"Michelle" is a love ballad by the Beatles, started by Paul McCartney, with the middle eight co-written by John Lennon. It is featured on their Rubber Soulalbum, released in December 1965. The song is unique among Beatles recordings in that some of its lyrics are in French. "Michelle" won the Grammy Award for Song of the Year in 1967 and has since become one of the best known and often recorded of all Beatles songs.
- 2 Musical structure
- 3 Personnel
- 4 Awards and recognition
- 5 Cover versions
- 6 Live performance history
- 7 Notes
- 8 References
- 9 External links
The instrumental music of "Michelle" originated separately from the lyrical concept:
|“||...'Michelle' was a tune that I'd written in Chet Atkins' finger-picking style. There is a song he did called 'Trambone' with a repetitive top line, and he played a bass line while 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-picking style was Chet Atkins. .. I never learned it. But based on Atkins' "Trambone", I wanted to write something with a melody and a bass line in it, so I did. I just had it as an instrumental in C.||”|
|— Paul McCartney|
The words and style of "Michelle" have their origins in the popularity of French Left Bank culture during McCartney's Liverpool days. McCartney had gone to a party of art students where a student with a goatee and a striped T-shirt was singing a French song. He soon wrote a farcical imitation to entertain his friends that involved French-sounding groaning instead of real words. The song remained a party piece until 1965, when John Lennon suggested he rework it into a proper song for inclusion on Rubber Soul.
|“||...we'd tag along to these parties, and it was at the time of people like Juliette Greco, the French bohemian thing... So I used to pretend to be French, and I had this song that turned out later to be 'Michelle'. It was just an instrumental, but years later John said: 'You remember that thing you wrote about the French?' I said: 'Yeah.' He said: 'That wasn't a bad song, that. You should do that, y'know.'||”|
|— Paul McCartney|
McCartney asked Jan Vaughan, a French teacher and the wife of his old friend Ivan Vaughan, to come up with a French name and a phrase that rhymed with it. "It was because I'd always thought that the song sounded French that I stuck with it. I can't speak French properly so that's why I needed help in sorting out the actual words", McCartney said.
Vaughan came up with "Michelle, ma belle", and a few days later McCartney asked for a translation of "these are words that go together well" — sont des mots qui vont très bien ensemble. When McCartney played the song for Lennon, Lennon suggested the "I love you" bridge. Lennon was inspired by a song he heard the previous evening, Nina Simone's version of "I Put a Spell on You", which used the same phrase but with the emphasis on the last word, "I love you".:
Each version of this song has a different length. The UK mono is 2:33 but the stereo version is 2:40 due to an extra guitar solo. The US mono was the longest of all, at 2:43, until The Beatles: Rock Bandversion was released, running at 2:50.
The song initially was composed in C, but was played in F on Rubber Soul (with a capo on the fifth fret). The verse opens with an F major chord ("Michelle"- melody note C) then the second chord (on "ma-belle"- melody note D♭) is a B♭m7 (on the original demo in C, the second chord is a F7#9). McCartney called this second chord a "great ham-fisted jazz chord" that was taught to them by Jim Gretty who worked at Hessey's music shop in Whitechapel, central Liverpool and which George Harrison uses (as a G♭7#9) (see Dominant seventh sharp ninth chord) as the penultimate chord of his solo on "Till There Was You". After the E♭6 (of "these are words"-) there follows an ascent involving different inversions of the D dim chord. These progress from A♭dim on "go"- melody note F, bass note D; to B(C♭)dim on "to"- melody note A♭, bass note D; to Ddim on "ge..."- melody note B(C♭) bass note B; to Bdim on ...'ther..."- melody note A♭ bass note B, till the dominant (V) chord (C major) is reached on "well"- melody note G bass note C.
- Paul McCartney – lead vocal, bass, acoustic guitar
- John Lennon – backing vocal, classical acoustic guitar
- George Harrison – backing vocal, 12-string acoustic guitar, lead guitar
- Ringo Starr – drums
MacDonald wrote that "Michelle" was made in nine hours and seems to have been played mostly, if not entirely, by McCartney using overdubs." He speculated that McCartney might even have sung the backing vocals and played the drums.
"Michelle" won the Grammy Award for Song of the Year in 1967. The song's win over standard fare "Born Free", "The Impossible Dream", "Somewhere My Love" and "Strangers in the Night" was seen as something of a triumph for The Beatles, who had in 1966 been nominated, but were unsuccessful, in nine categories. In 1999, BMI named "Michelle" as the 42nd most performed song of the 20th century.
|Norwegian Singles Chart||1|
|Austrian Top 40||3|
- The song was a UK hit in 1966 by The Overlanders, hitting number one on the Record Retailer chart. The Overlanders released their version after The Beatles declined to release it as a single themselves in the United Kingdom and United States (although the original version was released in some other European countries, including Norway, where both versions went to number one).
- Jan & Dean covered the song on their 1966 album, Filet of Soul.
- "Michelle" was also covered by David and Jonathan, whose version went to #1 in Canada and was otherwise a Top 20 hit on both sides of the Atlantic in 1966.
- "Michelle" was covered by The Spokesmen in 1966 on Decca Records. The flip side of the single was "Better Days Are Yet To Come".
- Andy Williams released a version in 1966 on his album, The Shadow of Your Smile.
- In 1966, Chet Atkins released an instrumental cover on his album Chet Atkins Picks on the Beatles.
- In 1971, The Singers Unlimited recorded an a cappella version.
- Italian singer Mina covered it in her 1976's album Plurale.
- Perry Como's 1977 album The Best of British includes this as a track.
- In 1985, Ukrainian university student Oleg Skripka recorded a version of "Helter Skelter" in a blues metal style, interpolating lyrics from "Michelle" in the bridge.
- Ben Harper covered it in a reggae style.
- Will Downing (R&B and Smooth Jazz)
- Diana Ross and the Supremes. Along with "Yesterday", the song became a standard for the group's concerts performed from 1968-69. Recordings of the song are found on Greatest Hits: Live in Amsterdam and Live at London's Talk of the Town
- In 1995 Thomas Anders recorded a soul / R&B version for his solo album Souled.
- The 1997 jazz album Another Standard by Bob Berg had "Michelle" as its third track.
- The Punkles did a punk cover of this song on their second album Punk!.
- Tommy Emmanuel recorded an instrumental acoustic guitar version of this song.
- Booker T. & the MGs recorded a jazz version.
- Richard Cocciante covered Michelle for the soundtrack of the film All This and World War II.
- Béla Fleck and the Flecktones covered the song on their Flight of the Cosmic Hippo album.
- Rita Lee covered the song on her Aqui, Ali, Em Qualquer Lugar album, known in some territories as Bossa N' Beatles.
- The Free Design performed the song on the album Kites Are Fun.
- A transcription for solo classical guitar was made by the composer Toru Takemitsu, which has been recorded by many classical guitarists, notably Shin'ichi Fukuda.
- Rubblebucket covered the song on their Triangular Daisies EP. It is also available for free online.
- Floanne Ankah recorded a version for the Complete Beatles on Ukulele, with some additional text in French giving background on the point of view of Michelle on their encounter. Also the English lyrics are translated in French and the French lyrics translated into English.
- Beatallica covered the song using the melody of Metallica's "For Whom the Bell Tolls", including a chorus that mixes both songs as "For Whom Michelle Tolls".
"Michelle" was performed by McCartney throughout his 1993 world tour. He has rarely performed the song since, but did include it in a 2009 performance in Washington, DC, in honour of Michelle Obama, the American First Lady, and he would play it on most (if not all) of his performances in France or other French-speaking countries.
On 2 June 2010, after being awarded the Gershwin Prize for Popular Song by President Barack Obama in a ceremony at the White House, McCartney performed the song for Michelle Obama, who sang along from her seat. McCartney quipped, "I could be the first guy ever to be punched out by a president." Michelle Obama reportedly later told others that she could never have imagined, after growing up an African-American girl on the South side of Chicago, that someday a Beatle would sing "Michelle" to her as First Lady of the United States.