Hello (goodbye) all! Happy February, happy British Invasion anniversary (for the 9th) and happy Rooftop Concert anniversary (for the 30th of last month)! And so it’s back to school for tangerinetrees99. To paraphrase John, “Another school year, a new one just begun.” But anyway…
Today I thought I’d do a post around my favourite Beatle. (I think everyone who reads this blog knows which Beatle I’m talking about.) And something which not everyone immediately associates with that particular Beatle; his rhythm guitar skills!
Despite what a few people think, John was an incredibly good rhythm guitarist. (Rhythm guitar, by the way, is the rhythmic strumming of guitar chords, as opposed to lead guitar, which is fingering melodies.) In fact, he was an utter rhythm guitar genius. (And those who play rhythm guitar know that it is a lot harder than it looks.) Changing between dirty, bluesy sloppiness (a la ‘Revolution’) and incredibly precise, near-impossible perfection (a la ‘All My Loving’), with some stabbing proto-punk and tender fingerpicking in between, John helped Ringo make The Beatles drive. John had a quirky yet strong sense of rhythm and timing, and often relied on the offbeats (beats 2 and 4 in a bar of 4 beats) to create his rhythm part. He also had a penchant for barre chords, also contributing to that distinctive Lennon sound. A deceptively simple concept to follow, John truly was one of the few who innovated rhythm guitar for generations to come. Here are nine of my Lennon rhythm favourites, in no particular order:
9. ‘She’s A Woman’
Despite one missed chord change, John’s barred, offbeat stabs of his Rickenbacker 325 practically sums up his style in one song. As much as I love Paul’s “Little Richard” vocals, my very favourite thing about this song is the rhythm part. Thanks Johnny!
8. ‘All My Loving’
A well-known example of John’s guitar skills, this song is practically impossible to play. Those nay-sayers need to be directed to this song. Just check out those super-fast triplets! Proves that The Beatles were always an incredibly good band, even before Rubber Soul!
7. ‘I’m Looking Through You’
This song is too overlooked. Not only is it one of Paul’s best songs (in my opinion), John’s acoustic guitar is damn groovy! Who can’t dig all those complicated finger movements and rhythms? Definitely one of my favourite songs to play. (George’s groovy distorted lead is cool, too!)
As soon as that iconic distorted groove kicks off, John’s guitar work in ‘Revolution’ only goes up. John himself said that he found himself a better guitarist after working on this song! As you probably know by now, I have a penchant for distorted, dirty guitar work, of which John is the master. I seriously dig the sort of bluesy patterns John is beating out on his Casino. (Side note: Nicky Hopkins played keyboard on this track. He is probably the only guy ever to have played on the records of the Beatles, solo-Beatles, Stones, Kinks, Easybeats, Who…)
5. ‘Yer Blues’
Okay. This song was definitely going to be on the list. Again, deceptively simple. Actually near impossible. John’s quirky sense of timing certainly contributes to the absolutely groovy feel of this song! His rhythm part alternates between incredibly precise “frills” at the end of each line and sloppy swinging. I find the distinction between lead and rhythm very fine on this song, which is cool! The Rolling Stones Rock’n’Roll Circus performance of this song (with Eric Clapton on lead, Mitch Mitchell on drums and Keith Richards on bass) shows the distinction a little more, for those interested (also includes John and Mick Jagger doing incredibly bad US accents and being jokey…):
4. ‘Across The Universe’
John’s acoustic work here is just gorgeous! Especially the intro. It definitely isn’t as complicated as some of the stuff above. But it’s really beautiful to listen to. And isn’t that what true music is all about?
John used the fingerpicking technique that Donovan taught him in India on this absolutely heartbreaking track. John uses a few really obscure chords on this song. He really did have an impeccable knowledge of creative harmonies… Totally beautiful. Whilst he was a master of the dirty, sloppy rhythm, his tender fingerpicking is too underrated.
2. ‘Revolution 1’ (‘Kinfauns’ Demo Tapes version)
I know I included the single version of this song above, but I just had to include the ‘Kinfauns’ (George’s house at the time) Demo Tapes version! That guitar work at the beginning is something I love very much. I think John is also playing barre chords (or maybe with a capo), playing true to the “Lennon sound”. The Beatles all sound like they are enjoying themselves very much, which contributes to the fun sound of the demo!
1. ‘I Found Out’
Yes, I know this is in fact a song off John’s first solo album. Not a Beatles song (though Ringo does play drums on it). But I had to include it somewhere! That rumbling, dirty distortion is not something you hear every day… Some people even count it as proto punk! A really rockin’ song.
HONORABLE MENTIONS: ‘I’m So Tired’, ‘Everybody’s Got Something To Hide Except For Me and My Monkey’, ‘Norwegian Wood (This Bird Has Flown)’, pretty much anything on A Hard Day’s Night, ‘Help!’, ‘She Said, She Said’, ‘I’m Only Sleeping’, many other songs…
And there we go! Exposing another exceptionally talented side of John, for which he isn’t always known for… Have you got a favourite Lennon rhythm part? Please tell me in the comments!
Oh, and yesterday, I played my first gig! It was really wonderful! Once I put the videos somewhere, I will post about the experience here, so keep an eye out… But until then, good day sunshine! 🙂