The Beatles had a standard rock band formation with Paul McCartney on bass, John Lennon on rhythm guitar, George Harrison on lead guitar, and Ringo Starr was, of course, the drummer. What was particularly rare for rock bands in the 1960s was having such a spread of singing and songwriting talent. Not only did The Beatles have the most successful songwriting partnership of all time in Lennon and McCartney, but they had an underappreciated songwriter in George Harrison. On top of all that, they could all sing fantastically, Ringo included.
In the all-revealing Peter Jackson documentary, The Beatles: Get Back, released last year, the four were shown to be rather talented in playing each others’ instruments. The documentary showed the group writing and recording the music for their final two albums, Abbey Road (1969) and Let It Be (1970). At this late point in their career, the band’s iconic manager, Brian Epstein, had died and seemingly left a hole behind. Of the four Beatles, McCartney appeared to be the most driven and took the role of manager on sufferance.
McCartney took the reins during the songwriting process and appeared to contribute the most. He could be seen playing his bass, rhythm guitar, piano, and drums on a couple of occasions. Throughout the eight-hour documentary, the other members showed their abilities in different roles too. Lennon, usually a rhythm guitarist, showed his prowess as a lead guitarist on ‘Get Back’; Harrison gave the bass a whirl, and Ringo demoed his penned track, ‘Octopus’s Garden’ at the piano.
As it transpires, McCartney, especially, had taken the time to become quite the multi-instrumentalist during the 1960s. By the latter half of the decade, he had become a confident drummer. McCartney even took over drumming duties for the recording of four of the group’s songs.
In 1968, during the sessions for The Beatles’ eponymous album, The White Album, Ringo left the band temporarily. He purportedly departed because of the constant bickering between the other members, and he had started to lose confidence in his ability as a drummer. In Ringo’s stead, McCartney took to the drum kit to record ‘Back in the U.S.S.R.’ and ‘Dear Prudence’.
Later that year, Ringo returned from his break, and the four were back on good terms with each other. Despite Ringo being back, it seems that McCartney had become rather fond of playing the drums, so he decided to record the beat for his White Album song, ‘Martha My Dear’. After the release of the White Album, McCartney also played the drums on the band’s final UK number one hit single, ‘The Ballad of John and Yoko’.
Listen to McCartney’s drumming on ‘The Ballad of John and Yoko’ below.