Paul McCartney is famous for his expansive melodies, and John Lennon for his limited-range melodies. In no single song is this more apparent than in "Come Together", off Abbey Road, in which Lennon's melody during the verses consist of just four notes spanning a perfect fourth (c to f), while McCartney's sweeping bassline consists of eight notes covering a minor fourteenth (g to f). The bassline is in fact more melodic than melody!
Paul McCartney has cited The Beach Boys' bass lines as an influence in his own bass playing. They freed him up to play more melodic patterns. "[I]t was good not always to have to play the root notes" he said in the Beatles' Anthology (p. 80).
Though in different keys, "Good Vibrations" (in E-flat) and "I'll Be Back" (in A) feature the same chord progression: i - bVII - bVI - V. They therefore serve as the perfect comparison, showing what Paul played and what the Beach Boys played given the exact same chord progression.
In "I'll Be Back", Paul plays the root (scale degree 1) of each chord almost exclusively (occasionally he'll play the fifth instead). The Beach Boys play a more melodic pattern using scale degrees 1, 2, 3, and 5. McCartney also plays in very bottom of the bass's range, whereas the Beach Boys played in the upper register, giving it a very different timbre.
Now here are a few MIDI excerpts, both transposed to the same key (C), for side-by-side comparison: first is the opening phrase of "Good Vibrations"; next the opening phrase of "I'll Be Back". And since the tunes use identical chord progressions, we can substitute one bass line for the other to further compare them: here is "Good Vibrations" with Paul's bass line from "I'll Be Back"; and here is "I'll Be Back" with the Beach Boys' bass line from "Good Vibrations". By comparing these 4 excerpts side by side, we can easily hear how much more melodic and sophisticated the Beach Boys' bass line is than the Beatles'. Paul, of course, could hear it, too - and he responded by making his own bass playing more melodic.
Paul McCartney's inventive and melodic playing elevated the lowly bass to iconic levels, but some of his basslines are inspired/borrowed/stolen from others' work.
The bassline in "Drive My Car" is taken from Otis Redding's "Respect". The chord progressions are different, but the melodic patternand rhythm within each measure are the same.
The bassline in "I Saw Her Standing There" is taken from Chuck Berry's "I'm Talking About You", which the Beatles covered during their long Hamburg stints. Here is a live recording from 1962 of the Beatles performing "I'm Talking About You" at the Top Ten Club in Hamburg - with Paul playing the exact same bassline he would borrow two years later.
I have often been harshly critical of such blatant theft (I have often called John Williams a "musical kleptomaniac"), but I've been much more understanding of "borrowing" in the past few years as I've realized that all composers take what others have done and add to it/edit it to "make it their own". As Igor Stravinsky famously said, "Good composers borrow, great composers steal."
This blog is a workshop for developing my analyses of The Beatles' music.