Michelle

“Michelle” is a Beatles’ song on their 1965 album, “Rubber Soul”. Moreover, part of the lyrics to this love song is in French. Although they didn’t release it as a single in the UK, they did in some countries. For example, in New Zealand it went to number one. However, The Overlanders had massive chart success with it as a single in the UK.

In Detail

Album

Publisher: Northern Songs
Release Date: 3rd December, 1965 (UK), 6th December, 1965 (US)
Recorded: 3rd November, 1965
Studio: EMI, London
Genre: Pop
Track Duration: 2:40
Record Label: Parlophone
Songwriter: Lennon-McCartney
Producer: George Martin
Engineer: Norman Smith

Performers

Michelle is a Beatles' song on their Rubber soul album
Rubber Soul Album (1965)
Paul McCartney: lead vocal, acoustic guitar, bass guitar
John Lennon: backing vocal, classical guitar
George Harrison: backing vocal, acoustic guitar, lead guitar
Ringo Starr: drums

Track Source

Rubber Soul

Michelle

Written mostly by Paul McCartney with the middle eight co-written with John Lennon, “Michelle” was the last song on side one of the 1965 “Rubber Soul” album. It is a tuneful love ballad with the lyrics being mainly in English with a French chorus.

The band could speak a little German having spent a lot of time in Germany in their early years, but none could speak French. However, his friend, Ivan Vaughan, had a wife that actually taught the language. In 1965, McCartney asked her for help when they visited him at Jane Asher’s family home where he lived.

“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.’ ‘Sont les mots qui vont très 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.”

Paul McCartney
Many Years From Now, Barry Miles

From this we can see that the song is not about anyone in particular, McCartney just liked the name.

John Lennon’s Contribution

Although Paul McCartney took the advice from Jan Vaughan, John Lennon’s contribution to the song was evident:

“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 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: ‘I love you, I love you, I l-o-ove you.’

So… my contribution to Paul’s songs was always to add a little bluesy edge to them. Otherwise, y’know, Michelle is a straight ballad, right? He provided a lightness, and optimism, while I would always go for the sadness, the discords, the bluesy notes”.

John Lennon
All We Are Saying, David Sheff

Humble Beginnings

Although McCartney finished writing the lyrics to “Michelle” in 1965, after a suggestion by John Lennon to rework it, he actually started the song way back in 1959.

“All my first songs… were written on the Zenith [McCartney’s first guitar]; songs like Michelle and I Saw Her Standing There. It was on this guitar that I learnt Twenty Flight Rock, the song that later got me into the group, The Quarrymen”.

Paul McCartney
Anthology

Paul McCartney still owns his first Zenith to this day.

The inspiration for the music to the song evolved differently from the lyrical concept.

“Michelle was a tune that I’d written in Chet Atkins’ finger-pickin’ style. There is a song he did called Trombone 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… Based on Atkins’ Trombone, 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 C”.

Paul McCartney
Many Years From Now, Barry Miles

French Connection

The concept for the song originates during McCartney’s days in his home town of Liverpool. In particular, one inspirational event at a student party would leave an impression with him. While there, a student dressed like a Frenchman began singing a French song.

All the individual Beatles have a sense of humour and so he began writing a farcical imitation. However, far from using real French words which he didn’t know anyway, he used French-sounding groaning instead. This song he would use to entertain his friends until 1965 when he developed the song further and it came to fruition.

John Lennon attended the Liverpool College of Art at the time and his tutor, Austin Mitchell, would host parties for the students.

“He used to throw some pretty good all-night parties. You could maybe pull girls there, which was the main aim of every second; you could get drinks, which was another aim; and you could generally put yourself about a bit. 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…

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”.

Paul McCartney
Many Years From Now, Barry Miles

Greek Connection

In September 1963, Paul McCartney was holidaying in Greece when he took to the style of music there. So, as with “And I Love Her” and “Girl“, the Greek influence in the music is striking.

Recording Studio

The Beatles finally got around to record “Michelle” in all its glory on the 3rd November, 1965. This was during the 2.30pm-7.00pm sessions in Studio Two of the EMI Studios, London. They only needed one take to get the rhythm track right.

During the evening sessions between 7.00pm-11.30pm, overdubbing began with guitars and vocals etc.

“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, Barry Miles

Cover Versions And Chart Success

Because “Michelle” was on the “Rubber Soul” album, there was no need to release it as a single in the UK. However, it had an international taste to it so it was a single release in many countries. Indeed, it reached number one in New Zealand, Belgium, Norway, the Netherlands and France, of course!

Meanwhile in the UK, the cover song by The Overlanders, another British band, went to number one in the charts. In Canada, the British duo, David & Jonathan, took the song to number one there. Both releases are from 1966.

Many other artists covered the song such as, Andy Williams, Matt Monro and Sarah Vaughan.

Author: Bobby

I have been a Beatles fan since the early 1960s so I speak from my heart and soul. It was a pleasure to accept the role of Admin on The Beatles Forum when we left our old site. If you feel that something needs correcting with the information I provide, please contact me.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *