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(Credit: Bent Rej)

Music

Why John Lennon played lead guitar on The Beatles song 'Get Back'

@TylerGolsen

John Lennon was a lot of things: expert singer, clever lyricist, multi-instrumentalist, iconoclastic forward thinker, peace advocate, bread enthusiast. But in The Beatles, he was very rarely a lead guitarist.

That’s because the band already had one of the most accomplished guitar players in the world: George Harrison. Harrison was specifically picked up with the idea that he would be the band’s lead guitarist, and so Lennon never strayed too far outside the realm of rhythm.

But Lennon wasn’t exclusively a rhythm player. Every once in a while, whether it was because he already had a solo in mind or because Harrison was preoccupied, Lennon stepped up to provide lead guitar lines on Beatles songs. He and Harrison split the lead part in harmony on ‘And Your Bird Can Sing’, while Lennon took the solo on ‘You Can’t Do That’ after Harrison played the main riff.

Lennon’s stinging lead lines can be heard on ‘Revolution’, ‘Birthday’, and ‘Yer Blues’, and indeed it seemed that Lennon was eager to play lead on the dirtier, bluesier numbers within the band’s catalogue. Lennon’s lead style was aggressive and unhinged, as evidenced by his series of turns during his section of solos on ‘The End’. But Lennon could also be a restrained player: his brief solo on ‘Honey Pie’ is jazzy and indicative of a more classical ear, while his slide work on ‘For You Blue’ is his bluesier side in a more sedate setting.

If you had to point to a single Lennon lead part that was his most accomplished, however, it just might be ‘Get Back’. There are roots of the blues in the song’s composition, but it also is a relatively straight-ahead rocker, the kind that Harrison excelled at finding solo parts for. So why is it Lennon providing those lines instead of Harrison?

The answer lies in Harrison’s temperature departure from the group during the Let It Be sessions. Fed up with the tense atmosphere and Paul McCartney’s autocratic style of leadership, Harrison left with the intention to quit in the early days of 1969. After a day or two of kicking around the possibilities of hiring a new guitarist, Lennon decided to fill in for Harrison during the arranging of ‘Get Back’. His lead lines are fluid and reminiscent of fifties rock and roll players like Scotty Moore and Carl Perkins, the same players who influenced Harrison’s initial playing style.

When Harrison agreed to return a few days after his walkout, ‘Get Back’ was in the stages of being solidified. Seeing as how there was already a lead guitar part in place, ‘Get Back’ became one of the rare songs in The Beatles canon where Lennon was the designated lead player and Harrison was the designated rhythm player.