Michelle (song)

Song by The Beatles from the album Rubber Soul
Released 3 December 1965
Recorded 3 November 1965
EMI Studios, London
Genre Pop
Length 2:33
Label Parlophone
Writer Lennon/McCartney
Producer George Martin
Rubber Soul track listing

"Michelle" is a love ballad by The Beatles, mainly written by Paul McCartney, with the middle eight co-written with John Lennon.[1][2] It is featured on their Rubber Soul album. The song departs from most of The Beatles' other recordings in that some of the lyrics are in French. "Michelle" won the Grammy Award for Song of the Year in 1966, and has become one of the most famous Beatles songs in France.[3]



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 whilst 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.

The words and style of "Michelle" has its 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.[1]

...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.'

McCartney decided to remain with the French feel of his song and 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.[1]

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.[1] 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".[1][2]

This is the first song recorded with more than a 4-track.

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 Rock Band version was released; it runs 2:50.


Personnel per Ian MacDonald[6]

MacDonald wrote that "Michelle" was made in nine hours and seems to have been played mostly, if not entirely, by McCartney using overdubs."[6] He speculated that McCartney might even have sung the backing vocals and played the drums.[6]

Awards and recognition

"Michelle" won the Grammy Award for Song of the Year in 1966.[3] 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 1965 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.[7]

Chart performance

Chart (1966) Peak
Norwegian Singles Chart 1
Austrian Top 40 3

Cover versions

  • The song was a UK hit in 1966 by The Overlanders,[8] 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).
  • "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.[9]
  • In 1971, The Singers Unlimited recorded an a cappella version.
  • Perry Como's 1977 album The Best of British includes this as a track.
  • Ben Harper covered it in a reggae style.
  • 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.[10]
  • Floanne Ankah recorded a version for the Complete Beatles on Yukulele, 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.[11]

Live performance history

McCartney singing "Michelle" to Michelle Obama

"Michelle" was performed by McCartney throughout his 1993 world tour.[12] 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.[13]

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."[14][15] 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.[16]


  1. ^ a b c d e Turner 2010, pp. 94.
  2. ^ a b Sheff 2000, p. 137.
  3. ^ a b infoplease 2007.
  4. ^ Miles 1997, p. 273.
  5. ^ The Guardian 2007.
  6. ^ a b c MacDonald 2005, pp. 174–175.
  7. ^ Broadcast Music, Inc. 1999.
  8. ^ Harry 2000, pp. 768–769.
  9. ^ Unterberger 2007.
  10. ^ [1][dead link]
  11. ^ "075 – Michelle – Floanne". The Beatles Complete On Ukulele. http://thebeatlescompleteonukulele.com/2010/06/075-michelle-floanne/. Retrieved 2011-08-21. 
  12. ^ Madinger & Easter 2000.
  13. ^ Gavin 2009.
  14. ^ "McCartney rocks White House, croons 'Michelle'". Denver Post. 3 June 2010. http://www.denverpost.com/nationworld/ci_15215359?source=rss. 
  15. ^ Sunlen Miller (3 June 2010). "ABC News television news report". World News Now. 
  16. ^ 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

The Beatles version
Preceded by
"These Boots Are Made for Walkin'" by Nancy Sinatra
New Zealand Singles Chart number-one single
22 April 1966 – 28 April 1966
Succeeded by
"Homeward Bound" by Simon & Garfunkel
The Overlanders version
Preceded by
"Keep On Running" by Spencer Davis Group
UK Singles Chart number-one single
27 January 1966 – 16 February 1966 (3 weeks)
Succeeded by
"These Boots Are Made for Walkin'" by Nancy Sinatra
David and Jonathan version
Preceded by
"Lightnin' Strikes" by Lou Christie
Canadian RPM number-one single
28 February 1966 (1 week)
Succeeded by
"These Boots Are Made for Walkin'" by Nancy Sinatra

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