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Music

Paul McCartney names his "strongest" moment on bass for The Beatles

@SamWKemp

Bassists have a rough time with it. While their six-string comrades are centre stage noodling away on the fretboard, bass players are somewhere in the corner doing all the hard work. A long-haired metal guitarist once told me that a mini-fridge is more important than a good bassist. At the time, I nodded my head in tentative agreement, but I know now just how wrong that PRS playing Van Halen fanatic really was.

Many of the best bands of the 1960s and ’70s boasted brilliant bassists. Consider Led Zeppelin’s John Paul Jones, a classically trained multi-instrumentalist who bought structure to the group’s expansive and frequently chaotic songs. Then there’s Motorhead’s Lemmy Flea and Flea from the Red Hot Chili Peppers. But perhaps the greatest example of a bassist with the musicianship of a Vienesse composer is Paul McCartney. He was the bread and butter of The Beatles, and his inventive approach to his instrument arguably defined the sound of some of the group’s best albums.

Speaking to Tony Bacon, The Beatles bassist opened up about how he learned to love his instrument. In early hits like ‘She Loves You’, Paul’s basslines were root-based and unintrusive. It’s almost as if the bass was just something to keep his hands busy. But as the years went by, things started to change. “From the word go, once I got over the fact that I was lumbered with the bass [laughs], I did get quite proud to be a bass player, quite proud of the idea. Once you realised the control you had over the band, you were in control. They can’t go anywhere, man. Ha! Power!”

From there, McCartney became interested in seeking out bassists who were masters of their trade. “I then started to identify with other bass players, to talk bass with the guys in the band,” he continued. “In fact, when we met Elvis, he was trying to learn bass, so I was like, ‘You’re trying to learn bass, are you … son? Sit down, let me show you a few things’. So I was very proud of being the bass player. But as it went on and I got into that melodic thing, that was probably the peak of my interest.”

Naming his greatest moment on bass, McCartney recalled working on Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. After the concrete churn of that album’s title song, Paul begins delivering a series of complex independent basslines. ‘With a Little Help From My Friends’, ‘Getting Better’, ‘Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds’: Sgt Pepper’s is the bassists Beatles album.

“That was probably what ended up being my strongest thing on bass, the independent melodies,” Paul added. “On ‘Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds’, you could easily have had [he sings a root-note version through the first few chords]. It would have been like ‘Louie Louie’ or something. Whereas I was going [sings the Lucy bass-line], just running through that. It’s only really a way of getting from C to F, or whatever, but you get there in an interesting way. That became my thing, doing that.”

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