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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