Hello, hello and welcome, of course, to another article for Paul or Nothing, the place to get all of your bonus Paul all of the bonus time with bonuses.
With his insanely proficient musical range as a singer, guitarist, drummer, pianist, keyboard player, an arranger, composer, and lyricist, it’s understandably easy to forget that back in the day Paul was the most iconic bass player in all the land. His position as the beat keeper for the BEATles is more than likely the genesis of the (somewhat accurate) stereotype that he is more of a proficient melody maker than a lyricist. But fortunately we are here today (here todaaaay) to simply talk about groove, and tempo and rhythm so we don’t have to worry too much at all about the lyrical quality of the songs. Though come to think of it, I don’t think any of my selections have any bad lyrics at all, but anyway…
As with all the Beatles as musicians (not songwriters) McCartney’s influence as a bassist is woefully underrated, but his signature driving rhythms, his variety of styles and his knack for making the least cool instrument in the band, the most interesting part of a song has helped pave the way for countless bass players ever since.
In today’s article, in true click bait, arbitrary list fashion I thought I might take the time to review some songs purely on their bass merit rather than the song as a whole as we are used to on this show. So yeah, if you haven’t already read the title this will be the top 11 Paul McCartney basslines of all time….(according to me, a podcaster with no real musical or journalistic experience, there I said it).
Now I have been a little bit reluctant to put out this one, and I’ll tell you why. I made this list ages ago on one of my very first shifts in my new job, yes I did indeed find work after all for those of you paying attention, and then when I went online to see if there were other similar examples of lists or content, I found that this wasn’t exactly unique. Of course Paul is a prolific and hugely famous bass player, and his best songs are clearly his best songs. It’s not like, say, my upcoming Top 20 Worst McCartney rhyming couplets, or my top 20 McCartney Beatles songs which are unique, and contrarian at their core, so yeah don’t expect ‘Mumbo’ taking the top spot or anything. And in the end I thought this might look a little derivative, or worse, like I’ve done some shameless copy and pasting, which I can assure you this show has never done, does or will do.
Look, I know I’m shitting on this episode before it has begun, but I am all too aware of the vast amount of McCartney content out there, especially when it includes Beatles stuff, but yeah, let’s press on, this is my, MY, no others, my ultimate, top 11 Paul McCartney bass lines.
Aaaand we’re off to the races!
- 11. Magneto and Titanium Man – (Venus and Mars, 1974).
What better way to kick off a list about the best bass lines, than with a song that kicks things off with the bass line? Ok, so immediately this is probably going to be the most questioned and queried selection on this list, mostly because there are so many iconic Beatles bass lines to include on this list. But hey, it’s my blog, I like to give Wings greater representation, and ‘Magneto and Titanium Man’ is just one hell of a fun time, and the bass line personifies that perfectly.
Like I said, the song starts off with the bass guitar, and right from the get go we are gifted with this deceptively simply, bouncy, joyous bass riff that carries the song along its merry path of cartoonish, comic-book sensibilities. It screams fun and youthful, and it’s peppy bop feels like you are being invited on a fun day out with friends
(As a little side note this bass line always reminded me of ‘Uprising’ by Muse, check it out if you haven’t already.)
- 10. Listen To What The Man Said – (Venus And Mars, 1974).
“Another one of Venus and Mars?”, I hear you cry. Well yes, but at least this time this is a riff that has a little more notoriety. After spending a considerable amount of Wings’ 1974 trip to America in New Orleans, the city of jazz, Macca clearly picked up a thing or two on how to craft a different type of groove. The result of this seventies musical version of cultural appropriation, is that McCartney is gifted with a soundscape and a timing unlike anything else in his repertoire.
Both mellow and excitable, the overarching jazz influences on display gives the song a definite eruptive, spontaneous feel, which is fantastic both as a live McCartney dance number, and as something to pick up the mood on the second half of Venus and Mars.
I mean it must be hard enough to make a catchy jam out of the incredibly wordy phrase ‘Listen to What the Man Said’, and yet McCartney’s beat keeping helps the song stay buoyant, cheerful and jumpy. This distinct bass segment is a clear hallmark of Wings’ ability to tackle any genre (no-matter how fleetingly) and use it to keep their albums oddly fresh.
- 9. Drive My Car – (Rubber Soul, 1965).
This song is the bass line, there’s no two ways about it. If you are not singing along to the incredibly catchy lyrics, then it is utterly impossible to not verbally mimic Paul’s incredibly funky, and elastic play style. ‘Drive My Car’ is one of the most uplifting and exciting Beatles opening songs, and manages to deliver the two words of the album’s title, ‘Rubber Soul’, with effortless cool and rhythm.
After being stuck with writer’s block at the inception of this song, Paul then made up for that lack of creativity with one of his most memorable toe tappers. The soulful feel of this track was a direct imitation of the heavy bass effects Otis Reading has begun experimenting with, and what Paul came up with was a musical response indicative of the musical one-up-man-ship that was present in the band at the time.
What Paul gave us, and we will see this throughout this list, was a bass part that he borrowed elements from heavily, yet still put a twist on it that was original enough to make this easily one of his most effectively excitable bass lines.
- 8. Being For the Benefit of Mr Kite – (Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, 1966).
Despite how iconic Sgt. Pepper is and despite how many times I have listened to it over the years, it wasn’t until recently that I discovered this delectable, if somewhat obscured bass contribution from Paul. What Paul manages to do with this song is ground it in reality to some degree as the song veers off into the strangest sounds the Beatles ever created. You can focus on Paul’s tight time keeping as it bops along and the whole aural phantasmagoria becomes much easier to process.
Not that I’m saying this is a simple or uncomplicated bass line either, it’s just that the song surrounding it, as a whole, is just so obviously weird by comparison (in a good way). The bass part by McCartney perfectly mimics the circus atmosphere with that droning, dreamlike quality to it. It’s as carefree and tricksy as the titular Mr Kite, with a deliriously winding sequence of notes that dance and skip wherever they like. It’s more like a stream of unrehearsed consciousness than a regular bass line as it moves along. Meaning that while it doesn’t restrict itself to the regular tropes and timing signatures, it can seamlessly shift to where the song needs it to be in an instant. There is little logic to it, so therefore it has a harder time going wrong.
If you want any further proof that this is a good bass part, then all you need to know is that Paul actually performs this track in his most recent tours. Now I hear you saying, ‘Paul has played Lennon songs before‘, and yes, whilst that would be true, it has always been popular tracks like ‘Imagine’ or ‘Twist and Shout’. No I put it to you that the real reason that Paul plays this song live because he is so damn proud of his bass section, and wants to give it some more exposure. And why wouldn’t he want to? It’s awesome!
- 7. Something – (Abbey Road, 1969).
OK, time for something (no pun intended) a little more tranquil. Of course not everything on this list has to be intense, but what I will say about McCartney’s contribution to this Harrison classic is that it is deceptively complex.
McCartney clearly knew that Harrison was finally coming into his own as a songwriter, and its both kind and fitting that he would pull out the stops for this tune. For a bass section that sits mostly in the background it has a surprising amount of moving parts and speed to it.
It serves not only to keep the beat, but also to help accentuate the highly emotional notes already present, and in doing so allows the song to reach the transcendent levels it does.
Also during the solo, very much in the spirit of our #1 selection on this list, McCartney delivers this heavenly little counter melody that softly undercuts the melodrama with something else equally as engaging to listen to. Honestly out of all of these selections, this is the one that I most fun going back to and trying to pick out the notes with a good pair of headphones.
I would highly recommend finding yourself/s a copy of the isolated bass track for Something, as it’s really the only way you will truly be able to appreciate the intricate machinations McCartney was working on at the time of recording. It really is something to behold, and it annoyed me a little as I felt so embarrassed as to have missed one of the best elements in the tune, despite being right in my face.
It should also be noted that this is the George Harrison song that McCartney prefers to play live. Perhaps more so because it is George’s signature song, than any pride over the bass line, but never say never!
- 6. Taxman – (Revolver, 1966).
So good that The Jam had to directly borrow it from McCartney. What more can you say about it than that?
- 5. Paperback Writer – (Non-album single, 1965).
The smooth flurry of notes that Macca plays right before the verse first kicks in gives me goosebumps to this very day. A deliciously effortless and graceful affair, the bass line for this 65′ single is one of the many components that set ‘Paperback Writer’ apart from the early era of Beatles hits.
To match the creative innovation of moving away from just singing about girls and love McCartney created something that would have the potential to keep the song at an almost constant state of rising euphoria. The bass part, whilst sometimes dominated by Harrison’s guitar part (a running Beatle theme) is always moving, and always seems
He never lets up in this one, and his relentless rhythm allows the song to hit the ground running with a phenomenal pace, which only ever lets up to let the chorus have room to breathe. Then BAM he explodes right back into his fairground flurry of notes.
And it’s not just the bass playing that’s iconic either. The whole bass sound was created by legendary, and then newcomer, studio engineer Geoff Emerick. Somehow he rigged up a way to use a loudspeaker as a microphone and, with Paul using a Rickenbacker instead of his iconic Hofner, boosted the volume higher than anyone had done before, and the result is a delightful pop tune that has all the bad ass hallmarks of a true rocker!
- 4. Silly Love Songs – (Wings at the Speed of Sound, 1976).
Whenever people review songs they can tend to harp on about one particular element of a song. This can either be because its the most obviously notable element of a track, or because every other review says the same thing. Now when it comes to any, any discussion surrounding ‘Silly Love Songs’, be it written word, internet forum or pub chit chat, will inevitably always begin and end with the bass line.
Yes the furore around how good the bass line is more than likely started because it came out in a time when Wings were looking a little flat and being Paul McCartney was looking slightly less cooler than normal, so by the time this credible bass line comes around people seized it as a point of positivity. And the rest, as they say, is history.
Now, this does not mean that this is a bad bass line, at all, I mean it’s ranking at #4 for fucks sake, but I did want to get that piece of context out of the way as there are many other fantastic elements at play in this song, not least the harmonies and the overall production.
That being said, Christ is this a funky motherfucker of a bass line.
- 3. Goodnight Tonight – (Non-album single, 1979)
I remember the first time I heard ‘Goodnight Tonight’ and I can remember becoming quite excited and thinking, ‘wow, ok, this is something different’, and to this day it still stands out of one of Paul’s most unique and alluring bass lines to date. No, seriously it sounds nothing like anything he has ever done before, or since. Or like anything anyone else has done before or since for that matter.
The song itself is the pinnacle of Wings’ few and far between forays into the world of disco, (the other being ‘Morse Moose and the Grey Goose’ which they also nailed) and the curve-ball syncopation McCartney delivers is simply perfect for the dance floor. Its stop start rhythm really catches you off guard after the faux-flamenco opening, and the jarring juxtaposition of the two are still as bold today as they were when first recorded. It’s minimalist approach to funk is just so effective in how it cuts right to the core of what makes us want to take note and start moving, especially when compared to songs like ‘Silly Love Songs’ or ‘Paperback Writer which require so much energy, this by comparison is positively languid. He trims the fat and what you are left with is this unexpectedly catchy, down-the-rabbit-hole style bass-line that’s just fascinating to listen to every time you hear the record.
Fortunately McCartney had a new line ups of Wings and was looking to experiment with a new sound, and in the freedom of this new way to record music it allowed him to create unexpectedly fun riffs like this one. Once again
- 2. Come Together – (Abbey Road, 1969).
The third album opener on this list, and we can really start to see where Paul invests his energies. Come Together is a painfully classic bass line who’s unstoppable groove threatens overwhelm and dominate the rest of the track and leave it in the dust. Why? Because it is just so damn cool that’s why. Plain and simple. It has edge, it has spunk, and it has style, especially for a Beatles tune.
This song was originally intended to be a political anthem for Timothy Leary who was running for Governor of California at the time. After that fell through, Lennon brought it too the studio, but felt it was too similar to a Chuck Berry song. So to change things up McCartney suggested that they slowed things down, and played the whole thing ‘swampy’, and the rest is history.
One of the things you cannot miss whilst listening to this track is the amount of weight put behind every single note that McCartney plays, and in that intensity of performance comes that real snap that gives the song its energy. Notes are stretched and elongated all over the shop, and you can feel McCartney really pushing the parameters of what he can do with the sound of this song (most likely because he was bored in the studio as Lennon would not let him sing – until the overdubs that is), and the tell tale signs of a creative Macca are plastered all over this song.
Another element that his bass playing brings to the song is a sense of levity,. Yes the song is complete nonsense but there’s a foreboding air and Lennon delivers a quint-essential late Beatles growl. So to then throw some of Paul’s uniquely blended light/heavy and melodious bass work helps offset some of that atmosphere and allows the song to be the timeless crowdpleaser that it is.
There’s a reason that this is one of the Beatles biggest songs, and Paul is a massive part of it!
- 1. Hey Bulldog – (Yellow Submarine. 1968).
Not content with only being the best obscure Beatles song ever, ‘Hey Bulldog’ also manages to hide what can only be described as Paul’s funkiest, lively, most bad ass bass contributions in his entire career. Without Paul this song just simply would not have the same unbridled bounce and energy that the final product achieves. This bass part is Paul’s masterpiece, whether he knows it or not.
This is a song where all four Beatles shine instrumentally, and it makes sense that all of them would add something unique into the mix. One of the most remarkable parts of the song is just how assertive and take-notice the bass part is during Harrison’s blistering guitar solo. McCartney, rather than taking the backstep, attempts to match everything that Harrison does, and still find time to add a layer of discordant notes and inventive fills. They work wonderfully well as a pair and the two parts blend together almost seamlessly, whilst also still providing two separate, yet equally enrapturing solo’s. It almost feels like Paul is playing the part of a regular guitar and he has simply forgotten he is “just the bass player“.
Though the real genius behind ‘Hey Bulldog’ is the fact that the whole song was recorded and packaged in one single recording session. There are countless tales of Paul spending hours as a recluse, working on improved bass parts and overdubbs, just trying to get that perfect beat or sound he is after, and yet here, Paul manages to bust out his single most inventive and insanely groovy bass part ever.
And by God was this a difficult song on Expert difficulty on the Beatles Rock Band game. My fingers still ache, so imagine how Paul feels!
And there we have it, my top 11 Paul McCartney bass lines. Like I said in the intro, nothing too outrageous or contrarian this time (ironically in contrast with my usual contrarianism), but this has been an article I’ve been meaning to write for a while now so I’m glad it’s finally out there.
Please comment below and let me know about your top Paul McCartney basslines/parts/contributions! What did I get right, what did I get wrong? What should have made the cut? Is there an undiscovered Macca bass gem?
Failing that drop me an email at email@example.com.
On that note, one element I am trying to introduce on the show is to start reading out stories of how people (i.e. you) first got into McCartney himself. So if you fancy leaving me an email about your first McCartney memories, I will read them out on the next episode, or maybe even make a compilation of them and make an article. Who knows.
Either ways folks, once again, thank you all for reading. Thank you for supporting this show, and please, please (me) and go check out the podcast – Paul or Nothing – you can find it on YouTube for free as well as any good podcast APP.
Peace and love.