John Lennon never saw himself as a phenomenal guitarist. The truth was that he didn’t have to be: he was in a band with George Harrison and Paul McCartney, so any need for a quality lead line or a stinging solo was already covered. Lennon got a few chances to show off his lead chops, including on ‘Get Back’ and ‘I Want You (She’s So Heavy)’, but Lennon saw his role in The Beatles as a rhythm guitarist as being essential for the group.
“I’m OK, I’m not technically good, but I can make it fucking howl and move,” Lennon told Rolling Stone in 1970. “I was rhythm guitarist. It’s an important job. I can make a band drive. You see, one part of me says yes, of course I can play because I can make a rock move. But the other part of me says well, ‘I wish I could just do like B. B. King.’ If you would put me with B. B. King, I would feel real silly.”
Lennon got in some good-natured barbs against Harrison during the same interview, saying, “He’s pretty good. (Laughter) I prefer myself. I have to be honest, you know. I’m really very embarrassed about my guitar playing, in one way, because it’s very poor, I can never move, but I can make a guitar speak.”
But Lennon’s role as a rhythm player was important to the foundation of The Beatles’ music. Without his steady and chunky chord playing, songs like ‘A Hard Day’s Night’, ‘You’re Going to Lose That Girl’, and ‘Eight Days a Week’ would lose their drive. One rhythm part in particular was impressive enough for Lennon to give himself an uncharacteristic compliment.
“‘All My Loving’ is Paul, I regret to say,” Lennon told 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.” That rhythm part was more than just standard strumming: Lennon plays a frantic triplet pattern that gives the song its unique motion.
‘All My Loving’ proved to be a massively influential song, being the first track that The Beatles played during their first appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show. 73 million viewers watched Lennon’s wild rhythm part that night, and along with Harrison’s country-tinged solo, Lennon’s guitar playing inspired a major boom in electric guitar sales immediately after their performance.