Pre-1963

The tracks recorded with Tony Sheridan in Germany are the earliest I know of that feature Paul on bass guitar. Pete Best is on drums. Interestingly enough, the feel of the McCartney/Best rhythm section contrasts sharply with the McCartney/Starr section and hence the importance of this recording.

Stylings: Pete Best vs. Ringo Starr

Pete played with a much lighter-sticked attack, using snare rolls frequently. Paul's bass playing style is far heavier than Pete's drumming style and so the rhythm section tends to feel out of balance. For those that still ask the eternal question "Why did they replace Pete with Ringo", take a listen to these songs and - from a rhythm section point of view - it makes sense. Don't take lightly the importance of the ability of the bass player and drummer to lock together .It is, in rock music, crucial to the energy level coming from the sound of the songs.

 

This is as good a time as any to define the role of the bass player in a pop group setting.   When I mention that the bass and drummer "lock together" I mean that they must play in synch with each other.   Frequently the bass guitar and the bass drum are played precisely at the same time.   Further, the groove (the feel of the music being played) being employed by both musicians must work with each other.   Listen to the bass playing and drumming being played beneath the guitar solos on The End (Abbey Road) and you will find no better example of two musicians playing in synch with each other.    

But the bass player must also be in synch with the keyboards and the guitars.   He/she acts as a conduit between those instruments and the rhythm section of which they are a part.  The bass, and generally the bass alone, must compliment all the instruments playing.   It isn't often that you will hear a guitar "locking" in with the drummer.   Not many musicians who have played in a lot of bands will argue with the fact that the bass player is often told to hold back on his/her playing if they get a little rambunctious up the neck.   Why it is that the bass player is so often told how to play by those who have no idea what a bass should do (aside from play in the background) is beyond me, but this was probably not the case with Paul McCartney.   It certainly isn't now.  

McCartney knew the role of the instrument he was playing, and he had/has a great sense of what the roles of the other instruments should be.   This is why he likes to play the instruments himself.  Why not?  It's very difficult at times to convey what you want a musician to play.  Egos get involved.    Following his lead, I have found that when I play my own instruments, the musician does just what I ask!   

CRY FOR A SHADOW (from Tony Sheridan sessions)

Paul 'features' on Cry For A Shadow at the end of every chorus with a slick little run up the neck. The songs from those sessions were recorded in a school setting, far from a recording studio, and you're hearing the Beatles pretty much how they sounded live in those days. Paul's amp can barely handle the pressure and that actually adds some charm to the sound of the bass. During most of his Beatle years and then again on Wings Over America, part of Paul's unique sound was driving his amp just to the edge of distortion. What a difference this makes with sound - adding an edgy touch to it - and Paul is getting it on this recording.

What I was not aware of until listening to Jet Harris' work in the Shadows was that McCartney is doing a very close impersonation of Harris on this song.   

George Martin and Geoff Emerick, in re-mastering the tracks for the Beatles Anthology, were able to give the bass a rich deep tone that hadn't been there before. Since they used old style recording equipment, these recordings - if you like the sound -  offer a testimonial to going back a few steps with some of our technology. Tube recording and performing equipment (such as used on these recordings) will usually sound "warmer" than the more clean and slick digital recording.

Note on pushing the bass sound to the edge of distortion: The over distorted sound Jack Bruce once got with his aggressive right hand, Gibson basses and Marshall amps is not what's being referred to here. More so, the reference is to the sound you get, generally by just slightly overdriving your amplifier. The sound tends to come alive, take pulse, as if there is a bit of friction going on. The over clean (in the author's opinion) sound that bass players have sought out in the 80s and 90s loses a lot of this friction, although there are a few notable exceptions to this rule.

ONE AFTER 909 (unreleased until Anthology)

The early version of One After 909 'showcases' Paul attempting gamely to play a solid hammer rhythm without benefit of a pick. Reviewers of this track have translated his playing as an attempt at being flashy but reviewers listen again. Real bass players out there will recognize that Paul was trying too hard to play and his wrist has stiffened up. He is attempting to keep the energy of his rhythm up, play with his fingers, and harmonize with John at the same time. Like with so many things, if you attempt to push beyond your limit of energy, things begin to change, and with music the art brushes along the lines of being shaky and loose.

Paul, being no quitter, tries gamely to keep it going. In this case, John wonders, "What are you DOING?"  Paul tries again and again. There seems to have been no possibility of having Neil go back out to the van to get a pick from his case because the final recording played on the Anthology sounds the same as the first attempt.

All that aside we can see where at this early stage, Paul is already hammering his notes (solid eight notes played on the root), an effect that wasn't all that often until then; perhaps Paul would have been the perfect bass player for Eddie Cochran (re: Summertime Blues).

 

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