilson in particular) were supposed inspirations for the push towards greater bass innovation in the UK, and the Rubber Soul/Revolver period was certainly the beginnings of that innovation. Some Motown tracks from '65 had some pretty interesting bass lines, and I can see those sorts of lines inspiring McCartney to let loose a bit more. However, as with most things Beatles, they took things to a new level.

Early covers (Please Mr. Postman, for example) just sound so much better in the Beatles' hands. Not necessarily from a 'gut' feeling (I like some of the rawness of early Motown) but the sound *quality* of all the Beatles' tracks - the clarity mostly - is miles beyond what was most other acts and studios seemed to be putting out. It was obviously capable of being done technically - the Beatles did it - but reverb and muddy 'raw' sounds (the 'wall of sound' influence) seemed to rule the times with so many other acts that the individual contributions (guitars, bass, drum lines, keyboards, etc) seem to melt together. It's often a nice effect, but you completely lose out the full impact. For example, some James Jamerson lines were really killer, but *so* hard to hear, without pristine equipment and remastered versions. I was in a variety band in college and had to do a lot of Motown medleys. Getting the sheet music and seeing the complexity of some of Jamerson's work was extremely impressive, but completely went over my head when just hearing it on the radio or records. Not so with McCartney's bass playing (or Harrison's guitar work, or Ringo's drum parts, etc.).

The ability for George Martin to have mixed each player's contributions to such fine effect, and to have preserved so much of the original clarity/quality from the start, is something else that just can't be understated either. I *love* the Stones, but compare much of their 60s work with the Beatles'. Whatever musical innovations each player was contributing (Wyman's a great bass player) tended to get 'lost in the mix', and I think that was (unforunately) intentional on their part, going for a 'raw blues' sound. Terribly shame, really.


TO ANALYZE 1966:

Most people who work with a tool of any kind know that when you get a better tool, one that completely outshines what you had before, you can get more creative. It is true with most pursuits and musical instruments are prime examples. For example, a child that begins learning on a cheap instrument will be able to begin grasping the fundamentals of the instrument but will not attain a truly good sound until they have upgraded to a higher quality model. People who get new musical instruments that sound better than before suddenly become many times better in their musicianship. Play a note and it sounds good; different. You find that you want to play different things, try different combinations. It's an exciting, magical thing to do to play a new top-notch instrument. Combining the Rickenbacker bass that Paul began using in 1965 with the studio techniques and sounds available to them during these years, '66 and '67 were banner years for Paul's bass playing and, with songs like Paperback Writer, took full advantage of his new range.

 

 

 

1967

 


SGT. PEPPER

 

It's been 25 years now since it's been issued, and there aren't many records which really last in the memory for a quarter of a century. It evoked the spirit of the age.--George Martin 9

I remember track by track it was very exciting at that time. Nothing like that had ever been.--George Harrison3

That's probably the big difference is that people played it a bit safe in popular music. But I think that's when we suddenly realized that you didn't have to.--Paul McCartney 2
It was colorful and it was peace and it was love and it was music--Ringo Starr Sgt. Pepper is called the first concept album, but it doesn't go anywhere. All of my contributions to the album have absolutely nothing to do with this idea of Sgt. Pepper and his band; but it works 'cause we said it worked.--John Lennon 1

Not only has so much been written about this amazing album, but the words "so much has been written. . " have been written hundreds of times. Where do you start? Notes on the bass playing on Sgt. Pepper:
Most of his bass playing on this album was not ensemble playing.   In fact, most of the music on this album was not ensemble playing.   The days of the four lads standing and playing music together had passed under the bridge and, with certain exceptions such as Yer Blues, would stay under that bridge.

The Beatles were no more. It was time to find something new and fortunately for us, John Paul George and Ringo decided to find it together. They now had time to sit back and relax with no worries about playing huge noisy stadiums any more. The sessions that became Sgt. Pepper started off on an incredible note, not unlike Revolver and McCartney was ready to establish new styles and sounds with his Rickenbacker bass.   While his playing on Revolver/Paperback Writer was aggressive and very rock oriented,  Sgt. Peppers was different. The expression is cool, laid back a bit, but creative and completely different  than anything yet done.   With some exceptions (most notably the reprise of the theme) the playing is, really,  a bit disconnected from the rest of the band.    There's a reason for that.  Since he lived nearby, he was usually first and generally last at the studio and had time to play with his bass parts. Perhaps never before had a bass player been given such leverage and time to come up with exactly the right thing to play on each song.

On Pepper we were using the luxury of utilizing one track for bass overdub on some of the things... We used to stay behind after the sessions, and Paul would dub all the bass on. I used to use a valve C12 microphone on Paul's amp, sometimes on figure eight, and sometimes positioned up to eight feet away. Direct injection wasn't used on the guitars until Abbey Road.--Geoff Emerick6

As the group dynamics allowed for more and more experimentation, Paul's bass playing became more innovative.

As time went on, I began to realize you didn't have to just play the root notes. If it was C,F,G, then it was normally C,F,G that I played. But I started to realize you could be pulling on the G, or just stay on the C when it went into F. And then I took it beyond that. I thought, well, if you can do that, what else could you do, how much further could you take it? You might even be able to play notes that aren't in the chord. I just started to experiment.--Paul McCartney 2

Paul McCartney and George Martin discussing the bass playing on Sgt. Pepper, listening to Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds 8

McCartney: It was much better for me to work out the bass later, you know.
Martin: I think it made it better.
McCartney: Yeah, I think it was . . .but the good thing about doing it later is it allowed me to get melodic bass lines.
Martin: ...all the bass lines were always very interesting
McCartney: On this album I think that was one of the reasons.

LUCY IN THE SKY WITH DIAMONDS

The sound of the instruments on this song all have a floating feel to them and the bass is no exception. This is another example of a Beatles song that has a bass line completely different than one might expect, and yet fits perfectly. It doesn't anchor the song to the ground; that is a role that the bass seldom plays on this album. But somehow it does hold it to some floating anchor and is probably THE representation of Sgt. Pepper style bass playing. If the song comes from a different place, as Lucy does, then why not anchor it in that place in a tricky, bizarre and different way. 

On Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds for example, you could easily have had root notes, whereas I was running an independent melody through it, and that became my thing. It's really only a way of getting from C to F or whatever, but you get there in an interesting way. So once I got over the fact that I was lumbered with bass, I did get quite proud to be a bass player. It was all very exciting.--Paul McCartney 2

BEING FOR THE BENEFIT OF MR. KITE

More inspired bass playing here. On the verses, the bass starts out as an almost typical one/five bass line, but by the end of the verse has transformed into a melody that counters Lennon's lead line. The bass, in fact, seems to counter the rest of the recording. The keyboards and drums stand on one side, plodding along beneath the vocals, with the bass on the other.

GOOD MORNING...GOOD MORNING

On this song, Paul and Ringo began using a one beat technique that they kept in their repertoire through Abbey Road. At the end of the verses, they add an exclamation point by slamming the beat home together, the bass starting at one note and sliding downward. In fact, the whole song showcases the rhythm section to great effect. The song opens with a galloping rhythm and there are sections in the song where Ringo's bass drumming rolls at a super-fast rate.

FIXING A HOLE

Another perfect example of "not playing" to perfection. The bass line continues to seem to go somewhere and then suddenly stops. Very untypical of a bass line, and very reflective of the mood of the song.

SGT PEPPERS REPRISE

Put that reprise on with the bass turned up all the way. There's Paul counting off. . .there's the four bars of drumming, and then on the final eight note of the fourth measure, Paul gives the intro note and slams it into gear. From there, it's full speed ahead and rock solid, and John must have been proud. His playing on this song is actually a portent of styles to come. When the beat needed to be laid down, he did it. Unfortunately, the song comes and goes so fast. Thanks to the advent of the CD, however, it's very easy to start the song over right up to the point where the instruments come in, time after time until the police are summoned. According to George Martin in his book 'With A Little Help From My Friends', the idea for a reprise was Neil Aspinall's idea. They worked hard on making it sound live and it is incredibly live sounding, and very powerful.

Once you realized the control you had over the band, you were in control. They can't go anywhere, man. Ha! Power! I started to identify with other bass players and talk bass with the guys in the bands. . . So I was very proud of being the bass player. As it went on and got into the melodic thing, that was probably the peak of my interest.--Paul McCartney2

Yes, the bass style on the album is a very cool Paul McCartney, poised and confident. The judgment on whether it was his top stuff is completely up to the listener. It certainly was revolutionary. It certainly fit the music and that's really the main thing. In the author's opinion, it's his most creative and melodic, but not his best. That was yet to come.


BABY YOU'RE A RICH MAN (single)

On May 11, '67, The Beatles started recording the song that brought the sonic boom to bass playing Baby You're A Rich Man. This was recorded at Olympic Sound Studios and engineered by Keith Grant. It may be one of the many that qualify for "the most unique Beatles' record".Its sound is almost communal, not so much a rock song but a rock congregation.

To hear the bass on this song in its full glory requires a fairly good speaker system, one that can handle extreme low end. Of all the Beatles' records, Grant got the deepest bass end. Pure sound, pure low end feel. It was as if he were wielding a powerful weapon, and wielding it pretty nicely, too.

Paul says his dad liked to play boogie-woogie on the piano, which is interesting when you look at Paul's own development into one of the world's great bass guitarists. In a boogie-woogie piano tune, the bass line, played by the left hand, produces a strong contrapuntal melody, rather than just a rhythmic thud. Paul's own bass guitar playing is of course the most melodic ever. He set a standard no one has ever reached. Sometimes he even composed songs around a bass line melody. Paul's bass line on Baby You're A Rich Man is a good example of what he can do.--George Martin 9

Notes on 1967: The bass playing was historic. It was now well to the fore in the mix, right where it should be. A lot of that had to do with the fact that on many of the songs the bass did have it's own track. The sound of the bass was able to be free from the rest of the instruments. It was a separate entity on Sgt. Pepper. That he was able to record after the sessions were over allowed him to be experimental without having to worry about hurrying along because people were waiting.

 

1968

Notes on 1968: While 1967 may be recalled as the year of psychedelica, it was really in 1968 that it took hold in the mainstream. By '68, it seems you could not sell an album unless the cover had at least some cheap looking psychedelic mixture of drawings and photography.  There are of course notable exceptions to this rule.  

Many wondered just what the Beatles would do in 1968 to surpass 1967. Not many expected what they got.

 


LADY MADONNA (single)

 

On March 15th, the Lady Madonna/The Inner Light single was released. On Lady Madonna, McCartney had done it again. Listen to that bass line; it's a good bass line. Close inspection of it reveals some choppiness in the playing and he tends to miss slightly on some notes but that's not necessarily a bad thing.  

Most importantly, it follows the piano bass to a large degree, and it had to.  As there is a prominent piano bass featured on the track, to fall astray from that would have muddled up the sound. *  

The piano part, while relatively simple to play, is so well constructed that you know upon hearing the first note what song it is, and it's hard not to like. If the bass part were to run over it too much, the song would be frustrating to listen to. Instead, it follows the piano bass from A to C to D and then, while the piano bass continues to ride on the D, it completes the typical rock and roll bass line, riding up to the F# and A.  It is a very prominent aspect of the track and it works, don't you think?  My memory of the song when it came out was that, once again, everyone thought Paul McCartney was a hell of a bass player.

* This, by the way, is a serious issue with a lot of bands at the club level.   Piano players were trained to use both hands and to cover the entire spectrum of a song's range on the piano.   Once they join a band, it would be wise to tie their left hands behind them.   There may be nothing harder than playing bass and trying to get a good sound while the keyboard player is chunking away with his/her left hand.


HEY BULLDOG (released on the Yellow Submarine LP)

On February 11th, the Beatles were to make a promotional film for Lady Madonna and instead John pulled a song out of the hat and they finished writing it in the studio. Hey Bulldog is just a great record all around. The piano moves the song, the lead solo is inspiring and beneath it all is that old one/two tandem of Paul and Ringo laying down the beat.

Also, Paul played right in the middle of the drumbeat. The piano line starts the song. The second time through, the choppy drums lift the song. The third time, Paul's bass comes in an octave higher than you might expect. Frequently when bass players play up high, a lot of the solid rhythm is lost. Not so here.  It lends an element of excitement to the song, a bit brash sounding.  I think that Hey Bulldog is absolutely  a top notch Beatles record, but don't ask John Lennon (who, by the way, plays that great rock guitar solo). While he obviously had fun making it, he sure didn't think much about it later. He was embarrassed, he says, that they would do something so simple and mundane for Yoko's first visit to the studio. This was an unfortunate turn of events because, to the outside observer, the Beatles seemingly rarely had as much fun in the studio again.

I've always felt that it was clearly John and Paul doing all the vocals, John on lead and Paul on background, and then John and Paul trading off wisecracks (Paul: What's that you say?...John: I said, Ruff). I get a lot of emails with people of differing opinions about things I say in this website, and I always want to put them into here to show different sides of arguments. Usually they say no, but this time it's different. I'm happy to respectfully enter - with his permission - a comment by Nick Woebcke, who wrote me to say:

"Although the YouTube video shows Paul & John singing together, I believe if you listen closely to the harmonizing you can pick out that it is a typical studio trick of John Lennon harmonizing with himself on different tracks.  Especially the part of the song when they are talking to one another."

 

And now, with a nod to Led Zeppelin II, the key to 1960's rock bass playing:

 


THE BEATLES (LP)

 

The white album

Notes on The Beatles: This article is about bass playing. It's my sincere hope that bass discussion hasn't become tiring for you yet, because we've now reached the zenith of 1960's bass playing -- if not all-time bass playing. 

By 1968, there were a lot of rock bass players on the scene and it had finally become fashionable to pick up the instrument. No longer was it the one handed to the least talented guitar player. This change in attitude towards the bass guitar came over a few quick short years and it thanks, in very large part, to British bass players who showed the world it could be cool to be the bass player.  And here was its defining moment.  

Listening to the white album now, it's difficult to grasp the full nature of its impact because so much time has come and gone since it was released. Just as the Beatles had wowed an expecting public with Sgt. Pepper, they knocked us out again with the white album. Through '67 and '68, it had become the notion of the record industry that an album would not sell unless it had a psychedelic cover, even if it were to be cheaply drawn (i.e. Cream's Wheels of Fire). As the Beatles worked on the white album, there were rumors floating around that they were busy working on greatest psychedelic album ever.  So many questions. What would the cover be like this time? Would they record the bible?  The Lord of the Rings?  No one outside the inner circle knew, or if they did they sure weren't telling.  The only thing for sure was that it would be the most stupendous, incredible flash of psychedelia produced yet. It's a relatively safe statement to make that few people expected an all white album cover and some of the most blatant rock music they had ever done.

Hard rock was a new commodity in 1968 and the Beatles, especially John Lennon, approached it with an unadulterated vengeance.  Like Sgt. Peppers there was a collage of music styles.   Hollywood show tunes, dreamy ballads, Beach Boy-type harmonies, a little bit of soul, country western; it was all there.   

There was a lot of inner discontent in the studio while making this album; Ringo even quit for a short time. But, this sort of thing is comparable to the 1972 Oakland A's baseball team who fought amongst themselves all the way to a world's championship. The Beatles lived through an incredible tenseness and pulling of power and made an incredible album for us.

GEOFF EMERICK DEPARTS

It happened on July 16th, 1968. Geoff had had enough of the bickering and decided to leave then and there on that day. Ken Scott took over the engineering reins for the rest of the way.

I lost interest in the 'White Album' because they were really arguing amongst themselves and swearing at each other. The expletives were really flying. . . I said to George (Martin) 'Look, I've had enough. I want to leave. I don't want to know any more. --Geoff Emerick 6

In researching this article, I found an interesting sidelight to this fact. Following is a listing of the songs on the white album.   They have been rearranged, though, and now show the order of songs as they began recording them for the sessions.

Songs engineered by Emerick:

  • REVOLUTION I

  • DON'T PASS ME BY

  • REVOLUTION 9

  • BLACKBIRD

  • EVERYBODY'S GOT SOMETHING TO HIDE EXCEPT FOR ME AND MY MONKEY (begun)

  • GOOD NIGHT

  • OB-LA-DI OB-LA-DA

  • REVOLUTION

  • CRY BABY CRY

Songs engineered by Scott:

  • HELTER SKELTER
  • SEXY SADIE
  • DON'T PASS ME BY (completed)
  • (EVERYBODY'S GOT SOMETHING TO HIDE EXCEPT FOR ME AND MY MONKEY completed)
  • WHILE MY GUITAR GENTLY WEEPS
  • HEY JUDE
  • NOT GUILTY
  • YER BLUES
  • WHAT'S THE NEW MARY JANE
  • ROCKY RACCOON
  • MOTHER NATURE'S SON
  • WILD HONEY PIE
  • BACK IN THE USSR
  • DEAR PRUDENCE
  • HELTER SKELTER (completed)
  • GLASS ONION
  • I WILL
  • BIRTHDAY
  • PIGGIES
  • HAPPINESS IS A WARM GUN
  • HONEY PIE
  • SAVOY TRUFFLE
  • LONG LONG LONG
  • I'M SO TIRED


The breaking point between the two is interesting, don't you think? Their music afterwards was more raw and rockish sounding than before. Whether this was due to the change in engineers or because they were heading in a new direction anyway, or whether it's because Helter Skelter happened to be the next song they were going to record is impossible to say. But a definite change took place.

As with the change of engineers when the Revolver sessions began, there was again a new direction in sight for Paul's bass playing.

HELTER SKELTER

(NOTE: This article takes the position that Paul played bass on Helter Skelter. When this article was originally issued (to rec.music.beatles), heated debate broke out that it was actually - as Mark Lewisohn claims - John Lennon who played bass on the song. It has also been suggested that the bass part was doubled to achieve the higher trebly bass effect, but you can be fairly certain that this is not the case - the entire part is far too erratic for someone to spend the hours and hours to perfect the doubled sound.)

Ken Scott's first session was Helter Skelter. Can you imagine what he must have felt like, being asked to engineer the Beatles and finding this to be your introduction to them?    For an excellent description of the carryings on during this session, Mark Lewisohn's "Beatles Recording Sessions" book discusses the mayhem in the studio quite well.  

  As for the song, as you listen to the bass, you can hear a high very trebly sound doubling it. Most likely this was achieved by putting the bass into two separate channels and mixing one with treble. However it was done, it creates a wild effect, adding to the mayhem. I believe the reason for this effect is to allow the bass to stand out from the droning guitars. One of the more difficult things to do is to get bass to cut through guitars - especially more than one that are playing low bar chords.

By using this effect on the bass, Scott was able to achieve this and more. The bass actually stands out in the forefront of that song once it gets rolling. The guitars were recorded quite well, made to drone and create more of a 'noise' than a clear-cut guitar chord, yet done in a clean enough way to where you can hear the chords. The way the drums are played and recorded are designed to do the same thing. I think Ringo is basically riding on his crash cymbal and tossing in the snare/tom fills at will. The effect is that of an army of Panzer tanks crashing through underbrush and tree making ready to annihilate the unfortunate Polish Calvary who await them on the other side of the forest with the bass guitar tank leading the way. The voice? It's the fuehrer screaming and shouting near gibberish in such a way that your brain is turned to mush. (for those offended by that last analogy, please note that I used a lower case "f" on fuehrer, which, by the way, is German for "bastard".

The guitar droning effect is something that later day heavy metal engineers should listen to. Too often, these engineers will go for the same effect with the rhythm guitars and take the easy way out by having them sound purely and simply like white noise. If they want to create mayhem, they should sit down with this record, play this song and find out what George Martin and Ken Scott did to get those sounds.

There's so much happening on this album that it's almost difficult to keep the discussion purely to the bass playing on it, and this is mainly due to the fact that McCartney had very nicely answered John Lennon's challenge. Lennon wanted to be a hard rocker now, and credit goes to all the band members for making the change to this new hard rock music. The only piece of the puzzle that I think falls a bit short is the sound of the drums on the white album and Helter Skelter is a prime example. Had a fuller sound been used on the drums, this song would have been the most devastating rock song - of ALL time. It may be anyway.

The version on the album was out of control. They were completely out of their heads that night. But, as usual, a blind eye was turned to what the Beatles did in the studio. Everyone knew what substances they were taking, but they were really a law unto themselves in the studio .-- Brian Gibson, technical engineer 6

EVERYBODY'S GOT SOMETHING TO HIDE EXCEPT FOR ME AND MY MONKEY

Bow low, bass players . . .. What is difficult to determine, and it's really unfortunate, is when the bass part to Everybody's Got Something To Hide Except For Me And My Monkey was recorded. Was it before or after Ken Scott replaced Geoff Emerick in the booth?

The Beatles Recording Sessions by Lewisohn indicates that only drums, two different lead guitars, a vigorously shaken hand-bell and a chocalho were recorded during the session that Emerick worked and that a new lead vocal, backup vocals and handclaps were added on July 23rd A.E. (after Emerick). There is no listing of when the bass was recorded.

In any discussion of the evolution of rock bass playing, this song is all-important. It is nothing short of superb both in its execution and recording. As you play the song, the initial probe of the bass line played under the verses shows what at first seems to be a rather simple blues type line. Further listening shows something else completely. It's an eight-note line and a good one that starts at the first beat of the measure on the root note. It then drops down an octave and walks its way back up time and time again to that root note. There's so much involved in making this line work.

    • The final four notes of each run of the line are the most noticeable. Once the second note is played the line drops just slightly in its presence but by the time the fifth note is hit (partly because the notes are getting higher and partly because he's switched to another string) it's right back in your consciousness again. It crescendos up to the root note and drops again.
    • The line is played again and again and again, and many times is played slightly off meter. This is probably the most important aspect of the line. The best way I could describe it, visually, would be to illustrate a child on a rocking horse swinging back and forth with total abandon. Not always right on a meter, but the same thing happens over and over again, close to meter.
    • The bass is a perfect (!) counterpoint to John Lennon's strange and insane rhythm line, a guitar part that commands an article all to itself. (While one kid is rocking back and forth on the horse, another is banging their head against two walls, back and forth three times, pausing for a moment and then starting again.) Meanwhile those hand bells could be the alarm the kids have set off in the local firehouse. The bass counters all this.

Then it all locks into place. "Take it easy!" shouts Lennon. Now, the Beatles are locked solidly on the chorus. "Take it easy!", he shouts again. After the orgasmic "Everybody's got something to hide 'cept for me and my monkey" comes those strange chord changes, lead lines, and drum breaks. The bells have left us for a moment. But not for long.

This is pure Beatles' genius, and a method they weren't using for the first time. As far back as their second single they employed it, when on Please Please Me, John would shout "Come on", building up to the "Please Please Me" explosion of vocals. At that point in PPM, the bass line comes back with its rhythmic pounding. Here, they've done it again. Pounding the bells/bass /guitar, etc., down your throat, they take it away for the big buildup. Just when you realize it's gone, here it comes again - with a vengeance.

Of course, let us not forget to make note of The Great Bass Part, occurring towards the end of the song. The guitars all stop and John and Paul start doing their crazy "C'mon c'mon c'mon c'mon. . ." and then that bass line.. You can sing it - it's even double-tracked to add emphasis - ba pa bubububoom ba bump pa.

What I wouldn't give to have been there when they put this song together, taking it from John's original acoustic guitar/vocal demo to the powerhouse it became.   

 

DEAR PRUDENCE

For a change of pace, let's play a little game here. Let's say you're at EMI (Abbey Road) studios and are standing across from John Lennon and Yoko Ono. John is sitting, looking downward, finger picking a song you haven't heard before but you find it quite nice. You recognize immediately that the song is about Mia Farrow's sister Prudence. It's your task to think of what bass part you'll play to this song. What do you do?

Intimidated a good bit, perhaps you say, "That's a really lovely song. I think I should just stay in the background on this one. Anything more could overrun that great melody."

All this, of course, unless you're Paul McCartney in which case you construct a bass line that really moves that song without getting in its way at all. During the verses leading up to the middle eight, he plays what you might have played, but in a very forthright manner. But then, for the middle eight, the bass and drums are suddenly there. When the verse returns, they return to the pasture. It's very dynamic.   When you consider that Paul also played drums on this song (it was recording during Ringo's hiatus), you have an idea what a guy like that can do for you in the studio.

Dear Prudence is, as a matter of opinion, one of the better Beatles recordings, from Lennon's excellent guitar and vocals to the rhythm and tasteful background vocals. It moves from mood to mood and by the end, if you're listening closely enough, you're breathless.    

GLASS ONION

Let's turn to Glass Onion. After years of listening, wondering, trying to calculate, the question remains: why that bass tone? It sounds like his strings have been dead for weeks. There's absolutely no life in them at all. The playing is good enough, the interplay with the snare at the beginning of each verse works well. But the tone? The same could be said about the weak sounding snare. The song could be SO good.

 

WHY DON'T WE DO IT IN THE ROAD

This was one of McCartney's early "one-man-band" ventures.   All of the instruments are played by him.   The drums, piano, guitar and vocal really do the job nicely.   But the bass part?   It is a bouncy little line that would befit something like All Together Now more than this song.    In the recording world, even with the time given to make Beatles' albums, there isn't always time to think every little aspect through.  The bass playing on this song may be a victim of that fact.

 

I WILL

As if there had not been enough innovation already on this album, a new idea was put into place. Paul doubles the bass with a vocal part.  Listen closely and you'll hear it.  The effect is nice.

Regarding the acoustic guitar: It's a style that Paul developed and dropped all too soon. He used it at the end of Mother Nature's Son and for a good bit on the McCartney album but rarely afterward. Mostly powering the non-picking fingers or the 'playing fingers' does it (in Paul's case, his right hand). With each note, his right hand fingers react strongly and with a quick shake vibrato.

'I Will' could have been recorded in 1964. It's one of the few post moptop songs that could have fit in any of their eras.

 

MOTHER NATURE'S SON

While there is no bass playing on Mother Nature's Son, it is included here to make the following comment: it is one of the most beautiful songs Paul ever did and yet mention of it is almost never made.  The voice seems to gently float down from the hills.   Trombones are skillfully employed (who would have thought of that?).   The guitar part is well constructed.  All in all, a very nice song.

John had written a song with similar intent, called "One of Nature's Children". Its melody was later employed as "Jealous Guy" on the Imagine album. The only explanation of why they never even recorded it is that he held off on recording it due to Paul's song. Things ended up all the better because both Mother Nature's Son and Jealous Guy turned out so nicely.

YER BLUES

This is Lennon's version of the blues and the best part of it is that they recorded it, all four, together. These are some hard blues, aren't they?  And the band responds accordingly. Too bad they didn't play all together more often.   Paul has a somewhat new definition for blues bass playing.   Instead of the usual walking line, he syncopates his part which provides a nice undercurrent to the whole feel.  His sound is trebly, far more so than most blues bass players.   Over all, its a nice effect.

SAVOY TRUFFLE

Yet another song that is interesting in its recording. Turn your stereo to one side, the one with the guitars, and you'll find yourself wondering George was drunk when he recorded them.  They're very sloppy. The rhythm section (bass and drums) takes care of this problem by standing right out front, fighting it out with the saxophones. This driving style was used again in a later Harrison classic, Here Comes The Sun. It's bouncy and lively and moves the song along, all in all a very well structured bass line. No better line might have been played.

 PIGGIES

How is it humanly possible that one could get one's bass guitar to sound like a pig? If you ever get a chance to talk to Paul, ask him. His bass sound almost rivals the pig voices.  

I'M SO TIRED

The main point that stands out regarding I'm So Tired is the excellent dynamic flow of the musicians and vocalist.  Providing the perfect undercurrent for the singer is vital and there are some points in this song that indicate that this aspect had become second nature to the band.

Musical goings on just before the second and final chorus offer a good, if not subtle, example. Just after John agonizes ". . .and curse Sir Walter Raliegh, he was such a stupid git!", they let you know something's coming. The music had been building up to this line, driven by all the instrumentation. The bass is walking up through the chords. Lennon's rhythm is slapping chords on the three count and when the word "git" is sung, one of the guitarists starts playing little falling notes while the bass steps back a bit to let it all happen. Then, out of the blue,  "You'd say it wouldn't be wrong. . .". The Beatles are back in gear here, but restrained. The bass and drums are fluid, and a buildup is starting all over again, punctuated by the great line "I'd give you everything I've got for a little peace of mind!". Listen to the band behind these lines as they are sung.  They drive the song forward, there is the sudden stop, a drum fill, and the line again. The sudden stop again, a drum and organ fill and the line one final time. This is ensemble playing by all the Beatles, and Paul had long ago learned the lesson of laying back when most effective is put into play.  After all, as Sting points out, space is the most effective weapon a musician has.

NOT GUILTY

It's unfortunate that the Beatles' version did not get on to this album (it has since, of course, been included on the Anthology album). It is very dynamic and well played. With their apparently new style of beginning a song right in the studio and calling each rehearsal of it a take, this song went over 100 takes which has to be some sort of record for the time. Perhaps they tried too hard and too long to perfect it and got tired of it because it was scrapped in the end. It has an excellent hook, the six beats played just before the "I'm really sorry for your. . .". That little break is like a car screeching to a stop, and is played to perfection by Paul and Ringo. Through most of the rest of the song, the bass is played in excellent British New Orleans rock style.

WHILE MY GUITAR GENTLY WEEPS

Possibly the most dynamic, heavy bass playing on the album. At various times during the song, the bass part is doubled. This song, saved for last in this discussion on this amazing album, may contain the heaviest of all the bass playing to be found throughout it.

When we laid that track down, I sang it with acoustic guitar with Paul on piano, and Eric and Ringo - that's how we laid the track down. Later, Paul overdubbed bass on it.-- George Harrison 10

To recap, it's fairly clear that the bass playing on the white album was revolutionary for its time. To this day many bass players' styles don't sound all that different than the style Paul McCartney created on the white album. It went from no holds barred madness (Everybody's Got Something to Hide. . .) to excellent ensemble sound and style (Honey Pie) to very pretty (I Will). With the possible exception of Led Zeppelin II, there may have never been an album that had more of a long lasting effect on rock bass playing than this one.

 


REVOLUTION (single)

 

The version on the single is a good example of a bass player and drummer locked tight together. Its really just rock and roll, but played by one of the best rock and roll bands.


YELLOW SUBMARINE (LP)

 

One could write this album off as the collection of Sgt. Peppers cast-offs and reruns of old Beatles' songs that it really was. But, seriously, how many bands could claim such a selection of cast-offs? Hey Bulldog, having already been discussed, easily stands out as containing the best bass playing on the album. The playing on the other songs, having in most cases been recorded a year earlier, is placed much more in the background.

1969


LET IT BE (LP)

 

Notes on Let It Be:
Paul switched back to his Hofner violin bass for the movie, a habit he would entertain most times he's been filmed playing in his career.   

DON'T LET ME DOWN

Paul played through a Fender Bassman amplifier during Let It Be, which gave the sound a slightly raunchy, barely distorted sound he did not get at any other time.  The best example of this is probably heard on Don't Let Me Down.  

 

I DIG A PONY

We've read alot about how horrible the sessions for Let It Be were, how no one got along and they weren't playing well together any more. I don't know about them not getting along, but I think the not playing well together stuff is bullshit and this song proves it. They're having fun playing this song and further more it is a good example of how a bass player can best underscore a guitar heavy composition.   At times the bass is following the guitar lines, and at times it plays counter to the guitars. It's a personal preference of mine, but (as noted on Drive My Car), I love hearing a guitar line with the bass playing an octave below. So, here it is again with all it's glory on I Dig A Pony. For the opening riff, Paul is doubling the guitar (an octave below). And he does it on and off throughout the song, at times playing straight rhythm and at times following the guitar.

Damn, I don't know about you, but when I watch the movie, I see the Beatles having som fun and when they're on the rooftop, John and Paul at least look to be having a great time, especially on this song. There the Beatles are, playing I Dig A Pony, using all of their energy to drive the point home, all together now.
In fact, listening to the recently released Let it Be Naked, I get that feeling all through the album.  If it was hell for them, so be it; we can enjoy what they did for us, right? Right?


OLD BROWN SHOE (single)

 

This is one of those songs that is rarely mentioned, but to me it is one of the better Beatles songs. There it is, sadly languishing its life away as a flip side on a single.  On the other hand, being the flip side of a Beatles single is not exactly langhishing. Anyway, it is not brought up in Beatle discussions and it was gratifying to hear it on George's Live in Japan album.    Listen to the bass and guitar doublets on the bridge (if I grow up...).   Some very fast playing, indeed!   The whole song, in fact, is super-fast and if it turns out that it was not sped up during  the recording process, then it's really impressive. Well, you might say that that's a mighty wicked bass part Paul is playing but if you did you'd be happily wrong. I've received two emails that indicate that it might be George playing that part. One indicated that he read an interview where George claimed the part. And then, here's another email:

I've tried to convince others that George played bass on OldBrownShoe.  It became obvious to me after anthology3 came out, because of the liner notes.  The notes state that george did the demos for OBS and Something on his own that day in the studio, and the 'bass' line on OBS is exactly the same as the final version (well, 99% the same).  Figuring he dubbed it on the demo himself, it would have been very hard to get Paul to play something *george* dictated, so I surmised George played it himself.  (clever little detective, ain't I?) - Michael Kimsal

 

 

ABBEY ROAD (LP)

 

Notes on Abbey Road: The 'starkness' so evident on the white album was now replaced by lushness. It's difficult to find a classier album. The Beatles, produced again by George Martin, and engineered once again by Geoff Emerick, seemed to be back into playing songs as a cohesive unit. . There is some great bass playing on Abbey Road, not quite as stark as the white album.

COME TOGETHER

This is one of the best known bass lines ever recorded.   One can only be glad that it was recorded by the Beatles because had it come during John's solo career, he might have become severely limited in its bass impact.   

An interesting aspect of  the song is that the drums and bass - during the intro parts - are played in a pretty interesting counterpoint to each other. At first listen, you'd think that the two parts have nothing to do with eachother. I wonder how it is that they came up with their contrasting parts.

Yes, an old hand at Beatles recordings was back again - Geoff Emerick. This was the first song he engineered for the Beatles since they recorded Cry Baby Cry for the white album. The old team of Martin/Emerick was back together.

The other Beatles showed great skill in what they did not play. They are very restrained. The electric piano on the song, played almost out of a Quaalude-type fog, set a nice tone for the record.

Whenever he (John) did praise any of us, it was great praise, indeed, because he didn't dish it out much. If ever you got a speck or crumb of it, you were grateful. With 'Come Together', for instance, he wanted a piano lick to be very swampy and smoky, and I played it that way and he liked it a lot. I was quite pleased with that . -- Paul McCartney 6

SOMETHING

Known for one of the sweetest guitar solos George had played to date, but should also be known for Paul's ability to play adventurous bass runs and still keep out of the way of the melody. Or, perhaps, to enhance it. The line he does that leads to the final chords of the song seem like he barely makes it, but does! A great song and the second most recorded song of all time; second only of course to Yesterday.

I WANT YOU (SHE'S SO HEAVY)

John wanted that old white album starkness again, but what about the Mr. Toad's Wild Ride bass playing he got from Paul? Aside from the mini bass solo lines (kind of reminiscent of I'm Only Sleeping), during the choruses, he goes completely haywire as the ending moves along like giant alien robots tramping across the earth and bringing on the judgment day. Fifteen times does that section play and fifteen times does the bass part completely lose all sight of reality. They must have been some sessions, those that produced this song.

HERE COMES THE SUN

I Want You (She's So Heavy) ends with that sudden break and, if you have the CD, the beautiful sounding guitar intro to Here Comes The Sun starts right in. It's so completely opposite of what came before, but so good and warm feeling that you jump right into the new mood.

They had long ago perfected the art of waving their pocket watch in front of their fans' eyes and causing them to feel whatever they wanted and this was no exception. From the grim reaper to a sunny morning, you will follow.

In the case of the LP it was difficult, if not impossible, to NOT get up at the end of I Want You and turn that album over. You HAD to hear that acoustic guitar intro to Here Comes The Sun.

The song might have been ruined by the great groove Paul and Ringo put together for the song.   Listening to it without the rhythm section makes it seem empty.

BECAUSE

Bass, by itself, is rarely interesting. But bass, playing in the background and just filling in at perfect parts, is invigorating to me. Examples of excellent bass mood setting are Woody Herman's Bijou, Percy Faith's Theme For A Summer Place, Simon & Garfunkel's Scarborough Fair, and the Beatles' Because. It fills up some of the vocal lines and walks down with little three run lines that don't just fill in gaps, but keep the song set in the right direction. Without the bass, the song is beautiful. With it, we get a lesson in tasteful playing.

MEAN MR. MUSTARD You hear lots of McCartney-influenced songs on the radio now. These stories about boring people doing boring things: being postmen and secretaries and writing home. I'm not interested in writing third party songs. I like to write about me; 'cause I know me .-- John Lennon 1

Apparently Mean Mr. Mustard and Polythene Pam were exceptions to this rule.

Fuzz bass was employed on Mr. Mustard, employed over the standard bass sound. The rhythm moves in and out of 3/4 time. Then it's onward and upward to some more classic rock sounds.

POLYTHENE PAM

Ringo, engineered again by Emerick, never sounded better in his Beatles days than he did on this album and this song is evidence for that. Where the drumming sounded a bit thin at times on the white album, it was round and full on Abbey Road. There's some aggressive playing by both Ringo and Paul on this song, especially when they bring each verse line back home with that eighth note slam.

The intro line, repeated throughout the song, has an excellent stumble in it that was well contrived by Paul and Ringo. There's the three guitar chords (D A E) and then the four beats on bass and drums. Then Paul sounds as if he's trying to find his way back up to E, stops for a moment at D and finally gets up top. He may have added this little bit on accident and decided to leave it in.

Whatever, it works.

SHE CAME IN THROUGH THE BATHROOM WINDOW

If there's one thing that made The Beatles likable, it was their unbridled enthusiasm. Even when they apparently weren't getting along, they always sounded like they loved what they were doing. He'd probably have denied it, but it really does sound like John had fun recording the acoustic guitar track on this song. Once again, Ringo and Paul work like . . . like they'd been playing together for years. As they had.

GOLDEN SLUMBERS/CARRY THAT WEIGHT

The bass playing is deep, rich, extremely tasteful, and beautiful. With a sound system that can really carry bottom end, Golden Slumbers comes across like a symphony.

THE END

Put tastefulness aside and play some rock solid bottom end. Really set up a foundation that the guitar players can trade solos atop. That's what Paul and Ringo did for this song. The sound of the drums is good, especially the toms as Geoff Emerick had really mastered the fine art of drum recording. He'd mastered bass recording some years back and took care to make sure it was done right for The End. They lay the rhythm down like there's no tomorrow, and in their case, it was just about true.

Perhaps it should have been their last album and The End would have been an excellent way to say adios to their listening and buying public. Everyone gets their shot at stardom in it. Ringo gets a drum solo, and along with Paul's bass, lays down a killer groove for George, Paul and John to play lead guitar over.

The rock symphony is over, as are the Beatles.

 

POST BEATLES

When the Beatles broke up, all four of them jumped into other musical activities. The merit of the musical paths taken by Paul are open to subjective opinion. What isn't so subjective, however, is the quality of his bass playing. It has never waned. Even on Red Rose Speedway, an album where he concentrated more on his keyboards, the playing is still superb.

However, there is one album remaining to discuss in Paul McCartney's career.

WINGS OVER AMERICA (LP)

Notes on Wings Over America:
Paul McCartney, working with a sound company from Texas, obviously spent a lot of time and money getting a good sound for his tour of the states. Many that saw the show, such as the concert given at San Francisco's Cow Palace seen by the author, were amazed at the ability of the bass to cut through the sound. This sound comes through well on the record, put well to the fore in the mix. One aspect of McCartney's bass playing that impresses a lot of musicians is his ability to play difficult lines and sing at the same time. There is no doubt that he puts considerable effort into preparing for his performances.

The final effect of the playing and mix on the record makes the first focal point the bass and drums, with the extraneous instruments and voice almost secondary - even if this is in your subconscious. The rhythm section constantly pulls you in and then when you do break away and listen to the vocals, it's an added treat. It is safe to say that this is the Paul McCartney people had been waiting for, hard-driving and rocking.

ROCK SHOW

Is it possible for two versions of the same song to be as completely different as the studio and live versions of Rock Show are?   His playing, live, was with a plodding thunderous style that required him to remain rooted within himself.   Every note is played from the guts, where bass playing needs to come from.   

Jet is no different, and the segue from Rock Show into it is a throw back to his Beatles days. Rock Show is plodding along at a high rate of speed, the bass and drums pumping rhythm. Then, suddenly, it ends and there's a moment of almost nonchalance. The beat is taken away, and then brought back again as the first notes of Jet are played.  

Paul had by now developed a new style of bass playing. This style had showed some evidence of itself on Band On The Run, and furthered itself on Venus and Mars and Speed of Sound. The style is completely evident throughout the Wings Over America album and stands up to anything he's done ever - including the white album.

The best way to define it is that he'd really solidified - obviously through countless hours of practice - his left wrist. If you watch the video you can see a very stiff left picking hand. In those days, he held his pick directly underneath his hand.

Also, for the purpose of adding to the show, he pulled off some pretty flashy bass runs. Time To Hide had Paul playing as if he were sitting on a burning kettle. He'd lock in with drummer Joe English and then, every so often, stick his Rickenbacker out and leap way up the neck and FLASH for a moment. But, and fledgling bass players take heart, his high bass runs are done with solid rhythm. There was no need whatsoever for speed just for the sake of speed, with one awe-inspiring exception.

SOILY

This song is mentioned specifically for the silencing any of the naysayers who might question his status as one of the top-notch bass players In The World, technique-wise. To achieve a Tommy gun effect, he builds to that vocal line and then sprays - right in the middle of the drums - a chromatic run that very few could duplicate. Many may play a chromatic run of that many notes, and many may do it with speed, but not many will do it at that speed and with perfect tempo.

Time Magazine had him on the front cover of one of their '76 magazines. "Paul Comes Back" said the caption. They were right, he was back. It's really an amazing album, in spite of the fact that much of the harmony vocals were reproduced in the studio. Paul was back, if he'd ever really left.

 

 

FIVE STRING TASTE

Through the 1990s, Paul used a Wal 5 string bass in the studio and for part of his live shows from those days.  Though he's back to exclusive use of the old Hofner,  I think it's important to take yet another page from the McCartney bass book when it comes to 5 string bass playing. There are (at least) two ways to approach the switch from 4 to 5 string bass (where the 5th string is a low B).

One way would be to take a step back and re-approach the bass with all five strings in mind, to seek it out as a whole new instrument because in effect that's what it becomes with that approach. You've no doubt heard a number of bass players who have taken this approach, and they lean quite heavily on the low B. This can be troublesome: while we bass players tend to love low rumbling sounds, there are not many others like us out there in the world. One gets the feeling that these bass players are using their newfound low B string as a weapon to grab new power in the band sound. Interestingly enough, you generally find these sorts of bass players in the club scenes and maybe it makes sense there.

The second way is to think about your bass as the old 4-string instrument - with a fifth string available on top for effect. For one thing it makes it much easier to play without thinking so much. It's so easy, while playing, to forget that the string at the top of your neck is now a B instead of an E that it's almost survival to adopt this method both live and in the studio. Approaching 5 string bass playing in this way also causes the bass player to use the B string a bit more sparingly, and hence to much better effect.

I played the Wal, and what I liked was I played very, very normal bass, really out of the way, because I didn't want to 'feature'. There are one or two moments where I break a little bit loose, but mostly I try to anchor the track. There's one lovely moment when it modulates to C, so I was able to use the low C of the 5 string and that's it, the only time I use the low one, which I like, rather than just bassing out and being low, low, low. I play normal bass, and then there's this low C and the song takes off. It actually takes off anyway because a lot of harmonies come in and stuff, but it's a real cool moment that I'm proud of. That's my Wal moment.--Paul McCartney on recording "Free As A Bird"2

He hits that cool low C three times actually, the first time during the first note of George's solo.

The merit of all music is, by its very nature, subjective. There are few things in music that seem to reach beyond subjectivity and nestle closer to actual fact. It would be hard, for example, to argue against the suggestion that Beethoven was a great composer. It would also be difficult to rouse up an argument that Yo-Yo Ma can't play the cello. Similarly, regardless of one's opinion of his songwriting, it's safe to say that Paul McCartney was/is an extremely talented and influential bass player. Whether on his Rickenbacker, his Wal 5 string or whatever, he remains one of the top bass players in the world. For a guy who could rest on his laurels as one of the prime innovators of rock bass playing, that is a solid testament to him as a musician.

 

Driving Rain

 

I found a lot of exciting bass playing on the Wings Over America album.   He was doing a lot of up-the-neck punctuations and attacks.   While his playing has been top-notch since then, I haven't heard a lot of this playing.   Some people call it over-playing, but those types wouldn't be reading this web-site anyway, would they?A lot of the Driving Rain album is completely different than anything McCartney has done since his first solo album.   You can hear buzz, the ring of the cymbals.   In many cases, it sounds as if you are listening to the musicians first hand and not after a lot of zany mixing.    Along with this relaxing of standards (which I really like), I saw him do something on the opening night of his Driving Rain tour that he never would have done in a million years.    After a song or two, he was talking to the audience when he suddenly took off his coat and threw it on the floor, saying it was a bit warm.   The man is loosening up!

Another note:   In notes on the earlier Beatles recordings I made somewhat disparaging remarks about Paul's use of his Hofner bass.    All the bass playing on this album is one on his Hofner as well as his live shows.   It sounds far better than ever, doesn't it?   

] LONELY ROAD

   The man is sixty years old and rocking his bass guitar as much or more than he ever did in his twenties.    In fact a simple but effective bass-line opens up the album (Lonely Road) and once the rock guitars make their way in, the bass is not lost in the mix.   It's nice to hear him back at it.    And there is a subtle and yet very important thing that happens at the end of the song.  It would never happened with the previous Paul McCartney, but there it is.  If you put the CD on and listen to the end of Lonely Road, you hear amplifier buzz.   One complaint about McCartney that I've heard over the years, and have many times felt myself, is that his productions are very slick.  Those of us who loved John Lennon's contributions to the Beatles were hoping for more of this from McCartney.   Well, take that!  Amp buzz!

FROM A LOVER TO A FRIEND

On this very pretty and (in a timing sense) complicated ballad, the bass is right where I like it.  It is very effectively played to counterpart the other instruments, but is right up front as well.   Sometimes the best ballads are like this.  They seem simple, but once you dig beneath the surface, you find that there is a lot going on.   If you've skipped by this one, listen again, to the timing, the way the guitar and piano interplay.  And listen to Abe Laboriel's drums.   These are real drums played by a real drummer, not a drum machine.   The effect is as if you were listening to a live mix.

 

DRIVING RAIN

Space is what this song is about; musicians giving each other space.   Laboriel's drumming is pretty hectic, while the other instruments are nicely orchestrated.   This style of recording is reminiscent of many Beatles recordings where most of the instruments would be very tastefully orchestrated but one instrument (i.e. the acoustic guitar on She Came In Through the Bathroom Window) is allowed to go wild and free.   

Space is something that isn't often thought about when making music.   A lot of musicians tend to think of their parts alone, but the best ones give each other space.   

TINY BUBBLE

A close listen to the bass playing here reveals some interesting aspects.    The touch is rather light on the eighth-note hammering, but occasionally he let's a good lick fly that has a completely different pick attack.    The keyboards on this song are what are really interesting to me.   There are two or three organs being played simultaneously.   One is holding chords (the one you hear at the end).  Another is playing little punches that liven up the song.    

MAGIC

This is a song that I would advise up-and-coming bass players to listen to.   His pick attack is soft but commanding.   His style almost floats from chord to chord, backing up the four guitars and keyboards.    Very, very nice.

 

Paul's back, not that he was ever gone.

 


WHAT DO OTHERS SAY?

George Martin

" There's no doubt that Lennon and McCartney were good musicians. They had good musical brains, and the brain is where music originates - it has nothing to do with your fingers. As it happened, they could also play their own instruments very well. 

And since those early days they've all improved, especially Paul. He's an excellent musical all-rounder, probably the best bass-guitarist there is, a first-class drummer, brilliant guitarist and competent piano player."

Sting

" It's hard to separate McCartney's influence on my bass playing from his influence on everything else-singing, songwriting, even becoming a musician in the first place. As a child, I would play my Beatles albums at 45 RPM so I could hear the bass better. He's the Guvnor."

Will Lee

" Growing up in Texas in the early '60s I was so obsessed with the Beatles' music that I didn't feel like a fan, I felt like I was in the Beatles. About the same time I switched from drums to bass I became aware of who gave the band its charm and personality, from visual tunes like "Penny Lane" to the group's repartee with the press. It was the same fellow who was able to take a poor-quality instrument like the Hofner bass and create magic on it. I especially dug Paul's funky, Motown-influenced side, evident in the bass line from Everybody's Got Something to Hide Except Me and My Monkey," or even in the syncopated part from "A Day In The Life

 Paul's influence on bassists has been so widespread over numerous generations that there's no denying he's in everybody's playing at this point. We're all descendants. He played simple and solid when it was called for. But because he had so many different flavors to add to a song, he was able to take the instrument far beyond a supportive role. Paul taught the bass how to sing."

Stanley Clarke

"Paul definitely had an influence on my bass playing, not so much technically, but more with his philosophy of melodic bass lines - especially as I hit my teens and the Beatles' records became more adventurous. On tracks like "Come Together," the bass line WAS the song. I've always liked that. The only other person I knew of who was doing that was James Jamerson. That was one of the reasons I was inspired to write "School Days": so I could just play the bass lines and people would hear a whole song.

I had the honor of being contacted by Paul through George Martin to play on Tug of War, and I also appeared on Pipes of Peace [both on Capitol]. Paul was very nice. He asked me to show him how to slap. During Pipes we got a groove going in a studio jam, and it ended up making on the album as "Hey Hey." He graciously gave me a co-writing credit, and it's still a thrill to see my name next to his above the music in the song book."

Billy Sheehan

" The reason I got involved with music in the first place was because I saw the Beatles on the Ed Sullivan Show. I watched all the girls going crazy, and I figured this was the best business in the world to be in. Later on, when I got more deeply into music, Sgt. Pepper was a break-through record for me. I must have listened to it several hundred times. What intrigued me was how totally musical every aspect of it was, especially Paul's melodic, fluid bass lines. When my band Talas was starting in the mid '70s, [the Beatles' tribute show] Beatlemania was big, and we used to play entire gigs of just Beatles tunes. I've learned so much from Paul about playing, writing, and playing and singing at the same time that I should probably start sending him checks.

Most bassists get into the flashy players, but I think the reason Paul is often overlooked is that what he was doing wasn't really obvious. It was so brilliantly woven into the context of the songs. One of my favorites is the bass line from "Rain." I still use it to test the low end of an amp. That Paul happens to play bass is a great boon to all of us, because he made us realize that there are no limitations to being a bass player."

John Lennon

"Paul was one of the most innovative bass players ever. And half the stuff that is going on now is directly ripped off from his Beatles period."