When it comes to lyrics, The Beatles have always been top dog. Throughout their career, the Liverpool quartet used language to capture everything from adolescent heartache to political angst and spiritual turmoil. Today, many of The Beatles’ lyrics are as recognisable as they were when the group were nestled comfortably at the top of the charts. From John Lennon and Paul McCartney’s cavernous cry of “she loves you, yeah yeah yeah” to the simmering echo of “I’d love to turn you on”, their lyrics are iconic, so iconic that they’ve been absorbed into countless other artists’ work, including Canadian rapper, Drake.
Taken from his controversial 2021 album Certified Lover Boy, Drake’s ‘Champagne Poetry’ opens to a warped vocal sample featuring the line: “I love you, I love you, I love you”. The pitch-shifted fragment forms the foundation of Drake’s languid rap and bears little resemblance to its original sonic incarnation. But if you listen carefully, you’ll find the voice oddly familiar: that’s because it’s Paul McCartney singing The Beatles’ 1965 track ‘Michelle’, featured on Rubber Soul.
This smokey chanson dates back to 1958, shortly after the Beatles (then known as The Quarrymen) came together. At that time, John Lennon was studying at the Liverpool College of Art, while Paul McCartney attended the high school around the corner. Although 18 months his senior, John used to take Paul to art school parties. French culture was very much in fashion at the time, so Paul would attempt to blend in with the chic crowd by pretending – as so many did – to be French. While Lennon smoked cigarettes and attempted to chat up his female classmates, McCartney would play his guitar and try and make up little songs in French, a language in which he was not well versed.
Years later, when The Beatles looking for songs to put on Rubber Soul, Lennon turned to Paul and reminded him of one of his faux-French ditties. As Paul later told The Observer, Lennon poked him on the shoulder and said: “You remember that thing you wrote about the French? That wasn’t a bad song, that. You should do that.” McCartney went on to finish the song with Lennon’s help, and the band released issued it as a single in Europe in 1965. With its lilting cafe-jazz guitars and warm harmonies, ‘Michelle’ quickly became a hit, rising to Number One in France, making it one of the only songs with mostly English lyrics to take the top spot.