The Beatles


Song Review by

On an album, Rubber Soul, characterized by compositions that brought the Beatles into far more sophisticated lyrical territory, "Michelle" was something of a throwback to their simpler earlier romantic tunes. Melodically, however, it was the equal of anything else on the record, and actually of most anything else composed by Lennon-McCartney. Like "Yesterday," it had the air of an instant standard. While it hasn't been covered as much as "Yesterday" has (nothing has been covered as much "Yesterday" has), it did indeed become pretty much a popular music standard. Leading off the tune, and reappearing in other sections, was a haunting descending guitar line, plucked in a rather Greek style: a trait which can be detected in the guitar work on a few other Beatles ballads (notably "And I Love Her" and "Girl"). It might have been too much on the sentimental side for the group's most rock-oriented fans, but certainly the melody was memorable and the harmonies heavenly. McCartney put on his best crooner charm for the vocal, moving into French for much of the time. A bit of grit is supplied by the bridge, in which McCartney repeats "I love you" in a rapid repetition that is similar to the jazz scat style. It was eventually revealed that this bit was inspired by Nina Simone's somewhat (though hardly exactly similar) repetitions of the exact same phrase in her jazzy cover of "I Put a Spell on You." Also jazzy is George Harrison's guitar solo, which could have been used for some early-'60s cool jazz session. The melody is varied slightly to set an air of finality to McCartney's declaration of love for his French femme fatale on the final section (which lyrically mimics the instrumental guitar line that led off the track). The Beatles end, as was sometimes their wont, on a major chord in this minor-keyed tune, adding to the pleasing effect of a melody bound to linger in the memory. As with "Yesterday," other acts were quick to spot the tune's potential; the Overlanders took it to number one in the U.K. in early 1966 (although it failed to hit in the U.S.), while David and Jonathan took a pop-slanted interpretation to both the American and British Top 20 at the same time.

Appears On

Year Artist/Album Label Time AllMusic Rating
Rubber Soul 1965 Apple Records / Capitol 2:42
Nowhere Man [EP] 1966 Parlophone
No Image 1966 Parlophone 2:40
1962-1966 1973 Capitol / Parlophone 2:42
No Image 1977 Capitol 2:42
Compact Disc EP Collection 1992 Apple Records
No Image 1994 Big Music 1:05
No Image 1994 VigoTone
The Ultimate Box Set 1995 Capitol 2:42
EP Boxset 1999 Parlophone 2:39
The Capitol Albums, Vol. 2 2006 Apple / Capitol / EMI 2:44
The Beatles: Stereo Box Set 2009 Capitol 2:42
The Beatles USB 2009 Capitol / EMI 2:42
1962-1970 2010 EMI / Parlophone 2:42
The U.S. Albums 2014 Capitol / Universal 2:47