It’s probably fair to say that The Beatles are revered for their songs first and foremost. This is hardly surprising; however, I’ve always felt that their musicianship has been somewhat overlooked as a result. Hardcore Beatles fans will always sing their praises in this area, but how often do you hear the average person rave about John Lennon’s guitar playing? They’re far more likely to talk about his talent as a songwriter.
In the years since his death, John has been remembered as a cultural icon, a man who stood up for what he believed in and promoted a message of peace, and whose acerbic wit and sense of humour shone through in his music. In other words, a great artist, but what about his actual abilities as a musician?
John was insecure about his voice, as many singers are, and often tried to lessen these feelings by asking George Martin to put effects on it in the studio. But he was gifted with one of the most recognisable voices of all time, which worked in his favour. There could be no mistaking it for anyone else’s, and while completely different to Paul McCartney’s, the two blended together beautifully. His guitar playing was also underrated, probably because rhythm guitarists are often overlooked in favour of lead players. But his punchy, aggressive style was just as distinctive as his singing. He was particularly proud of his triplet work on ‘All My Loving’, which for me is one of his finest moments as a guitarist.
Many would agree that Paul McCartney was the most technically skilled singer in the band. From an early age, he would impress his friends by breaking into a flawless impersonation of his hero Little Richard. He always had an extremely adaptable voice and an impressive range, and could take on seemingly any style.
As a multi-instrumentalist, Paul is much admired. He became The Beatles’ bass player by accident rather than design, but he developed into one of the most innovative of his generation, using the instrument as a melodic tool rather than simply as part of the rhythm section. He has also shown himself to be an excellent guitarist and pianist, and a pretty adequate drummer on occasion, too.
As the lead guitarist, George Harrison probably attracted the most attention for his musicianship. But compared to many of his contemporaries, he was still underrated, probably because he was never a flashy player. George originally secured his place in the band because he was streets ahead of most other guitarists his age in terms of ability. But as The Beatles’ career progressed, he only continued to get better, and in later years he developed a beautiful slide technique to complement his other skills. He applied the same dedication to mastering the sitar, and led the way in introducing Indian classical instruments to pop music.
By his own admission, George wasn’t the strongest singer to begin with. This is understandable, as he put most of his energy into the guitar. However, as time went on, his voice really matured. By the time of his solo career, he was a much more confident singer than he had been in the early Beatles days, with a whole new range to his voice.
You would think the world might have grown weary of arguing about Ringo Starr’s credentials as a drummer, but the debate still rages on after all these years. There are those who will tell you that Ringo was the perfect fit for the band purely because he had the right personality, but this simply isn’t true. If you ask any drummer, they will all speak highly of his abilities, and his bandmates did too. Not for nothing did Ringo have a reputation as one of the finest drummers in Liverpool before he joined The Beatles. He had his own unique sound and style that couldn’t be attributed to anybody else; when you hear Ringo playing, you know it’s him. It’s very difficult for a band to get by with a drummer that’s not much good. Ringo was always the rock-solid foundation The Beatles needed. He kept everything ticking over.
He never had the greatest voice in the world, but it was still perfectly serviceable and enjoyable to listen to. The fact that he got to sing lead on a number of The Beatles’ best loved songs proves this. I personally can’t imagine anyone but Ringo singing ‘With A Little Help From My Friends’ or the beautiful lullaby ‘Good Night’.
It may be the songs that keep everyone talking, but it took a group of four very fine musicians to bring them to life in the first place.