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Paul McCartney's bass playing

Discussion in 'Bassists [BG]' started by Alex E, Mar 10, 2006.

  1. Alex E

    Alex E

    Mar 2, 2006
    Macca’s playing astounds me. It’s not fast like a Victor Wooten, Stanley Clarke, Jaco, etc.. If one asked him, I think McCartney himself would downplay his chops compared to the above greats and others, so I’m not saying he’s the best out there.

    However, I have been playing bass for 25 years and listening to certain Macca songs still blows me away. Playing bass is not all about speed and chops. It sure is nice to have them, but what impresses me more is the ability to think up counterpoint bass lines that are highly melodic and instantly recognizable when you hear the song. The kind of bass line where the song just wouldn’t be the same without.

    In that stuff, I think McCartney’s work is inspired, maybe even genius. Here’s a guy who can’t read music, doesn’t know hardly anything about theory and admittedly hated to practice, especially practicing bass.

    I’ve had years of music theory and when I learn one of his bass parts spot-on, the creativity and complexity of some of the more involved ones, from a music theory standpoint, always astounds me. Chew on the bass line from “Something” where he’s doing those runs in the context of the chords and the solo. How in the world did a music theory “dummy” come up with that idea? Look at his bass work underneath all those 7th chords the Beatles used and again: How did a guy who doesn’t know squat about theory come up with that? I don’t think Sir Paul’s the best, but I’m still amazed by his innate ability. He’s a great, great player in my book.
  2. yeah..."I want you (she's so heavy)" has gotta be THE best Beatles bassline...
  3. ryco


    Apr 24, 2005
    I agree. The guy just has one hell of an ear whether writing a bass part or a melody. Also having a guiding force like George Martin probably helped as far as theory.

    I heard he used to play his final bass parts last after everyone else had finished their parts. First he'd lay down a "scratch" part and replace it at the end of recording. I don't know if that's really true or not. Talk about backwards - I always have trouble coming back and redo-ing parts.

    Sometimes his parts sound like 40's pop tuba parts. Maybe was influenced by old radio show orchestras or opperettas.
  4. Baryonyx

    Baryonyx Banned

    Jul 11, 2005
    Marathon Man
    he's a genius in my book! He made inventive music and played the bass how he wanted to. His melodic intuition astounds me, as does his style of playing. I love his tone too, I've come to appreciate him more as I've matured as a musician. Sometimes it's good to turn off the Mark King, Stanley Clarke, Jonas Hellborg and John McLaughlin albums and just groove to some Beatles!
  5. Alex E

    Alex E

    Mar 2, 2006
    Definitely agree with the two of you. "I want you, She's so heavy" is an incredible bass line. I heard that darn song for years and then one day, I really heard it and I laughed at amazement.

    And yeah, he does play some lines like a tuba and then all of a sudden throws in something that will make you saw 'wow'.
  6. AxtoOx


    Nov 12, 2005
    Duncan, Okla.
    Ya gotta remember, the Beatles were inventing Rock and Roll for these others to expand on.
  7. emblymouse

    emblymouse exempt Supporting Member

    Jan 22, 2006
    When I was a kid my big sister played Beatles night and day and through the wall all I heard was those basslines. I'd walk around humming them thinking they were the the main melody. Taken out of context they often stand up nicely on their own as totally satisfying melodic statements.
    Technique is worthless unless you've got something wonderful to say.
  8. I agree with all the admiration for Sir Paul and his Beatles and Wings bass lines. Very fresh, very interesting, very appropriate. But I have to say all this astonishment over his lack of formal theory understanding as it relates to his ability to craft "intelligent" lines is a little out of scale with reality. I believe some people who aren't storing all those 'rules' and 'guides' in their head and who are constantly referencing them to create their parts may see musical lines that would other wise be 'smarted out' or 'overlooked due to lack of sufficient precedence'. There is a purity to that sort of musician that sometimes brings out the refreshing twists and turns in music. And it always strikes me as funny how folks 'reverse engineer' these parts and marvel at their 'theoretical complexity' - maybe one does not have to 'own a degree' to still full grasp and understand the subject.

    Now please, don't get me wrong, I have a great deal of respect for music theory and the people who study it and work hard to understand and use it. Like any discipline, the more you learn about the finer aspects the more you stand to 'succeed' in your efforts.

    I am simply saying that in this particular thread, and being one who does not have a huge grasp of theory, one could get a little put off by the astonishment that he, I, or any non-theory educated bass player could actually create interesting parts.

    Ya dig? **This rant sounds a lot heavier than I intended - I don't mean to preach or admonish... :)**

    Rock on, Sir Paul! I love ya mate!
  9. Brad Johnson

    Brad Johnson

    Mar 8, 2000
    Gaithersburg, Md
    DR Strings
    "Silly Love Songs" came on the radio while I was driving home today and it reminded me (not like I ever forgot) how solid a bassist he is. Nice fills and variations on the main line. Subtle. Refreshing.
  10. Skel


    Jun 19, 2005
    Boulder, Colorado
    Don't forget he grew up learning a lot from his dad, and playing bass on the piano, then spent about 6 years of insane time on the guitar. His vocal range probably helped his imagination quite a bit, and finally...the guy's a genius, who had an unbelievable producer who taught him a few things for sure. But yea, his bass playing moved a lot of people, some not even consciously, and that's what counts.

  11. Bass Massta

    Bass Massta

    Mar 9, 2006
    I've been listening to The Beatles since I was seven, and "I want you(she's so heavy)" is the best bass line that Paul McCartney has ever come up with.
  12. ryco


    Apr 24, 2005
    Macca claims he was trying to emulate James Jamerson, his bass hero. I can really hear the influence in his grooves on songs like "Baby Your a Rich Man" and "Helter Skelter".
  13. Mojo-Man


    Feb 11, 2003
  14. aarono


    Feb 14, 2006
    Paul doesn't know much about Theory you say? This is very surprising to me.
  15. Paul is a great writer and his basslines are definitely something. I really enjoy his melodic basslines, which never sound busy but always compliment perfectly.
  16. Philbiker

    Philbiker Pat's the best!

    Dec 28, 2000
    Northern Virginia, USA
    Funny story....

    I read once that Paul stole the brilliant bassline for "I Saw Her Standing There" from a Chuck Berry record.

    I've stolen that bassline for a song my band is getting set to record. :)
  17. bassist15


    Mar 6, 2006
    I thought iI read somewhere that John Lennon played the bass part for I Want You (She's SO HEavy).
  18. I heard he played lead-guitar on that one but I'm pretty sure he's doing the bass work on Helter Skelter.
  19. Mystic Michael

    Mystic Michael Hip No Ties

    Apr 1, 2004
    New York, NY
    Well said. I agree completely. I have been making a similar point for a long time. An understanding of theory and composition is an excellent thing - but it does come with a certain cost and a certain burden. If not managed consciously and intelligently, it can get in the way and inhibit one's creativity...

  20. Mystic Michael

    Mystic Michael Hip No Ties

    Apr 1, 2004
    New York, NY
    I came to the conclusion years ago that, for me, this kind of compositional approach represents not only the highest form of bass playing, but probably the highest form of musicianship - period. For this reason, McCartney is one of only two bassists who are right at the top of my personal list of influences.

    The other is Chris Squire - whom I regard as something of McCartney's heir apparent, carrying it to the next level with Yes, after the Beatles disbanded. Listen very carefully to his work during the band's creative heyday, on albums such as Close To The Edge, Tales of Topographic Oceans, Relayer and Going For The One - but on Close To The Edge in particular. Absolutely brilliant. Complex, sophisticated and cerebral - and simply perfect for the compositions, supplying that magic catalytic element that elevates them from merely excellent to truly transcendent...


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