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#askNat – concerning The Beatles’ lead guitar rolls and “The End”

For this time around on #askNat I have come across an inquiry sent to me back in May from Roger Tomlin of Augusta, Georgia. It’s a two-for-one sort of question as he points out below but since the questions are related I’ll knock them both out. Here is what Roger says:

Hey, Nat…My #askNat question is sort of a two-fer. But, still concerning essentially the same thing.  First, George Harrison was officially the lead guitar player in The Beatles. However, there are numerous lead parts that are played by John Lennon or Paul McCartney. John on “You Can’t Do That” comes to mind. Do you have a comprehensive list of leads by John and Paul? And secondly, concerning the track entitled “The End” (on Abbey Road) which spotlights each Beatle’s playing ability – at least that’s what I’ve read – begins with Ringo’s great drum solo then progresses into a series of guitar breaks by the other 3 Beatles.  Is this true and if so what was the playing order and full story behind this? Thanks Nat.


The Beatles

The Beatles

Good set of questions here, Roger. I have compiled a quick listing of songs for both John and Paul on lead guitar. In a few cases for either of the two, they are playing the ONLY guitar so I count that as lead. I have suffixed those with an asterisk in parentheses “(*).” In some cases there is lead guitar played by more than one Beatle on the same song. In such cases I have annotated with “(wG),” “(wP)” or “(wJ)” which means “lead guitar along with George or Paul or John” respectively. I put this together quickly using some references from my own library and should say it’s very possible that I missed some, so let me know in the comments section below and I will add them in if need be.

John as lead guitarist:

  1. “Across The Universe”
  2. “Back In The U.S.S.R.” (wP/wG)
  3. “The Ballad Of John & Yoko” (*)
  4. “Because”
  5. “Birthday”
  6. “Day Tripper” (wG)
  7. “The End” (wP/wG)
  8. “Every Little Thing”
  9. “For You Blue” (slide)
  10. “Get Back”
  11. “Getting Better” (wG)
  12. “Happiness Is A Warm Gun” (wG)
  13. “Hello Goodbye” (wG)
  14. “Helter Skelter” (wP)
  15. “Hey Bulldog” (see note below this list)
  16. “Honey Pie”(*)
  17. “I Want You (She’s So Heavy)” (wG)
  18. “I’m So Tired” (wG)
  19. “It’s All Too Much” (wG)
  20. “Julia” (*)
  21. “Lady Madonna” (wG)
  22. “Long Tall Sally” (wG)
  23. “Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds”
  24. “Nowhere Man” (wG)
  25. “Revolution” (wG)
  26. “Revolution 1″ (wG)
  27. “Slow Down”
  28. “Yer Blues” (wG)
  29. “You Can’t Do That”

Note: Some references have George Harrison playing lead on “Hey Bulldog.” Tony Bramwell (who was there shooting the film coverage for the video which ended up used for Lady Madonna (ref: John C. Winn’s That Magic Feeling) recalls it as John Lennon. Geoff Emerick (who was also there as sound engineer) recalls it as George (Geoff’s Here, There and Everywhere book). The solo is very much in the style of John. In the video we actually see John playing lead and this video was from the actual session.

Four track breakdown: George plays rhythm and the fuzzy main guitar riffs on the backing track along with John’s piano and Ringo on drums. The second track has Paul’s bass and George doubling the main riff on a fuzzed guitar. The third track was John and Paul’s vocals with Paul shaking a tambourine. The fourth track were the final overdubs including the guitar solo.

Paul as lead guitarist:

  1. “And Your Bird Can Sing” (wG)
  2. “Another Girl”
  3. “Back In The U.S.S.R.” (wJ/wG)
  4. “Being For The Benefit Of Mr. Kite”
  5. “Blackbird” (*)
  6. “Drive My Car”
  7. “The End” (wJ/wG)
  8. “Fixing A Hole” (conflicting sources, possibly George)
  9. “Good Morning, Good Morning”
  10. “Helter Skelter” (wJ)
  11. “Her Majesty” (*)
  12. “I’ll Follow The Sun” (wG)
  13. “I Will” (*)
  14. “Martha My Dear” (*)
  15. “Maxwell’s Silver Hammer” (wG)
  16. “Mother Nature’s Son” (*)
  17. “The Night Before”
  18. “Polythene Pam” (wG)
  19. “Rocky Raccoon” (*)
  20. “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band”
  21. “She Came In Through The Bathroom Window” (wG)
  22. “Taxman” (wG)
  23. “Ticket To Ride”
  24. “Why Don’t We Do It In The Road” (*)
  25. “Wild Honey Pie” (*)
  26. “Yesterday” (*)


The Beatles, Abbey Road cover art, 1969

The Beatles, Abbey Road cover art, 1969


As for the second part of Roger’s inquiry about “The End.” Paul came up with the idea to write a couplet to “end” the Abbey Road medley – hence the title. All four Beatles have a solo in the song followed by Paul’s immortally philosophical final line: And in the end, the love you take is equal to the love you make. Ringo Starr disliked drum solos and his part initially included guitar and tambourine but these were muted during mixing to give the effect of a drum solo.

The backing track recorded on July 23rd, 1969 was originally shorter but was extended by editing from 22 bars to 28 bars to accommodate the lead guitar solos played by John, Paul and George. The “love you” vocals were placed on top of the backing along with the guitar solos.

The guitar solos rotate in order with Paul’s first, followed by George’s and then John’s. Each solo only lasts two bars. The sequence then repeats between the three of them two more times (three times total). After the edit extension, the song’s duration was 2:41 but with final editing it was trimmed back to 2:05 (leaving all solos intact). The orchestration heard at the song’s finale was overdubbed on August 15th, 1969 and the song ends with a humming chorus and final guitar solo played by George.

The final overdubbing work on “The End” from August 18th, 1969 was the last time all four Beatles recorded together as a band. The following day final sessions for the Abbey Road album commenced with overdub work on “Here Comes The Sun” but John was not in attendance. Since the recording for this track of George’s began while John was still recuperating in the hospital from a car crash, he had no real part in the song anyway. On August 20th, 1969, all four Beatles assembled at EMI Studio 2 for the last time as a group to oversee the master tape compilation for Abbey Road.

In closing I would encourage anyone that is interested in more details on The Beatles recording sessions to check out John C Winn’s two volumes: Way Beyond Compare: The Beatles Recorded Legacy Volume One, 1957-1965 and That Magic Feeling: The Beatles Recorded Legacy Volume Two, 1966-1970 (links to purchase are below).

That’s about all I have on this Roger. Thanks again for a great topic to discuss. If anyone reading has anything to add, please do so in the comments section below. Thanks all for reading!

Thank you to everyone who has sent in their questions! Keep #askNat going by sending your questions to me in any of the following ways:

1) There is a designated form that you fill out right on the website where you can give your name, location, email address and submit your question. The form is right here and is the same form used to submit requests for BROWs (Beatles Rarity Of The Weeks).

2) If you are a Facebook user, you can submit your question right on TheBeatlesRarity FB wall at www.facebook.com/beatlesrarity. If you think about it, try to remember to flag your question with “#askNat”.

3) Similarly, if you are a Google+ user, you can submit your question on TheBeatlesRarity Google+ page at www.gplus.to/beatlesrarity. Google+ supports hashtag searchability so it will be helpful if you preface your question with “#askNat” here too.

4) For you Twitter users, www.twitter.com/beatlesrarity gets you to the right place. Post your question and be sure to add “#askNat” somewhere in the tweet.

Here are some Amazon links to read more on, or purchase music related to this post:

1) Abbey Road (Remastered) 2009 remaster of original 1969 LP (CD or vinyl available). Includes finalized version of “The End.”

2) Beatles Anthology 3 -1996 collection of Beatles out-takes and extras recorded between 1968 and 1969. Includes an alternate ix of “The End” before the guitar and tambourine was mixed out to create Ringo’s drum solo.

3) Way Beyond Compare: The Beatles’ Recorded Legacy, 1957-1965 – pretty much all you need to know about The Beatles recording sessions from 1957-1965 and the best sources for what releases you can find them on.

4) That Magic Feeling: The Beatles’ Recorded Legacy, Volume Two, 1966-1970 – pretty much all you need to know about The Beatles recording sessions from 1966-1970 and the best sources for what releases you can find them on.

5) Beatles/Beatles-related Music: The Beatles, John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison and Ringo Starr.

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  • KeyMeestro says:

    Great post, Nat!

    I really want to go through your list and check out the songs specifically. I always thought it was a cool coincidence that Paul played a slide guitar solo years before George.

    I never realized how much contention there was about the guitar solo in “Hey Bulldog”. If you watch the “Lady Madonna” video (re-edited to “Hey Bulldog”) you can see shots of the Rhythm track (Drums, George/ gtr, John/piano, and Paul/ tambourines). Then, you see shots of Paul on Bass (with John on piano again? The piano isn’t double tracked as far as I can tell). Then, lastly you see the shots of John and Paul at the mic and John with George’s SG.

    I agree that stylistically the guitar solo matches very closely to other solos that John has played (including “The End”). My only thought would be that George played the semi-clean rhythm/lead part for the backing track and John overdubbed the fuzz lead and the solo on the same guitar. This would give both parts similar timbres and it explains why the fuzz guitar part goes right in to the guitar solo.

    And an FYI: “Recording the Beatles” [Kehew/ Ryan] Curvebender Pub) have the tracks as Track 1 – Dr, gtr, pho, tamb; Track 2 – bass, gtr, snare overdub; Track 3 – vocals/ gtr solo; Track 4 – vocals/ gtr solo. The solo was punched in on the vocal tracks. They believe the guitar solo is George because John’s voice can possibly be heard on the isolated tracks. Regardless, it certainly doesn’t sound like George. To be honest, to my Beatle-geek/music-geek ears, it doesn’t sound double-tracked but more likely treated with ADT.

    But perhaps I’ve said too much… lol. Thanks again, Nat!!

  • Pat says:

    You forgot “Blackbird” (*) in the PAUL AS LEAD GUITARIST section. I did not realise John plays lead guitar on “Nowhere Man!” Does he play the early guitar solo or is that George?

  • Steve says:

    Q: Have you compiled a list of the songs w/J&G on bass?

  • carol says:

    Love this post! I was just wondering the other day what order John, Paul, and George played guitar on The End. I didn’t realize John and Paul played lead on so many songs. How about drumming? I think the only 2 songs Paul played drums on was Back in the USSR and The Ballad of John and Yoko. I don’t think John ever played drums. Also a coincidence regarding the last time all four Beatles recorded together as a band on August 18, 1969. The first time Ringo played a gig in the band as an official member was August 18, 1962.

  • Hugh Peche says:

    Doesn’t John also play the signature riff on I Feel Fine? Even though George plays the ‘solo’, when the riff kicks in, isn’t it John? Seems on any “live” recording of the song, he’s playing it – Shea, Buddakan. He allegedly brought the riff into the session, copying a similar riff from an older R&B (?) song.

    • Happy Nat says:

      Yep, he does HP. The influencing riff was from “Watch Your Step,” a 1961 release written and performed by Bobby Parker and covered by The Beatles in concerts during 1961 and 1962.

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