Lennon said that if Harrison was the forgotten singer
of the Beatles then he was the
forgotten guitarist. In a certain way that it’s correct, when we think of the
Beatles as musicians, there are always words for Harrison's creativity on
guitar, for McCartney's fantastic
bass lines (and for his celebrated guitar solos, such as on Taxman or Good Morning, Good Morning) and even for the essential
contribution of Ringo to the drums,
but few remember that Lennon led the band with his rhythmic guitar and who,
with time, also knew how to contribute a raw and sharp lead guitar, while also
being aware of his many limitations. So let's talk about the most unknown
Lennon, the guitarist, through some of his best moments on the six strings.
All My Loving
Perhaps the best example of Lennon's presence as an exceptional rhythm guitarist is this McCartney song that John was rightly proud of. Even though Harrison is in charge of the fantastic solo, in the best Chet Atkins style, with his Gretsch 6122 Country Gentleman, it is Lennon's Rickenbacker 325 that carries the whole weight of the song with an innovative use of triplets; in addition, he manages to make it look simple.
I Feel Fine
With I Feel Fine Lennon decided to build the whole song on a magnificent riff that he had based on Watch Your Step by Bobby Parker. But, in addition to achieving one of the best riffs of his career, when they went to record it, one of the most elementary steps in the history of the electric guitar took place when, after leaning with his semi-acoustic Gibson J160E over the amplifier, he achieved a strange sound and decided to leave it at the opening of the song. It was one of the first studio recordings that made use of feedback - making it a ‘must stop’ on this tour of Lennon the guitarist.
During their stay in India the Beatles composed a lot of material that would see the light on The White Album. Lennon was one of the most active, with his life going through a particularly traumatic period, with his marriage collapsing and being totally obsessed by Yoko Ono. Yer Blues is one of the most significant songs that came out of there, halfway between a homage and a parody of nascent British blues rock. To record it the four members of the band went to a small room and recorded it looking into each other's eyes, like in the old days. Lennon had found the guitar sound that would mark his last days in the band and the beginning of his solo career, with raw distortion coming out of his beloved Epiphone Casino, complementing perfectly with 'Lucy', Harrison's Les Paul Standard, and alternating one solo each. Lennon was so proud of the song that he did not hesitate to choose it for his appearance in the Rock & Roll Circus of the Stones with the true dream band of Eric Clapton, Keith Richards and Mitch Mitchell.
Revolution began its journey as a much calmer song. Lennon was increasingly clear that he wanted to give his opinion about what was happening in the world and started to comment on politics publicly. It was 1968 and Lennon wanted Revolution to be part of the next single. But McCartney and Harrison were not so sure, saying that it was too slow for a single. Lennon decided that if they wanted speed he was going to give it and decided to record a new version in which his Epiphone spits fire, plugged directly into the studio console. It is one of the dirtiest distortions in history and the start, taken from the bluesman Pee Wee Crayton, is like a dirt machine gun that serves as an alarm for everything that comes next.
Get Back is one of the great songs of the band, recorded during the sessions of Let It Be. It has two versions, one live, that appears on the album, and one that was released in April ‘69 as a single, and which was recorded in the studio. Both have a distinctive element, which is John Lennon with his Epiphone as lead guitarist. Lennon gives it a rockabilly feel, while Billy Preston gives it an R & B flavour with his great contribution on the keyboard. On this occasion Harrison stays as rhythm guitarist with his Rosewood Telecaster in what is possibly the moment as soloist that Lennon enjoys most in his career in the band, as you can see in his broad smile while playing in the famous concert on the rooftop of Abbey Road.
Recorded in the summer of 1969, Abbey Road was the last album recorded by the most famous band of all time. They may not have been aware of it at the time, but it is significant that the album ended with this legendary The End, part of a wonderful suite of songs with Golden Slumbers and Carry That Weight. As if they wanted to prove the explosive chemistry that arose when they played together, in little more than two minutes there is time for each of the four members to shine personally. First comes the moment of Ringo's only drum solo in the entire career of The Beatles, then a guitar duel with small turns for each of the remaining three: first enters McCartney with his Epiphone ES-230TD 62, then Harrison with his Les Paul 'Lucy' and, finally, Lennon with his ‘65 Epiphone. Each one has three turns that serve to show three very different styles. That of Lennon is the most basic but the most aggressive; his appearances are rather outbursts that perfectly complement the more melodic style of the other two. A perfect end for an irreproachable career.
I Want You/She's So Heavy
But the last song on which the Fab Four collaborated in the studio was I Want You / She's So Heavy, an ode of Lennon composed to the greater glory of Yoko Ono, in which with the minimum possible words his tremendous passion for his Japanese muse is made clear. As if that were not enough, he puts his Epiphone Casino to work with little technique but a lot of class and emotion, helped by an excellent George Harrison, and a McCartney who delivers some of his best bass lines with his Rickenbacker 4001. They finished recording it on 20 August 1969, and it was their last recording session together.
Recorded on September 30, 1969, Cold Turkey was the first thing Lennon did after announcing, ten days previously, to the rest of the Beatles that he wanted a musical divorce. Helped by Ringo Starr on drums, Klaus Voorman on bass and Eric Clapton on guitar, Cold Turkey gives off much of the rage of that separation, a blues along the lines of Yer Blues that, similarly, can be defined as Blues Grunge, with that dirty distortion that Lennon liked so much in this part of his career. Before going it alone, Lennon had offered the song to McCartney as a potential single for the band in the Abbey Road sessions but he had not been too impressed. In spite of everything Lennon did believe in it and, with his usual sarcasm, wrote the following when he returned his decoration to the Queen of England: " I am returning this MBE in protest against Britain's involvement in the Nigeria-Biafra thing, against our support of America in Vietnam, and against Cold Turkey slipping down the charts. With love, John Lennon of Bag "
His first solo record after the separation of the Beatles, Plastic Ono Band, was a Spartan work impregnated with all the rage of 'scream therapy' he had gone through, but it also had moments of calm like this beautiful Hold On, on which you can appreciate his particular tribute to Curtis Mayfield as a guitarist (one of the great inspirations of Hendrix). A song with a lot of soul, thanks to the delicate guitar of Lennon with an expressive use of tremolo.
Well Well Well
Another turn for that dirty and distorted sound that can be seen as an antecedent of grunge. Both Lennon's guitar and Ringo's drums sound rough and harsh, creating a primitive sound that perfectly responds to Lennon's own phrase "I'm not very good technically, but I can make the thing howl and move!"