Everybody knows that Paul McCartney is one of the finest songwriters of all-time with piercing heavenly vocals. In fact, it’s hard to imagine a world without Macca in it. He has been the gift that keeps on giving for close to 60-years, but, McCartney’s talent on the bass remains often overlooked despite his skill on the instrument adding a crucial layer to The Beatles’ delectable sound.
Despite that, the musician has never found himself in the conversation for the greatest ever to pick up a four-string, but what he did with the instrument was revolutionary. Along with Ringo Starr, he formed a world-beating rhythm section that was up there with the best of them and, although Macca is more adored for his songwriting skills, on ‘Something’ you can hear the greatness of Paul’s bass.
Originally, McCartney didn’t join The Beatles as a bass player and only started on the instrument after Stuart Sutcliffe left the band. The landmark guitar he made a name on was purchased when he was only 18. It had humble origins: “Eventually, I found a little shop in the centre of town, and I saw this violin-shaped bass guitar in the window,” he told Tony Bacon for a Bass Player cover story back in the summer of 1995.
McCartney’s original guitar was Höfner 500/1 violin bass, a right-handed model that he turned upside down, for the equivalent of around £40. While the guitar was stolen during the late sixties, he did have a spare which was given to him by Höfner in 1963 and was seen and heard starting as early as ‘I Want to Hold Your Hand’ that same year. Macca played the same guitar from that monumental day until the final ‘Let It Be’ rooftop concert in 1969.
To commemorate his greatness on the instrument, this feature takes a look at five of McCartney’s best moments on a four-string through the chasm of isolated versions of iconic tracks that leave you with no place to hide, but, to admire his bass brilliance.
Let’s get stuck in then, shall we?
Paul McCartney’s five best isolated bass tracks:
The Beatles – ‘Something’
‘Something’ is George Harrison’s finest hour with The Beatles and a key ingredient in the song’s utter magnificence is Paul McCartney’s contribution to the track on the bass. With his pal taking up the reigns in front of the mic, Macca didn’t use this as an excuse to phone it in and, as a real team player, his offering complements Harrison’s genius beautifully.
The real muse behind Harrison’s effort will remain forever unknown, and the ambiguity of ‘Something’ is what helps make it such a universally loved track. A song that Frank Sinatra would go on to describe as “the greatest love song ever written.” Whilst the song is Harrison’s time to shine, McCartney helped immeasurably on the bass to create the masterpiece.
The Beatles – ‘Dear Prudence’
On ‘Dear Prudence’ Paul McCartney enacts more blissful moments as he delivers a powerful bassline that underpins the predominantly Lennon-penned song. McCartney starts the track with a singular, and determinedly plucked note before moving into the song’s iconic bop. The bassline inhibits both the track’s trance-like nature and the captivating melodies.
The track’s playful appeal may feel like it comes from Lennon’s refrain but, in fact, it primarily lands on the bassline of Paul McCartney to take it to it’s known heights. Listen below to Paul McCartney’s isolated bass track and marvel at his underrated genius.
The Beatles – ‘Paperback Writer’
Credited to the Lennon-McCartney partnership, Lennon would later admit that bar a few words and some inspiration that the song was entirely McCartney’s idea. “I think I might have helped with some of the lyrics. Yes, I did. But it was mainly Paul’s tune,” Lennon told Hit Parade in 1972, later confirming with Playboy that “‘Paperback Writer’ is son of ‘Day Tripper’, but it is Paul’s song.”
It’s not just the lyricism that McCartney excelled at on this timeless classic, and his bass is another example of his unadulterated genius. As well as using a new subject matter with The Beatles, finally deviating from love songs on ‘Paperback Writer’, they also tried to change up their lyrical structure by changing the lyrics into something a little more conceptual, this was a track that truly let McCartney thrive on the bass.
Not his trusty Hofner but a Rickenbacker was Macca’s weapon of choice for this thundering bass line. Geoff Emerick, Abbey Road engineer, said of the song: “‘Paperback Writer’ was the first time the bass sound had been heard in all its excitement. For a start, Paul played a different bass, a Rickenbacker. Then we boosted it further by using a loudspeaker as a microphone. We positioned it directly in front of the bass speaker and the moving diaphragm of the second speaker made the electrical current.”
The Beatles – ‘Hey Bulldog’
Further proof that McCartney is one of the finest bassists of all-time comes on ‘Hey Bulldog’, where he delivers yet another show-stealing performance. On the track, we’re given an up-close and personal look at McCartney’s bass playing. When you isolate that bass track, then you get smacked right in the face with Macca’s rhythmic genius.
McCartney himself spoke fondly of ‘Hey Bulldog’ in 1994: “I remember (it) as being one of John’s songs and I helped him finish it off in the studio, but it’s mainly his vibe. There’s a little rap at the end between John and I, we went into a crazy little thing at the end.”
“We always tried to make every song different because we figured, ‘Why write something like the last one? We’ve done that.’ We were on a ladder so there was never any sense of stepping down a rung, or even staying on the same rung, it was better to move one rung ahead.”
The Beatles – ‘Come Together’
This list wouldn’t be complete without mentioning ‘Come Together‘ and McCartney’s masterful performance on the track that is an utter joy to behold, especially when heard isolated. The track famously acted as the opening track on their 1969 album and was also released as a single coupled with ‘Something’. It remains one of the Beatles’ fans favourite ever songs from the Fab Four. Something that would not have happened without the song’s legendary bass line.
McCartney does hold regret over some of the track, later stating: “Even on Abbey Road we don’t do harmonies like we used to. I think it’s sad,” he reflected. “On ‘Come Together’ I would have liked to sing harmony with John, and I think he would have liked me to, but I was too embarrassed to ask him, and I don’t work to the best of my abilities in that situation.”
‘Come Together’ is the perfect song in the eyes of millions but, being the perfectionist that he is, Macca still can’t help thinking about the further potential that harmony could have added to the track. This isolated bass version shows how much he gave to the track and even though, the vocals might not be how he envisaged them that should taking nothing away from his accomplished performance on the four-string.