Michelle (song)

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Michelle - The Beatles.jpg
The Norwegian single release of the song, backed with "Girl"
Song by the Beatles
from the album Rubber Soul
Released 3 December 1965
Recorded 3 November 1965
EMI Studios, London
Genre Pop[1]
Length 2:40
Label Parlophone
Songwriter(s) Lennon–McCartney
Producer(s) George Martin

"Michelle" is a love ballad by the Beatles, composed principally by Paul McCartney, with the middle eight co-written with John Lennon.[2][3] It is featured on their Rubber Soul album, released in December 1965. The song is unusual among Beatles recordings in that some of its lead vocals are in French, although "Paperback Writer" contains the backing vocals "Frère Jacques". "Michelle" won the Grammy Award for Song of the Year in 1967 and has since become one of the best known and most often recorded of all Beatles songs.


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[4]

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.[2]

...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[5]

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.[2]

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.[2] 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".:[2][3]

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 Band version was released, running at 2:50.

Musical structure[edit]

The song was initially 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 B79 (on the original demo in C, the second chord is a F79). 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 G7#9) (see Dominant seventh sharp ninth chord) as the penultimate chord of his solo on "Till There Was You".[6] After the E6 (of "these are words") there follows an ascent involving different inversions of the D dim chord. These progress from Adim on "go" – melody note F, bass note D; to Bdim (Cdim) 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.[7]


Personnel per Ian MacDonald[8]

MacDonald wrote that "Michelle" was made in nine hours and seems to have been played mostly, if not entirely, by McCartney using overdubs."[8] He speculated that McCartney might even have sung the backing vocals and played the drums.[8]

Awards and recognition[edit]

"Michelle" won the Grammy Award for Song of the Year in 1967.[9] The song's win over "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.[citation needed] In 1999, BMI named "Michelle" as the 42nd most performed song of the 20th century.[10]

Chart performance[edit]

Billy Vaughn
Chart (1965-66) Peak
Canada RPM Adult Contemporary[11] 18
U.S. Billboard Hot 100[12] 77
U.S. Billboard Adult Contemporary 17
Bud Shank
Chart (1966) Peak
U.S. Billboard Hot 100[13] 65
U.S. Billboard Adult Contemporary 12
Chart (1966) Peak
U.S. Billboard Bubbling Under the Hot 100[14] 106
David & Jonathan
Chart (1966) Peak
Australia (Kent Music Report) 42
Canada RPM Top Singles 1
Canada RPM Adult Contemporary[15] 1
UK Singles Chart 11
U.S. Billboard Hot 100[16] 18
U.S. Billboard Adult Contemporary 3
Chart (1966) Peak
Austria (Ö3 Austria Top 40)[17] 3
Belgium (Ultratop 50 Flanders)[18] 1
French EP charts[19][20] 1
Germany (Official German Charts)[21] 6
Netherlands (Single Top 100)[22] 1
New Zealand[23] 1
Norway (VG-lista)[24] 1

Cover versions[edit]

  • The song was a UK hit in 1966 by The Overlanders,[25] hitting number one on the Record Retailer chart. It also reached number two in Australia. 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).
  • "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.[26] (U.S. Pop #18, AC #3)[27]
  • Italian singer Mango did an a cappella cover of the song on the album Disincanto (2002).[28]
  • The band Rubblebucket released a trip hop version of the song on their 2010 Triangular Daisies EP.[29]
  • Andy Williams did a cover of the song on his 1966 album, The Shadow of your Smile.
  • Beatallica did a cover of the song incorporating the music For Whom the Bell Tolls of Metallica in their 2013 album, Abbey Load
  • Matt Monro covered the song in 1976 with a String Quartet.
  • "Michelle" was also covered by American jazz singer Sarah Vaughan.
  • It features as one of Louis Andriessen's 1966 "Satirical Arrangements" of Beatles songs for singer Cathy Berberian.

Live performance history[edit]

McCartney singing "Michelle" to Michelle Obama

"Michelle" was performed by McCartney throughout his 1993 world tour.[30] 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 francophone countries.[31]

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."[32][33] Michelle Obama reportedly later told others that she could never have imagined, 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.[34]


  1. ^ Hamelman, Steven L. (2004). But is it Garbage?: On Rock and Trash. University of Georgia Press. pp. 10–. ISBN 978-0-8203-2587-3. 
  2. ^ a b c d e Turner 2010, pp. 94.
  3. ^ a b Sheff 2000, p. 137.
  4. ^ Miles 1997, p. 273.
  5. ^ The Guardian 2007.
  6. ^ Pedler, Dominic. The Songwriting Secrets of the Beatles. Music Sales Limited. Omnibus Press. NY. 2003. pp. 435-437
  7. ^ Pedler, Dominic. The Songwriting Secrets of the Beatles. Music Sales Limited. Omnibus Press. NY. 2003. pp. 412-413
  8. ^ a b c MacDonald 2005, pp. 174–175.
  9. ^ infoplease 2007.
  10. ^ Broadcast Music, Inc. 1999.
  11. ^ "Item Display - RPM - Library and Archives Canada". Collectionscanada.gc.ca. 1966-01-24. Retrieved 2018-05-29. 
  12. ^ Joel Whitburn's Top Pop Singles 1955-1990 - ISBN 0-89820-089-X
  13. ^ Joel Whitburn's Top Pop Singles 1955-1990 - ISBN 0-89820-089-X
  14. ^ [Joel Whitburn's Bubbling Under the Billboard Hot 100 1959-2004]
  15. ^ "Item Display - RPM - Library and Archives Canada". Collectionscanada.gc.ca. 1966-02-21. 
  16. ^ Joel Whitburn's Top Pop Singles 1955-1990 - ISBN 0-89820-089-X
  17. ^ "Austriancharts.at – The Beatles – Michelle" (in German). Ö3 Austria Top 40. Retrieved 20 May 2016.
  18. ^ "Ultratop.be – The Beatles – Michelle" (in Dutch). Ultratop 50. Retrieved 20 May 2016.
  19. ^ It was issued as an EP in France
  20. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 15 July 2014. Retrieved 10 November 2015. 
  21. ^ "Offiziellecharts.de – The Beatles – Michelle". GfK Entertainment Charts. Retrieved 20 May 2016.
  22. ^ "Dutchcharts.nl – The Beatles – Michelle" (in Dutch). Single Top 100. Retrieved 20 May 2016.
  23. ^ "NZ listener charts". flavourofnz.co.nz. 6 May 1966. Retrieved 20 May 2016. 
  24. ^ "Norwegiancharts.com – The Beatles – Michelle". VG-lista. Retrieved 20 May 2016.
  25. ^ Harry 2000, pp. 768–769.
  26. ^ Unterberger 2007.
  27. ^ Whitburn, Joel (1993). Top Adult Contemporary: 1961–1993. Record Research. p. 65. 
  28. ^ "Mango – Disincanto". allmusic.com. Retrieved 6 February 2015. 
  29. ^ 50 Greatest Beatles Covers of All Time [1], Paste Magazine, 2010, accessed June 30, 2011.
  30. ^ Madinger & Easter 2000.
  31. ^ Gavin 2009.
  32. ^ "McCartney rocks White House, croons 'Michelle'". Denver Post. 3 June 2010. 
  33. ^ Miller, Sunlen (3 June 2010). "ABC News television news report". World News Now. 
  34. ^ Caption by White House photographer Pete Souza in the official White House photostream on Flickr. Photo uploaded 30 December 2010. Accessed 12 January 2011.


External links[edit]