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McCartney’s Masterpiece: Bass on the Beatles’ Something by Rob Collier

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McCartney’s Masterpiece: Bass on the Beatles’ Something by Rob Collier…  In last month’s article, I did an overview of Paul McCartney’s melodic bass lines, citing short examples from seven different songs. When making the list of songs to include in the article, “Something” was at the very top; however, I quickly decided I couldn’t just show excerpts from this song. It is one of the masterworks of rock bass lines, and it deserves to be presented in full.

Download “Something” for Bass

The bass line on “Something” is, in my opinion, the best that Paul ever recorded. It is one of the best bass lines ever recorded, by anyone. You just don’t hear bass lines like this very often. It is almost like a bass solo through the whole song, weaving in and out of chords. It is very active, but still manages to stay out of the way of the vocal melody (one of the nicest melodies in the Beatles catalog).

During the Abbey Road sessions, McCartney played his Rickenbacker 4001S along with a Fender Jazz Bass he had acquired during the sessions for The White Album the previous year. Several different recording engineers worked on Abbey Road, and they each favored a different method of recording the bass. Some songs on the album were recorded by placing a microphone in front of the bass cabinet, some were recorded with a DI, and some used a combination of the two. The bass on “Something” was recorded DI as an overdub, and is most likely the Jazz Bass. This recording also features a keyboard bass that occasionally doubles the electric bass in octaves or in unison.

The bass line is pretty busy during the verses. It has an orchestral quality to it—almost like a timpani part—very percussive and dramatic. In the verses, there are usually crescendos through the 16th notes on beat 2 of the C and C7 chords. Paul also plays a slight, but very natural, crescendo on the ascending line over the G chord (measures 7, 16, 34, and 43).

During the verses, McCartney isn’t sticking to a regular pattern or even a consistent rhythmic feel. He is mixing dotted quarters, quarters, eighths, and sixteenths. The sixteenths usually fall on beats 1 and 2; McCartney tends to leave a little more space on beats 3 and 4. Still, it’s not just a straight quarter note or eighth note groove—it is fairly irregular. But the other instruments are leaving plenty of space for the bass to be active. Ringo plays the sparsest backbeat imaginable with hardly any fills (a total of three fills through the first two verses!). In the first verse, there is a rhythm guitar strumming the chords and an organ that comes in midway through to play staccato chords on the Am. The strings enter at the end of the first verse, but just as sustaining chords. So in the first two verses, the only moving parts are the vocal melody and the bass. Thus, the bass functions as harmonic foundation, countermelody, and percussive drive.

As Ringo’s part becomes substantially more active during the bridge, McCartney falls into a straight eighth note pattern. It is his turn to be supportive, but he still plays an interesting descending line, moving down the A major scale, but with an E pedal at the top (see measures 21-22).

Harmonically, this song emphasizes descending voice leading. In the bridge, the bass line goes R-7-6-5-4 (with an E pedal throughout). The opening chord progression in the verse (measures 2-5) is a familiar one: I – I(maj7) – I(b7) – IV. The typical thing to do is to start on the root and descend chromatically: R-7-b7-6. This, however, is what the vocal melody is doing: C-B-Bb-A. So McCartney, rather than just having the bass mimic the vocal melody, implies a I-V-I-IV progression by playing C in measure 2, G in measure 3, C again in measure 4, and F in measure 5. Had he doubled the already prominent line, the song would have felt much more “square”; however, McCartney makes a nice choice that brings added dimension to the song.

At the end of the verse, the chord progression does the same motion but in the relative minor, A minor. This time it is twice as fast, each chord lasting two beats rather than four. So the progression is Am – Am(maj7) – Am7 – D9. McCartney applies the same concept in the minor progression as he did in the major progression. He begins on A, plays E (and then embellishes) on the first beat of the Am(maj7) chord, goes back to A on the Am7 (in the first two verses he lands on a G), and ends the progression on the root of the D9 chord.

In measure 3, Paul plays an upper neighbor tone figure (G-A-G on the “and” of beat 2) which becomes a recurring motive, appearing again in measures 5, 12, 30, and 39. It usually occurs over the Cmaj7 chord in the verses. Since the vocal melody is at rest and the bass line is the only moving part, it attracts the listener’s attention, and makes it an easily recognizable motive.

In measure 39, the motive appears for the last time. McCartney emphasizes its importance by playing it three times. The third repeat is slightly different rhythmically, being more of a grace note before an eighth (on the “and” of beat 3). But when we hear it, we still recognize it as the upper neighbor tone motive.

This motive may seem fairly insignificant, but it actually serves to support the overall harmonic structure. Let’s look at exactly how this figure functions in relation to the whole song. “Something” is in the key of C major. The bridge modulates to A major, but returns to C before the start of the guitar solo. So the entire song has a large scale C major (verse) – A major (bridge) – C major (verse) motion. But the verses also briefly move through an A tonality, this time A minor, and then return to C. So within those larger C major sections, there is a smaller C major – A minor – C major motion. This C-A-C progression is mirrored again, though not exactly, on a comparatively microscopic level with McCartney’s G-A-G neighbor tone motive. G is the fifth of a C chord, so it is the second strongest note in the chord. With the G-A-G motive, McCartney is essentially hinting at a motion from the I chord (C) to the VI (A) and back to the I (C). It is a short motive in the bass, but it slyly sets the stage for the key changes throughout the song.

Of less structural importance to the song, but interesting from the standpoint of bass line construction, Paul consistently includes an upper neighbor tone figure over the Am(maj7) in the verses (see measure 8). The descending sixteenth note run on beats 3 and 4 always starts with the notes E-F-E, or scale degrees 5-6-5 in the key of A minor. The G-A-G motive in the first part of the verses is scale degrees 5-6-5 in C major. As mentioned above, the progression Am – Am(maj7) – Am7 – D9 is the relative minor version of C – Cmaj7 – C7 – F which begins the verses. So McCartney’s 5-6-5 neighbor tone figure occurs in the same place in the minor progression as it does in the major progression: over the maj7 chord. The two versions of the neighbor tone motive, major and minor, are different rhythmically, so their similarity is not immediately apparent upon listening to the song. The connection between the two, however, is unquestionable. It is a subtle way of tying the whole bass line—and in a way, the whole song—together.

Now let’s be realistic. McCartney was certainly not thinking about this stuff in the detail I just described. He didn’t sit down and do a harmonic analysis of the song and decide how he wanted to support it. He didn’t map out which parts of the song he had space to play sixteenth note runs and in which parts he should lay back. But he did these things intuitively. The neighbor tone motive was not an accident, nor was it a coincidence each time it occurred. It was the product of a great bass player instinctively constructing a great bass line—arguably one of the best bass lines ever recorded.

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This Week’s Top 10 Basses on Instagram

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TOP 10 Basses of the week

Check out our top 10 favorite basses on Instagram this week…

Click to follow Bass Musician on Instagram @bassmusicianmag

FEATURED @zonguitars @shukerbassguitars @bite.guitars @adamovicbasses @mayonesguitars @bassbros.uk @capursoguitars @overwaterbasses @saitiasguitars @ramabass.ok

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New Gear: Elrick Bass Guitars Headless Series

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New Gear: Elrick Bass Guitars Headless Series

New from Elrick Bass Guitars, Headless Series added to Custom Lineup…

Elrick Bass Guitars is excited to announce the addition of a headless option on hand-carved series bass guitars. Initially previewed on the 2023 Gold Series SLC MkII bass of prolific solo bass practitioner and educator Steve Lawson, a headless bass option is now available to all. According the Elrick, “The excitement surrounding Steve’s MkII SLC bass at 2024 NAMM confirmed that the time is right to add a headless option to our extensive range of custom options.” To date, Elrick instruments have only been offered with traditional headstock construction but, in response to market demand, custom features will now include a headless option in 4-, 5- and 6-string models.

Headless bass guitars share these features with the traditional headstock series:

24 frets + zero fret
exotic wood top
hand-rubbed oil finish
2-way adjustable truss rod
custom Bartolini pickups
custom Bartolini 3-band preamp
fully shielded control cavity
Hipshot bridge
Dunlop Straploks
Elrick Fundamental strings

The headless option can now be selected when submitting custom order requests via the form on elrick.com, contacting the Elrick Sales Office directly, or working with your favorite Elrick dealer.

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Bruegel Masterpiece (1565) Inspires BITE Masterpiece (2023)

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Bruegel Masterpiece (1565) Inspires BITE Masterpiece (2023)

Bruegel Masterpiece (1565) Inspires BITE Masterpiece (2023)…

Flemish Master Pieter Bruegel the Elder probably had many things in mind when painting his Hunters in the Snow in oil on oak wood in 1565. This masterpiece tells plenty of little stories about winterly pastimes and precarious livelihoods in the Early Modern Age. What Bruegel presumably did not have in mind was that this painting would, several centuries later, become one of the most popular ones in fine arts globally, displayed in a permanent exhibition at Kunsthistorisches Museum (Museum of Fine Arts) Vienna. The painting’s popularity was lately taken to a different level as it was replicated by hand to design an exclusive BITE bass.

An international art collector and bass player who regularly visits Vienna to immerse himself in the wonderworld of Kunsthistorisches’ Bruegel Hall asked BITE to replicate the painting on a bass body. BITE Guitars, an Austrian premium manufacturer exporting most of their basses to the US, has become renowned for colorful artwork basses, offering a range of manual and digital techniques. The firm’s art director Peter, a trained scenic painter of Oscar and Palme d’Or rank, specializes in photo-realistic reproductions. He also painted the bass for Robbie Williams’ 2023 world tour by faithfully replicating Robbie’s own stage design onto the tour bass.

Peter copied the Bruegel motif onto the bass body in minute detail, little twigs even by one-hair-brush. Positioning the rectangular image section on the body shape proved to be a special challege that he met by repositioning little elements, a bird here, a horse and cart there.

It all came together in a memorable video shooting in front of the original painting in the Museum’s Bruegel Hall: venerable fine arts, premium handicraft and groovy jazz tunes.

View video at the museum: www.youtube.com/shorts/2evdqfR6gUE

What’s the conclusion of BITE’s client, our Vienna, art and bass lover? “It’s a magical bass! When I touch the strings, I feel warm inside.”

Specs highlights:
Bass model: BITE Evening Star, the proprietary BITE premium model with inward curved horns
Pickups: 2 x BITE 1000 millivolt passive split-coils (PP)
Neck: roasted maple neck and roasted flamed maple fretboard

Price tag incl. insured door-to-door express shipping:
New York: 4726 USD
London: 3645 GBP
Berlin: 4965 EUR

Full specs available at bite.guitars/old-master-bass/

Bruegel Hall at Kunsthistorisches Museum Vienna: 
khm.at/en/visit/collections/picture-gallery/the-best-of-bruegel-only-in-vienna/

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Bass Videos

Interview With Bassist Ciara Moser

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Interview With Bassist Ciara Moser

Bassist Ciara Moser…

Ciara and I sat down for this interview a few months after the launch of her debut album, “Blind. So what?”

Blind since birth, she is a powerhouse of talent; she is not only a professional bassist, but also composes music, and is a producer and educator. I am just blown away by her talent and perseverance.

Join me as we hear about Ciara’s musical journey, the details of her album, how she gets her sound, and her plans for the future.

Visit online:

www.ciara-moser.com 
IG @ moserciara
FB @ ciara.moser

Photos by Manuela Haeussler

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Gear News

New Gear: Black Ice Boost and Distort, Battery-Free Modules for Bass and Guitar

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New Gear: Black Ice Boost and Distort, Battery-Free Modules for Bass and Guitar

Black Ice Boost and Distort, Battery-Free Modules for Bass and Guitar…

Black Ice Enterprises introduces Black Ice Boost and Black Ice Distort, small, battery-free devices that can be easily installed in a bass or guitar.

Black Ice Boost offers two selectable stages of up to 7 dB of boost, broadly concentrated in the midrange frequencies to add humbucker-like qualities to Strat®, Tele® and other types of single-coil pickups. Black Ice Distort is an overdrive module that can be configured to offer anything from slight overdrive to distortion. Both models are compatible with all passive guitar pickups and electronics (they’re not compatible with battery-powered active pickups).

Black Ice Boost (SRP: $119.95; MAP, $79.95) can be installed using several wiring options, including a simple “stealth” install that utilizes a single push-pull pot, and a dual-switch option that allows users to select between two different levels of boost. For those using the boost along with Black Ice Distort, a second push-pull pot or switch can be used to select a clean or distorted boost.

The Black Ice Boost module is approximately 2/3 the size of a 9-volt battery, and can be easily installed in most instruments with no routing or permanent modifications required. The tone of the instrument remains completely unaffected when the boost is bypassed.

In addition to use with popular single-coil pickups, Black Ice Boost can also be used with other pickup types. Use it to fatten up a P-90 style pickup, or add girth to a low-wind humbucker. Jazz Bass® players can use the additional midrange content provided by Black Ice Boost to produce a sound that’s reminiscent of a P-Bass® or soapbar-type pickup. Black Ice Boost is not recommended for use with high-output humbuckers and other dark-sounding pickups.

Black Ice Distort (SRP: $27.95; MAP, $21.95) is an overdrive module that can be configured for just a touch of grit, or a more aggressive grind, all the way to a 1960’s-flavored fuzz. While its battery-free circuit will never replace the more refined sound of a well-designed pedal, it provides handy, there-when-you-need-it access to a variety of fun old-school flavors, and is a great way to add additional textures to an already overdriven amp or pedal. Bass players will especially dig its raw dirty grind.

Like Black Ice Boost, the sugar-cube-sized Black Ice Distort provides a lifetime of tone with no maintenance or power source required. A variety of wiring options are included that let you activate the Distort via a switch or push-pull pot, or by easily converting your guitar’s tone control into a control for the Black Ice Distort circuit. It can be used in conjunction with the Black Ice Boost for a wide variety of useful tones.

Black Ice Boost and Black Ice Distort are now shipping.

Visit online at www.blackiceoverdrive.com

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