Michelle - The Beatles
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"Michelle" - The Beatles (1965)
Both Lennon and McCartney claimed the origins of “Michelle” was from the group’s earlier days they would go to social events and pretend to be French. It was not based on any particular woman and the name was chosen because it sounded good.
“We pinched a little bit from somewhere and stuck it in the middle-eight, and off we went…… My contribution was to add a little bluesy edge. Otherwise, Michelle is a straight ballad. He provided a lightness, an optimism while I would always go for sadness, the discords, the bluesy notes.”
McCartney said instrumentally, he was inspired by the finger picking style of country legend Chet Atkins who was also a major influence on George Harrison as well. McCartney was proud to have introduce the new chord of F7 #9 that he had been taught by Jim Gretty, the regular musical demonstrator at Frank Hessy’s Musical Stone in Liverpool.
“I remember George and I were in the shop when Gretty played it. We said ‘wow! What was that man?’ We immediately learned that and for a while it was the only jazz chord we knew.”
“Michelle” sounds as if McCartney was self-consciously writing another standard instead of letting the song inspire its own setting. His lead vocal was single-tracked which worked perfectly with the intimate nature of the words of the song. The arrangement of the acoustic and electric guitars are done in a very clever way that resembled the sound of a pop-music studio band.
McCartney introduces for the very first time a style of playing his bass that created a choppy, bouncy melodic counterpoint to the track. The bass counters the guitar in a very even, flowing manner which results in subtly keeping the music interesting but yet remaining far enough in the background so that it doesn’t interfere with the vocals.
“Michelle” was also the very first time the Beatles presented a preamp distortion in George’s overdubbed electric Casino guitar.
Musicologist Alan Pollack commented that the track was a tender, plaintive ballad that is part Art Song and part neo-schmaltzy fox-trot.
“The theme, is supported virtually throughout by the harmonized cooing of George and John, a technique which blends with the backing track to the point of absorption by it, and which is yet another cliché trademark of the underlying pop style being chased here. The trick of dropping out the backing voices to suddenly expose Paul, as at the beginning and end of the bridge, is, on the other hand, pure Beatles.”
Beatle scholar Ken Womack remarked that while McCartney’s lyrics concentrate on providing the object of the speaker’s affections with romantic “words that go together well,” the track’s contemplative bass lines paints a gloomy future for the couple:
“In so doing, Paul exposes one of nostalgia’s fundamental and most seductive mythologies about engendering hope and renewal. The speaker is engaged in the act of glancing backward at a relationship that he’s never even had—and, most likely, never will experience in the first place. The speaker has fallen victim, like so many of us, to nostalgia’s cruelest trick.”
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