Composers and Instrumentalists
Most fans know Paul
played bass guitar, John rhythm guitar, George
lead guitar and Ringo drums. But all the Beatles
had some proficiency on the piano and each used
it to compose songs, which contributed to the
exceptional breadth of the Beatles music catalogue.
Paul learned to play piano as a young boy but
never learned to read music. Although he is known
primarily as a bass guitar player, Paul experimented
with many instruments, including Moog and Mellotron
synthesizers. His mastery of the piano as a compositional
instrument is said to have empowered him as a
composer (perhaps something only fellow pianists
can begin to appreciate). George Martin and John
Lennon commented that Paul was the most technically
proficient musician in the band. He played piano
on many Beatles' tracks including "Hey Jude",
"The Fool on the Hill", "The Long
and Winding Road" and "Let It Be".
He played drums on "The Ballad of John and
Yoko", "Back in the USSR" and "Dear
Prudence" (as well as bass guitar, piano
and flugelhorn). "Michelle" was possibly
performed entirely by Paul. He is also skilled
on guitar, contributing guitar solos to, among
other tracks "Taxman", "Back in
the USSR" and "The End".
Given his widely acknowledged expertise and inventiveness
as a songwriter, John was less proficient playing
rhythmic instruments such as drums or bass. For
example, during the song "Another Girl"
in the movie Help! he appears to play the drums
uneasily and out of rhythm (the Beatles all switch
their instruments during this clip). John played
piano on "I Am The Walrus" and bass
on "Back in the USSR", "Let It
Be" and "The Long and Winding Road"
in which, if one listens closely, a few technical
mistakes can be heard (these were fixed decades
later on McCartney's stripped down, "un-Spectored"
version Let it Be... Naked). The other Beatles
admitted to teasing John about his timekeeping.
When the remaining Beatles reunited in the mid
90s to record some of John's unreleased demo tracks,
producer Jeff Lynne used studio technology to
compensate for John's flexible sense of tempo
(ironically, since his wonted instrumental role
in the Beatles is usually characterized as rhythm
George was known for excelling when playing melodic
lines, riffs and fills on guitar-like string instruments
('One of the greats', in McCartney's words). In
addition to lead guitar and sitar, George played
tambura on "Across The Universe", bass
guitar on "Birthday", synthesiser on
"Octopus's Garden", and Hammond organ
on "Blue Jay Way". His usual allotment
(or limit) of one or two compositions per album,
however, is said to have contributed to the tensions
surrounding the band's breakup.
Although Ringo reportedly admits his musical knowledge
beyond percussion is limited, he composed some
songs on piano, including "Don't Pass Me
By" (he plays electric piano on this recording)
and "Octopus's Garden". Ringo claimed
to have contributed the famous line "Father
McKenzie, wiping the dirt from his hands as he
walks from the grave" to "Eleanor Rigby",
which was ostensibly written by McCartney. A line
confirmed as his is, "Look at him working,
darning his socks in the night when there's nobody
there." Ringo was also responsible for a
number of song titles, inspired by his malapropisms
of homespun Liverpudlian sayings. Some notables
include "A Hard Day's Night", "Eight
Days a Week" and "Tomorrow Never Knows".
Critical appreciation of his steady, supportive
drumming has increased through the decades. He
is said to have recorded the drums on many Beatles'
recordings in a single take.
Their producer George Martin influenced
many songs, performed on several and composed
a few fragments. "Hello, Goodbye" is
said to have developed from an improvised piano
duet by McCartney and Martin. The orchestra parts
heard in some Beatles recordings were mostly composed
or arranged by Martin.