The Beatles song that Paul McCartney struggled to play: “I’m still practising, still trying to figure it out”

“Paul McCartney is, in my opinion, the greatest living musician,“ Andy Bell of Ride and Oasis recently told Far Out. “He’s also one of the very few people truly worthy of the term ‘genius’. His talent, in multiple areas of music, is astounding, actually almost unbelievable, and although he is rightly respected and loved for his music all over the world, if anything, he is also the most criminally underrated musician on the planet as well.“

Importantly, McCartney wasn’t just a visionary, he also had the chops to bring The Beatles’ ideas to life. As Bell continues: ”Best bass player ever. Part of the best songwriting team ever. One of the greatest singers ever. He keeps on moving forward and isn’t afraid to experiment, but really you feel like he is primarily making music to please himself. It’s just very lucky that we all get to share it as well.”

Thus, his talents are well established. In fact, on a purely technical level, he is regarded as one of the finest of his era by many equally esteemed minds like the maestro himself, Leonard Bernstein. Nevertheless, there is one Beatles track that he admits he always struggles to grapple with: ‘Being For The Benefit of Mr Kite’ from 1967’s Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.

It says a lot about McCartney’s approach to music that he is also very fond of the challenge. “Probably my favourite bass line is Mr. Kite, ‘Being for the Benefit of Mr Kite’,” he said in a Q&A. “Because it’s complicated. It’s kind of difficult bass line. And what’s really difficult is to sing it and play the bass at the same time, because your head goes that way and your fingers go [the other]. It’s really sort of strange combination to do it, but it’s a melodic bassline and I like it.”

Speaking to Rolling Stone in 2013, McCartney, after introducing the track to his solo set, explained: “‘Mr. Kite’ is such a crazy, oddball song that I thought it would freshen up the set. Plus the fact that I’d never done it. None of us in The Beatles ever did that song (in concert)… That’s challenging. I mean, something like ‘Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite!’ is hard to do.”

Continuing, he added: “Ask a bass player who sings. It’s contrapuntal, man! It really is. I’ve got to sing a melody that’s going to one place, and then I’ve got to play this bassline that’s going to other places. It’s a concentration thing. But that’s half the fun of the show. I’m still practising, still trying to figure it out…It’s like, ‘How does this one go again?’… But like I said, you’ve got to look what you’re doing when you play that one.”

It’s a Beethoven-esque bassline in that it is free from the grammar of any set style. Listened to in isolation, it could be punk, funk or R&B, but in any case, it is exactly what the song needed. Following a footloose style heralded by his bass hero, James Jamerson, McCartney waltzes in a manner that captures the carnival feel that the track was going for while always driving the rhythm forward, something over the changes, in an unguessable fashion.

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