For over four decades, bassists have marveled at Paul McCartney’s Odyssian approach to the bass. Macca's countermelodies twist and turn through countless Beatles compositions and tell tall tales on more than a few of his solo works. But nowhere is that Macca flair clearer than on “Something. Against George’s sparse and simple vocal line, McCartney thrusts his super-melodic bass to the fore in an emotional performance where he tells a story with each and every note.
To quote Macca,
“I always try to get a bit of melody out of the bass part,” Paul told Bass Player in October ’05. “But you have to be selective, or the composer can get a bit annoyed. I don’t think George was too pleased with what I did on ‘Something’ at first; I mean, I had to sell it to him!”
After all, on this delicate ballad, he lays out a bold declaration of melodic independence as he weaves through the song's changes with flowery passages and purposeful articulation. It’s easy to see why George might be a little taken back by Paul’s liberal interpretation of his tune. But even if George felt Paul’s line was overcooked, he still allowed it out the door. So give George thanks for this feast—still fresh after all these years—as you get ready to bite into a bass line that’s meatier than a huge hunk of steak (seitan steak, of course).
By the Abbey Road sessions, Macca's style had obviosly reached a creative high point. Though he used his ’65 Rickenbacker 4001S on “Something,” Paul attributes much of his style to the particular feel and sound of his ’63 Hofner 500/1 hollowbody bass.
To quote macca,
“Because the Hofner is so light, it encouraged me to play with a light touch and be more adventurous. I’d play it more like a guitar. I’ll go up and just vroom, vroom, slur into high notes and then come back down and nail the bass part. The slides and slurs come from playing guitar and using some of that approach.”
Let's analyze "Something" Maccamaniacs.
After setting the foundation with an authoritative low F at bar 1, McCartney wastes no time injecting his line with expressive techniques, especially slides. As you’re reading through the transcription, note how some slides connect two adjacent notes, like in beat four of bar 3, while others are used as an approach, like the one leading into the beautiful run at bar 8. Still others fall off, like on beats three and four of the turnarounds at bars 1, 10, and 19.
While he plays most of the song on the upper strings, there’s a point at the end of the bridge (bar 28) where he hits a low D, which is why the transcription is tabbed for drop-D tuning. Except for that one note, the rest of the line could be played on a 4-string in standard tuning. For the tablature haters out there, consider lifting your tab ban to take note where to play these notes. There isn't a single open string pluck in this tune, as Paul mainly thumped around the 5th and 7th positions for a tubbier sound and less position shifting.
The song’s structure is rather simple, but Macca constantly repackages his lines for maximum freshness: Compare the different ways he arpeggiates the D and D7 chords in bars 6, 15, 33, and 42. After the first two verses (A and B), Paul establishes the key change to A before the song’s bridge by outlining an A triad in bar 20 and using chromatic movement on beat four to set up the bridge’s call-and-response line. In bars 35 and 44, Paul stuffs even more feeling into the signature lick from bar 8 by greasing his approach to the high F with an up-and-back slide from E. In the final verse (E), check out the new variation he introduces against the Cmaj7/G chord in the third verse at bar 39, and how at the tune’s final buildup, Paul pedals on A as he begins to walk up chromatically to F before the ritardando turnaround to C.
Don't follow all the musical jargon? OK. In layman's terms:
"Something" is a song in which Macca may have best showcased his amazing talent on the bass guitar. Now, go find your Abbey Road CD, put your headphones on, and listen to it for yourself.