Don’t Forget the Songs-365: Mach Dos: Day 287
Friday, Oct 26, 2012
Today is my all-time favorite Beatles song. I remember finally seeing Paul McCartney in concert and he told the clever tale on how “Michelle” came to life at parties his friend Mitchell used to throw, as Macca explained, “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.” So Macca took the chords he used to play dressed up in black turtleneck, with penciled in mustache took look older and wrote “Michelle.”
It’s not only the lyrics that I love, my wife was actually named after my favorite Beatles composition, and the feel of Macca’s song is so French. It sounds like Paul’s ode to romance of Paris. Paul McCartney once told Mark Lewisohn, “I’ll never forget putting the bass line in because it was kind of a Bizet [French composer] thing. It really turned [“Michelle”] around.” I never knew the Bizet was an influence. Paul gave credit to Ivan Vaughn’s wife Jan who helped him come up with some of the French lyrics for “Michelle” as he explained, “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 and John had this simpatico songwriting connection. Macca and Lennon had this instinctive ability to add elements to perfectly add a note or lyrics to their partner’s other song. This is what a true honest collaboration is about. This kind of commitment and understanding is essential not only to the life of The Beatles but to any marriage or relationship.
John told the story how he helped Macca come up with the lovely middle eight from “Michelle” when he said. “[Paul] 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.’”
Did you know, according to Walter Everett in The Beatles as Musicians: The Quarry Men through Rubber Soul, “As of January 1968. “Michelle” was the second-most covered Lennon-McCartney composition behind only “Yesterday” with eighty versions. By 1981, the same two songs dominated this category, with 201 recordings of “Michelle?”
There may be over two hundred cover versions but to me, there’s only one Michelle. “♫ And I will say the only words I know that you’ll understand/ My Michelle— ♫” I knew there was a reason fate must have had a hand in selecting my most beloved Fab Four penned Paul McCartney composition—the same 1967’s Grammy Award Winner for Song of the Year that Ian MacDonald, author of Revolution in the Head once dubbed,” “Harmonically, one of the Beatles most richest songs.” Today I dedicate my favorite Beatles song ever to my wife, Michelle— Feliz Cumpleaños baby!