05. “Dear Prudence”
One of The Beatles’ more beautiful, wistful songs, originating with Lennon’s sunny lyrics and hypnotic guitar playing, “Dear Prudence”’s real engine is McCartney’s leaping bass line, which recounts the playfulness of the song but is simultaneously part of the trance the song creates. It’s the perfect complement to Lennon’s finger-picking, which, like the piano on “Hey Bulldog”, provides more than enough on the low end to allow for McCartney to craft a hybrid of rhythm and counter-melody. And as with many McCartney bass lines, the bass line on “Dear Prudence” stands out because it’s mobile in an otherwise sedentary sonic environment.
Speaking of mobile bass lines, McCartney’s contributions to “Something” are the most underrated aspect of the song. As with “Dear Prudence”, the verses of “Something” offer very little in the way of dynamic background for George Harrison’s vocal melody. The guitar and drums sit back, almost imperceptible, very much accent instruments. Even when the strings come in, they’re playing the role that a guitar would normally play — long, held chords. What fills the space? The bass, which sets up a counter-melody to Harrison, playing off it beautifully, more like a lower vocal harmony than a bass. It’s also one of McCartney’s busiest bass lines, showcasing his dexterity on the instrument.
03. “Paperback Writer”
The aforementioned “Paperback Writer” is the catalyst for this list for a reason: it’s an outstanding bass performance. It’s not enough that it dominates the song sonically; it also makes the otherwise one-note song (literally — there’s one brief chord change over its entire length) sound far more interesting. McCartney stays centered on the base note of G but explores the space around it effectively, teaming well with Starr to give the song an unstoppable motor, delivering on the promise of the opening guitar riff.
“Taxman” provides one of McCartney’s most iconic bass lines, in that it’s the main riff of the song. Paul’s best bass work with the Beatles stands out for filling the space the guitars and melody don’t cover, and that objective stands out here more than on most of the band’s songs because the guitars provide naught but abruptly struck chords. Take away the bass, and “Taxman” no longer has any sense of flow. Even though George Harrison undoubtedly wrote the song from the melody, McCartney’s work makes it shine, from the verse-filling work to the measured chaos of the B-section, which is probably the most complex bass he had thrown into a Beatles song to that point.
01. “Come Together”
Could it have been anything else? Abbey Road is, as a whole, a revolutionary bass album, a revelation in the way the instrument could be used melodically. But on “Come Together”, maybe The Beatles’ most popular song (at least according to Spotify, it’s top five); the bass is the undisputed star. It’s impossible to imagine the song without its bass, and it combines all the elements of McCartney’s playing: the ability to craft a melody, the ability to blend into the background, the heaviness, the lightness. It’s all there, wrapped perfectly to counterbalance Lennon’s growled vocals and craft a masterpiece.