Notes on 1968: While 1967 may be recalled as the year of psychedelica, it was really in 1968 that it took hold in the mainstream. By '68, it seems you could not sell an album unless the cover had at least some cheap looking psychedelic mixture of drawings and photography. There are of course notable exceptions to this rule.
Many wondered just what the Beatles would do in 1968 to surpass 1967. Not many expected what they got.
LADY MADONNA (single)
On March 15th, the Lady Madonna/The Inner Light single was released. On Lady Madonna, McCartney had done it again. Listen to that bass line; it's a good bass line. Close inspection of it reveals some choppiness in the playing and he tends to miss slightly on some notes but that's not necessarily a bad thing.
Most importantly, it follows the piano bass to a large degree, and it had to. As there is a prominent piano bass featured on the track, to fall astray from that would have muddled up the sound. *
The piano part, while relatively 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 is a very prominent aspect of the track and it works, don't you think? My memory of the song when it came out was that, once again, everyone thought Paul McCartney was a hell of a bass player.
* This, by the way, is a serious issue with a lot of bands at the club level. Piano players were trained to use both hands and to cover the entire spectrum of a song's range on the piano. Once they join a band, it would be wise to tie their left hands behind them. There may be nothing harder than playing bass and trying to get a good sound while the keyboard player is chunking away with his/her left hand.
HEY BULLDOG (released on the Yellow Submarine LP)
On February 11th, the Beatles 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.
Also, Paul played right in the middle of the drumbeat. The piano line starts the song. The second time through, the choppy drums lift the song. 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 lost. Not so here. It lends an element of excitement to the song, a bit brash sounding. I think that Hey Bulldog is absolutely a top notch Beatles record, but don't ask John Lennon (who, by the way, plays that great rock guitar solo). While he obviously had fun making it, he sure didn't think much about it later. He was embarrassed, 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, to the outside observer, the Beatles seemingly rarely had as much fun in the studio again.
I've always felt that it was clearly John and Paul doing all the vocals, John on lead and Paul on background, and then John and Paul trading off wisecracks (Paul: What's that you say?...John: I said, Ruff). I get a lot of emails with people of differing opinions about things I say in this website, and I always want to put them into here to show different sides of arguments. Usually they say no, but this time it's different. I'm happy to respectfully enter - with his permission - a comment by Nick Woebcke, who wrote me to say:
"Although the YouTube video shows Paul & John singing together, I believe if you listen closely to the harmonizing you can pick out that it is a typical studio trick of John Lennon harmonizing with himself on different tracks. Especially the part of the song when they are talking to one another."
And now, with a nod to Led Zeppelin II, the key to 1960's rock bass playing:
THE BEATLES (LP)
The white albumNotes on The Beatles: 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.
By 1968, 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 one handed to the least talented guitar player. This change in attitude towards the bass guitar came over a few quick short years and it thanks, in very large part, to British bass players who showed the world it could be cool to be the bass player. And here was its defining moment.
Listening to the white album now, it's difficult to grasp the full nature of its impact because so much time has come and gone since it was released. Just as the Beatles had wowed an expecting public with Sgt. Pepper, they knocked us out again with the white album. Through '67 and '68, it had become the notion of the record industry that an album would not sell unless it had a psychedelic cover, even if it were to be cheaply drawn (i.e. Cream's Wheels of Fire). As the Beatles worked on the white album, there were rumors floating around that they were busy working on greatest psychedelic album ever. So many questions. What would the cover be like this time? Would they record the bible? The Lord of the Rings? No one outside the inner circle knew, or if they did they sure weren't telling. The only thing for sure was that it would be the most stupendous, incredible flash of psychedelia produced yet. It's a relatively safe statement to make that few people expected an all white album cover and some of the most blatant rock music they had ever done.
Hard rock was a new commodity in 1968 and the Beatles, especially John Lennon, approached it with an unadulterated vengeance. Like Sgt. Peppers there was a collage of music styles. Hollywood show tunes, dreamy ballads, Beach Boy-type harmonies, a little bit of soul, country western; it was all there.
There was a lot of inner discontent in the studio while making this album; Ringo even quit for a short time. But, 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 and made an incredible album for us.
GEOFF EMERICK DEPARTS
It happened on July 16th, 1968. Geoff had had enough of the bickering and decided to leave then and there on that day. Ken Scott took over the engineering reins 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 on the white album. They have been rearranged, though, and now show the order of songs as they began recording them for the sessions.
Songs engineered by Emerick:
Songs engineered by Scott:
As with the change of engineers when the Revolver sessions began, there was again a new direction in sight for Paul's bass playing.
(NOTE: This article takes the position that Paul played bass on Helter Skelter. When this article was originally issued (to rec.music.beatles), 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. Can you imagine what he must have felt like, being asked to engineer the Beatles and finding this to be your introduction to them? For an excellent description of the carryings on during this session, Mark Lewisohn's "Beatles Recording Sessions" book discusses the mayhem in the studio quite well.
As for the song, as you listen to the bass, you can hear a high very trebly sound doubling it. Most likely this was achieved by putting the bass into two separate 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 clear-cut 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 cymbal 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. (for those offended by that last analogy, please note that I used a lower case "f" on fuehrer, which, by the way, is German for "bastard".
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.
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.
EVERYBODY'S GOT SOMETHING TO HIDE EXCEPT FOR ME AND MY MONKEY
Bow low, bass players . . .. What is difficult 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 Ken Scott replaced Geoff Emerick 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 any discussion of the evolution of rock bass playing, this song is all-important. It is nothing short of superb both in its 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 its way back up time and time again to that root note. There's so much involved in making this line work.
Then it all locks into place. "Take it easy!" shouts Lennon. Now, the Beatles are locked solidly on the chorus. "Take it easy!", he shouts again. After the orgasmic "Everybody's got something to hide 'cept for me and my monkey" comes those strange chord changes, lead lines, and drum breaks. The bells have left us for a moment. But not for long.
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 its 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 vengeance.
Of course, let us not forget to make note of The Great Bass Part, occurring towards the end of the song. The guitars all stop and John and Paul start doing their crazy "C'mon c'mon c'mon c'mon. . ." and then that bass line.. 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 this song together, taking it from John's original acoustic guitar/vocal demo to the powerhouse it became.
For a change of pace, let's play a little game here. Let's say you're at EMI (Abbey Road) studios and are standing across from John Lennon and Yoko Ono. John is sitting, looking downward, finger picking a song you haven't heard before but you find it quite nice. You recognize immediately that the song is about Mia Farrow's sister Prudence. It's your task to think of what bass part you'll play to this song. 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."
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 its 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. But then, for the middle eight, the bass and drums are suddenly there. When the verse returns, they return to the pasture. It's very dynamic. When you consider that Paul also played drums on this song (it was recording during Ringo's hiatus), you have an idea what a guy like that can do for you in the studio.
Dear Prudence is, as a matter of opinion, one of the better Beatles recordings, from Lennon's excellent guitar and vocals to the rhythm and tasteful background vocals. It moves from mood to mood and by the end, if you're listening closely enough, you're breathless.
Let's turn to Glass Onion. After years of listening, wondering, trying to calculate, the question remains: why that bass tone? It sounds like his strings have been dead for weeks. There's absolutely no life in them at all. The playing is good enough, the interplay with the snare at the beginning of each verse works well. But the tone? The same could be said about the weak sounding snare. The song could be SO good.
WHY DON'T WE DO IT IN THE ROAD
This was one of McCartney's early "one-man-band" ventures. All of the instruments are played by him. The drums, piano, guitar and vocal really do the job nicely. But the bass part? It is a bouncy little line that would befit something like All Together Now more than this song. In the recording world, even with the time given to make Beatles' albums, there isn't always time to think every little aspect through. The bass playing on this song may be a victim of that fact.
As if there had not been enough innovation already on this album, a new idea was put into place. Paul doubles the bass with a vocal part. Listen closely and you'll hear it. The effect is nice.
Regarding the acoustic guitar: It's a style that Paul developed and dropped all too soon. He used it at the end of Mother Nature's Son and for a good bit on the McCartney album but rarely afterward. Mostly powering the non-picking fingers or the 'playing fingers' does it (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.
MOTHER NATURE'S SON
While there is no bass playing on Mother Nature's Son, it is included here to make the following comment: it is one of the most beautiful songs Paul ever did and yet mention of it is almost never made. The voice seems to gently float down from the hills. Trombones are skillfully employed (who would have thought of that?). The guitar part is well constructed. All in all, a very nice song.
John had written a song with similar intent, called "One of Nature's Children". Its melody was later employed as "Jealous Guy" on the Imagine album. The only explanation of why they never even recorded it is that he held off on recording it due to Paul's song. Things ended up all the better because both Mother Nature's Son and Jealous Guy turned out so nicely.
This is Lennon's version of the blues and the best part of it is that they recorded it, all four, together. These are some hard blues, aren't they? And the band responds accordingly. Too bad they didn't play all together more often. Paul has a somewhat new definition for blues bass playing. Instead of the usual walking line, he syncopates his part which provides a nice undercurrent to the whole feel. His sound is trebly, far more so than most blues bass players. Over all, its a nice effect.
Yet another song that is interesting in its recording. Turn your stereo to one side, the one with the guitars, and you'll find yourself wondering George was drunk when he recorded them. They're very sloppy. The rhythm section (bass and drums) takes care of this problem by standing right out front, fighting it out with the saxophones. This driving style was used again in a later Harrison classic, 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.
How is it humanly possible that one could get one's bass guitar to sound like a pig? If you ever get a chance to talk to Paul, ask him. His bass sound almost rivals the pig voices.
I'M SO TIRED
The main point that stands out regarding I'm So Tired is the excellent dynamic flow of the musicians and vocalist. Providing the perfect undercurrent for the singer is vital and there are some points in this song that indicate that this aspect had become second nature to the band.
Musical goings on just before the second and final chorus offer a good, if not subtle, 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, "You'd say it wouldn't be wrong. . .". 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!". Listen to the band behind these lines as they are sung. They drive the song forward, there is 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 had long ago learned the lesson of laying back when most effective is put into play. After all, as Sting points out, space is the most effective weapon a musician has.
It's unfortunate that the Beatles' version did not get on to this album (it has since, of course, been included on the Anthology album). It is very dynamic and well played. With their apparently 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 because it was scrapped in the end. 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.
WHILE MY GUITAR GENTLY WEEPS
Possibly the most dynamic, heavy bass playing on the album. At various times during the song, the bass part is doubled. This song, saved for last in this discussion on this amazing album, may contain the heaviest of all the bass playing to be found throughout it.
To recap, it's fairly clear that the bass playing on the white album was revolutionary for its time. To this day 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 Something to Hide. . .) 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 an album that had more of a long lasting effect on rock bass playing than this one.
The version on the single is a good example of a bass player and drummer locked tight together. Its really just rock and roll, but played by one of the best rock and roll bands.
YELLOW SUBMARINE (LP)
One could write this album off as the collection of Sgt. Peppers cast-offs and reruns of 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 in the background.