06/12/2015 7:00 AM AEDT | Updated 15/07/2016 12:51 PM AEST

Hey Michelle: My Beatles Song Turns 50


I need to, I need to, I need to,

I need to make you see.

Oh what you mean to me.

I would have been perfectly happy with another Beatles name. Julia. Martha. Dear Prudence. Lovely Rita. My sparkly, carefree, 20-something Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds would have only slumped into Lucy at the Sink with Dishes many years on, so perhaps not.

But I got Michelle. Maybe you did, too. And it was 50 years ago this week that The Beatles gifted us our song: side one, track seven of the British version of Rubber Soul, nestled among Drive My Car, Norwegian Wood and the glorious In My Life. Released on December 3, 1965.

Michelle: the feminine of the French Michel or Michael, from the Hebrew, meaning a variation of 'who is like God' or 'in God's likeness'. 'God's gift' is another suggestion and a few of us might think that's spot on too.

There were five or so Michelles in my year at primary school, an unlikely bloom of French exotica in the playground under the petroleum refineries at the brown, flat, hard edge of the city. Half a world away from Abbey Road.

And I'd always assumed my mum -- and their mums -- named us for the song, but now I've done the maths it appears Paul McCartney actually wrote it for us, bless him.

According to Beatles folklore -- and there's no shortage of nerdy Beatles folklore on the internet -- the fab four banged out Rubber Soul in just four weeks, just in time to be gift-wrapped and popped under millions of Christmas trees.

Four weeks. I know they had help, but it has taken me longer to find a lost library book.

The story of our song, Michelle, goes something like this: the earthy teenage Beatles-to-be went to arty parties and, sometimes, Paul crooned faux French and strummed a bit of a piss-take on hip bohemian culture. For a laugh, y'know.

Years, gold records and a million screaming teenage girls later, John suggested Paul revisit his send-up melody, a French-speaking acquaintance rhymed 'Michelle' with 'ma belle' -- these are, after all, words that go together well -- John added the 'I love yous' in the middle and the rest is history.

Rubber Soul was a huge hit and has endured, coming in at a respectable number 5 on Rolling Stone's500 Greatest Albums of all Time list from 2012, an achievement somewhat undermined by them also having numbers one, three, 10, 14, 39...

Michelle was a hit, too, winning a Best Song Grammy in 1967 and reaching the top of the French charts in 1966. Of course. A few years back Paul even serenaded the US First Lady, a 1964 Michelle, with his song for her in the White House.

It made the name a hit, too. These days, you'd be hard pressed to find a Michelle among the Olivias, Mias, Charlottes and Emilys, but in the mid '60s and early '70s, it hovered in the top five in the UK, US and Australia. In my own home state, it was the most popular girls name from 1966 until smacked down by Rebecca in 1977.

Recently I met another Michelle, a little younger than me, and asked her why she was named Michelle.

"I don't know," she blinked, looking startled at my nosiness.

Neither do I. When I had the chance to ask, I didn't care. Now there's no one to ask. My mother loved The Beatles -- Paul, of course, it was always Paul. She and I would dance in the lounge room to Love Me Do and when she died we played her out to I Want to Hold Your Hand. Because we did, and still do.


This picture appeared a couple of years ago on a wall near my home, and it makes me love my streets even more. It commemorates the colourful life of a local -- confronting, sometimes generous and funny, but other times profane and angry.

She was a Michelle, too, and from the multitude of us out there with at least a name in common.

Thanks for the anthem, boys.