Notes on 1964/1965: The production level of the bass on Beatle albums seems to have leveled off during these two years, especially when you consider the manner in which it had been brought to the fore so often in 1963 (see It Won't Be Long).
Perhaps this is because:
A point to be made about 1964 is that Paul and The Beatles allowed the bass to actually be played when other instruments were not playing . In those days, bass playing was supposed to be only in the background.
A HARD DAYS NIGHT LP
I'LL CRY INSTEAD
See the discussion about Paul cutting loose more on John's songs and this is a good example of that. The song is recorded in an interesting fashion. Lyrically, it's sad and introspective, but the Beatles put their magic touch on it. It rolls along nicely, Paul playing a 1/5 country-western influenced style, all upbeat. But wait. Whose idea was this? At 1:05 and 1:35 the band breaks (under "show you what your lovin' man can do") and, lo and behold, a bass break! I can't think of too many of those that happened in the world of rock by 1964. When these points are reached, Paul pumps harder on the strings with his pick than otherwise throughout the song. It makes sense: if he's going to be the prime factor in the instrumental section, he's going to turn it up a notch.
THINGS WE SAID TODAY
Ensemble playing (by all four) at its finest. Listen to Paul's bass contribution on the song. Not outlandish, it's very tasteful. You might be surprised that it drives the song perfectly. Every instrument on this song is bent away from self-expression and directly toward "song expression". Little things come and go that drive the song and its mood along.
Note: In the sixties' days of dance music, songs were either "fast dance" songs or "slow dance" songs and Things We Said Today moves between both of those. Couples dancing to the song would begin by slow dancing and then (once they knew the song) break apart and fast dance in the middle sections. The song is really two separate songs skillfully blended together by the Beatles.
But, after all, what defines a slow song or fast song? It isn't the tempo, as Things We Said Today is not much slower - if at all - than Boys. It's not necessarily the drumbeat because Ringo's eighth-note hi-hat beat during the slow sections is somewhat similar to a rock-and-roll beat. In the end, it must be the energy of the performers. In Things We Said Today, Paul delivers both forms of energy to his vocal. During the slow part, his voice covers the sound almost like a blanket; it's very soothing. During the rock part, his voice carries the tension of a rocker.
This is one of the early examples, to be shown many times over their career, of the Beatles' expert ability to shift in and out of tempos, time signatures, and moods with stealth and ease. For another one of their all-time best examples of this, refer to the 4/4, 3/4 change in We Can Work It Out.
Note from Dave Ryan on TELL ME WHY
"This is a cool song with pretty basic changes,
but the bass is so sophisticated for a pop tune, and
sews the song together with a perfect seam. The
swinging walk line underpins the changes like
BUTTAH. Who else would have come up with that line??
Nobody! Not that it's so complicated or hard
to play, but it is a near perfect expression of how
the bass can fit and give the song "ass" as Paul has
said. It makes me think of good carpentry, when the
pieces just fit square, smooth and strong.
A close listening to the Help! album shows Paul stringing along mostly in a 1-5 (root fifth) fashion. His playing is always appropriate and in almost no case experimental. The Beatles had a lot to do by this time and not a lot of time to sit around thinking about bass parts. In fact, just as like Rubber Soul, it's surprising that they were able to produce anything listenable at all. No one could survive the schedule they had kept for the past two years and be imaginative and yet, perhaps with the help of some good pot, the Beatles were. Help! is a good album of 1965 British rock.
IF YOU'VE GOT TROUBLES (unreleased until Anthology)
This is another song that tends to be written off as an undesirable piece of work, mostly because it was never released. Reviewers have mostly had trouble relating to it. Had it been released instead of its replacement, Act Naturally, a different view of the song may well be held today.
It contains an excellent rock bass/guitar line, an early example of what was to come to the rock world a few years later. In 1965, the prevailing style in England was to come up with a catchy guitar hook (i.e., Satisfaction). While If You've Got Troubles has that line, it still appears to be ahead of the times, and the reason is that they are doubling the bass line beneath it, sort of like Drive My Car. The guitar line with bass doubling from an octave below is a potent weapon and If You've Got Troubles benefits nicely from it. The main problem with the song is that the Beatles just never finished it. I think this could have been a Beatles classic.
Note from Dave Ryan on EIGHT DAYS A WEEK
of the "biggest" sounding of their early hits. I
heard this dong and I knew I was in the presence
of greatness. (OK, the lyrics aren't their best.)
Awright, maybe I was a little
hasty after all when I noted that production levels
dipped in '64/'65. I've been in discussion with site
reader John Martin and he's expressed his opinion,
shared by many (as well as me now) that most of
Paul's playing on Rubber Soul was on his new
left-handed Rickenbacker 4001S bass guitar. I went
back and gave that album a closer listen with the
intent of discovering which songs were Hofner and
which were Rickenbacker. Instead, what I discovered
was that it was on this album, and not Revolver,
where McCartney really laid his claim on being not
only on top of the rock and roll bass playing game,
but just an all around top-flight bass player. His fingers take flight in this album, becoming
that convey his undeniable skill at the
The thing that always amazes me is that Rubber Soul was recorded between October 12 and November 11 (or, if your British, 12 October and 11 November). One month was all it took to record this album and it's considered by many as amongst their best. I've had a number of jazz and classical aficionados tell me that they were not fans of the Beatles until Rubber Soul came out. It certainly is John Lennon leading the show, this before he grew weary of Beatledom and the bass player took the reins.
McCartney, throughout this album, is right on the spot. If a song calls for a solid underlying groove bass (Drive My Car), then you've got it. If it is something that is needed to enhance a very pretty acoustic guitar part (Michelle and many others), then you've got that too. I was slow to realize Paul's bass mastery on this album because it is largely a folky album. Part of that must be due to the new instrument. There is no doubt that getting a good new instrument inspires a musician to play better. In this case, the Rickenbacker with it's longer neck providing more string tension allowed him to get much better tone and sustain (how long a note can hold a tone) than he had with the Hofner.
DRIVE MY CAR
When recorded where both instruments are clearly heard, the sound of a good rock guitar line with the bass following it an octave beneath it is pretty exciting. The guitar/bass parts in Drive My Car are a perfect example of this, and the lines are thanks to George Harrison who persevered against Paul's will in playing it this way. Listen to the way the bass works with the song, the way it works with the drums and under the guitar, the way he sometimes plays a simple line (verses) and the way he gets heavy at times (under "and maybe I love you"). This is a bass player who is having fun and he's wielding an instrument that has power in the band. That's the reason a lot of musicians play the bass in the first place; we really are in a position of power even if a lot of it is underlying and not always noticeable. Well, he is definitely not playing like someone who was "stuck" with the instrument.
Nowhere Man is another candidate for having been recorded on the Rickenbacker. The bass line is bouncy and fun to listen to and, as always, is in perfect counterpoint to the guitars. I remember, upon first hearing this song when it came out as a single in the US, that I was first taken by the really trebly guitar and three part harmonies. But as time went on, my young ears started hearing that bouncing bass line. The whole song is done with such British cool. I am convinced that an American band could not have done this song right. It would have sounded too happy.
1964/65 cannot be dismissed without a mention of the lovely bass work done on Michelle. Smooth, flowing, legato. Discussing the bass (or any parts) on Michelle is like discussing a fine wine. . Observe the way the bass counters the guitar parts, subtly keeping the music interesting and yet remaining tastefully in the background so as not to disturb the superb vocalization. Ahhhh, priceless." Take that, Ian MacDonald.
In reviewing some of the favorites from the Beatles repertoire, Smith's comments ring true. I wouldn't question him anyway as he was there in the studio watching it all happen from the very first recordings on through the end of Rubber Soul when he decided to opt out to become a producer. What a great job Norman Smith did for the Beatles. Everyone talks about Geoff Emerick, and rightfully so, but let's not forget Mr. Smith, the man who made the Beatles sound like they did on some of the classic recordings of all time. And he did it with very little time spent with the Beatles who were always off and running for another session at the BBC or North American tour or something. I wish, sometimes, I could meet him if only to say "Thanks!".
To recap Rubber Soul, it's amazing that the album is as good as it is. The writing and recording of it was sandwiched between major tours. It was done in a very short amount of time and two of the best songs (John's "Girl" and Paul's "You Won't See Me") were crunched in on the very last day of recording because more songs were needed. This fact is either seriously inflating or deflating. They were out of songs, out of time, and these are what they came up with overnight? It must have been nice to be George Martin.
TECHNICAL NOTESIn 1965, McCartney got a free Rickenbacker 4001S bass guitar. As mentioned above there is considerable debate about what bass he played on what song on the Rubber Soul album. One thing is for sure, starting in 1966 he was recording steadily with the Rickenbacker. There are huge differences between the Hofner and the Rickenbacker. The Hofner is hollow body and the Rick is solid body. The Rickenbacker has a longer neck and is far easier to keep intonated. McCartney's Hofner would be out of tune with itself while the Rickenbacker could stay in tune as he went up the neck. The frets are spaced further apart and this causes a player to work a little bit more for each note. Rickenbacker was pretty smart to give him the bass for free. A lot of bass players bought them just because McCartney played and that's for sure. The longer neck and better intonation freed Paul up for what he was about to do for the next few years: expand!
Go to "1966" section