Best Solos Performed On Beatles Solo Records

Beatles solos on solo albums

Photo: Jim Summaria. [CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)]

While growing up, my cousin Louie John—who was six years older and hipper than me—would always have the latest Beatles record as soon as it came out. On occasion, he would even play them for me. That’s how I first heard Abbey Road, and the ever-elusive “Her Majesty hiding at the end of side two. Unfortunately, the turntable arm on my little record player would eject itself off the vinyl before reaching “Her Majesty.” That really upset me. I remember almost crying to my parents that they had bought me a defective album, and insisting to them that I did hear that little number over at Louie’s house. I did! My anxiety was soon remedied when my father suggested I play the record downstairs on a more sophisticated turntable. One of the few positive words of advice he ever gave me. He was right, and all was right in the world again when I heard the first orchestral blare followed by Paul McCartney’s lone voice and acoustic guitar singing gently in the key of D major.

Even though The Beatles never worked together as a foursome after 1969, their collective output had still produced a tremendous amount of wonderful songs. This is a list of Beatles solo recordings that contain many incredible solos. I want to point them out for no other reason other than you might enjoy listening to them with some new context in mind. To play a solo on any ex-Beatles recording would be a historic achievement in any musical career, even if it were an ex-Beatles member who played it.

Since George Harrison’s role in The Beatles was principally as lead guitarist, it should come as no surprise that his talent for memorably concise solos are to be found throughout this list. Take, for example, his beautiful nylon guitar work on this pretty piece called “Dark Lady from the 1979 release titled simply George Harrison.

George also plays a highly melodic nylon guitar solo, influenced no doubt by the great Spanish classical guitarist Andrés Segovia (a hero of Harrison’s) on the 1975 gem “Learning How to Love You from his the Thirty Three & 1/3 disc.

And speaking of nylon guitar, the great Joe Walsh also lays down a note-perfect solo of his own in Paul McCartney’s 2012 ballad “My Valentine from his album Kisses on the Bottom.

Sir Paul is himself unquestionably one of the most influential popular music bass players of the past century. His unique melodic approach can be found on many Beatles classics; i.e., “Come Together, Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds, Penny Lane, Getting Better,” and “Dear Prudence,” among many others. As a guitarist, though, he was certainly no slouch either. His technique is a kind of twisted melodic but always memorable—you can hear it on his 1970 studio-recorded version of “Maybe I’m Amazed from his debut (and post-Beatles) solo album McCartney. (As a side note, check out a song he wrote and produced for his brother Mike McGear. It’s called “What Do We Really Know?” Halfway through is a nifty little bass solo that Paul plays, along with some tasty drumming from Denny Seiwell.

McCartney’s barbed message to John and Yoko’s, “Too Many People from 1971’s Ram album, features some soulful guitar soloing by Hugh McCracken. This may have been what inspired Lennon to write his own song from his own second solo album released that same year and called “Imagine.” The track in question is “How Do You Sleep?”—and speaking of which . . .

John Lennon’s underrated guitar skills, both as a member of The Beatles and a later solo artist, can be heard on the rhythm guitar parts in All My Loving and “And I Love Her;” the sparse but effective solos on “Get Back,” the early Beatlemania track “You Can’t Do That,” and “Honey Pie;” and the fret-stabbing crankiness of “Yer Blues” and “Cold Turkey,” just to name a few. But in his solo recordings, he left the leads to other highly-skilled musicians. A good example is the simple but passionate Steve Madaio trumpet solo found in the laid-back and decidedly uncharacteristic Lennon ballad, “Bless You,” from the 1974 release Walls and Bridges.

Lennon’s fellow ex-Beatle George Harrison can also be heard in different spots throughout the Imagine LP. John, together with famed (later infamous) record producer Phil Spector, made good use of George Harrison’s stellar slide guitar skills. On Lennon’s Macca-bashing bitch epic “How Do You Sleep? George Harrison knocks out an especially vicious slide solo that is both chilling and tuneful. He does the same on Lennon’s “Gimme Some Truth and “Crippled Inside on that same album.

Delving further into George Harrison’s  superb slide playing, it’s worth checking out his the very emotional solo on 1970’s “Isn’t It a Pity and “Wah-Wah from his mammoth triple-album solo LP debut All Things Must Pass. Then, from his 1972 release Living in the Material World, George perfoms three great solos—the best-known from his number-one single and the track that opens the album, “Give Me Love (Give Me Peace on Earth).” The other two—both overlooked gems from Harrison’s catalog of guitar leads from his solo output—are the highly melodic solo on the outro of “The Lord Loves the One (Who Loves the Lord)” and the piano-and-guitar solo from “The Light That Has Lighted the World.”

There are no drum solos (to date) in all of Ringo Starr’s solo song catalog. This is not surprising, since Ringo has always said he hated drum solos. In fact, the only two of his that come to mind can be heard on the tail-end of The Beatles’ early-career track “Thank You Girl and last-album tom-tom feast on Abbey Road in “The End” (both super memorable, along with the highly original work he did in ’66 on “Rain and the remarkable fills he plays in 1967’s Sgt. Pepper’s masterpiece “A Day in the Life,” still championed today by Genesis drummer and then-vocalist, Phil Collins, as some of the best rock drumming ever recorded). However, Ringo and his producers always employed some of the best studio musicians at the time to play on his records. An excellent example of this is the Dr. John “New Orleans”-style piano solo in 1974’s “Oo-Wee” from the Goodnight Vienna record.

Also from that album you have the “Tijuana Brass”-esque trumpet and sax solos on “All By Myself” by Chuck Findley and Bobby Keys, respectively. Bobby Keys also turns in a great sax solo on Ringo’s 1973 number one single “Photograph.” not to mention Tom Scott’s energetic, bluesy sax solo on the third hit single,”Oh My My”. From the same album, T.Rex legend Marc Bolan flexes his axe-playing skills on “Hold On.” And McCartney’s faux-kazoo solo on “You’re Sixteen” is expertly crafted. Harrison’s guitar contribution on the singles “It Don’t Come Easy and “Back Off Boogaloo are highly effective and hook-laden, while the Harrison-penned “I’ll Still Love You” on Ringo’s Rotogravure album contains a great melodic guitar solo from player Lon Van Eaton. Let us not forget Steve Dudas’ heavy- metal excursion in 2003’s “Instant Amnesia from the Ringo-Rama CD, and Benmont Tench’s jazz-inflected piano fills found on the outro of Mr. Starkey’s 2010’s “Time” from the Y Not release.

Three numbers from John Lennon’s often-underrated 1973 album, Mind Games, contain wonderful solos. I’m referring first to the bouncy organ excursion on “Intuition,” and the honky tonk piano solo on “Out The Blue” both played by master keyboard and arranger Ken Ascher. The other—an amazingly smooth and bluesy guitar solo found on the track “Aisumasen (I’m Sorry)performed by the great session player David Spinozza.

The sax solo on the 1975 Paul McCartney & Wings hit, “Listen to What the Man Said is still a pop classic. Sax player Tom Scott was allegedly warming up when the engineer covertly pushed the “Record” button in the studio and captured his licks as the song played. When Mr. Scott asked to do an actual take, McCartney and company appeased him but they ultimately stuck with this first “off-the-cuff” attempt as the best for the song. Tom Scott also puts in a memorable solo on Ringo’s “Oh My My from his 1973 release Ringo!

The rare pairing of Frank Zappa, his legendary Mothers of Invention, together with Lennon and Ono produced the live rocking rendition of “Well (Baby Please Don’t Go) found on 1972’s double-album release Sometime in New York City. Lennon yells out “Zappa!,” and the great Frank Zappa tears into a distorted fluid “wah-wah”-inflected guitar solo with inventive peaks and valleys honing in on the 9th of the A-minor blues scale. Classic Zappa.

More memorable “guitaring” can be heard on the classic multi-track Eagles-sounding guitar solo on Lennon’s I’m Losing You from the Double Fantasy record. Since I cannot find the exact information, it is played in a double-track harmonized line either by Earl Slick or Hugh McCraken. My bet is on Hugh.

A couple of guitar solos of note from the Wings era always stick in my mind. One is a sparkling little ditty played by Jimmy McCulloch on 1974’s single “Junior’s Farm.” Another great is the jaunty and well-thought-out run by guitarist by Henry McCullough on 1972’s single “Give Ireland Back to the Irish” and Jimmy McCulloch’s solo on the forgotten masterpiece “The Note You Never Wrote,” from 1976’s Wings at the Speed of Sound.”

McCartney made good use of his friend (and Pink Floyd guitarist) David Gilmour on the mid-‘80s single, “No More Lonely Nights. The unexpected key change at the outro of this ballad is always thrilling to hear, and Gilmore rocks out on this [A-flat minor 9 vamp.

Probably the most well known guitar solo in this entire bunch, though, is the one-take elegance of Henry McCullough’s solo in McCartney’s lovely ballad “My Love.” It was recorded live alongside an orchestra. McCartney was quoted as saying of the session the following:

I’d sort of written the solo, as I often did write our solos. And he walked up to me right before the take and said, ‘Hey, would it be alright if I try something else?’ And I said, ‘Er… yeah.’ It was like, ‘Do I believe in this guy?’ And he played the solo on “My Love,” which came right out of the blue. And I just thought, F###ing great,” And so there were plenty of moments like that where somebody’s skill or feeling would overtake my wishes.”

So there you have it. Songs within songs. Them Beatles sure were a talented bunch, bringing with them mayhem and destruction to wherever they went. No, wait, I didn’t mean that. That’s the Four Purple Riders of the Apocalypse. No. What I mean is that the world is a better place because of them. Yes, that’s it. Phew. I can go to sleep now—and I’ll only be sleeping . . .

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4 Comments

  1. Darren Scantlebury-Watson April 6, 2020
    • John Tabacco April 6, 2020
  2. John April 20, 2020
    • John Tabacco April 22, 2020

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