Sunday, July 22, 2007

Paul McCartney's Best Bass Lines

I was chatting with the bassist for the Chinatown Bakeries the other day when we began discussing good bass playing. We asked each other who we thought were the best bass players. I said that the only bass player whose playing ever actually stood out to me while listening to his band's music was Paul McCartney. He nodded in relative agreement, possibly impressed by my insider's knowledge of bass playing. I added that Paul's bass playing was more melodic than usual, and then asked him if I sounded like I knew what I was talking about. He laughed and said I was doing a pretty good job of faking it.

John Lennon once said something along the lines of "Paul's an egomaniac about everything else, but he's always been coy about his bass-playing. He's one of the best players in rock." Indeed, Paul has been so good at so many other things that people rarely talk about his bass playing. And maybe it's because I've listened to the Beatles' songs so many more times than anybody else's songs that I've eventually noticed every single detail, including something as supposedly minor as the bass playing. But honestly, Paul's bass lines are the only ones I've heard that I really think add something to the songs he plays on. My bass-playing co-worker threw out the other typical names like Flea and Les Claypool, but I've never been too impressed by those guys - maybe because I'm not too impressed by their respective bands. I mean, think of the songs McCartney had to work with. Maybe anybody would have sounded good playing "Something" and "With a Little Help From My Friends." Along those lines, the Beatles' records were also produced better than everyone else's. Maybe the guy in Moby Grape was just as good as Paul McCartney, but since Moby Grape recorded their music in a beaten-down shack, nobody could ever tell. John Entwistle of the Who and John Paul Jones of Led Zeppelin are also two impressive bass players, but the thing is, everybody knows they are impressive bass players. They're like the Hendrix and Clapton of bass players. With McCartney, his bass lines are like a secret little treat, because you only notice them after you've noticed all the other major stuff on Beatles songs and thought there wasn't anything else left to notice. In a nutshell, the bass playing simply didn't need to be as good as it is. But when it comes to the Beatles, our cup runneth over.

Here, then, are Little Earl's Top Ten Paul McCartney Bass Lines:

(I suggest turning up the bass on your headphones to fully appreciate this list)

10. "Taxman"

Yeah. You know how this one goes. The Jam even ripped it off and barely wrote their own song around it, but hey, they didn't need to do much else.

9. "Everybody's Got Something To Hide Except Me And My Monkey"

Listen to that shit. He is rockin' that son of a bitch.

8. "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds"

Yes, yes, you've heard the song a million times, I'm sure, but just this once go listen to it while only paying attention to the bass line. It's so distinctive that I've been able to recognize the song while it was being played in another room even though I couldn't hear any other instrument.

7. "Michelle"

Maybe you don't notice it at first, but listen closely and you'll realize that it's fucking amazing. They say that bass playing fills in all the gaps that the other instruments don't play. Not only is McCartney filling in the gaps, he's creating new gaps of his own and filling those.

6. "With A Little Help From My Friends"

Pay special attention to the sequence right after the words 'What do I do when my love is away?"/"How do I feel by the end of the day." Dude. He could slay dragons with runs like that.

5. "Penny Lane"

The first ten seconds alone. Fuck. There's better bass playing in the first ten seconds of "Penny Lane" than in the entirety of most bands' discographies.

4. "Paperback Writer"

At the time of its release, "Paperback Writer," so they say, featured the most prominent bass playing ever heard on a rock record. This is especially apparent in the stereo mix, where Paul's bass actually gets its own stereo channel (right). The group was actually told by EMI's engineers that it would not be technically possible to have the bass that loud on a record; they feared that it would push the needle right out of the groove or something catastrophic of that nature. Turns out the only thing it pushed was the song...into the realms of uncategorizable human achievement. Also check out "Rain" (the B-side) while you're at it, where Paul's bass is only eclipsed by Ringo's self-proclaimed "best drumming ever."

3. "Baby You're A Rich Man"

Paul's bass guitar is pretty much the lead guitar on this song. He could have killed a small child with playing like this.

2. "Something"

Yeah, George does a pretty good solo. But he's almost out-soloed by Paul's bass solo! It's an especially moving "duel of the solos" given that Paul and George were really not getting along very well at this point. In fact, Paul later said that he was worried that George might find the bass playing "too busy," but defended it by saying that he just wanted to make the song as good as possible. If that doesn't sum up why I find Abbey Road the most moving album ever, then nothing else would.

1. "Hey Bulldog"

Ladies and gentlemen, the champion. This is the greatest bass playing you will ever hear.

Honorable Mention: "Lovely Rita"

So yes, despite what everybody says, the Beatles really did have a virtuoso musician in their band. He just happened to be the motherfuckin' bass player. Truth be told, Ringo is a much better drummer than people realize. But I'll defend Ringo another time.


yoggoth said...

I don't remember a single one of those bass lines and I can hum every melody.

What's the lesson here?

Little Earl said...

That Paul McCartney's bass lines were motherfuckin' awesome! Geez. I'm sure you notice them, you just don't NOTICE them. The point of a bass line isn't that you should be able to hum it. Gawdddd.

k'd cowan said...

There's no doubt that Paul has skillz, however is he really the best bass player you could think of? Personally, I think Les Claypool of Primus is a far better bassist and the music is a bit more relevant to what we are about today. Here you go, and you're welcome.

Anonymous said...

I would all "Rain", "Come Together", and "Sun King" to this

Anonymous said...

Yes, Sun King for sure

Anonymous said...

If you don't remember any of Paul's bass lines, perhaps you should get better audio equipment. The lesson would be that you need to pay closer attention to all of the parts of a song, like counterpoint melodies. You don't hum counterpoint. It exists to enhance the main melody. While My Guitar Gently weeps is made by the bass lines. Come Together is pretty much all bass.

Les Claypool is my favourite bassist technically, but McCartney is a far better musician melodically.

Anonymous said...

Listen "The Word" from Rubber Soul album, it's pretty cool.

Unknown said...

Those are good, but his bass playing on Glass Onion, Hello Goodbye, and, most importantly, YER BLUES (favorite Beatles track EVER) is SICK!

Anonymous said...

"She Came in Through the Bathroom Window" illustrates Paul's ability to use dynamics. The bass line gets progressively funkier in verse 2. He doesn't always have to drop a sick bass line. He does it at just the right moment to accentuate the rest of the song. It's beautiful. This is something that a lot of modern bass players/musicians in general lack. Just cause you can throw down doesn't always mean you should. Serve the song...

RichSad said...

Thanks for this article. I've been doing a recreational study of all the Beatles albums with the subwoofer cranked so I can hear all the delicious lines. Maybe the guy who said he doesn't remember these bass lines is listening on a transistor radio! As you've stated the bass is the primary melodic instrument on many of these songs.

NUSHUZE said...

Excellent list, especially "Something" which I'm currently trying to learn. However, I think George actually played bass on "Taxman". Nice riff!