10 Beatles songs to prove John Lennon was a better guitarist than you think

John Lennon‘s name is enshrined in decades worth of diamond discs and gold-plated songs. As part of the songwriting partnership of Lennon-McCartney at the centre of The Beatles, the Liverpudlian can be rightly regarded as one of the greatest songsmiths of all time. His music has changed the course of music history and delivered tracks that still stand up over decades after their release.

Lyrically, Lennon is almost unmatched. While not possessing the poetic dexterity of Leonard Cohen or the powerful vocabulary of Bob Dylan, Lennon would allow the passion of his emotions to permeate every word he sang in the studio. Coupling this with a potent vocal delivery, it is easy to see how he became known as a rock icon across the globe.

However, few people speak of the musician’s uncanny ability with the guitar. While never seen as the lead guitar in the band, with George Harrison’s unique tone underpinning every good thing the band ever released, Lennon’s contribution as a pivotal rhythm guitarist should never be understated.

Inspired by rockers like Buddy Holly, Lennon was a sparing performer, rarely overcomplicating his sound. However, he was also at the centre of some incredible guitar developments, including the first ever feedback recorded on a song. Yet, his donations to the instrument are rarely given the spotlight.

Below, we’re doing just that and providing ten classic Beatles songs that showcase John Lennon’s guitar mastery.

‘Dear Prudence’ – The Beatles

Few songs are as enshrined in folklore as The Beatles Indian odyssey, ‘Dear Prudence’. It is crafted from the remnants of a story involving Mia Farrow’s beleaguered sister and an unnecessarily high trip toward the universe’s outer reaches. According to the songwriter, she “seemed to go slightly barmy, meditating too long, and couldn’t come out of the little hut that we were livin’ in. They selected me and George to try and bring her out because she would trust us. If she’d been in the West, they would have put her away.” However, Lennon delivers one of his finest guitar moments within the song.

The song sees Lennon provide a previously unused modal chord progression performed in a drop-D tuning. Combined with a string-picking technique which he had learned from British folkie Donovan, ‘Dear Prudence’ should be rightly regarded as one of the Beatle’s best moments with an acoustic.

‘Girl’ – Rubber Soul

If there is one album that showcases The Beatles defying the odds and breaking free from the confines of pop, then it is Rubber Soul. Not only is it George Harrison’s favourite Beatles record, but it also showcased the fine musicians hidden underneath the mop-tops and screaming audiences. ‘Girl’ offers one of our first views of the clever playing underpinning Lennon’s rock star iconography.

Lennon capos his guitar to bring a sound more akin to that of a mandolin. it allows the song to tinkle across the airwaves as it meanders through the Mediterranean to land in the Liverpool dockyard. It was a moment that showed that Lennon and the band were far more than your average group of singers.

‘All My Loving’ – With the Beatles

Rubber Soul may have provided a retaliation to the pop stars the band had become, but that doesn’t mean they were fantastic in the years prior. The group’s musicianship was present from the very beginning, and Lennon’s guitar work in the classic With The Beatles LP, ‘All My Loving’ shows a rhythm guitarist worth his weight in gold.

Harrison may give the listener a Carl Perkins-esque solo to devour, but it is the steady and energetic sound of Lennon’s guitar that propels this blues number into the pop stratosphere. “‘All My Loving’ is Paul, I regret to say. Ha-ha-ha,” joked Lennon when speaking with David Sheff in 1980. “Because it’s a damn good piece of work. [Singing] ‘All my loving…’ But I play a pretty mean guitar in back.”

‘The End’ – Abbey Road

Another fitting tribute to Lennon’s musicianship can be found in the final song the group put together as a band. Dismissed by Lennon, “That’s Paul again, the unfinished song, right? We’re on Abbey Road. Just a piece at the end,” the track is a powerful reminder of the group’s potency.

But the song is remembered by Beatles aficionados for featuring three band members dual with lead guitar solos as engineer Geoff Emerick remembers: “The idea for guitar solos was very spontaneous and everybody said, ‘Yes! Definitely’ – well, except for George, who was a little apprehensive at first. But he saw how excited John and Paul were so he went along with it. Truthfully, I think they rather liked the idea of playing together, not really trying to outdo one another per se, but engaging in some real musical bonding.”

‘Revolution’ – The Beatles

‘Revolution’ is often regarded as a pivotal moment for the tenure of The Beatles. Lennon regularly cited it as one of his more important songs and was upset when the rest of the band told him to go back to the drawing board upon their first listening, and it was rejected as a single.

Lennon took the criticisms from his bandmates as a challenge. In order to give the track its best chance at becoming a single, Lennon souped up the arrangement, raised the song’s key, and infused it with some distorted lead guitar work, which defined the track and Lennon’s anger toward the band’s disengagement with societal unrest. The result was ‘Revolution’, a much faster and more incendiary recording. Despite his best efforts, the new version of ‘Revolution’ still didn’t get picked as a single, with the song being relegated to the B-side of ‘Hey Jude’.

‘Yer Blues’ – The Beatles

In 1968, Lennon penned this song as a brash parody of the electric blues explosion sweeping through London at the time. Yet, hidden beneath the mockery, his lyrics poignantly unveiled the sense of entrapment he was experiencing both within his marriage and The Beatles.

The raw intensity of his emotions were channelled through how he transformed the riff from a simplistic two-note solo to an entity in its own right. This marked a significant turning point in his guitar-playing, which saw the beginning of his journey into a protopunk style of playing, later expanded on in his 1970 debut, John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band.

‘Across the Universe’ – Let It Be… Naked

Some of the most poignant Beatles songs are the ones that are simplistic by design, taking you on a journey with nothing more than a straightforward chord progression and a beautiful accompanying harmony. ‘Across the Universe’ showcases Lennon’s more stripped-back appeal, with an endearingly raw acoustic guitar at work as his vocalisation makes for an even more intimate listener experience.

Heavily influenced by The Beatles’ interest in transcendental meditation, ‘Across the Universe’ seems to bring together two distinctive characteristics: their talent for psychedelia and ability to manifest personal experiences through song. The lyric, “words are flowing out like endless rain into a paper cup,” first came to Lennon during a moment of extreme irritation pointed at his wife, while the link to the chorus became directly linked to a Sanskrit phrase, echoing the band members’ interests at the time.

‘Julia’ – The Beatles

As one of The Beatles’ most emotionally poignant songs, ‘Julia’ sees Lennon employing a fingerpicking technique that he acquired during his transformative visit to India, guided by folk singer Donovan. The song is characterised by a delicate melody that showcases Lennon’s mastery of obscure and creative chords.

While his gritty and sometimes untamed guitar skills are a well-known characteristic of his musicianship, they still often go under-appreciated, and ‘Julia’ exists as a testament to this capability. It effortlessly reveals his ability to transition between raw, unpolished styles and the more tender, soul-stirring arrangements that grace this haunting composition.

‘She’s A Woman’ – Beatles ‘65

Only Lennon could still appear masterful after missing one chord change, with his offbeat stabs and barred chords exemplifying his unique approach to the rhythm guitar.

‘She’s A Woman’ not only showcases Lennon’s expertise as a guitarist but also serves as a demonstration of his integral role in shaping The Beatles’ overall sound. Although many criticise the song for its weaker lyrics, particularly in comparison to their more lyrically renowned works, the bass work contributed by McCartney stands as a strong addition, which is complimented perfectly by Lennon’s Rickenbacker 325.

‘I Want You (She’s So Heavy)’ – Abbey Road

This song, with its unrelenting heavy rock sections and unmatched melodic innovation, has understandably gone down as one of the greatest rock songs in history. In 1969, Lennon was diving into some of The Beatles’ most robust rock and roll compositions, and, thanks to its abundant of doubles and overdubbed guitar parts, ‘I Want You (She’s So Heavy)’ carried a significant sonic weight that no other in their catalogue has been able to match.

The song, spanning an impressive seven minutes and 47 seconds, is actually relatively simple in structure while boasting a remarkable level of rhythmic complexity. It oscillates between a bluesy temp and a double-time rock beat, proving Lennon’s artistry and ability to create such depth and intensity from such a minimalist foundation.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Mick Jagger John & Yoko’s Elvis Presley & Priscilla Presley