What The Beatles did for music is a conversation that has been rumbling on for an age, as it is such a multi-faceted topic, demonstrated by the fact that it is now possible to enrol on a university course that explores just how much the ‘Fab Four’ impacted society.
It is well-known that they were the best songwriters of a generation, but they were also so much more than that, and it is safe to say that the best noun to use when describing them is ‘pioneers’.
Songwriting, production techniques, attitude, aesthetics and even film were just five of the areas in which the band tore up the dusty rulebook, creating something completely new. Duly, they galvanised all those disillusioned with the mundanity of everyday existence, and they followed them gladly into the shimmering promise of the future.
The Beatles’ story is a well-known one, and what they achieved across their relatively brief decade of existence set the bar very high for all the bands who emerged in their wake. Even some 52 years after their split, the feats they accomplished remain almost incomprehensible.
One of the band’s most game-changing moments came in the form of ‘Think For Yourself’ from 1965’s Rubber Soul. The track’s writer, George Harrison, turned the popular music tropes of the day on their head as girls, cars and listening to music are nowhere to be heard. Not one of Harrison’s most famous Beatles songs, it’s a thought-provoking piece that seems to be criticising an anonymous subject.
“‘Think For Yourself’ must be written about somebody from the sound of it,” Harrison posited in his autobiography I, Me, Mine, “But all this time later I don’t quite recall who inspired that tune. Probably the government.”
Regardless, the song is most significant for what it did for music as a whole, and in it, Paul McCartney delivered a sound on his bass that would become ubiquitous in the years that followed by way of a fuzz pedal. The track features two bass parts, one clean and one played through the fuzz pedal.
A technique that bands such as Royal Blood have utilised in contemporary times, the fuzz bass serves as the lead guitar line in the song. It was the first time in history that a bass was recorded using a fuzz pedal instead of manipulating equipment, such as the amplifier, to achieve this sound.
“Paul used a fuzz box on the bass on ‘Think For Yourself’. When Phil Spector was making ‘Zip-A-Dee-Doo-Dah’, the engineer who’s set up the track overloaded the microphone on the guitar player and it became very distorted,” recalled Harrison.
“Phil Spector said, ‘Leave it like that, it’s great'”, he added, “Some years later everyone started to try to copy that sound and so they invented the fuzz box. We had one and tried the bass through it and it sounded really good.”
The band then took this sound and experimented with it more intently, which paved the way for their next album, the kaleidoscopic masterpiece of 1966’s Revolver, and afterwards, it would be a sound that they would revisit time and time again, elevating iconic tracks such as ‘Helter Skelter’.
McCartney’s use of the fuzz pedal on the track was a pivotal moment in music. Everyone from Black Sabbath to Metallica and even Tame Impala have used fuzz on their basslines in the subsequent years following the release of ‘Think For Yourself’ with brands such as Electro-Harmonix and MXR creating models that are now industry standard.
All of this is thanks to The Beatles, another terrific achievement.
Listen to ‘Think For Yourself’ below.