Paul McCartney has rightly been revered throughout his career for being one of the most gifted songwriters the pop music world has ever known. There is no doubt that without his unique viewpoint and melodious sensibilities, the world of music would be a much less wonderful place. But what is often forgotten is that McCartney didn’t just bring this with his arrangement and vocal performances but his work with his bass too.
The image of McCartney with his fabled Hofner bass is one that will be emblazoned don to the history of music long after we’re all gone. The most musically gifted of the Fab Four, Macca often led the band into unchartered sonic waters, using his savvy navigational skills to get the group in and out of murky waters whenever it felt appropriate. The admiration for The Beatles admiral may feel ubiquitous but, more often than not, music lovers forget that McCartney was also one of the finest bassists around. We’re taking a look at The Beatles track ‘Hello, Goodbye’ for the proof.
Another contender for the greatest bassist in rock history is Rush’s singer Geddy Lee. The prog-rock hero suggests that Macca “gets overlooked as a bassist, but as a pop bassist goes, he’s such a melodic player. And you’re talking about a guy who wasn’t originally the bass player for the band. He adapted, of course, and he picked it up. I just find his story really interesting, as a bass player. So he comes at the instrument from a much more melodic place, and you really hear that in a lot of Beatle music.”
It’s something you can hear in the iconic song ‘Hello, Goodbye’. Often maligned for the fact it replaced John Lennon’s composition ‘I Am The Walrus’ as the a-side for their first single release of 1967. A churlish Lennon later said of the track: “That’s another McCartney. Smells a mile away, doesn’t it? An attempt to write a single. It wasn’t a great piece; the best bit was the end, which we all ad-libbed in the studio, where I played the piano. Like one of my favourite bits on ‘Ticket To Ride’, where we just threw something in at the end.” Sure enough, the song came straight from the mind of Paul McCartney.
“‘Hello, Goodbye’ was one of my songs,” McCartney told Barry Miles in Many Years From Now. “There are Geminian influences here I think: the twins. It’s such a deep theme in the universe, duality — man woman, black white, ebony ivory, high low, right wrong, up, down, hello goodbye — that it was a very easy song to write. It’s just a song of duality, with me advocating the more positive. You say goodbye, I say hello. You say stop, I say go. I was advocating the more positive side of the duality, and I still do to this day.” It’s a pretty standard piece of pop writing but shows just how intrinsic songwriting was to McCartney — it flowed through his veins.
Alistair Taylor remembered the original conception of the song perfectly: Paul marched me into the dining room, where he had a marvellous old hand-carved harmonium. ‘Come and sit at the other end of the harmonium. You hit any note you like on the keyboard. Just hit it and I’ll do the same. Now whenever I shout out a word, you shout the opposite and I’ll make up a tune. You watch, it’ll make music’…‘Black,’ he started. ‘White,’ I replied. ‘Yes.’ ‘No.’ ‘Good.’ ‘Bad.’ ‘Hello.’ ‘Goodbye.’
“I wonder whether Paul really made up that song as he went along or whether it was running through his head already.”
Naturally, McCartney would take charge of the song in the studio and pushed forward with a variety of different techniques including “whacking up the echo” on the final crescendo. But, perhaps nothing shows Macca’s innate ability better than this bass line. Simplistic as it may be in parts, the real treasure in all of McCartney’s songwriting is that the essence of pop always shines through.
Listen below to Paul McCartney’s magnificent isolated bass on The Beatles song ‘Hello, Goodbye’.