How Paul McCartney changed the face of bass playing

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There is no denying Paul McCartney’s impact on rock music. McCartney contributed to the tone of rock music in the 1960s and beyond as a member of the Beatles. He is an absolute genius, and his talent went beyond that when he took up the bass guitar.

He wrote some of the greatest and most influential songs of the era, such as “Yesterday,” “Hey Jude,” and “Let It Be.” John Lennon and McCartney played rhythm guitar when the Beatles first started out, and when they couldn’t find a drummer to perform with, they would proclaim that “the rhythm is in the guitars.” The departure of Stu Sutcliffe from the band opened the way for McCartney to take up the four-string just as the other members of the Fab Four started to come together.

You can hear that in motion when listening to the early songs by the Beatles, such as when McCartney maintains the root notes throughout “Love Me Do” or “Please Please Me.” However, McCartney began to significantly alter his basslines around the time of Rubber Soul. The first indications of this can be heard in songs like “Drive My Car” and “You Won’t See Me,” where McCartney draws influence from James Jamerson and other Motown bassists to bolster the low end. Even though McCartney may have initially been copying his idols, imitation quickly gives way to originality.

He is admired for his inventiveness and unique playing techniques. For example, on “With a Little Help From My Friends,” McCartney understands when to dance around the chord changes, and on the pre-chorus of “Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds,” he plays his four-string like a tuba. The rest of the band was experimenting with their own songs at the same time. The band’s self-titled White Album is a perfect illustration of how each member’s impact blends with one another. For instance, McCartney gives “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” a biting tone by playing chords rather than single notes.

Although he had a strong grip on songwriting, his greatest strength lay in supporting the songs of his bandmates. For example, he made his four-string sing on Harrison’s “Something” and added personality to “I Want You (She’s So Heavy)” during the song’s heavy bridge section. Even after the Beatles disbanded, McCartney continued to innovate, adding a new dimension to his bass tone both with Wings on “Silly Love Songs” and later in his solo work. Paul McCartney has more than his fair share of timeless songs to his credit, but he’s always interested in where his bass playing will lead him.

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