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Music

Why Paul McCartney took the guitar solo on George Harrison's pivotal song for The Beatles

If The Beatles: Get Back proved anything about the later stages of The Beatles career, it was that the arguments that were known to permeate the sessions largely revolved around Paul McCartney and George Harrison. Although John Lennon’s passive presence throughout the project was viewed negatively as well, it was the conflict between McCartney’s domineering leadership style and Harrison’s desire to have a greater creative freedom that caused the most friction.

One of the most infamous moments came when the band were attempting to figure out the arrangement to ‘Two of Us’. McCartney was attempting to explain what kind of guitar part he wanted Harrison to play, explaining that they needed to strip the song back because it had gotten “too complicated”. Harrison responded that it wasn’t complicated, and eventually told McCartney that he would play whatever he wanted, or he wouldn’t play at all if that’s what pleased him. It’s not the knockdown, drag-out conflicts that some might have expected, but the exasperation between the pair is clear.

It wasn’t always this way. Earlier in their career, there was a time when Harrison was given ample amounts of room to express himself and put forth his own compositions while being easygoing enough to allow McCartney to step in a perform a lead guitar solo when he had an idea. As if to directly contrast the bitterness and exhaustion that came as a part of ‘Two of Us’, the arrangement and recording of ‘Taxman’ from Revolver is almost a complete inverse of the situation.

According to engineer Geoff Emerick, McCartney’s participation in the song’s solo did come out of a still looking down on Harrison as a songwriter. “This was, after all, a Harrison song and therefore not something anyone was prepared to spend a whole lot of time on,” Emerick explains in his book Here, There, and Everywhere. Harrison had taken a few hours to try and figure out the relatively brief solo, but nothing came out of it. It was then that producer George Martin suggested that McCartney give it a go.

“I could see from the look on Harrison’s face that he didn’t like the idea one bit, but he reluctantly agreed and proceeded to disappear for a couple of hours,” Emerick adds. Even though he was initially miffed, Harrison would later claim that “I was pleased to have him play that bit on ‘Taxman’. If you notice, he did like a little Indian bit on it for me,” in Kenny Womack’s book The Beatles Encyclopedia: Everything Fab Four. Writer Chris Ingram and Walter Everett also claim that Harrison was happy to let McCartney take on the solo, contrasting the air of resentment put forth by Emerick.

The song is resolutely thought of as the moment Harrison found his songwriting niche. One man who certainly thought so was John Lennon, who also had a hand in the track’s completion. “I remember the day he (George) called to ask for help on ‘Taxman,’ one of his first songs,” recalled Lennon during his infamous interview with David Sheff. “I threw in a few one-liners to help the song along because that’s what he asked for. He came to me because he couldn’t go to Paul. Paul wouldn’t have helped him at that period. I didn’t want to do it. I just sort of bit my tongue and said OK. It had been John and Paul for so long, he’d been left out because he hadn’t been a songwriter up until then.” Eventually, Harrison would rely on McCartney’s guitar part to transform the track into what we know today.

It would be one of the first examples of McCartney directly interfering with Harrison’s usual working methods. It all seemed to work out on ‘Taxman’, but the good feelings wouldn’t last for too much longer.