Though a noted multi-instrumentalist, few artists are as connected to their instrument in the public’s mind as Paul McCartney and his bass. The Beatles were founded upon the iconic image of Macca with his Hofner violin bass, and, ever since, the world gasps in glee whenever he turns to the instrument to give it a whirl. It’s not just the image either; McCartney, despite his candour surrounding the subject, was, at the very least, a pioneering player of the instrument.
With his boyish good looks and natural charm, McCartney became a huge selling point of The Beatles and, with his bass, began to turn the tide on what a bassist really was. Previously relegated to the shadows of the stage, Macca proved that basslines deserved just as much credit as the rest of the band. But, if he had to pick, what would be his favourite bassline of all time?
There’s a lot to be said for McCartney’s impact on music, purely from a bassist perspective. Another famous bassist, Rush’s Geddy Lee, noted how it was McCartney who not only made the bass seem worthwhile as an instrument (oppose to the cacophony of drums and the natural leading position of guitarists) but gave the instrument some bold melody. “One common denominator for me was always the ability to play melodically and to enhance the song on a subterranean level,” he says.
According to Lee, McCartney “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.” Within the group’s music, there are plenty of occasions when McCartney uses his instrument to illustrate the expression at hand. But what is McCartney’s favourite bassline of all time?
Luckily, it was a question posed to him back in 2010 as part of a fan Q&A session. Asking a songwriter to pick out their favourite song is one thing — after all, a song is a whole piece designed to be consumed as a whole. But picking out a favourite bassline, even for a bassist, is difficult to do. Most lines will be perfect for their song but may seem a little inconsequential when taken out of that space. However, when faced with the question, McCartney did provide an answer: “I kind of like ‘Day Tripper’ and I like it because it is a bit of a challenge to sing the song over it…and it’s not a bad bassline either.”
‘Day Tripper’ is a classic piece of Beatles iconography. Written about the so-called hippies who were dirtying up their feet in their limo ride to the march, Lennon-McCartney aimed at the posers of the decade. “That’s mine,” recalled Lennon when speaking to David Sheff in 1980. “Including the lick, the guitar break and the whole bit. It’s just a rock ‘n’ roll song. Day-trippers are people who go on a day trip, right? Usually on a ferryboat or something. But it was kind of – you know, you’re just a weekend hippie. Get it?”
Before this conversation, Lennon had once noted the irony in the track. “‘Day Tripper’ was [written] under complete pressure, based on an old folk song I wrote about a month previous,” he was noted as saying in Anthology. “It was very hard going, that, and it sounds it. It wasn’t a serious message song. It was a drug song. In a way, it was a day tripper – I just liked the word.”
However ironic the song may have become, the bassline remains one of the band’s best and certainly one of McCartney’s finer efforts. Thanks to its complexity, it is also one of McCartney’s favourites too.