The Beatles

[The Beatles][twocolumns]





The Bass Player

I love bass, from time to time I like to focus on bass lines while listening to songs. Am I therefore a McCartney fan? Or is it the other way around and do I love bass lines because of him? Anyway, in case of McCartney you can’t escape the fact that your attention is being drawn by the bass. Macca’s bass playing is much more than just a foundation on which other instruments can shine. In fact, it's the bass that’s regularly claiming the lead in the implementation of his songs. That’s when the bass is the boss.
Regarding McCartney there’s consensus about one aspect: his qualities as a bass player. With his melodic way of playing and the innovations that he has done, he is one of the most influential bassists of the last century. As John Lennon said: 
Paul was one of the most innovative bass players ever. And half the stuff that is going on now is directly ripped off from his Beatles period.
It's hard to separate McCartney's influence on my bass playing from his influence on everything else: singing, songwriting, even becoming a musician in the first place. As a child, I would play my Beatles albums at 45 RPM so I could hear the bass better. He's the Guvnor.
Paul definitely had an influence on my bass playing, not so much technically, but more with his philosophy of melodic bass lines
Stanley Clarke 

McCartney had actually no ambition to become a bassist. That he did become the bass player of The Beatles is purely coincidental. Because when his predecessor Stu Sutcliffe leaves the band in 1961 while they were staying in Hamburg, McCartney appears to be the right man to succeed him. Of the bands three guitarists, he was at that time the only one without a guitar: Just before leaving for Hamburg, he has bought a beautiful looking Rosetti Solid Seven electric guitar but the instrument turned out not as solid as its name suggests. It doesn’t withstand the rugged Hamburg nightlife and is falling apart literally. 
So it was like, ‘uh-oh, we haven't got a bass player’. And everyone sort of turned around and looked at me. I was a bit lumbered with it, really it was like 'Well... it'd better be you then.' I don't think you would have caught John doing it; he would have said: 'No, you're kidding. I've got a nice new Rickenbacker!' I was playing piano and didn't even have a guitar at the time, so I couldn't really say that I wanted to be a guitarist.
So reluctantly, it’s McCartney who succeeds Sutcliffe. He ain’t totally unfamiliar with the instrument; His father makes him at young age aware of the bass lines of songs that pass by on the radio: "Hear that low stuff? That's the bass." Thus there has been a dormant interest in the bass. With his new role in The Beatles and to improve his playing he starts listening to other bass players. Especially the songs by Motown are his favourite, much of these were played by James Jamerson:
James Jamerson became my hero, although I didn't actually know his name until quite recently. Jamerson and later Brian Wilson of the Beach Boys were my two biggest influences: James because he was so good and melodic, and Brian because he went to very unusual places. With the Beach Boys, the band might be playing in C, but the bass might stay on the G just to hold it back.
In the early Beatles years McCartney's playing is already powerful, but still fairly basic. Listen to their greatest hits of the first three years and you will hear that the notes he is playing are quite standard, with only a few, modest variations. But when the band got the chance to spend more time in the studio to record their albums, McCartney's bass playing starts to develop rapidly.
As time went on, I began to realize you didn't have to play just the root notes. If it was C, F, G, it was normally C, F, G that I played. But I started to realize you could be pulling on the G, or stay on the C when it went into F. And then I took it beyond that. I thought, well, if you can do that, what else could you do, how much further could you take it. You might even be able to play notes that aren't in the chord. I just started to experiment. (...) So once I got over the fact that I was lumbered with bass, I did get quite proud to be a bass player. It was all very exciting. Once you realized the control you had over the band, you were in control. They can't go anywhere, man. Ha! Power!

Rubber Soul is widely considered to be the first album on which McCartney's bass lines are notable. This is also due to changes in recording technology. In the early years of Rock 'n' Roll it’s custom to record the bass part by placing a microphone in front of the amplifier. But McCartney and producer George Martin decide to connect the bass directly to the recording equipment, resulting in a dry, edgy and punchy sounding bass in the final mix. But above all, his bass lines start to become more complex. In Lennon's Nowhere Man the bass is much more than just a harmonious surface. McCartney's variations reinforce the melody and give the song an extra boost. One of his early and really innovative bass lines can be found on his own track Michelle, which even includes a, rare, bass solo:
That was actually thought up on that spot, I would never 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.
A major influence on McCartney's development is the Beach Boys album Pet Sounds. Brian Wilson bass (although played by Wrecking Crew bassist Carol Kaye, but elaborated by Wilson) is a source of inspiration to push the boundaries even more. It leads to complex bass lines on the album Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band. And no sacred cow is save anymore. Even the always in Western music very important first note has to face some changes. In A Day In The Life that one is occasionally simply omitted. 
Sometimes the bass lines are so complicated that McCartney cursed himself decades later when he decides to play a Sgt. Pepper track live; as happened with Fixing A Hole. It turned out to be quite a difficult task to sing and play the bass simultaneously.

Video: A Day In The Life

With Sgt. Pepper McCartney's reputation as brilliant bassist is definitively established. What his playing makes unique are strong melodic bass lines which seem to push forward the songs. Distinguished are his counter melodies, bass lines that go directly against the melody of the song. It is a way of playing that often leads to a dominant role for the bass. One of his most famous bass lines is the one on Lennon's Come Together; it’s a unique combination with the equally exceptional drumming on the song by Ringo Starr.

Video: Come Together, isolated bass 

Inextricably with McCartney is the brand he is playing: The Hofner. He has made it an iconic instrument; I can’t think of any other instrument so obviously connected with an artist like McCartney and his Hofner. The image of the two is so strong that if I see another bassist playing the Hofner, that I just perceive it as a tribute. This probably is the case, mostly. 
The choice for the Hofner was a practical one. When Sutcliffe left the band, McCartney needed his own bass at short notice. And due to the very limited budget, the affordable Hofner became first choice.
He did not use it for a very long time, though. As from 1965, the Hofner is slowly exchanged for a Rickenbacker. In 1969 Hofner made a temporary comeback for the filming of Let It Be, but after the famous rooftop concert the Hofner disappears. 

In the Wings years, the image is that of McCartney and the Rickenbacker. And although he presents himself clearly as Wings’ bass player, his focus seems to be more on song writing. The bass on the Wings records is still strong and powerful, but clearly less innovative and dominant, although there are major exceptions. On Silly Love Songs he plays for the first time a funky bass line, one of his busiest ever. Another funky bass can be heard on the Wings single Goodnight Tonight. Lennon for example, although he didn’t mind the song, was impressed by the bass line.

Video: Goodnight Tonight

In the first years after Wings he seems to be focusing less on the bass as well. But in 1989 there is a first turnaround. He starts a collaboration with Elvis Costello, who insists to bring back the Hofner again. Elvis Costello:
It’s a marvellous sounding instrument. A very, very unusual bass, sort of between an electric bass and an acoustic bass, it’s got a hollowness to it that really is very appealing. And he obviously played it brilliantly.
The old Hofner is not in a good shape and needs to be restored first. Bu when that’s done and McCartney plays it back for the first time in almost twenty years, he makes a discovery:
It was a little revelation because I had forgotten how light it is. It’s like a piece of Balsa wood, it’s so light. So I put that on and started playing it again, and never really looked back. I realize that because it’s so light, you play differently, and there’s lightness to your playing.
With the return of the Hofner, both in the studio and live on stage, also McCartney's interest in the bass appears to be increasing again. As a result, especially on his albums from this century you can hear some great bass playing regularly again. The album Driving Rain (2001) has some great bass lines, of which the track Magic stands out, containing a classic McCartney bass with a beautiful counter melody. Memorable is the bass on Sun Is Shining from the Fireman album Electric Arguments (2008). And it’s almost impossible to sit still during the pumping bass of That Was Me, from Memory Almost Full (2007):

Video: That Was Me

In the studio McCartney still uses his Rickenbacker regularly, or his five-string Fender. But live on stage, the Hofner rules nowadays. And that again has a practical reason: for a person over 70 a lightweight bass as the Hofner is a lot easier to play with than when a heavy Rickenbacker or Fender is hanging on your shoulders. The image of McCartney and the Hofner is probably playing a role as well, though.  As said before, because they are an iconic duo.

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André Homan

André Homan is a Dutch writer and journalist.

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3 opmerkingen :

  1. Paul never had a right handed hofner violin bass. He has mentioned it did not look daft. But thère is not one picture of him with such a bass

  2. Great post. Thanks for sharing, also check on  video player bass booster for android.