started out as a joke. John
Lennon and Paul McCartney would frequent art parties and Paul would often
sit in a corner and play the guitar and pretend to be French. The only problem with this ruse was
that Paul didn’t speak a lick of French. Instead, he groaned in French,
obfuscating his nonsense lyrics.
The tune was
inspired by Chet Atkins’ “Trambone”. Paul was enamoured of Chet
Atkins’ guitar playing, and was trying to learn to finger-pick. By his own admission, he never
encouraged Paul to turn it into a real song, for inclusion on the Rubber Soul album. Paul consulted a French instructor
named Jan Vaughan, the wife of long-time confrere Ivan Vaughan, for help
with the lyrics. He liked the
name Michelle and asked her for a phrase that would rhyme. “Ma belle” was the rapid
response. It means “my
beauty” in French. Paul
came up with the next line and asked her to translate it, and
“Michelle” was well on its way to being fleshed out.
and George Martin also had a hand in this group effort. John supplied the bridge, inspired
by a recording he had heard of Nina Simone singing “I Put a Spell on
You”. George penned the
guitar riff that is heard in the middle and end of the recording.
was recorded on 3rd November 1965 at Abbey Road. In 1967, it won a Grammy for best
song, beating out more conventional recordings such as “Born
Free” and “Strangers in the Night”. It was also a #1 hit in France and
Norway. According to BMI, it
ranks #42 amongst the most-covered tunes in the 20th century.
The Singers Unlimited recordings
BASF M 15159 A
- Paul McCartney:
Many Years From Now by Barry Miles (Henry Holt and