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#askNat – concerning John Lennon or George Harrison in the role of Beatles bassist

Another Thursday has arrived and it’s time for a new installment of #askNat where I give my best answer to a Beatles-related question sent to me by one of you. This week’s question comes from James Dryden from Los Angeles, CA. James says this:

Hello,

I am a faithful reader of your website. Love the informative posts. I have a good one you could talk about, if you haven’t already. How about all the official Beatle releases in which John Lennon plays bass? Is there any insight or thoughts on that bass playing from the Beatles themselves or the inner circle? My understanding is that he plays bass on “Helter Skelter” and a few others, such as the notoriously not-so-great bass on “The Long and Winding Road.” How about George Harrison on bass? Thanks!

Good question James and thank you. Paul McCartney is the primary Beatle-bassman but George and John did have a few that they played bass on too. Some of you may remember a similar question answered back on July 25th, 2012 about lead guitar rolls by John and Paul McCartney vs. George who is the customary one to handle that duty (see that post here).

 

The Beatles, 1964

The Beatles, 1964

 

John plays bass on “Rocky Raccoon” (a bass duet with Paul), “Helter Skelter” (six string bass), “Back In The USSR” (six string bass w/Paul & George), “Let It Be” (six string bass) and “The Long And Winding Road.”

George has a few more bass credits under his belt to include “Honey Pie” (six string bass), “Golden Slumbers,” “Carry That Weight,” “Drive My Car,” “Birthday,” “Old Brown Shoe,” “Rock And Roll Music” (according to sound engineer Geoff Emerick, but other references have this credited to Paul). Many think George is playing bass on “Hey Jude” as he is seen on bass in the David Frost (Frost On Sunday) program playing a six-string Fender bass, but Paul plays bass on the record. Some sources have George playing bass on “She Said She Said” since Paul walked out of the session (see BROW entry here) but Paul’s bass was possibly recorded before his departure. However, when the vocals for the song were added, he was not present – leaving only John and George to take care of that.

As far as how well they did, I personally am of the opinion that everything came out fine, but realize that this is treading on subjective ground. I do not have any information handy on what was thought or said of their playing by others close to or in the band.

Thanks for a good question James. If anyone reading sees any that I’ve missed or have something to add, feel free to speak up in the comments section below.


Thank you to everyone who has sent in their questions! Keep #askNat going by sending your questions to me in any of the following ways:

1) There is a contact form that you fill out right on the website where you can give your name, location, email address and submit your question. The form is right here and is the same form used to submit requests for BROWs (Beatles Rarity Of The Weeks).

2) If you are a Facebook user, you can submit your question right on TheBeatlesRarity FB page at www.facebook.com/beatlesrarity. If you think about it, try to remember to flag your question with “#askNat”.

3) Similarly, if you are a Google+ user, you can submit your question on TheBeatlesRarity Google+ page at www.gplus.to/beatlesrarity. Google+ supports hashtag searchability so it will be helpful if you preface your question with “#askNat” here too.

4) For you Twitter users, www.twitter.com/beatlesrarity gets you to the right place. Post your question and be sure to add “#askNat” somewhere in the tweet.


Here are some Amazon links to read more on, or purchase music related to this post:

1) The White Album 2-CD 2009 remaster of original stereo 1968 double LP including many of the tracks mentioned above (“Helter Skelter,” “Birthday,” “Honey Pie,” etc.)

2) Abbey Road (Remastered) 2009 remaster of original 1969 LP including tracks mentioned above (“Carry That Weight,” “Golden Slumbers,” etc.)

3) Let It Be 2009 remaster of original 1970 LP including tracks mentioned above (“Let It Be,” “The Long And Winding Road,” etc.)

4) Beatles/Beatles-related Music: The Beatles, John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison and Ringo Starr.

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21 Comments

  • Mick Gaworecki says:

    I read somewhere that George not only played bass, but all the other instruments except drums on Old Brown Shoe. Can you verify? There’s is some conflict that Paul may be on the recording too, but it’s either piano or organ. This would make the A side of the single for John and Paul, and the B side, George and Ringo.

    • Happy Nat says:

      Good addition Mick! Paul played piano on the track and Ringo played drums. John had a rhythm guitar track on it but that was erased from the final mix. Both John and Paul had backing vocals. The rest is all George. I’ll add “Old Brown Shoe” to the list above.

  • clif pennington says:

    Geoff Emerick wrote in his book, “Here, There, and Everywhere”, that John also played bass on ,”Fixing a Hole”, and went on to note that explains the “thinner” bass sound produced by the Fender he was playing, as opposed to Paul’s Ric. Having never heard a Fender, P or J Bass called “thin”, one might assume John used the 6 string Fender bass. Personally, I think it’s a quite cool bass part. Emerick’s book is fascinating reading but one does pick up a strong bias toward Paul as the dominant Beatle in musical ability, working hard, and enthusiasm. Most Beatle fans agree the mixture of four was essential to the Beatle’s product. The chemistry, alchemy, whatever you want to call it, was definitely greater than the four individual talents. In fact, as individuals, I would be tempted to put George as the best post Beatle although John still had years of music in him that will never be heard on this plane.

    • Happy Nat says:

      Thanks Cliff! I double checked a few other sources on this that are crediting Paul with the bass and John with the rhythm guitar. Mark Lewisohn even points out that George Martin was at this point no longer an employee of EMI and free to travel with The Beatles wherever they recorded. “Fixing A Hole” was recorded at Regent Sound Studio instead of EMI’s Abbey Road. Since Geoff Emerick was an EMI employee, he was not even there on February 9th, 1967 when the recording of “Fixing A Hole” took place.

    • clif pennington says:

      Mea culpa, Nat. Emerick was indeed barred from Regents Studio by being an EMI employee and Martin was free. Interestingly, Geoff sounds a bit bitter – and Martin, too – about Paul wanting to record without giving him warning (we all know about the “She Leaving Home” debacle with Martin over the orchestration). Here’s a nice article about the song
      http://www.beatlesebooks.com/fixing-a-hole

  • john says:

    Really interesting post with some surprises that I wasn’t aware of. I enjoy your columns, being such a huge fan.

    The next logical post will now be: On which Beatles songs did the others play drums rather than Ringo?

    Also, how about a post about Paul’s brother Mike McGear and his recording history. Some great material there.

  • Old Brown Shoe was somewhat easy to spot/hear after Anthology 3. In the liner notes, it indicates that “Old Brown Shoe” was a demo, and if you hear the guitar part (by George, as he was the only one in that day recording), it’s basically identical to what the bass part later was. There’s no way Paul would have played 100% exactly what George had demoed :)

  • Lisa says:

    it’s been said that George played bass on “Taxman” while Paul played lead guitar. There’s a book on this, right? What’s the name of that book?

    • Happy Nat says:

      @Lisa – Paul played bass and the lead guitar solo on Taxman (which is repeated during the fade-out). George played other lead guitar parts. John didn’t play but contributes backing vocals and Ringo of course, is on drums, but also plays tambourine and a cowbell. The book you are likely thinking of is Revolution in the Head: The Beatles’ Records and the Sixties by Ian McDonald or maybe The Beatles as Musicians by Walter Everett.

  • Mike Ray says:

    I guess I am quite surprised to read that George handles the bass on “Old Brown Shoe”. I’ve always loved the bubbly bass lines in the chorus nad naturally assumed it to be Paul’s work. Plus Paul’s shouts of “Hey!” seemed to make that a logical assumption to his basic role and that he had tracked a piano role later. So count me as “enlightened” today!

  • Carlos Kubli says:

    I seem to recall that Paul re-recorded bass of “Let it Be” in one of the different versions (single or LP) published of this song, because he wasn’t satisfied with what John had performed. But I can’t remember the source of this information. Could you enlighten me about it?

  • debjorgo says:

    Didn’t George play bass on Two of Us?

  • debjorgo says:

    Or, I guess I should say he played the bass part on a six string guitar. I guess the bass viola was being used that day.

    • KeyMaestro says:

      George did play the “bass” line on his tele! (Funny to see Paul’s Höfner and Rickenbacker sitting next to George – though he couldn’t play them right-handed) does that count?

      I’m not sure why they didn’t use the Jazz. ”… even though the [Fender] Jazz was present at the sessions, Lennon and Harrison still favoured the Fender VI.” (A. Babiuk,,Beatles Gear)

      Another great post, Nat!

  • Frank says:

    Lennon played bass on Oh! Darling. The Rock Band stems allow to hear his far from perfect playing (look for the isolated bass track on Youtube). This is supported by the book Recording The Beatles.

    • Happy Nat says:

      @Frank – I tend to agree with the Ian McDonald book Revolution In The Head which credits John only with backing vocals and piano only for “Oh! Darling” and Paul playing bass. The backing vocals were recorded on August 11th, 1969 and were John’s last contribution to a Beatles record according to That Magic Feeling by John C. Winn.

      • Frank says:

        McDonald is guessing… most of the time he is right but not always. Listen to the isolated piano track and you’ll hear leakage of Paul’s guide voice (because he is the piano player). As for the bass, it’s not an overdub and has a lot of timing issues, it simply could not be Paul. I believe in what ‘Recording The Beatles’ says, it’s an amazingly well documented book.

        • Happy Nat says:

          Glad that you like the book. It’s too bad that it’s out of print and quite pricey for a used one. Poor Ian is probably turning over in his grave from your insult though – and then mis-spelling his name on top of it. I looked at a few other sources too which do not document John playing bass either, but you still may be right. I think we’re done here for now though.

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