Released: December 3, 1965
Appears on: Rubber Soul
Lead vocal: Paul
"Michelle" has probably one of the most interesting back stories for any Beatles song. The story goes that Paul used to do this 'little French thing' at parties to get attention and while recording Rubber Soul, John suggested to Paul that he turn this little guitar piece into a full song. You can find plenty of more information on the song's origins here.
This is just a brilliant song. It's one of those where as soon as you hear the opening chords, you get chills. For every album from now on seems to have a song by Paul that just has an other-worldly feel. There's "Yesterday" on HELP!, "Things We Said Today" on A Hard Day's Night and "I'll Follow The Sun" on Beatles For Sale. I love the understated backing vocals, too. John and George just go 'ooo' the whole time, which is all that's needed. Then there's that brilliant solo, which is probably one of the finest the Beatles recorded. Paul's vocal is also really amazing because he's just singing it straight-on. It almost feels like he's bored with the song..."Michelle ma belle...these are words that go together well...my Michelle." It's just an understated vocal that's perfect.
See, that's the thing with the Beatles. They (along with George Martin, the One True Fifth Beatle) knew exactly what a song needed. "Michelle" only needs acoustic guitar, drums, bass, simple backing vocals and a simple lead. Some groups throw things together or try to make their own songs fit in their own mold. If a metal band writes an acoustic song, they might try to fit it to their reputation, but if the Beatles wrote a folk song...it was recorded as a folk song. The Beatles released square pegs until they fit through round holes without cutting corners - it's as simple as that.
"Michelle" was easily the first album track to become as immensely popular as it did in 1965. Capitol used the song's status as an album track as a way to sell more copies of Rubber Soul. Once the song's popularity skyrocketed, the album came with a sticker that said "includes 'Michelle'!". It was almost like a declaration - "See, this time, we're not releasing the best song as a single!" (Instead, the lackluster "What Goes On" was.)
By 1965, it was also a common practice, especially by British groups, to comb Beatles albums for album-exclusive songs that they could turn into their first hit. A folk group called the Overlanders had a hit with "Michelle"...I wonder whatever happened to them?
The release history for the song is pretty simple. If it's a Beatles compilation, it has "Michelle" on it. It's easier for me to say that it's not on Rock 'n' Roll Music (because it's not a rock song) and Reel Music (because it wasn't in a movie). It was even included on the first hits collection, A Collection of Beatles Oldies...But Goldies, despite not being a single. Also, it isn't on the single-focused compilations (like 20 Greatest Hits and 1).