The Mystery of Who Played Bass on The White Album’s “While My Guitar Gently Weeps”




George Harrison, the quiet Beatle, was the first to break out on his own in 1970 with his glorious triple album All Things Must Pass. “Garbo talks! — Harrison is free!” wrote Melody Maker’s Richard Williams in a review, a reference to the reclusive silent film star who, like the Beatles’ guitarist, kept her mystique and star power even after fans first heard her voice. Harrison’s revelation couldn’t have been as dramatic as all that.

Surely, no fan of “Taxman,” “Within You Without You,” “Here Comes the Sun,” “Something” — and especially The White Album’s stunning “While My Guitar Gently Sleeps” — doubted that George had it in him all along. But the other Beatles would only humor him during The White Album sessions. That is, until he brought Eric Clapton into the studio. “That then made everyone act better,” Harrison remembers in Anthology. “Paul got on the piano and played a nice intro and they all took it more seriously.”


The question in the You Can’t Unhear This video above is whether Paul played bass on the final studio recording and, if not, who did?  It’s an integral part of the song’s feel — the gritty, restrained growl, slowly growing in intensity until it sounds like it might give Harrison’s guitar something else to weep about. The mystery of the aggressive-yet-muted part “has perplexed scholars and Beatles fans for decades.” If you’ve remained unperplexed, you might find yourself questioning assumptions about this most beloved of Beatles’ tunes.

Sessions for the song began in late July of 1968, then picked up again in August, but Harrison decided to scrap everything and start over in September once Ringo returned from a “self-imposed exile” in the Mediterranean. The band seemed refreshed: “the quality of the performances on the new September version seemed to reflect that renewed spirit.” Sessions for the track wrapped on September 24. “For many years it was believed that this was the recording session in which Eric Clapton overdubbed his lead guitar solo,” writes the Beatles Bible. Not so — Clapton sat in on all of the live takes recorded with the band. Ah, but who played bass? See the mystery take shape above and post your theories below.

Related Content:

The Beatles’ 8 Pioneering Innovations: A Video Essay Exploring How the Fab Four Changed Pop Music

Is “Rain” the Perfect Beatles Song?: A New Video Explores the Radical Innovations of the 1966 B-Side

Hear the Beautiful Isolated Vocal Harmonies from the Beatles’ “Something”

Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness


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Comments (12)
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  • Glenn says:

    Klauss Voormann?

  • Bob Cataliotti says:

    McCartney discusses the bass part he played on While My Guitar Gently Weeps with Rick Rubin on the 321 McCartney series that debuted on Hulu this past summer.

  • Paul Tatara says:

    Yeah, I’m of the mindset that McCartney would know if it’s him. There’s not even any mention in the article of why one might think it’s NOT him!

  • Bobby says:

    It was Paul McCartney.

    There are some drum tracks that were played by a session player when Ringo quit. There are some keyboard parts played by others. But Paul played bass on this. It’s very obviously him too.

  • Ian Dickinson says:

    It’s Paul

    There’s nothing in the videos that remotely questions this. In fact, what does that even mean – “The mystery of the aggressive-yet-muted part “”has perplexed scholars and Beatles fans for decades.”

    No it hasn’t.

    Ian MacDonald (Revolution in the Head) says it was McCartney. Mark Lewisohn (The Beatles Complete Recording Sessions) says it was McCartney. McCartney 321 says it was McCartney.

    Please don’t turn Open Culture into clickbait. If you need someone to write intelligently about The Beatles there are plenty of people dojng podcasts out there.

    And fyi Paul played drums on the White Album tracks when Ringo left for a bit. Not a session drummer.

    Really!

  • Peter Guy Myrand says:

    It sounds totally McCartney. If it was someone else, whoever that be, they were emulating his style. And very well may I add.

  • Dennis J. Duffy says:

    Too late! Open Culture has been spewing clickbait for some time now. (Like every time they feature a colourized, modified film and say that it’s been ‘restored”….)

  • Barry Feldman says:

    The Walrus was Paul

  • David Brady says:

    People who have studied that particular photo look at the Walrus’ build and height and seem to think that the Walrus was John.

  • Jake Forrest says:

    Open culture already is click bait.

  • Gates Perron says:

    I think it could be Lennon or Harrison did you know that both could play drums or base but never really paid attention to it they actually preferred playing guitar but the media puts McCartney as a multiple instrument player when in reality the three McCartney Lennon Harisson played pretty much any instrument

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