Unlike most bands, The Beatles professed to have three expert players of the guitar in the band. While John Lennon was your archetypal rhythmic rocker, George Harrison had an uncanny uniqueness which made him invaluable… then there’s Paul McCartney’s not-too-shabby command of the instrument.
It’s unsurprising, then, that despite concentrating more on the composition of songs rather than the purist devotion to their instruments, the band had some more than memorable guitar moments. Below we’ve picked out the 10 best guitar solos The Beatles ever produced.
It’s fair to say that when you think of the Liverpudlian four-piece, searing guitar solos aren’t exactly the first thing that jumps to mind. However, in between the expert songwriting and craftsmanship, there are some incredible solos that prove Lennon, Harrison and sometimes McCartney were just as capable of laying down a righteous lick as anyone else.
From the band’s very beginning to their very end, they have always placed guitars and rock ‘n’ roll at the centre of what they do. Whether it’s to grab people by the scruff of the neck and lift them on to the dancefloor or their guitar expressing things that lyrics couldn’t match, The Beatles knew how to use their guitars.
See the list, below.
The Beatles’ 10 best guitar solos:
10. ‘Sweet Little Sixteen’ (1962)
Going right back to the very beginning, this fiery guitar solo from George Harrison is all the proof you need that the Fab Four were intent on making rock ‘n’ roll their focus from the very beginning.
The song, doubtless inspired by Chuck Berry, is a rip-roaring vision of the mania the band would induce once they properly hit the charts. But back in 1962, as the band limbered up for a huge career journey, this solo ranks among the best. Harrison may have been an honest player at the time but this performance shows he had some chops.
9. ‘I Saw Her Standing There’ (1963)
One of the band’s first breakthrough moments saw Lennon ditch the good boy routine and let a rip on this track. “I wrote it with John,” remembers McCartney in 1988. “We sagged off school and wrote it on guitars. I remember I had the lyrics, ‘Just seventeen/Never been a beauty queen,’ which John… it was one of the first times he ever went, ‘What? Must change that!’ And it became, ‘you know what I mean’.”
It was this cavalier attitude that is taken into the song’s guitar licks as it offers a short sharp reminder of what was to come.
8. ‘Taxman’ (1966)
Taken from the band’s 1966 record Revolver, ‘Taxman’ is widely seen as Harrison’s first major contribution to the band’s canon. It’s perhaps fitting then that he and McCartney swapped positions on this song with Harrison using his pen and McCartney picking up the guitar.
In 1984, Macca said of the song, “George wrote that and I played guitar on it. He wrote it in anger at finding out what the taxman did. He had never known before then what could happen to your money.” Harrison was seemingly happy with his contribution, “I was pleased to have Paul play that bit on ‘Taxman.’ If you notice, he did like a little Indian bit on it for me.”
7. ‘I Want You (She’s So Heavy)’ (1969)
On Abbey Road, the band arguably stepped up a gear. Though it would prove to be one of the band’s final records, it saw each member rise as a songwriter in their own right and have complete control of their instruments.
With ‘I Want You (She’s So Heavy)’ George Harrison took a step back and allowed Lennon’s performance to flourish under the spotlight. “It’s very heavy,” said Harrison in 1969. “John plays lead guitar and sings the same as he plays. It’s really basically a bit like a blues. The riff that he sings and plays is really a very basic blues-type thing. But again, it’s very original sort of John-type song.”
Foreboding and brooding, it swells like a storm and unleashes electric charges from the heavens.
6. ‘Nowhere Man’ (1965)
There aren’t many solos that have the ability to light up a room but George Harrison was able to play an illuminating lick at the drop of a hat. Not necessarily famed as a virtuoso of the 1960s, Harrison’s style was unique and intrinsic to The Beatles success. On ‘Nowhere Man’, he really shows it.
The solo feels like it has been coated in golden sunshine and somehow manages to enlighten the somewhat lost subject matter of Lennon’s composition. While there are several highlights in the track the best moments come at the end of the performance.
5. ‘Get Back’ (1970)
Arguably the most ‘rocking’ song of the band’s back catalogue, ‘Get Back’ has always signified the ending of one of the greatest band’s of al time. It’s a shame because under the emotional baggage and Paul McCartney’s bluster there is some joyous guitar work.
John Lennon describes the song as a “potboiler” while Ringo has called it a “toe-tapper”, the truth is that it’s a full-on rocker. As capable of moving your feet as making you wish for time’s gone by, ‘Get Back’ will always be a beloved song for The Beatles.
4. ‘Let It Be’ (1970)
We must be very clear here, we do not mean the single version of ‘Let It Be’, which if we’re honest is about as edgy or cool as a wet lettuce. We’re talking about the powerful and poignant album version of the song.
A touching ballad and a truly sentimental message provide the perfect masquerade for the guitar solo to completely ambush its listener. Harrison blasts through the walls with his fuzzed-up lick, providing the perfect refrain for the reflective track. It’s easily one of his best.
3. ‘Something’ (1969)
There isn’t much about the incredible track ‘Something’ that hasn’t already been said by Frank Sinatra when he labelled the track the “greatest love song for fifty years”. It was a poignant moment which noted Harrison’s ascendancy as a songwriter—but it also provided a killer solo.
It, like so much patchouli-scented incense, sets the ambience for this 1969 beauty. Harrison does his best work when expressing his own lyrics and on ‘Something’ he is careful and deliberate yet caressing and definitive. It’s a joy to listen to. Special shout out to Paul McCartney’s unique bassline too.
2. ‘The End’ (1969)
The most complete set of solos in a Beatles song came at the very end of their career, aptly titled ‘The End’. The song features nine guitar solos with each one lasting around two bars with McCartney, Harrison and Lennon all given three apiece. It makes for a perfect reflection of their talent and their individual personalities.
Naturally, Harrison and McCartney provide the more eloquent expressions with their guitar solos but there’s something fitting about John Lennon’s third and final go. Not only does he force it over the line with brute energy, like he did almost everything he did, but he also picked up the final solo acting as the final recorded moments of The Beatles—the band he started all those years ago.
1. ‘While My Guitar Gently Weeps’ (1968)
We thought as we’re here, we’d make this final pick a controversial one. Undoubtedly the finest guitar solo on The Beatles records was contributed by Eric Clapton. Of course, we’re talking about the White Album song ‘While My Guitar Gently Weeps‘.
Inspired by the Tibetan Book of the Dead, Harrison composed the song and, according to some, the guitar solo too, could never really get it down in the studio. Harrison had been struggling to complete the song and asked close friend Eric Clapton for help.
Clapton turned up at Abbey Road Studio to do just that—but after a period of convincing. “Nobody ever plays on the Beatles’ records,” Clapton is thought to have said to Harrison with a moment of trepidation. “So what?” Harrison replied. “It’s my song.”
In a 1987 interview with Guitar Player Magazine, Harrison was asked whether it had hurt his ego: “No, my ego would rather have Eric play on it. I’ll tell you, I worked on that song with John, Paul, and Ringo one day, and they were not interested in it at all,” he said. “And I knew inside of me that it was a nice song.”
Harrison added: “The next day I was with Eric, and I was going into the session, and I said, ‘We’re going to do this song. Come on and play on it’. He said, ‘Oh, no. I can’t do that. Nobody ever plays on the Beatles records’. I said, ‘Look, it’s my song, and I want you to play on it’. So Eric came in, and the other guys were as good as gold because he was there.”
If you needed further proof of just how inspirational this moment of backwards sliding solo really was then you just need to find the footage of Prince and Dhani Harrison playing the tune below. It’s truly magical.