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Michelle

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"Michelle"
Song by The Beatles
Album Rubber Soul
Released 3 December 1965
Recorded 3 November 1965
EMI Studios, London
Genre Pop
Length 2:33
Label Parlophone
Writer Lennon/McCartney
Producer George Martin
Rubber Soul track listing
Paul has had this idea about writing a bit with some other language, with French in it. And he just sort of had a bit of a verse, and a couple of words, and the idea. I think he had some other name or something. He used to talk Double-Dutch French, you see, just to sing the bit. (imitates singing mock-French) ... He just brought it along and just sort of started fiddling around trying to get a middle-eight. We pinched a little bit from somewhere and stuck it in the middle-eight, and off we went.

—John Lennon, interview with Fred Robbins, 1966

'Michelle' was like a joke French tune for when you go to a party or something. That's all it was. And then after a while you say, 'Well, that's quite a good tune. Let's put some real words to it.'

—Paul McCartney, 1977

The guitar solo in 'Michelle' is my composition. I actually wrote down the notes — "I'll play this. George, you can do these notes on the other guitar; we'll play in unison" — that kind of thing.

—George Martin, from the Swedish TV documentary "George Martin - den femte beatlen" ('the fifth Beatle'), 1993


In a lot of the songs, my stuff is the middle-eight, the bridge. ... Take 'Michelle.' Paul and I were staying somewhere, and he walked in and hummed the first few bars, with the words, you know — [sings verse of 'Michelle'] and he says, 'Where do I go from here?' I'd been listening to blues singer Nina Simone, who did something like 'I love you!' in one of her songs and that made me think of the middle-eight for 'Michelle.' [sings] 'I love you, I love you, I lo-ove you...

—John Lennon, The Playboy Interviews, 1980

He and I were staying somewhere and he walked in and hummed the first few bars, with the words, and he says, 'Where do I go from here?' I had been listening to (blues singer) Nina Simone. I think it was 'I Put A Spell On You.' There was a line in it that went, 'I love you, I love you.' That's what made me think of the middle-eight for 'Michelle.' So, my contributions to Paul's songs was always to add a little bluesy edge to them. Otherwise, 'Michelle' is a straight ballad, right? He provided a lightness, an optimism, while I would always go for the sadness, the discords, the bluesy notes.

—John Lennon, Rolling Stone interview with Jann S. Wenner, 1970

I'll never forget putting the bass line in 'Michelle' because it was a kind of Bizet thing. It really turned the song around. You could do that with bass. It was very exciting.

—Paul McCartney, The Beatles Recording Sessions interview with Mark Lewisohn, 1988

'Michelle' was a tune that I'd written in Chet Atkins' finger- pickin' style. There is a song he did called 'Trambone' with a repetitive top line, and he played a bass line whilst playing a melody. This was an innovation for us; even though classical guitarists had played it, no rock ‘n’ roll guitarists had played it. The first person we knew to use finger-pickin' technique was Chet Atkins, and Colin Manley, one of the guys in the Remo Four in Liverpool, who used to play it very well and we all used to stop and admire him. ... But based on Atkins's 'Trambone', I wanted to write something with a melody and a bass line on it, so I did. I just had it as an instrumental in.

There used to be a guy called Austin Mitchell who was one of John's tutors at art school and he used to throw some pretty good all-night parties. ... I remember sitting around there, and my recollection is of a black turtleneck sweater and sitting very enigmatically in the corner, playing this rather French tune. I used to pretend I could speak French, because everyone wanted to be like Sacha Distel, or Juliette Greco ... that French existential thing, they were all in turtlenecks and black and down the bohemian clubs. It was bohemia! So I used to sit around and murmur. It was my Maurice Chevalier meets Juliette Greco moment: me trying to be enigmatic to make girls think, 'Who's that very interesting French guy over in the corner?'

I would literally use it as that, and John knew this was one of my ploys. Years later, John said, 'D'you remember that French thing you used to do at Mitchell's parties?' I said yes. He said, 'Well, that's a good tune. You should do something with that.' We were always looking for tunes, because we were making lots of albums by then and every album you did needed fourteen songs, and then there were singles in between, so you needed a lot of material. So I did.

[Whilst visiting with Ivan Vaughn — who introduced Paul to John — and his French-teacher wife Jan] I said, 'I like the name Michelle. Can you think of anything that rhymes with 'Michelle', in French?' And she said, 'Ma belle', I said, 'What's that mean?' 'My beauty.' I said, 'That's good, a love song, great.' We just started talking, and I said, 'Well, those words go together well, what's French for that? 'Go together well.' 'Sort les mots qui vont tres bien ensemble: I said, 'All right, that would fit.' And she told me a bit how to pronounce it, so that was it. I got that off Jan, and years later I sent her a cheque around. I thought I better had because she's virtually a co-writer on that. From there I just pieced together the verses. The other interesting point was there's a very jazzy chord in it: 'Michelle, ma belle.' That second chord. ... It was a chord shown to us by a jazz guitarist called Jim Gretty who worked behind the counter at Frank Hessey's where we used to buy our instruments on the never-never in Liverpool. ...

John had been listening to Nina Simone's 'I Put a Spell on You', which repeats the line, 'I love you, I love you ...' and when Paul hummed the song through to John, he suggested using those words, with the emphasis changed to the word 'love', as a middle eight. ... I'll give him ten points for that.

I remember 'Michelle' particularly. Because it was only on four little tracks, it was very easy to mix. There were no decisions to make, we'd made them all in the writing and in the recording. We would mix them, and it would take half an hour, maybe. Then it would go up on a shelf, in a quarter-inch tape box. And that was it. That was the only thing we ever did to 'Michelle'.

—Paul McCartney, Many Years From Now by Barry Miles, p.273-74, 1994

The 'best' take of 'Drive My Car', chosen to open the LP, was take four, the only complete run through. But there were numerous overdubs, and by the end of the day the song featured lead vocal by Paul and John plus backing vocal by George, tambourine, lead guitar, rhythm guitar, drums, piano and cowbell.

—Mark Lewisohn, The Beatles Recording Sessions, p.63, 1988


 

Listen to Nina Simone singing 'I Put A Spell On You'...


 

Listen to Chet Atkins' 'Trambone'...



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