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Sunday, September 6, 2015

Five Awesome Beatles Bass Lines that Weren't Played by Paul McCartney

4:18 PM Posted by Nicole M

When The Beatles quit touring and began focusing more on creating music in the studio, track by track, their musical roles became less clearly defined. Sometimes Paul McCartney played drums ("Back in the U.S.S.R."). Sometimes Ringo Starr played the comb and paper ("Lovely Rita"). Sometimes John Lennon played Yoko ("Revolution 9").

One role that remained fairly well established, however, was Paul as the bass player. He had arguably the greatest command of the instrument, and knew exactly how to weave bass lines into songs in such a way as to make the bass part memorable (see, for example, "Nowhere Man," "Michelle," or "Paperback Writer").

Here are five Beatles songs where you'd swear Paul was playing the bass, but he's actually not. (Thanks to our friends at The Beatles Bible for supplying the well-researched data on these songs!)

Carry that Weight
A memorable part of the so-called "Abbey Road Medley," it's hard to imagine "Carry that Weight" without that driving, arpeggiated bass line thumping away. It sounds a lot like Paul's style, but in fact, he was busy pounding away at the piano and supplying rhythm guitar for the track. The bass part is actually played by George.

Two of Us
This sweet acoustic duet between John and Paul does feature a lower guitar part (heard especially in the outro of the song) that sounds like a bass guitar being played in its higher register, but what we have here is the perfect setup for a Beatles trivia question. There actually isn't a bass guitar on this track, but George did supply some low-note riffs throughout the song on his electric guitar, so technically, George played "bass" on this song.

She Said She Said
The bass part in this song is so McCartney-eqsue that it's practically impossible to believe it isn't Paul playing the part. The continual movement of the bass line, the classic "passing notes," and the overall prominence of the part all suggest a McCartney performance, but as Paul himself recounted to Barry Miles in Many Years from Now:

"I'm not sure but I think it was one of the only Beatle records I never played on. I think we'd had a barney or something and I said, 'Oh, [bleep] you!' and they said, 'Well, we'll do it.' I think George played bass."

It was indeed George playing the bass on this song.

Old Brown Shoe
The bridge of this song showcases a rollicking bass line that practically begs the listener to envision Paul playing the part, but in reality, he supplied the more prominent piano part on this song, as well as some lead guitar parts that double the bass line in the bridge. But the bass is being played by George, not Paul.

I Will
This may be something of a technicality, much like "Two of Us," in that there is no actual bass part being played on this track. But you can hear the bass throughout the song, right? Especially in the transition to the bridge, there is a very obvious set of low notes dancing around and moving up the melodic line, but the only stringed instrument being played in this song is an acoustic guitar, supplemented by some percussion supplied by John and Ringo. Those low notes? That's Paul, using his voice on syllables like "dum" and "doo" to provide a "scat" bass line.

Saturday, September 5, 2015

What does Paul McCartney's "Take it Away" have to do with The Beatles?

6:20 PM Posted by Nicole M

As Paul McCartney prepares to release the next two remastered albums in his "Archive Collection," the highly acclaimed Tug of War and its follow-up, Pipes of Peace (both due out on October 2, 2015), our friends over at WogBlog have posted a link to a new 2015 remix of the single "Take it Away."

Aside from being a catchy tune with a very McCartney-esque hook in the chorus, "Take it Away" is actually a not-so-subtle tip of the cap to The Beatles and the beginnings of their career. The lyrics tell the story of an "important impresario" who happens to hear a band on the radio while driving, "with a hundred miles to go." He decides to hear the band live ("in the audience, watching the show"), and offers them a contract ("with a paper in his hand").

While the lyrics may not explicitly give the story away, the music video goes a bit further, and Paul's own explicit commentary -- "It's basically The Beatles' story, I think" -- found in the DVD collection The McCartney Years makes everything clear. British actor John Hurt plays the part of the "impresario," and as Paul comments, "So here's John Hurt, who's kind of playing a Brian Epstein type character ... When we were looking for motivation for John, I'd say, 'What about Brian Epstein? Your character is sort of Brian-ish,' and he, I think, knew Brian, so that was one of the things that interested him in playing it."

Another fun connection between The Beatles, John Hurt, and Brian Epstein? Paul explains, "John had been a friend of ours for a long time, since, originally ... funnily enough, with Brian Epstein we went to the theater to see him appearing in Little Malcom's 'Struggle Against the Eunuchs,' which was a favorite play of ours at the time."

The lyrics of the song may not follow The Beatles' story precisely -- Brian Epstein didn't discover them in his car while randomly hearing them on the radio, for example -- but, in the words of Paul, "there was a loose connection with our story of how we'd ... how most bands kind of made it in those days, from the front parlor to things like radio, the stage, getting signed, and, if you're lucky, being a success."

Just remember: you never know who may be listening to you!

Friday, September 4, 2015

Five Mistakes Found in Beatles Recordings

The Beatles were gods among men throughout their musical career, but they still made their fair share of mistakes in the recording studio. For any number of reasons, some of these mistakes were never corrected on the final records -- sometimes because there wasn't time to fix it, sometimes because they didn't care to fix it, and sometimes even because they thought it was funnier to leave the mistake in.

Here are five recorded blunders made by The Beatles in the studio that were left in the final production.

Slow Down
This cover version of the Larry Williams song, sung by John Lennon and released in the UK on the Long Tall Sally EP (later included on the Past Masters Volume One compilation), was humming along quite nicely until the verse that begins, "Well I used to walk you home baby after school, carry your books home, too." The next line should have been, "But now you've got a boyfriend down the street," but if you listen closely, it sounds like John sings, "but now you've got a girlfriend down the street."

Technically, the mistake was made both by John and producer George Martin, each in turn. John's vocal is double-tracked, which means he recorded it twice, and the two were blended together to make the vocal sound more full. The trouble is that, in one vocal take, John sang "now you've got a boyfriend down the street," and in the other vocal take, John sang the alternate lyric (which he sometimes sang in live performances), "now you don't care a dime for me." Put them together and you get: "But now you've got a care friend down the street," which sounds a lot like "But now you've got a girlfriend down the street." Somehow that didn't get caught when the two tracks were edited together.

Thank You Girl
The subject of Ringo Starr's drumming abilities is a never-ending debate. Some say he wasn't very technically adept, others argue that his value was precisely in his ability to find the perfect patterns and fills while not being so flashy as to distract from the song. Wherever you land on that subject, there's a fun little moment at the end of "Thank You Girl" where the band is repeating the "Oh, oh" vamp, punctuated by drum fills. 

At about the 1:50 mark, Ringo plays a rather tricky fill that gets just a little bit out of hand and for a messy couple of seconds, the whole band seems to slow down a touch and lose the beat. Thankfully, they were able to rebound quickly and finish out the song.

Too nit-picky for you? Then try listening at around the 54-56 second mark, where John sings "That's the kind of love that is too good to be true," while Paul sings, "That's the kind of love that seems too good to be true."

Let it Be
This one is much more audible and obvious on the single release than it is on the album release, but it exists in both versions. In the final verses, as Paul McCartney sings, "I wake up to the sound of music, Mother Mary comes to me," he plays a very dissonant piano chord on the word "mother," and then corrects it on the next beat. 

Usually, Paul takes a very perfectionist approach to his craft, and a mistake like this typically would have been cause for a re-take. However, those who know The Beatles' history know that the Get Back/Let it Be recording sessions were quite tense, and no one was terribly interested in the final recorded material. It was pulled together, edited, and produced much later, when The Beatles were neck-deep in their dissolution, so it's not too hard to see how a mistake like this could have been shrugged off.

Ob-la-di Ob-la-da
Perhaps the most famous mistake in The Beatles' catalog, this one was caught immediately after the recording, and deliberately left in -- partly because they were tired of re-recording it (it took dozens upon dozens of takes because Paul, the perfectionist, was never quite satisfied with his vocal), and partly because they thought it was funny.

The final lyric is supposed to be:

Happy every after in the marketplace
Desmond lets the children lend a hand
Molly stays at home and does her pretty face
And in the evening she still sings it with the band

Paul sings it this way the first time, but on the repeat, he gets the names of his characters wrong so that Molly ends up working in the marketplace, while Desmond stays home putting on makeup for his (apparently) cross-dressing performance with the band. After realizing the mistake, Paul concluded (according to Pete Shotton's book John Lennon: In My Life), "Let's just leave it in -- create a bit of confusion there. Everyone will wonder whether Desmond's a bisexual or a transvestite."

Please Please Me
This was The Beatles' first big hit in the UK, and as the story goes, after finishing the recording, producer George Martin piped in over the studio intercom to tell them, "congratulations, boys, you've just recorded your first number one." However, this was in the days when mono recordings were king, and stereo recordings appealed to a very small part of the population, and so on the stereo version of this song, a very obvious mistake was overlooked and left in the final product.

The last verse, which is simply a repeat of the first verse, is supposed to be: "I know you never even try, girl." Paul sings this correctly, while John accidentally starts to repeat the second verse: "Why do I always have to say, love." The end result is a mish-mash that sounds like "Why do I never even try, girl." John notices the mistake immediately, and so his next sung "come on" is started with a throaty laugh.