5 Beatle Bass Lines NOT Played by Paul McCartney

Editor’s Note:  This post, from back in December, 2017, is our all-time most popular. With the return of Paul’s long-lost “violin” bass making news, it seemed a good time to re-visit this unusual twist on Beatle bass-dom.

In 1961, merely ten years after Leo Fender introduced the world’s first successfully manufactured bass guitar (the Fender Precision Bass), another seismic event occurred in bass guitar history when Stu Sutcliffe relinquished the bass chair in The Beatles to Paul McCartney. Macca’s unique musical artistry on the 4-string is well-documented; his bold, melodic lines on Beatles classics such as “Something,” “Paperback Writer” and “Hey Bulldog” helped establish the vocabulary of the bass guitar in pop music, and to this day Paul McCartney is widely regarded as one of the most influential bassists of the 20th century. But in keeping with The Beatles’ spirit of experimentation, it’s worth noting that there are a handful of tracks on which Macca handed off the low-end chores to his bandmates.

See Related Post: “The 10 Best Paul McCartney Songs You May Have Never Heard”

“Maxwell’s Silver Hammer” (George Harrison)
Paul’s bandmates might have been openly critical of this music hall-inspired tune (and the endless retakes he demanded while committing it to tape), but it’s George Harrison’s unique musicianship that elevates the track to Beatles-level greatness. In addition to his distinctive guitar leads, George lays down a bouncy bass line on a Fender Bass VI (an early 6-string bass guitar, tuned an octave below standard guitar tuning). It’s a bass line that is both ear-catchingly melodic and supportive, showing that George learned a thing or two from Macca.

“Helter Skelter” (John Lennon)
Pete Townshend bragged about The Who’s “I Can See For Miles” being the loudest, raunchiest single ever recorded. But he didn’t expect The Beatles to beat him at his own game, let alone invent heavy metal in the process! This incendiary track from The White Album is driven by a raw, sloppy, uncompromising bass performance by John Lennon positively attacking a Fender Jazz Bass nearly a decade before the advent of punk.

“She Said She Said” (George Harrison)
John Lennon’s psychedelic rock classic from Revolver recounts an LSD-fueled conversation with actor Peter Fonda. The song was recorded in roughly nine hours, during a speedy Lennon-directed session on which Paul wasn’t even present! Existing documentation points in the direction of George putting down the simple but effective bass line on a UK-manufactured Burns Nu-Sonic bass guitar.

“Two Of Us” (George Harrison)
This Everly Brothers-inspired ballad from Let It Be gets its unique character from a “bass line” that’s not played on a bass at all: George plays a strident, low-register counter melody on a Telecaster. The line is a perfect example of Harrison’s gift for developing parts that would become crucial hooks to the song. Played on a bass, this line would have been overbearing; moving it to the guitar was a genius move!

“Dig It” (John Lennon)
Though less than a minute of this song appeared on the Let It Be album, it evolved from a lengthy studio jam dominated by Lennon’s free-associating wordplay and enthusiastic Fender Bass VI strumming. Though the low-register chords would have sounded muddy in lesser hands, Lennon somehow makes it work and reminds us why he’s one of rock’s finest rhythm guitarists.

John Montagna

Photo by Harry Thompson/Evening Standard for Getty Images
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John Montagna is a bass guitarist, singer, songwriter (but not a “singer-songwriter”) and Brooklyn Native. He has toured the world and elsewhere with Alan Parsons, Todd Rundgren, The Turtles (featuring Flo & Eddie) and many other legendary hit makers, and he created the theme music for the top-rated comedy podcast “WTF With Marc Maron.” John prefers to view his all-consuming obsession with The Beatles as an asset, rather than a liability.

92 comments on “5 Beatle Bass Lines NOT Played by Paul McCartney

  1. Ron Oliveri

    Hi John, I was thinking of Old Brown Shoe…I was shocked that wasn’t Paul one the best Beatle bass riff ever 🙂

    • There is some disagreement as to whether Paul or George played bass on that song.

      • Mark Lewisohn’s authoritative book “The Complete Beatles Recording Sessions,” taken from the original studio log entries, says Paul played bass on “Old Brown Shoe,” with George on lead guitar doubling the bass line (which had been overdubbed after Paul played piano on the basic track).

        • Chuck Simms

          George claimed to have played it. It’s a very guitar player line, and the fact that it’s doubled on guitar leads me to believe George played it. Paul is playing piano on the track.

        • Jack Baker

          ‘Old Brown Shoe’ is a very underrated song
          Great song

  2. You can also add “Golden Slumbers” and “Carry That Weight”, both played by George while Paul handled the piano.

  3. Think For Yourself… I believe the fuzz bass was played by George on that one as well?

    • Mark Arnquist

      Paul was credited on the jacket playing Fuzz Bass on Think For Yourself .

    • I don’t believe so. George himself once commented that Paul’s fuzz bass really added a lot to his song.

      • Mark Chergosky

        “Think for Yourself” has both a fuzz bass (or guitar) along with regular bass.

    • on the USA LP it credits Paul on Fuzz Bass

    • I’m a lefty, have a Hofner, Vox amp, and fuzz pedal, and can confirm the sound is totally the same. Paul’s playing a hofner with fuzz

  4. Old Brown Shoe is also a great work from George. Golden Slumbers/CTW is also George’s bass lines.

  5. My favorite Beatle baseline of all is the bass on the song “I will.” If you think you know it ..listen to it again and try to figure out what kind of bass that is! It will blow your mind.

  6. Tracy Blair

    George also played bass on Honey Pie.

  7. Will Kaldy

    John played bass on Let It Be.

  8. The only one worth a mention is Heller Skelter…

    • Philly Frank

      according to Geoff Emerick, Paul, John, & George all recorded bass parts for Helter Skelter

      • Angelina Marie

        The one that’s on the recording seems to be John. You can find it isolated on Youtube. It SURE isn’t Paul. It’s on the Bass VI. I think it’s John because of how . . . . loose the rhythm is. And insanely aggressive the playing is.

  9. Perhaps, well yes, Pete Townsend exaggerated how raunchy I Can See For Miles was… My Generation and others show an aggression the Beatles didn’t have yet as with The early Kinks rockers. Compared with those Helter Skelter is similar… I say that as someone who loves The Beatles and Helter Skelter. I think the Mono Mix is more aggressive than the stereo mix and I prefer to value the song more than the back story. To me EGSTHEFMAMM is also a heavy song… The Single version of Revolution features guitars which are more distorted. To me, it’s more about the Dj__dj_dj_dj droning that’s more “Heavy” than the volume or any overdriven amps or anything played “in the red”… and I love the roller coaster aspect of the melody… The development of Heavy Metal was more of a process and I also here progressive rock as being an influence, even when it wasn’t so Heavy… but like how Genesis and others played bass… ELP… King Crimson… and of course the obvious ones like Led Zep, etc…

    • The Kinks, yes, not “Helter Skelter”.

    • John M’s claim that the Beatles invented Heavy Metal with “Helter Skelter” is just plain ridiculous. I’ve heard that claim often, but not once by someone who strikes me as being qualified to talk about heavy metal…only by over-zealous Beatles fans.

      I sometimes hear Blue Cheer cited as the first Heavy Metal band. Whether or not that’s accurate, one thing is for certain…they were already two albums in before “Helter Skelter,” and their music is a closer match to what’s generally considered Heavy Metal than “Helter Skelter.”

      If “Helter Skelter” is Metal, I can easily name a dozen records or more that preceded it that you would have to call Metal as well.

      • If it helps I’ve interviewed both Lemmy and Ozzy specifically about the Bestles influence on them and thry were very clear – no Beatles, no them. He wouldn’t let me record it but Lemmy picked up my acoustic and sang If I Fell (quite sweetly) saying Paul is the best melody writer ever. He also said seeing them in the Cavern was the turning point in his life.

        • Musicians from all kinds of music genres say similar things. Not just metal but also New Wave, techno, glam, etc.

      • I think Deep Purple started heavy metal

        • Edmund Villnave

          No that was Iron Butterfly – with a 17 yr old guitarist Erik Brann –
          Everyone from VH to Genesis robbed them – take a listen

        • Some folk say the label comes from the line “Heavy Metal Thunder”, from Steppenwolf’s Born To Be Wild.

    • Edmund Villnave

      Iron Butterfly WAS heavy metal !!! End of story

      Long b4 Purple & Sabbath – 1000 bands robbed them

  10. “Macca”? Ok, Monta. SMH

  11. Paul Avrutin

    John, I believe, also played bass on “Long & Winding Road”. He seems to have a signature tell of sliding up certain notes at the end of phrases on that tune, and on the ends of a couple of tunes

  12. Yes, John plays bass on Long & Winding Road. I believe he also plays bass on Rocky Raccoon.

    Paul wasn’t present during the entire session for “She said, she said” because the Fabs got into an argument and Paul stormed out.

  13. acoustic567

    I had thought that George also played bass on Back in the USSR on a Bass VI while Paul played the guitar solo.

  14. I think Back in the USSR has 2 bass parts. One played by John the other, more promonent, by George b

  15. Good stuff

  16. Surprised no one mentioned Hey Jude.

  17. Didn’t McCartney play a Rickenbaker?

  18. mark DePierro

    Hi john, im a big fan of yours (wonderous stories gigs at Westbury) the bass line and low volume in the mix of Harrisons “if I needed someone” does not sound like Macca’s playing. I thinks its harrison on bass. Ive read up on it in Marc Lewisjohns Complete beatles recording sessions but have not come up with any thing. What do you think??

  19. Mark Chergosky

    Isn’t the bass part for “Think for Yourself” a double-tracked bass part? I can hear a “normal” bass under the fuzz one. I’m also thinking that the fuzz part was played on a six-string guitar, not a bass,

  20. LP Adler

    I read somewhere that George played the ever-prominent bass line on “Drive My Car.” Also, Lennon was quoted in Rolling Stone that “Ticket to Ride” was the first-ever heavy-metal record. I thought the claim was hogwash. “You Really Got Me” was probably the first.

    • Lennon was definitely, not maybe, the greatest rhythm guitar player ever. Severak of his rhythm tracks are doubled on Piano, with the voicing of Piano exactly the same as the guitar chord, giving an extra punch to the chord that guitarist were never able to figure out why they couldn’t replicate

      • Cousin Dupree

        All my loving…try playing that all the way thru in triplets…John was simply naturally gifted and a genius.

    • The Kinks started punk rock not heavy metal although they overlap

    • Mark D Chergosky

      I doubt that George played the bass line. The song sounds to me like it was primarily written by Paul; the bass part is an essential part of the song.

      • Tom Payne

        Pretty well agreed that Paul played bass line on DMC (taken directly from Otis Redding’s “Respect”) and George doubled it on guitar. That accounts for George’s somewhat confusing assertion that he “played the bass [line?] on DMC.”

  21. Ozzy Osbourne told Howard Stern on the Howard Stern Show that Helter Skelter changed his life and that’s why he got into music. He also blubbered like a little girl when he met Paul on the Howard Stern Show. So I disagree with what was said earlier about the no Beatles comment. Love your Insight.

    • Michael Lynch

      The term “Heavy Metal” as a music style was already in parlance before “Helter Skelter” was taped.

      • Cite for this? I don’t believe the phrase was heard anywhere in rock (as a style or a lyric) before “Born to Be Wild.”

    • K. Roehr

      I think the ‘no Beatles’ comment was meant as, “If there were no Beatles, there’d been no us”.

  22. Jerry Cohen

    Not sure about Old Brown Shoe. Might be Paul. John’s original live Long and Winding Road bass can be heard on various bootlegs. It’s not technically good, but has a certain charm. I find it hard to believe Paul played bass on Oh! Darling. The isolated part is out of tune. Awful.

  23. Brent Flynn

    Regarding “Oh Darling”… I’d say it was Paul… his low E string was a tad flat, on that recording, as it was on many of the early recordings… Listen closely… you’ll hear it … except when he switched to the Rick, and maybe when one of the other two played bass on some of the tracks…
    go back to the ‘63-‘64 stuff(Hofner)…

  24. ,,Come together,, has one profound bass line,too

  25. Also Paul would by design, have to shift the bass duties, when he was on piano. I think that George and John, took over bass duties on sings like “Hey Jude” and “Let it Be”.

    • Ever hear of tracking? Paul didn’t have to hand off the bass every time he went to the piano. He just cut the bass line on a different channel. Sometimes, he did give it to one of the others, but not always.

      • Mark D Chergosky

        It’s my understanding that McCartney preferred to record bass tracks after the other tracks were recorded.

        • Sadhak Hearst

          Definitely….Geoff Emmerick has a lot to say about that, in his book “Here There and Everywhere”.

  26. Interim Court Jester

    I have made a life study of ‘ghost’ players on Beatle records and I always find discussions like this to be uncomfortable at best. Fervent Beatle fans, in most cases, don’t want to hear about or acknowledge outsider contributions to the Fab 4 sonic tapestry, as though such considerations are an unnecessary distraction. Adroit observers are keen to notice even the least obvious evidence of interloper activity, and it is summarily dismissed by many as heresy or pure poppycock. What I find most interesting is that some of my favorite examples of ‘invited guests’ are hardly ever mentioned.

    • Perhaps because they don’t exist?

      If you truly believe the poppycock you’ve written above (and that’s what it is), how about giving us some of your “favorited examples” — specific ones, supported by hard evidence? That would go a lot further than your smug, wordy BS.

  27. Kenton Adler


  28. Bruno Eldorado

    I like the bass on “Fixing a Hole”.

    • Mark D Chergosky

      A great bass part that he probably came up with after the other tracks were recorded.

  29. Joe Pisano

    Was John really playing a bass on Dig It? Looks like a guitar to me in the Let It Be movie…

  30. Mark D Chergosky

    Perhaps a Fender six-string bass?

  31. Roger Fernando

    Paul actually did play bass on She Said She Said. There are 4 instruments on the original take- drums, bass and 2 guitars. George couldn’t play 2 instruments at once and we know Paul did not play guitar on that song. His memory of leaving the session after a “barney” with the fellows must’ve been after he laid the bass line down.

    • Mark D Chergosky

      Sounds to me like McCartney bass lines. There’s apparently some evidence he wasn’t present during the recording, though.

      • Roger Fernando

        Mark D Chergosky- The evidence shows that he WAS there during the recurring. The evidence is his bass being played on the basic track of the song.

  32. Interesting read this but nobody has mentioned Birthday? I believe that was played by George (possibly John) whilst Macca is on guitar

  33. oscarspapaluca

    Mr. Montagna: I bought te book “The Lyrics” by Paul McCartney, and I found errors on it. He did not wrote 154 songs, he wrote 152 plus 47 more. Thank You! (If you wanna know more about it, please answer me. It is an objective comment). Oscar Papaluca (opapaluca@gmail.com)

  34. George also played bass on Rock and Roll Music. You can tell because it’s a very basic bass line and Paul would’ve “pauled” it up a bit.
    Paul was playing piano at the time. As per, Geoff Emerick.

  35. oscarspapaluca

    Mr. Montagna: According to Ian MacDonald book “Revolution in the Head”, Paul play the bass on Helter Skelter and She said, she said. And Paul did not played the bass on 23 more songs. THank you! (Oscar Papaluca)

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