Hear The Beatles’ Abbey Road with Only Paul McCartney’s Bass: You Won’t Believe How Good It Sounds

In addi­tion to play­ing the beat­ing human heart on the Bea­t­les’ glo­ri­ous swan song Abbey Road, Paul McCartney’s bass pro­vides melod­ic accom­pa­ni­ment, har­mo­ny, coun­ter­point, empha­sis… and some­times it just sings a lit­tle tune up and down the neck, the sort of thing a bass play­er can turn into need­less show­boat­ing in rock and roll.

That’s not at all the case on “Some­thing,” where McCart­ney runs, slides, and bounces through the gui­tar solo, a moment when a sup­port play­er might con­serve his musi­cal ener­gy.… McCart­ney total­ly goes for it, as he does on every song, Fend­er amps pushed into over­drive through Abbey Road Studio’s famous com­pres­sors.

Go on… put your LP on the Hi-Fi and lis­ten to the way he swings on “Oh! Dar­ling,” how he anchors “Maxwell’s Sil­ver Ham­mer” so heav­i­ly he almost makes Ringo’s bass drum redun­dant (but it isn’t), how he bounces through Ringo’s “Octopus’s Gar­den” with an exag­ger­at­ed music hall lilt, then, in the bridge, oblique­ly turns the song into an almost fuzzed-out rock­er.

Do I even need to men­tion “Come Togeth­er”.…? Do we need to talk about Side 2?

“Ngl,” writes Red­dit com­menter karensellscoke on the site’s “Loud­est and Most In-Tune Com­mu­ni­ty of Bassists,” r/Bass. “I’ve been sleep­ing on Paul for a bit and call­ing him over­rat­ed and a ‘dad’ bassist but I think this may have changed my tune.”

By this, our com­menter refers not to Abbey Road prop­er, but to the iso­lat­ed bass tracks of the entire album, just above (with plen­ty of micro­phone bleed from the rest of the band). I don’t know what a dad bassist is, but I agree with the sen­ti­ment, “These are some well craft­ed basslines exe­cut­ed with per­son­al­i­ty.”

Paul plays with a feel­ing rarely heard on mod­ern record­ings. Much is due to his gui­tar-like play­ing style. Much is due to the absolute­ly dis­tinc­tive tone he achieved on the instru­ment. And much is due to the tech­ni­cal lim­i­ta­tions of record­ing at the time.

“The lim­i­ta­tions of Bea­t­les-era tech­nol­o­gy were sub­stan­tial,” writes Justin Lan­cy at The Atlantic, “and they forced a com­mit­ment to cre­ative choic­es at ear­li­er stages of the record­ing process.” No infi­nite num­ber of takes as in our dig­i­tal audio work­sta­tion times. Para­dox­i­cal­ly, in the right hands, at least — most espe­cial­ly those of the white lab coat-clad tech­ni­cians at Abbey Road — low­er tech made for bet­ter record­ings.

When you lis­ten to record­ings from a gen­er­a­tion or two ago… you often hear all sorts of rough edges: large dynam­ic tran­si­tions between loud and qui­et, the sounds of over­sat­u­rat­ed tape and tubes, instru­ments bleed­ing togeth­er. Chun­ked notes. Vocals that are out of pitch. Drums that drift in and out of time. Mis­takes. Lots of mis­takes.

Do you hear McCart­ney’s mis­takes? Sure­ly he did. “It was because artists were stuck with the mis­takes they made that they some­times decid­ed to embrace them.” This explains why anoth­er r/Bass com­menter found the iso­lat­ed bass tracks “inspir­ing­ly slop­py.… There’s a great rough­ness that’s absent today.” Musical_bear describes being “blown away” on “Oh! Dar­ling” by “how slop­py the iso­lat­ed bass is.… Things I’ve nev­er noticed before, like a ran­dom pow­er chord start­ing verse 2 I think, and even some botched/missing notes com­plete­ly… but it all some­how sits great in the final mix.” (Read leg­endary record­ing engi­neer Geoff Emer­ick­’s track by track analy­sis of how he helped make all that hap­pen here.)

We feel every note of McCart­ney’s play­ing, instead of just admir­ing its pre­ci­sion or what­ev­er. “I lis­tened to this entire thing in one sit­ting, just his bass,” writes a con­vert­ed karensellscoke (recall­ing the adage that there are Bea­t­les fans and there are peo­ple who just haven’t heard enough Bea­t­les), “and loved it.”

Relat­ed Con­tent:

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

Watch Pre­cious­ly Rare Footage of Paul McCart­ney Record­ing “Black­bird” at Abbey Road Stu­dios (1968)

How “Straw­ber­ry Fields For­ev­er” Con­tains “the Cra­zi­est Edit” in Bea­t­les His­to­ry

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

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Comments (13)
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  • David Robertson says:

    Although, at least one track isn’t McCart­ney. George played bass on Maxwell’s Sil­ver Ham­mer, and there’s some debate as to who’s play­ing on Oh Dar­lin’.

  • John Hogan says:

    Got abbey Rd back wen nu & favourite album.appreciate the info added 2day.

  • Paul says:

    These iso­lat­ed tracks that are pop­ping up like mush­rooms these days are a dis­ser­vice to the musi­cians. Stu­dio time costs and tech­no­log­i­cal lim­its etc. were huge hur­dles that no longer exist. In my view, a fresh per­for­mance cap­tured in one or two takes, warts and all, trumps a tech­ni­cal­ly per­fect, ster­ile, rote, click-track dri­ven, over­ly pol­ished, life­less, robot­ic one. Music is about heart and soul, not per­fec­tion.

  • MCFC#21 says:

    I could­n’t agree with you more!

  • Jerome Walsh says:

    Today it’s seemed that with George and John long gone that the dis­cus­sion focus­es on Paul and all his con­tri­bu­tions. Yes it is true that he was a great bass play­er ‚not because of his tech­ni­cal abil­i­ties but because of his orig­i­nal­i­ty in his choice of bass notes and place­ment of those notes/ bass arrange­ments . I play bass and when peo­ple asked how I learned to play I always say I had a great teacher,Paul MCCARTNEY. But rock­n­roll friends let’s not for­get the oft for­got­ten mem­ber that com­plet­ed the bea­t­le team yours tru­ly Jwalsh

  • Jeff says:

    George played bass on Maxwell, Oh! Dar­ling, and Gold­en Slumbers/ Car­ry That Weight

  • George Meyer says:

    Back in the day, as they say, some­one turned me on to an odd seem­ing way to lis­ten to Bea­t­le songs. There were only LPs then and we would play them at 45 rather than 33. McCart­ney’s bass took cen­ter stage as we dis­cov­ered hid­den melodies “behind” all the oth­er instru­ments. First there was “Michele”, and I was trans­fixed. But “Rocky Racoon” and so on were like new songs. I wish I could do the same with CDs.

  • Rick Kartis says:

    Sir Paul
    Paul McCart­ney
    James Paul McCart­ney
    No mat­ter the name, it’s still “Pauli.”

    His bass play­ing is such that it is a solo instru­ment, not unlike the gui­tar, drums, piano. Paul plays the bass in that style: an instru­ment that makes up a band, like many in the ’60s out of the UK.

    There is no fan­cy wild­ness. There are a few moments where his cre­ativ­i­ty doth shine. But for the most part, his bass sim­ply fol­lows the song, the groove, the path which an instru­ment should. This is why when I hear this, Paul is no great bass player…BUT he is a fan­tas­tic Bea­T­les’ bassist, and THAT’S what counts!!

  • Engel says:

    Amaz­ing bass work of Mac­ca! It is sim­ply awe­some!
    George also played bass on Gold­en Slum­bers

  • Randy says:

    The Bea­t­les are still the best. Love ❤️ al you need.

  • Lorraine Tauson says:

    Wonderful.I enjoyed Paul’s bass very much. Thank you for post­ing this.

  • David Pannell says:

    Yes, that’s cor­rect. There are actu­al­ly some real­ly nice bass lines on those tracks. And they are very com­pe­tent­ly played by George.

  • David Pannell says:

    I’m refer­ring there to Jef­f’s com­ment that “George played bass on Maxwell, Oh! Dar­ling, and Gold­en Slumbers/ Car­ry That Weight”.

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