Paul’s Bass

Best Remasters (2)

The one single thing that most impressed me about the Remasters was Paul’s bass playing; it really was phenomenal stuff. Every song sounds richer than I remember even though I’d heard every Beatles song when they came out since Please Please Me. Fifty years ago this week The Beatles began their informal residency at the Cavern Club on Mathew Street in Liverpool. Whilst their breakthrough gig was at the Litherland Hall in December 1960 what characterised their early live sound was Pete Best’s bass drum booming out across the Cavern with Paul’s Bass. Here is their booming bass sound at the Star Club Hamburg with I Saw Her Standing There;

However I hadn’t really noticed the bass at all because of the poor sound equipment available in the sixties; tinny transistor radios and mono Dansettes. In fact the first time I became aware of Paul’s bass playing (videos on YouTube Playlist) was when Barry Gibb picked Paperback Writer as his favourite Beatles song because of the bass; Paperback Writer;

In researching this article I found a great discussion of the evolution of Paul’s Bass playing by Denis Alstrand. He picks up on Paul’s bass playing on their first recording Cry For A Shadow, the Beatles only Harrison/Lennon composition. This is a tribute to the legendary British group The Shadows and he comments on how Paul is influenced by Jet Harris’s bass playing; Cry For A Shadow;  

Hofner Days

When the Beatles as we know them came to make their first album George Martin wanted the album to sound like their Cavern performance, even though Ringo had replaced Pete Best who was key to their Cavern sound. However Ringo drummed the song and he and Paul were probably the two most accomplished musicians on the album. Listen to how they synch, led off by Paul’s Bass on Ringo’s feature; Boys

Paul’s Hofner 500/1 was famous visually from the off, violin shaped and held left-handed it help create the distinctive on-stage look of the Beatles with their three lead singers needing to face the audience. On With The Beatles Paul develops two innovations with the Bass. All I’ve Got to Do is the first to use bass chords, but Paul also used a walking jazz bass, featured on the EP hit (Number One in Australia) All My Loving;  

Paul’s playing continued to develop on Hard Day’s Night, working on the ‘song expression’ shifting in and out of tempos, time signatures, and moods with stealth and ease. Being very happy when on holiday with Jane Asher at this time, he captured this, putting in a great performance that mixed 3/4 and 4/4, on his tribute to his happiness with her; Things We Said Today;

Replaced by Act Naturally, which worked better with the film HELP! anyway, this next track is actually unfinished! However it features a great early example of doubling up on the bass, playing an octave lower than the guitar, giving The Beatles a Stones sound somewhat like Satisfaction. Dennis Alstrand thinks this would have been a classic if they had finished it. “Oh rock on! Anybody!” says Ringo. If You’ve Got Trouble;

The Supple Rickenbacker

Rubber Soul was the first album where McCartney had a Rickenbacker 401S bass guitar, and his brand new supple machine helped drive the folk-rock sound the Beatles developed.  One of the classic tracks of the album features an absolutely calm, yet driven, bass from Paul and a great ensemble performance both as a group and as singers. They thought they were, but they weren’t; the classic Nowhere Man;  

Engineer Norman Smith, who went on to be Pink Floyd’s first producer, thought that Paul had become the arranger of the groups material, and didn’t really need George Martin, except for notation. Martin felt he became a collaborator after Yesterday. But The Beatles were artists of the song and one of Paul’s great song arrangements for the group was his questioning lament for the state of his relationship with Jane Asher, now We Can Work It Out 

And then it was 1966 and The Beatles had real competition to respond to like the Beach Boys, and they had started playing a range of instruments with George, and even John, playing bass on later tracks. But as the opening track of Revolver Paul’s bass was recorded through a Marshall loudspeaker and, on George’s song to Georges praise, he plays an Indian style guitar solo. Nineteen seconds for us then on Taxman; 

Four Track Recording

And then Paul realised they didn’t have to play it safe and after the magisterial Penny Lane /Strawberry Fields came Pepper and Paul was granted his own track on their four-track recordings and he often dubbed the bass at the end of recording rather than using to root the song and so became more ‘creative and melodic’ Featuring a dominant walking bass one of the best examples of his dubbing work is Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds

Despite being crucial to EMI’s success they wouldn’t give the Beatles eight track recording and for the next year, exacerbated by the management problems at Abbey Road, they tried other studios. Recorded at Olympic Studios, a sly tribute to Swinging London and also Brian Epstein just before his death, was the Summer of Love (1967) track that ‘brought the sonic boom to bass playing‘ Beloved of Aaron Sorkin and now the punchline to the 2010 movie The Social Network Here’s Baby You’re A Rich Man  

Musical Director Then Epstein died and Paul assumed direction of the band and was waiting to take us away, but who knew where. Whatever the merits and demerits of Paul’s role this is indeed magical, great bass playing, and one of the 10 most innovative Beatles tracks according to An overture to a new future based on the charabanc trips of their childhood, Paul is all over Magical Mystery Tour;

The Foundations of Rock Bass

More than Led Zeppelin II and more than my favourite Jack Bruce, Denis Alstrand sees McCartney’s playing on the White Album as the foundation of all rock bass playing EVER SINCE! Ken Scott (later to work with Bowie) came in for Geoff Emerick who was messed about by The Beatles as well as EMI management (Don’t worry Paul hired him for Apple later) and they started him with McCartney’s answer to The Who. Up for a Grammy in 2011 and edited down from a 10 minute jam (now deleted) here is Helter Skelter

But even crazier in the final album version was Lennon’s big studio jam song, on which Paul goes mad with his bass right at the end, after yet another false ending. Sounding like the boys were getting back to their Art School days (like much of the White Album) this is a full on jam  Everybody’s Got Something to Hide Cept for me & my monkey

The last track the Beatles recorded live with all four of them in the studio was Yer Blues, their response to the British Blues boom, but Paul’s best playing on the White Album, very full and distinctively complementary, was overdubbed onto George’s While My Guitar Gently Weeps;

Multi-Instrumentalist Let It Be was famously fractured, often in response to Paul, but I think this was the Beatles taking note of ideas for what became Abbey Road.  Two of Us, about Paul and Linda, is a great song, but in bass terms how about Ringo and Paul back as a rhythm section live, Paul back on his light Hofner, but Ringo with a new natural Ludwig drum kit, I Dig A Pony

B-side; Or does he do it better with George, as was suggested at BrainsRust in Canterbury today, on Old Brown Shoe; 

Abbey Road is their eight-track masterpiece, Studio 2 finally up to date in technology terms. Paul kicks off the album locked on with his rhythm partner Ringo on Come Together. Paul plays a lot of piano on Abbey Road, as he did throughout 1969, and with Martin arranged the masterful suite which ends with Paul on guitar and bass, rounded off by his own Shakespearean couplet, And In The End;

Bonus Track; I’ve always been a big fan of the Run Devil Run project, coz Paul recreated the Beatles early style of recording with a pick up band of Dave Gilmour (Pink Floyd) Ian Paice (Deep Purple) and the wonderful Mick Green (Johnny Kidd and the Pirates). And it was better recorded. I love The Vipers No Other Baby and Paul is in amazing voice with Gilmour, er, stratospheric on guitar, but the best YouTube example is probably Chuck’s Brown-eyed Handsome Man

Bonus Helter Skelter Beatles v Led Zeppelin;  


11 Responses to “Paul’s Bass”

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