The Beatles: Guitar Heroes 12 – John Lennon

Despite his status as master songwriter and cultural icon, John Lennon (1940-1980) was, first, a guitar player.

Lennon, founding member of The Beatles, played rhythm formidably, as evidenced by rock-steady chording, deft figures (“I Feel Fine”), rapid-fire triplets (“All My Loving”), delicate jazz fingerings (“Til There Was You”), and fine fingerpicking (“Julia,” “Look at Me”).

Although he had played some Chuck Berry-type leads in the band’s early days, Lennon gladly turned over those duties to George Harrison. In the studio, however, he did like to keep his hand in. Lennon’s first lead on record occurred on 25 February 1964, on his composition “You Can’t Do That,” followed a few days later by a solo on “Long Tall Sally” (a song the boys nailed in one take). There followed solos on, among other songs, “Every Little Thing,” “Get Back,” “I Want You (She’s So Heavy),” “Happiness Is a Warm Gun,” “Yer Blues,” “Honey Pie,” “Ballad of John and Yoko,” a slide solo on “For You Blue,” and, alternating with Harrison and Paul McCartney, “The End.”

Lennon did all the lead work on his first solo album, Plastic Ono Band, but on subsequent outings relied on Harrison, Eric Clapton and Jessie Ed Davis, among others. In the course of his career he traded riffs onstage with Chuck Berry, Keith Richard, Clapton and Frank Zappa.

His last piece of guitar playing, a manic lead on Yoko Ono’s “Walking On Thin Ice” (12/80), showed his self-described “primitive” lead playing at its zenith.

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