1964/1965

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:

  • 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 being played on around the world.
  • 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 and of itself. They were involved in so much; touring, songwriting, endless photo sessions and Paul's expansion into instruments other than bass. There was just too much to think of during this period for him to be completely revolutionary with his bass playing. Footnote on this theory: reading The Complete Beatles Chronicle by Mark Lewishohn convinces me that this is a big part of it. I don't know how it's possible that the Beatles even survived 1963 and 1964. It's just amazing how much they did, how many places they went. In fact, if I were one of the Beatles I would not for the rest of my life want to hear any questions about anything that happened during those years. 1965 was a somewhat easier year for them. But I wouldn't have survived that year either. Reading that book made me appreciate what the Beatles did more than ever. But I got exhausted just reading about it all.
  • By 1965, John had turned more and more to acoustic guitar on Beatles' records and the style of the band was leaning (in some ways) towards folk music which requires far less from the bass than the rock they were playing in 1964.

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.
I know they bounced this rhythm track down, so the final mix left the bass part a tad too low in volume, I'd say. But when you tweak up the bass knob, baby- look out.
Ringo locks in so well and punctuates perfectly. Textbook. Of course, the answering harmonies are killer. Ain't nobody wrote this kind of stuff since the Fabs. I heard a cover band play this once and the bass man played just the changes in quarter notes- of course it pretty much deflated the performance for me even though the harmonies were good. If you can't respect Mac's bass parts, you should go play sax or something. This band changed my life, and I am glad of it."



HELP! LP

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

"One 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.)
Big, huge, fat Hofner bass part underneath. To me, this defines a rolling, moving feel. Swing style line under great guitar parts, with each guitar doing its own thing to create drive, musical flavor, and interest. Where the hell did these guys come from? It's neat to hear how this song evolved from the early takes into such a dynamic piece. Like a sculptor, they knew just what to add, what to take away.
But oh, how the bass part is wicked cool. Paul is by far the best player of the four, and this proves it.
This band was indeed greater than the sum of the parts, like having that "ringing chord" in a barbershop quartet when everyone nails their note, and the blend creates something extra in the sound. The Fabs produced that essence in so many of their songs. In these songs the bass takes the song to another level, made a good song great."


RUBBER SOUL 

  cheap
                      flights

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 little aircrafts that convey his undeniable skill at the bass. 

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 

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.   

MICHELLE

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.

I never would have played 'Michelle' on bass until I had to record the bass line. Bass isn't an instrument you sit around and sing to. I don't anyway. But I remember that opening six-note phrase against the descending chords in 'Michelle'- that was like, oh, a great moment in my life. I think I had enough musical experience after years of playing, so it was just in me. I realized I could do that.-- Paul McCartney 2

There is no doubt at all that Paul was the main musical force. He was also that in terms of production as well. A lot of the time George Martin didn't really have to do the things he did because Paul McCartney was around and could have done them equally well. The only thing he couldn't do was to put symbols to chords: he couldn't write music. But he could most certainly tell an arranger how to do it, just by singing a part--however, he didn't know, of course, whether the strings or brass could play what he wanted. But most of the ideas came from Paul. -- Beatles engineer Norman Smith 9

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 NOTES

In 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!

Rickenbacker

 

Go to "1966" section