THE EVOLUTION OF ROCK BASS PLAYING McCARTNEY STYLE

An updated version of this article is available (February, 1997), but has not yet been html-ified. If you don't mind plain text, click here

From: Dennis Alstrand <alstrand@hpwcsys.mayfield.hp.com>

Links throughout the document are to a supplementary article written by Scott Jennings, who has a differing view on some of the things commented on here
This article is written from the perspective of Paul McCartney's influence on rock bass playing. It's written by a fan for fans, and is intended to be largely untechnical.

I've been playing bass since 1969, and my inspiration to pick the instrument up was a deep appreciation for what Paul McCartney could do with a bass guitar in a group. The inspiration is still there, as you'll no doubt be able to tell in this article, as strong as ever. There were two difficult aspects of writing this article:

  1. to keep on track, and not discuss the Beatles as a whole. While frequent discussion of the Beatles music (instead of purely the bass playing) is necessary because each instrument is so integrated, discussion of the group or matters in their history has been 'somewhat' avoided.
  2. to remain objective. Those of us who grew up loving those four guys as icons, big brothers or whatever, sometimes have a hard time standing back and looking at things objectively. They were - and remain - so magnetic!
Since McCartney's major influence as a bass player was provided in the 1960s, the article is focused on his work with the Beatles.

Thanks section:
Thanks to Don Monson for editing (!) and a host of people for contributing thoughts and ideas: cousin Jerry Dicey for years of discussion on rock bass playing; Brian Smithey for setting me straight on James Jamerson, and others who offered excellent information in the newsgroup whose names have unfortunately come and gone.

There have been a number of people who were influential in the development of rock bass playing in the 1960s.

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. 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 playing too 'cute'. Although he apparantly 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.

John Entwhistle (the Who) would have to be mentioned as the predecessor of archtypical progressive rock bass player and to this day is nothing short of outstanding on the instrument.

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.

Duck Dunn (Booker T/M.G.s and almost all Memphis records from Redding to Sam & Dave, etc) layed back 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 and the Yardbirds' Paul Samwell-Smith all were influences on bass playing in the 1960s, but none of the above were more influential - even on today's bass players - than one J. Paul McCartney.

First and foremost, because it's the least important aspect of a musician, I'd like to cast aside any doubts of his immense technical ability. Listen to the second encore song on 'Wings Over America', a song called Soily. In that song, he sings the words "Tommy Gun" words "Tommy Gun" and then rips off the perfect bass line ANYONE to play correctly. It's a chromatic run down the neck that makes my ears go back.

LARGE SCALE vs. SMALL SCALE

In studying the emergence of McCartney's bass playing styles and techniques, I first of all commend him for being such a solid player on the Hofner bass, which is really an inexpensive bass with a small neck. When you pick up a Hofner, you're first surprised at how light it is. When you play it, you tend to want to play fast little lines; nothing serious. And yet McCartney really brought 'rock' bass playing four or five steps forward with that little Hofner of his, something he didn't finally toss aside until 1966. Paul himself compared playing the Hofner to playing a guitar and when he'd pick up a Fender it would "sit me down and make me play BASS". I couldn't put it better.

If there is any doubt that Paul was a major pioneer in rock bass playing, I invite you to listen to The Beatles white album and then listen to much of the playing of today. In nearly thirty years, it hasn't changed all that much.

The interesting aspect of this whole subject is that Paul McCartney is not merely a bass player. It's quite obvious that he hears and feels the entire range of the song as it's being developed. He's in 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). He is a well rounded musician who has earned a high position of respect in the rock field. Now if only more John Lennon fans would realize this!

What follows is an era by era breakdown of the development of and the evolution of rock bass playing - Paul McCartney style. 


PRE 'WITH THE BEATLES'

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

Combining this style with a hollow body bass made, at times, for a very 'round' and punchy sound, a sound easy to visualize. If, for example, Disney were to animate Please Please Me (as in the first part of Fantasia) the bass would probably be pictured in round dark blotches that would quickly fade away - bop bop bop bop bop bop, etc. While it definitely works and the song put them over the top in the UK, I've often wondered what the Beatles would have sounded like in the '63-'65 days with a solid body bass. It definitely would have been different.

PRE - 'With the Beatles'

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

Combining this style with a hollow body bass made, at times, for a very 'round' and punchy sound, a sound easy to visualize. If, for example, Disney were to animate Please Please Me (as in the first part of Fantasia) the bass would probably be pictured in round dark blotches that would quickly fade away - bop bop bop bop bop bop, etc. While it definitely works and the song put them over the top in the UK, I've often wondered what the Beatles would have sounded like in the '63-'65 days with a solid body bass. It definitely would have been different.

CRY FOR A SHADOW
The tracks recorded with Tony Sheridan in Germany are the earliest I know of that feature Paul on bass guitar and Pete Best on drums. Interestingly enough, they contrast sharply with the later tracks with Ringo. Pete played with a much ligher sticked attack, using snare rolls frequently. Paul's bass playing is far heavier than Pete's and so the rhythm section is not yet locked in. For those that still ask the eternal question "Why did they replace Pete with Ringo", take a listen to these songs and - rhythm sectionally speaking - it makes sense.

Paul 'features' on this song at the end of every chorus with a slick little run up the neck. The songs 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 to just this side of distortion. What a difference this makes with sound, adding an edgy touch to it, and Paul is getting it on this recording.

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 equiptment, those recordings are a testimonial to taking a few steps back. I wonder if the digital world is listening.

ONE AFTER 909
The early version of One After 909 'showcases' Paul attempting gamely to play a solid hammer rhythm without benefit of a pick. I've read at places where it was said that he started getting flashy and John stopped the song. Listen again. Bass players out there will recognize that Paul was trying too hard to play, and his wrist has stiffened up. It's happened to all of us, and it's not often that we're in the studio recording bass and singing at the sime time. When you can not keep the rhythm up, you either quit or try to change it around so you can. Paul, being no quitter, tries gamely to keep it going. In this case, John busts him with the very Liverpuddlian accent "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 eightnotes played on the root), an effect that wasn't used too many times up until then.

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 was the first album, by my estimation, where ROCK bass playing first crawled from the ocean and breathed air. On most of the album, George Martin and engineer Norman Smith decided to let the bass come up front and for good reason. Every Beatles album had a particular flavor and I find myself contrasting With The Beatles with The White Album on that regard. Each instrument was well defined both in sound and in style. Rarely was there a real packaged 'Beatles' song that made you forget that they were even playing.

The Beatles, we'll all agree, we're TALENTED. John 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 (She Loves You - is it possible to listen to this song and analyze it?) or they could play as four musicians working expertly with each other as on both the white album and With The Beatles.

On the first three songs from the album:
IT WON'T BE LONG
It has that hook guitar line that can only be in E. It's always played twice in succession and Paul always follows it down the second time on bass, playing it so hard that he's overdriving his amplifier. I've always given Martin/Smith a lot of credit for not only leaving that in but bringing it to the fore. The album kicks 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 a song. Just as happens when Paul starts playing chords in I Want To Hold Your Hand, the rest of the band steps back and lets his sound come through. Excellent dynamics.

ALL MY LOVING
. . . .ahhhh . . . linear bass playing to the hilt. Underneath John's awesome triplet mashing, Paul's bass walks from chord to chord in good ol' jazz style. The typical R&R bass line (in C would be C E G A Bb A G E) is tossed aside because it wouldn't work with those chords. 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. 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. When you consider that they were somewhere in their very early 20s when they recorded this, an age where you don't expect a lot of dynamics, it becomes even more impressive.

I WANT TO HOLD YOUR HAND
The single was released a week later, full of dynamics, stumbles and hooks. One instrument after another takes it's 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.

"Oh yeah I!" shout John and Paul in unision, "tell you something!", now it's George's turn; he plays that little guitar lick that takes the song expertly and perfectly from the V to the VI chord (the song being in G, it now goes from D to Em).

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 awe-inspiring.

There are not many guitar players - believe me I know - that can stand not playing even for a few moments. Ask any bass player, he/she will attest to it. Here, at a stage where the Beatles were conquering the world, John and George both stood back and let the dynamics flow. The song is so full of hooks you could fish with it. 'Adequate', John said about their musicianship. Adequate enough to knock a whole country of JFK mourning Americans out of their chairs.

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. 


1964/1965

Relative obscurity for a while. '64/'65 were not banner years for the development of rock bass playing. As always, his playing was tasteful and right in the groove. After the advancements made on With The Beatles, a step back was taken it would seem.

 If I were to guess, the reasons would be threefold:

  1. 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 making around the world.
  2. 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 of itself. I actually put more stock into this theory than the others, aside from theory #4. They were involved in so much; touring, songwriting, endless photo sessions, Paul's expansion into other instruments than bass. There was just too much to think of during this period for him to be completely revolutionary with his bass playing.
  3. By 1965, John had turned more and more to acoustic guitar on Beatles' records and it would have been easy to be overbearing. He wasn't.
  4. I don't have the slightest idea of what really was going on.
The main point to be made about 1964 is that Paul and The Beatles allowed the bass to (with italics) actually be played when other instruments were not playing.

LONG TALL SALLY (LIVE AT THE HOLLYWOOD BOWL)
When The Beatles played at the Hollywood Bowl in 1964 and performed Long Tall Sally, Paul cut loose, playing lines along with his vocals during the breaks. It's difficult in this day and age of bass playing hijinx to express the importance of this band letting the bass cut loose. It just was not done before in the rock world.

I'LL CRY INSTEAD
Wow! Two mini bass solos, played under "I'd have myself locked up today". Again, today the idea may not seem wild, but in 1964 it was close to heresy.

THINGS WE SAID TODAY
Ensemble playing (by all four) at it's 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. The main point to be made about 1964 is that Paul and The Beatles allowed the bass to (with italics) actually be played when other instruments were not playing.

LONG TALL SALLY (LIVE AT THE HOLLYWOOD BOWL)
When The Beatles played at the Hollywood Bowl in 1964 and performed Long Tall Sally, Paul cut loose, playing lines along with his vocals during the breaks. It's difficult in this day and age of bass playing hijinx to express the importance of this band letting the bass cut loose. It just was not done before in the rock world.

I'LL CRY INSTEAD
Wow! Two mini bass solos, played under "I'd have myself locked up today". Again, today the idea may not seem wild, but in 1964 it was close to heresy.

THINGS WE SAID TODAY
Ensemble playing (by all four) at it's 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.

IF YOU'VE GOT TROUBLES
This is another song that tends to be written off as an undesirable. Yet it contains an excellent rock bass/guitar line, an early example of what was to come to the rock world a few years later. For this reason I find it unfortunate that the song wasn't released. Like Drive My Car, it features the bass playing the same line as the guitar but one octave below.

DRIVE MY CAR
I've always loved the sound of a good rock line with the bass following the guitar but an octave underneath. Drive My Car is a perfect example of this. Probably not the first, definately not the last, but especially under the "Baby you can drive my car and maybe I'll love you"" line it definately works. (Note: since this article was written, the possibility has come up that some songs from Rubber Soul were recorded with his brand new Rickenbacker as alluded to by Paul himself. If so, it's not clear which songs they might be, but Drive My Car stands as a distinct possibility. The bass sound is punchy and carries that certain edge that is inherant in Rickenbacker basses.

MICHELLE
I would be remiss in dismissing '64/'65 without a mention of the lovely work he does on Michelle, right? Right. Smooth, flowing, legatto. Discussing the bass (or any parts) on Michelle is like discussing a fine wine. Listening to it causes one to raise one eyebrow, ala Spock, and say "Ahhhhh, yes. 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."

TECHNIQUES
By this time, Paul had mastered two techniques. With his left (pick) hand, he had learned that he could get much more control and attack by beginning a note with the pick right on the string. As mentioned above, many guitar-players picking up a bass tend to bounce the notes. This technique allows far more control over the sound.

With his right (non pick) hand, he had mastered sliding up to a note. For example, to play an E using this technique, you start on the D just below it with your index finger and hammer down your ring finger on the E immediately without picking again. He was to use the technique more frequently from Revolver on.

1966

The recording of Revolver began in early April, 1966. Paperback Writer was recorded on April 14th. If those people that were digging up the Paul Is Dead clues had placed his death between November 11th 1965 (the final Rubber Soul session) and April 6th, 1966 - I'd probably believe them. Picking November or whatever it was wasn't wise.

PAPERBACK WRITER
And why? Because it's a whole new bass player who emerged on June 10th, the day Paperback Writer and Rain was released as a single. Man!

Sigh. What a period of time that was.
You'll generally read reviews of Paperback Writer stating it to being fairly weak. If I could stand here and burn each one of those reviews, I'd do it. (Well yes, I am standing now, shaking my fist at the Rotten Reviewers.)
Perhaps they demanded better lyrics. The lyrics, while not earth-shattering aren't bad. But the reviewers miss the point entirely, as usual. It wasn't PBW's lyrics. Prominent lyrics would have just gotten in the way. It's the sound, the incredible feel. How someone could listen to that and call it weak? . . . I'll calm down now. Sitting down again. George plays the heavy hook line on his (I believe) Gretsch Country Gentleman and then keeps the rhythm solid with a lead/rhythm line through the verses, while John plays a heavily tremiloed (I love it) guitar. The mix of the two really moves the song. The vocals are extra-ordinary! Ingeniously arranged and recorded with flash and style. But, in the eyes of history, it's the bass that really cuts this song. His bass fills leading into the verses are by now legendary. It was one of the first major hits - along with it's flip side - that really featured bass.

RAIN
When you consider that Rain was slowed down, they must have recorded it at a very brisk rate (take heed, Ringo bashers, he did this drumming at a FASTER speed than the record). I invite anyone who wants to hear some monster bass playing, 1966 style, to sit back and enjoy the show. Like so many facets of the Beatles' legacy, it's as alive today as it was then.
There are some bass lines in Rain that I listen to and can not believe were actually played much faster than what the tape indicates. 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. There is a section towards the end where he goes from very low to very high very quickly (no one believes me, but it's there just after the "Can you hear me? Can you hear me?") Still, the bass work is at the same time heavy and flowery. An iron butterfly, if you will. You won't? I don't blame you. It wasn't long after this that bass players on most recordings found themselves with the dilemna of having to "play like McCartney, man". The Beatles, and McCartney had turned overnight from the fab mop tops into serious psycho-rockers.

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 kicking real ass. Not bad for a mop top, eh?

A note on the drumming on Rain from Paul's co-rhythm section mate: (From The Big Beat: Conversations with Rock's Great Drummers by Max Weinberg and Robert Santelli) STARR: "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'."

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 the Beatles' train (as per Norman Smith).

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

This move, for whatever reason, is all important in any consideration of the next Beatles records. To emphasize this major point (in spite of George Harrison's suggestion on the Anthology), 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. When one considers the far reaching impact of the next two albums on the entire recording industry, you might say that putting Emerick into the EMI booth was to music what going to the moon was to space travel. A giant step.

For example:

From Mark Lewisohn's The Beatles Recording Sessions:

EMERICK: "'Paperback Writer' was the first time the bass sound had been
heard in all it's 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."

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.

Tape operator Jerry Boys: Geoff walked-in green but because he knew no rules he tried different techniques, and because the Beatles were very creative and adventurous, the would say yes to everything. The chimistry 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.

Ron Pender: 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.

REVOLVER

It's opinion. Music discussion is always subjective opinion, and I hate to read people saying "this is the way it is-end of subject". I have to put Revolver - the British Revolver - at the top of the heap. Their best playing was still to come, but As An Album to me this one is IT.

GOT TO GET YOU INTO MY LIFE
McCartney really began to take his instrument seriously here. His playing throughout the album, throughout 1966, was at a peak. At times bold, tender, raucous, quiet, whatever the song called for. I wonder if he'd agree, though, 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. I have nothing against simple playing, but his attack on the line sounds as if it's back to the old style of hammer picking and with out much backing instrumentation (aside from horns), it leaves things a bit empty. But, as I said, that's the ONLY thing I'd change. Including the bass playing on Taxman. 

TAXMAN
(NOTE: The following excert is written with the unpopular notion that George Harrison played bass on Taxman. There are many who insist that Paul played bass on the song and they may well be right.)

On Taxman, the bass playing sounds like the player is going through a Marshall stack, giving it a power rock sound. Excellent all the way around, and the kudos for the bass here go to George who brought his Fender Jazz bass into the studio. Note: In The Compete Beatles Recordings, pg. 184, there's a picture of this bass. It's caption reads 'George trying an experiment with Paul's Fender Jazz Bass guitar. Mark Lewisohn could not have written these captions, he must know better than this!

George was actually quite a decent bass player. To write him off as 'trying an experiment on Paul's (right handed) bass is ludicrous. The reason he played bass on that particular song is that Paul was busy recording that incredible guitar solo. With Lennon adding his now familiar sledgehammer rhythm and Ringo doing his usual excellent backbeat job, one wonders what the Beatles might have been like had George taken up the bass and Paul stayed on guitar. Hmmm. For one thing, this article would be a heck of a lot different.

OTHER SONGS ON REVOLVER
I'm Only Sleeping, obviously slowed WAAAYYY down, had a nifty treat for us - a minature bass solo and some good crash style drumming. And Your Bird Can Sing, Dr. Robert, I Want To Tell You nd 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.

(Note: I'm not positive Tomorrow Never Knows was recorded with the Rickenbacker. Emerick says that Paperback Writer was the first song to use the new bass and that was recorded AFTER TNK. It may be, though, that Emerick was referring to the fact that PBW was RELEASED first. McCartney's recent comments that the Rickenbacker was used on Rubber Soul really make this something worth researching.)

TO ANALYZE:

Most people who work with a tool of any kind know that when you get something that completely outshines what you had before, you get creative. People who buy new bench saws suddenly start creating all kinds of things. People who get new caligraphy pens litter the house with their writings. People who get new musical instruments that sound better than before suddenly become many times better in their musicianship.

Paul got two things at once. Not only did he finally get a top notch bass (those old Rickenbackers could be incredible), but he also got a top notch sound in the studio, far better than the one offered by the old engineer (and here I must apologize to Mr. Smith. He engineered some of the best Beatles' hits of all time). With those two things, I think he only began to realize his potential and finally showed off a little bit, egged on by no less than John Lennon himself.

When you add those two things to a creative and searching mind, yearning learning. . .just sit back and let the freight train pass through town, because Paul McCartney was now considered one of the top bass players in the world. PENNY LANE

After I discovered that Penny Lane was done on a Rickenbacker, I thought about it and felt that that bass line could not be successfully played on a Hofner. I probably sound as if I'm constantly on the attack of the bass that contributed to The Sound Of The Beatles, but I really felt this theory to be true. Then, on the McCartney Up Close special from a few years back he sure proved me wrong. He's got his old Hofner bass up there and plays it (while singing) to a 't'. I've heard Penny Lane tossed aside by many critics and it again just leads me to believe that most critics don't know what they're talking about. It was a song of incredible consequence. As I recall, Strawberry Fields seemed to get more airplay but I have to think that Penny Lane affected more hopeful hitmakers at the time. That piano line was worked to perfection, and the bass line is constructed to move that song in and out of moods.

During the opening lines to the verses such as "In Penny Lane the barber shaves another customer" the bass is walking jauntily and with great restraint, not pushing the beat at all. The mood is light. But when we see the banker sitting "waiting for a TRIM", the song takes a sudden left turn into Strangeville. The smiling masks come off and when you hear the following line ". . the fireman rushes in from the pouring rain", we realize we're heading right down Main St.

The effect is driven by two things. The piano, dubbed many times over, goes to an off the wall minor chord and the bass Stops Walking. It's as if you're walking down a street and suddenly everything stops. Like good acting, or sometimes good living, it's amazing the effect you can have when you suddenly stop something that's been going on. People look around, hardly having noticed that the original sound was even there until it stopped. Similarly, you might be sitting in your living room watching tv while one of those crazed and brain damaged mocking birds is chirping away outside. Then, he flies away (or is shot at) and you look around suddenly. You hadn't really acknowledged the sound until it was gone.

Talk about lessons. The Beatles were learning them and using them to excellent advantage.


1967

SGT. PEPPERS
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?

Most of his bass playing on this album was not ensemble playing but him sitting in the studio on a stool, his left handed Rickenbacker across his lap his mustache curled around his lip. When you see pictures of Paul in the Sgt. Pepper days, you see a man looking for something new and far away.

He found it, again, on this album. When you listen to what he plays, you can generally picture how he positions himself when he plays it. It's fairly expressive; well very expressive. While Revolver/PBW/R was in yo' face, Sgt. Peppers was different. The expression is cool, laid back a bit, but creative and completely different - again - than anything yet done. Once again, the cry in bands was "play like McCartney plays". This time it could not be done because of the simple fact that on most tracks he was given his own track and his own time to record it. 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.

SGT. PEPPER'S LONELY HEARTS CLUB BAND REPRISE Because of this, his playing wasn't as integrated into the 'band', but his style fit the album's persona of breaking from the norm. On the album, his playing is at times COMPLETELY inspired (i.e. Mr. Kite, Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds), at times creative and flowing (Fixing A Hole, A Day In The Life), and at times kicking ass (sorry, have to use that phrase when it comes to bass playing--Good Morning Good Morning, Getting Better, Sgt. Peppers and.....ahhhhhh.....the Sgt. Peppers reprise). Put that reprise on with the bass turned up all the way. Go ahead, I'll wait. There's Paul counting off. . .there's the four bars of drumming, and then on the final eigth 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. I cannot listen to that song without the bass turned up so high that our cats seek shelter with the dogs. 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 summoneed. According to George Martin in his book 'With A Little Help From My Friends', the idea for a reprise was Neil Aspinal's idea. They worked hard on making it sound live and it is incredibly live sounding.

Yes, the bass style on the album is a very cool Paul McCartney, poised and confident. The judgement on whether it was his top stuff is completely up to the listener. It certainly was revoluationary. It certainly fit the music and that's really the main thing. I must make so bold as to say that it's my opinion that it's far from his best. However, that really doesn't matter. Most people who look at the album (I mean the record, not the cd) remember the first time they saw it. I was standing in my driveway when my older brother Mike came home with it. This lp was, obviously, something new altogether. I immediately thought, for some reason, that this was their last album. I held that belief until they came out with their next record. It wasn't long before I got completely enthralled and hypnotized by the music on the album. My dad came in to my room a few weeks later to find me, cardboard cutout mustache stuck in my nostrils, futily attempting to play guitar along with SPLHCB. I felt like an idiot. But after listening for a few minutes, he said "You're going to be a guitar player, are you?" "Errr", I replied, expecting the worst and removing the mustache, "yes." I figured I'd get a good talking to about people like the Beatles. Instead, he said "Well, you've picked some good musicians to learn from. Good luck." It was the first and last positive thing he said about the Beatles but, well, if he said it about Sgt. Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band, then it must have been one hell of an album. Back in went the mustache, and back on went my guitar.

BABY YOU'RE A RICH MAN
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's probably the most unique Beatles' record and I really like the way it came out. From the first time I heard it, I had the feeling of the Beatles sitting around in a commune decked out in flower shirts.

It wasn't until I got a better stereo that I heard the thunder that lies beneath it. Of all the Beatles' records, Grant got the deepest bass end. Pure sound, pure low end feel. It was as if he were weilding a powerful weapon, and weilding it pretty nicely, too.

Like the '64/'65 period, Paul remained fairly constant throughout the remainder of 1967. Nothing bad, nothing earthshaking or historic. You almost got to expect something incredibly new with every record put out, a stigma that Paul lives with to this day but more on that later. It wasn't until Hey Bulldog and then the incredible white album that new innovations were to come. 


1968

While 1967 may be recalled as the year of psychadelia, it was really 1968 that it took hold in the heartland. By '68, you couldn't sell an album unless the cover had some cheap looking psychadelic mixture of drawings and photography.

Many wondered just what the Beatles would do in 1968 to surpass 1967. Not many expected what they got.
LADY MADONNA
On March 15th, the Lady Madonna/The Inner Light single was released.

When Lady Madonna came out, I recall thinking that McCartney had done it again. Listen to that bass line!

It's a good bass line. Close inspection to it reveals some choppiness in the playing and he tends to miss slightly on some notes but that's not necessarily a bad thing. It follows the piano bass well, and it had to because he would have clashed with the left hand on the piano otherwise and this would be devastating to this record. The piano part, while 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 works.

HEY BULLDOG
On February 11th, Yoko visited the Beatles' in the recording studio. This was the first time any of them had allowed one of the wives into this magical inner circle. It apparantly was just done, no questions asked. On that day, they 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.

I believe that both John and Paul were trying to make an impression upon Yoko. They slammed together a solid tune very quickly and obviously had a lot of fun doing it. Underneath the excellent solo (played, I think, by John), you can hear John and Paul whooping it up. Then, at the end, Paul starts barking (reportedly just to make John laugh) and the following takes place:

BOTH: HEY BULLDOG!
PAUL: HEY MAN!
JOHN: WHAT>
PAUL: RUFF!
JOHN: What's that you say?
PAUL: I said. . .RUFF!
JOHN: You know any mo'?
PAUL: ROOOOWWWWWOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! JOHN: THAT'S IT BOY!! YOU GOT IT! YOU GOT IT!!!!! J&P: (general insanity rivaled possibly only by the end of Everybody's Got...
JOHN: CALM DOWN BOY
PAUL: OKAY
JOHN: CALM DOWN
BOTH: HEEYYYYYY BULLDOG!

Also, like the bass players for the Gin Blossoms and Led Zeppelin (to name but a few) Paul played RIGHT IN THE MIDDLE of the drum beat. The piano line starts the song. The second time through, Ringo is laying down the beat. 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 loss. Not so here, folks. I can almost picture a boxer jabbing out the notes when all three are playing together.
Hey Bulldog is a top notch Beatles' record, but don't ask John Lennon. While he obviously had fun making it, he sure didn't think much about it later. He was embarassed, 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 the Beatles seemingly rarely had as much fun in the studio again.

And now, the key to 1960's rock bass playing: THE BEATLES (the white album)

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.

Yes, James Jamerson was great. Tim Bogart of Vanilla Fudge was revoluationary. 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 instrument handed to the least talented guitar player.

Bass playing is only a part of the entire ensemble and the omittance of a brief commentary of the album that some of the all time best rock bass playing was recorded on would leave this section wanting.

Listening to the white album now, it's hard to recall it's impact. As mentioned above, the world awaited the killer god of psychadelic albums. What would the cover be like this time? Would they record the bible? The Lord of the Rings? The only thing for sure was that it would be the most stupendous, incredible flash of psychedelia ever produced yet. If anyone were to step forward and say, "it will merely be an album adorned with a pure white cover, called simply The Beatles and contain some of the most straight ahead hard rock ever heard", their ears would be ringing from the laughter to this day.

Hard rock was a new commodity in 1968 and the Beatles, especially John Lennon, approached it with an unadulterated vengence. Of course, that's not all it contained, but it was down to basics. Basics, yes, and they had once again defined what the basics were.

Sgt. Peppers had 'When I'm 64'. The white album had 'Martha My Dear' and 'Honey Pie.' Take that! Touche!

There was a lot of inner discontent in the studio while making this album; Ringo even quit for a short time. But, I think that 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 make an incredible album for us.

GEOFF EMERICK DEPARTS
It happened on July 16th, 1988, history fans. Geoff had had enough of the bickering and decided to leave then and there on that day. Ken Scott took over the engineering reigns for the rest of the way.

In researching this article, I found an interesting sidelight to this fact. Following is a listing of the songs engineered by Emerick and Scott. I've put them in order by the beginning of the recording of each song.
Look it over and consider the styles of the songs.

Songs engineered by Emerick
REVOLUTION I
DON'T PASS ME BY
REVOLUTION 9
BLACKBIRD
EVERYBODY'S GOT SOMETHING...
GOOD NIGHT
OB-LA-DI...
REVOLUTION
CRY BABY CRY

Songs engineered by Scott.
HELTER SKELTER
SEXY SADIE
(DON'T PASS ME BY completed)
(EVERYBODY'S GOT SOMETHING... 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
(At this point, Chris Thomas produces the final touches to Helter Skelter ) GLASS ONION
I WILL
BIRTHDAY
PIGGIES
HAPPINESS IS A WARM GUN
HONEY PIE
SAVOY TRUFFLE
LONG LONG LONG
I'm SO TIRED
THE CONTINUING STORY OF BUNGALOW BILL

The breaking point between the two is interesting isn't it? Their music afterwards was more raw and rockish 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 for me to say. But a definate 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, 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. What an introduction for Ken, but what a job he did on this song, . As you listen to the bass, you can hear a high very trebly sound going along with it. Most likely this was achieved by putting the bass into two seperate 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 clearcut 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 cymbol 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.

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. On the second thought, maybe they should leave it well enough alone. We don't need any more Charley Mansons.

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.

Brian Gibson, technical engineer: "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." (The Beatles Recording Sessions. Lewisohn-Harmony Books, NY)

EVERYBODY'S GOT SOMETHING TO HIDE EXCEPT FOR ME AND MY MONKEY
I bow low. . . . . What I am unable 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 Geoff Emerick was replaced by Ken Scott 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 the discussion of the evolution of rock bass playing, this song is all important. It is nothing short of superb both in it's 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 it's way back up time and time again to that root note. There's so much involved in making this line work!

  1. The final four notes of each run of the line are the most noticable Once the second note is played, the line drops just slightly in it's 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.
  2. The line is played again and again and again, and many times is plyed 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. It's like the onset of insanity or something (not that I would not what that's like of course!). Finally, you stroll over and gently remove the child, saying "that enough , now. But inside, you're screaming "GET OFF THE HORSE BEFORE I TURN IT INTO FIREWOOD!"
  3. 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 - just when you're ready to shoot the house up, it all locks into place. "Take it easy!" shouts Lennon. Yeah, sure. Take it easy. No problem. Just let me get this labotomy performed first. Now, the Beatles are locked in like they've never been before on the chorus. "Take it easy!", he shouts again. Then after the orgasmic "Everybody. . ." comes those strange chord changes, lead lines, and drum breaks. The bells have left us for a moment. But then, they're right back again for the next verse.

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 it's 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 vengence.

Of course! I'd almost forgot to make note of The Great Bass Part. The guitars all stop and John and Paul start doing their crazy "C'mon c'mon c'mon c'mon. . ." and then one of the most well timed bass lines in the history of rock - NO LESS - comes forth. 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 EGSTHEFMAMM together, taking it from John's original demo with just guitar and a much different vocal to the powerhouse it became.

DEAR PRUDENCE
For a change of pace, let's play a little game here. You're at EMI (Abbey Road) studios and are standing across from John Lennon and Yoko Ono. John is sitting, looking downward, finger picking (VERY excellently by the way) a song you haven't heard before but think is really nice. You recognize, immediately that the song is about Prudence Farrow. It's your task to think of what bass part you'll play to this song, realizing the strong influence Yoko Ono now has over what John would like to see The Beatles do to his songs. 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. Great finger picking by the way, Johnny." You look at Yoko. "I mean. . .John."

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 it's 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. Then for the middle eight (The sun is up), in from left field come Paul and Ringo and from there on through the end they're there when they need to be and they're not there when they're not needed.

Okay, I can hear you saying "enough hero worship! Bring the king down from his throne!"

GLASS ONION
Easy enough. Let's turn to Glass Onion. After years of listening, wondering, trying to calculate, I give up. Why that bass tone? It sounds to me like his strings have been dead for weeks. There's absolutely no life in them at all. The playing is good enough. I really like the snare/bass lead-ins to the verses, but that tone?

I WILL
This is interesting. Around three years ago, I was listening to I Will and made what I thought was the Big Discovery. Not only does he do the classical style vibrato on the bass, but the bass part is also hummed by Paul simultaneously. I couldn't wait. Dashing to my keyboardm I called up rec.music.beatles and submitted my discovery. The next morning, by the time my entry had made it in and new entries were processed, someone else said exactly the same thing.

Just a brief mention of the accoustic guitar on this song. It's a style that Paul developed and dropped all too soon. He used it at the end of Mother Nature's Son and a for a good bit on the McCartney album but rarely afterward. It's done mostly, I think, by powering the non picking fingers, or the 'playing fingers' (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.

not on Mother Nature's Son It's my opinion that Mother Nature's Son is one of the most beautiful songs Paul ever did and yet I almost never see mention made of it. John had written a song with similar intent, called, I believe, "One of Nature's Children". It's melody was later employed as "Jealous Guy" on the Imagine album. I can only imagine that he held off on recording it due to Paul's song, things ended up all the better because Jealous Guy turned out so nicely.

YER BLUES
Lennon's version of the blues. These are some hard blues, and Paul responded with hard, heavy and necessary simplistic bass playing. When the word 'starkness' was invented, it was with this song in mind. It's about as stark as you can get and that's interesting because it's far from the typical blues bass line of the day (1-3-5-6-7-6-5-3).

SAVOY TRUFFLE
Yet another song interesting in it's recording. Turn your stereo to one side, the one with the guitars, and you'll find yourself wondering if John and George were drunk when they recorded it. It's very sloppy. The rhythm section (bass and drums) takes care of this problem by standing right out front, dueling it out with the saxaphones. The style was used in only one other song I can pinpoint - 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? Maybe if I ever get a chance to talk to Paul, I'll ask him. His bass sound almost rivals the pig voices!

I'M SO TIRED
The writing of this song merits an article all to itself. But, as I must continually remind myself, this article is about bass playing. The main point that stands out regarding I'm So Tired is the excellent dynamic flow of the musicians and vocalist. There are some points that seem to show that the Beatles had progressed far as a recording unit that they seemed to come natural. Before the second and final chorus is probably the best 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, they're singing "You'd say. . .". 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!". It's hard to do, almost impossible because John and Paul are singing at their most searching and powerful, but listen to the band behind these lines as they're sung. Then 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's long ago learned lesson of laying back when most effective is put into play.

NOT GUILTY
I really wish the Beatles' version had gotten on to this album. Very dynamic and well played. With their apparantly 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. 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. Whatever that is.

HAPPINESS IS A WARM GUN
On Happiness Is A Warm Gun, I love the way the bass and drums come in. After the romantic little "do do do do do do. . .oh yeah", here comes trouble! Eight bass/drums beats played with the hammer finger style I mentioned in Day Tripper (but done super fast) come careening down the lane only to meet the brick wall of Lennon's guitar chord on 'one'. There's some ensemble playing at it's finest. Each part has it's role and is done to great effect. When the band gets to the final section of the song ("Happiness . . . bang bang shoot shoot), the bass is laying it on thick and heavy, holding the notes for as long as possible. The bass is countered nicely by drum and rhythm guitar on the two (if you count the slow 2/2). But there's something just a bit odd about the way all the instruments sound together isn't there? Could it be that one of the guitars is just slightly out of tune and left in the mix that way on purpose?

To recap, the white album really finally defined rock bass playing. To this day, and I'm speaking of bands like Green Day and the Red Hot Chili Peppers, 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. . .) 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 a single (okay, double) album that had more of a long lasting effect on rock bass playing than this one. Can that be enough said about the bass playing on the album? Hardly. And yet, it's time to carry on.

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

YELLOW SUBMARINE
One could cast this album off as the collection of Sgt. Peppers cast offs and rerun 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 to the background. 


1969

LET IT BE
Paul switched back to his Hofner for the movie, a habit he would entertain most times he's been filmed playing in his career. I suppose I know why; it's that Beatle bass that he's known for. But knowing that makes the fact no less dismaying. The movie deserves more credit than it deserves, and much of the playing on the roof is great - and great fun. Get Back with it's solid drone A bass playing stands out. I beleive Don't Let Me Down would stand out as an excellent bass song had the recording of it been cleaner. It does sound muddy and a bit echo-ey (for bass), but it's really good. Ah, enough of Let It Be.

 OLD BROWN SHOE
Don't they call these 'dusty diamond specials'? This is one of the many Beatles' songs that I really think highly of that doesn't get a lot of notice. The fact that George put it on his live (in Japan) album was gratifying. There's some superfast bass and guitar playing on this song, and the chorus contains some of the harder bass playing Paul's done. The whole song is superfast and if it wasn't recorded and sped up, I'd say let's give three cheers to the lads.

Cheer
cheer
cheer.
It's been postulated that the song was sped up after recording it. I doubt it, if only on principal.

This is one song where it would have been easier for Paul to pull out his old Hofner and play it, because it requires such speed, but he did nothing of the sort. Maybe he felt it was time to show the world that not only could he play with the group, but haul ass too! Those choruses ! Paul and George doubling each other. It is amongst the most incredible bass playing Paul's done to date.

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 (after a much needed hiatus taken during the recording of Let It Be), were once again into having their recordings sound like cohesive units. There's some great playing on the album but it doesn't stand out as boldly as the white album.

COME TOGETHER
Every once in a while, I wake up in a cold sweat, having just dreamed that John didn't record Come Together with The Beatles, instead introducing it with The Plastic Ono Band where he had Klaus Voorman's bass under tight reign. Then I breath a sigh of relief. No, this didn't happen. He recorded it with the Beatles, thankfully, especially Paul and Ringo.

But how did the ol' trusty rhythm section come up with the bass/drum lines that open up Come Together (and the Abbey Road LP)? It's completely beyond me because they have nothing whatsoever to do with each other (let alone the song), and yet it all works!

How did they come up with it? Well, let's hypothesize. It's possible that Paul and Ringo were jamming together (or playing nonsense stuff) and while Paul crammed his fingers up the neck and played that bass line, Ringo - not really listening to Paul - was casually doing little cymbal and tom fills.
John, inspired, picked up his guitar and started singing Come Together over it. I don't think it could be any other way, but if you're warped enough to believe it, there is one other possibility.

There was another change of sound engineers.

Yes, an old hand at Beatles recordings was back again - Geoff Emerick. He had been coaxed by Paul McCartney to run Apple Studios. This was the first song he engineered for The Beatles since Cry Baby Cry. The old team of Martin/Emerick was back. Is it possible that McCartney (who, along with the other Beatles had taken a major interest in what exactly they were doing up in that booth) was inspired by the re-entry of Emerick? So much so that he came up with one of the best known rock bass lines ever recorded?

If you were to listen solely to the bass parts to many Beatles songs, it might take the average listener a while to guess which song was being played. Exceptions to this would be lines that mirrored the guitar, such as Day Tripper. But if you were to hear just the bass to Come Together, you'd know what it was right away without doubt.

The rest of the Beatles, and Billy Preston were pretty smart to stand of the way of that one. There's not much to the other instruments throughout the song but perfect little lines and fill chords. Once again, you really have to hand it to them for knowing what NOT to play.

SOMETHING
Ahhhhh, '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 - I believe - 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. I wonder what he thought about the Mr. Toad's Wild Ride bass playing he got from Paul. Aside from the mini bass solo (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 judgement day. Fifteen times does that part 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.

If I could rub a magic lamp and get a mess of wishes, being at these sessions would be one of them.

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 accoustic guitar intro to Here Comes The Sun.

Around 1975 or so, George Harrison and Paul Simon were on Saturday Night Live and they did the song. Did you, or did you not, find yourself yearning for Paul and Ringo to come bashing their way in with that dynamic and moving rhythm section stuff they did on the album? Yes__ No__. I sure did. In fact, I couldn't even enjoy the song by itself. Shame I felt as I wished they would just stop playing the song if they weren't going to have the band kick in. It should be a beautiful song by itself. but Ringo and Paul had to go and ruin it by playing so well on it.

BECAUSE
If you thought I was getting a bit worshipful at times during these writings, then perhaps you should skip to the next song. On two of the Unsurpassed Masters cds, there is a track that is John, Paul and George singing Because acappella, each one double tracked. If I had to pick a shining moment on the Abbey Road album, and one of the shining moments of their recording career, this would be one. Ah, you say, but this writing is supposed to be about bass playing. Add in the keyboard, guitar, and a very tasteful bass, and you have a wonderous song. Bass, by itself, is rarely interesting. But bass, playing in the background and just filling in at perfect parts, is invigorating to me. THE example of background perfect bass playing is probably on Simon & Garfunkel's Scarborough Fair. Examples of excellent bass mood setting are Woody Herman's Bijou, Percy Faith's Theme For A Summer Place, Henry Mancini's Moon River, 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 music, the song is beautiful. With it, we get a lesson in tasteful playing.

MEAN MR. MUSTARD
Before I get into this and Polythene Pam, didn't John Lennon, when asked about Maxwell's Silver Hammer, say something about how Paul could write about all these strange people, but he never did? What about Mean Mr. Mustard and Polythene Pam?

Fuzz bass was employed on this song. Either that, or a fuzz-instrument played over the line. I really like the way they play, especially 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. If forced to guess, I'd say that while rehearsing the song he did this little bit on accident and they decided to leave it in. It really works.

SHE CAME IN THROUGH THE BATHROOM WINDOW
A brief accoustic guitar tangent:
I was sent an email one day not too long ago from a friend, Mike, who said something to the effect of "have you ever listened to the accoustic guitar on She Came In Through The Bathroom Window? It sounds like John banging the hell out of his guitar." And it does. If there's one thing that made The Beatles likable, it was their unbridled enthusiasm. Even when they 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 that song!

GOLDEN SLUMBERS/CARRY THAT WEIGHT
Another friend of mine, Steve, and I have commented from time to time about how solid and deep Paul's bass playing is on these songs. "Once there was a way" - Booom - "to get back homeward" Boom boom "Once there was a way" Booooom, etc. What a sound! For bass lovers, it's perfect. Some books, however, claim it's George playing. The mostly likely story is that it is Paul on bass.

THE END
Toss taste 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.

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.

Then, the (near) final lyrics:
". . .and in the end the love you take is equal to the love you make," written so that we could sit around on LSD saying "Wow!" were fitting final words. Her Majesty comes banging it's way in to remind us that it's all in fun. And that's The End.


POST BEATLES

When the Beatles broke up, all four of them jumped into musical activities. The merit of the musical paths taken by Paul are up 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, to cover all his albums and hi-lites would be incredibly boring for both you and I, so I'll concentrate on just one.

If I were famous and asked in an interview "what is your greatest influence as a bass player", I'd think for about .5 seconds and say "Wings Over America". Fortunately I'm not famous. I don't believe I could stand spending much time around rock stars. Also fortunately, that tour was done and that album was made.

WINGS OVER AMERICA
Paul, 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.

I had the great fortune of getting tickets out of the blue for one of his shows at San Francisco's Cow Palace. Yes, the dreaded Cow Palace where I'd twice seen no less than Chris Squire lose the bass wars to that immense building. Yes, the Cow Palace where I feared it would be more of the same with Paul McCartney. Yes.....the Cow Palace. The test of any bass player. The Cow Palace. Many have gone in. Few have come back out (including McCartney himself when the Beatles played there in 1965).

This time, Paul McCartney came out alive and well. From the moment Rock Show kicked in, I was amazed at this strange sound I heard. Was that a clear and fluent bass? At this place? It couldn't be. And yet, there it was. A minor sound problem, I figured, one that would be cleaned up soon, and no more clear bass would be heard. But that was not to be the case!

Rock Show - ahhh the live version of Rock Show. Since Wings Over America came out, I have listened to the studio version of that song just once and that experience was almost like trying a cigarette after not smoking for five years. Enough of that! I had to put the live version right back on. His playing, live, was with a plodding decimating style that required him to remain rooted within himself.

The final effect of the playing and mix on the record makes the first vocal point the bass and drums, with the extraneous instruments and voice almost secondary - even if this is in your subconcious. The rhythm section constantly pulls you in and then when you do break away and listen to the vocals it's an added treat. This could be just a bass player talking, folks, but that's how I see it.

Jet is no different, and the seque 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 that rhythm. Then suddenly it ends and there's a moment of almost nonchalance. The beat is taken away, and then slammed home again with the opening to Jet.
At the concert itself I could not even hear Joe English's drum segue over the screams of the crowd.
When they exploded back, now carried by a four piece horn section, with the open bars to Jet, a wave came over the crowd. Suddenly, whether they liked Jet or not, I think just about everybody said "YEAH! JET! I LOVE THAT SONG!" The intro to Jet is so typical of the better Beatles songs. Like I Want To Hold Your Hand, there is the stumble, the picking itself back up again, another stumble, etc. until that solid rhythm comes in. And there, again, is that bass pounding the eigth notes. Jet!

1973 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, as sure as I'm sitting here writing this, it stands up to anything he's done ever - including the white album.

The best way I can 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 somehow. I haven't quite figured that one out yet - I'll report back to you. To me, it adds to his appearance, causing the back of his left hand to face straight out and allowed a lot of light to flash off of his wedding ring. This most likely had nothing to do with the creation of his new picking style, but was worth a mention anyway.

Also, for the purpose of adding to the show, he pulled off some pretty darn flashy bass runs. Time To Hide had Paul playing as if he were sitting on a burning kettle. He'd lock in with 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 was one of the first songs mentioned in this series and it was put in for the purpose of silencing any of the nay-sayers who might question his status as one of the top notch bass players In The World.

But, it's worth returning to. 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.

There is so much top flight playing on this album and not a note is done on his ol' Hofner buddies. Those old saws were to return to the McCartney live fold on his next tours. Nahh, all this done on a real bass by a real bass player.

Time Magazine had him on the front cover of one of there '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

Paul now uses a Wal 5 string bass in the studio and for part of his live shows. 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.

McCARTNEY on recording "Free As A Bird": 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. Therre'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 outand 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.

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

Today, every time Paul comes out with a new album, people tend to be disappointed. I stopped being disappointed after London Town. I expected him to follow up Wings Over America with more driving rock. In those days I was working as a janitor for a local school district so I got to carry a radio around and dance while sweeping out the rooms. One evening, the DJ announced that they were about to play Paul's new song. I couldn't wait, frozen in anticipation. When they played With A Little Luck, I almost tossed the radio through a window. I'd set my expectations too high.

I still don't care for that song, but the point is that these aren't the sixties any more. It seems as if everyone expects P to come out with something mindblowing and innovative and then they'r disappointed when it doesn't happen. Yet, the innovation has been there through the years. Listen to the background vocal efforts on a good sampling of his solo stuff. It's almost always innovative, and very much a part of his style. A lot of his music - yes, in my opinion - stands up to and often surpasses his work with the Beatles.

All that is of course subjective opinion. You may have a completely different viewpoint than I. But the one thing that's not so open to subjectivity is his bass playing. 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.


DON'T TAKE MY WORD FOR IT:

STING: It's hard to seperate 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 wtih the press. It was the same fellow who was ableto 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 wide-spread over numerous generations that ther'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 howto sing.

STANLEY CLARKE: Paul definitely had an influence on my bass playing, not so much technically, but more with his philosophy of melodic bass liens-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 thebest 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.

(from Bass Player magazine: Volume 6, Number 5 July August 1995)

Dennis Alstrand.

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