When Beatlemania first exploded in England and, shortly after, in America, they were a four-piece band with clearly defined roles. Ringo Starr played the drums, Paul McCartney played the bass, John Lennon -- as he explained in the film Help! -- was "rhythm guitar and mouth organ," and George Harrison was the lead guitarist. But as early as the Help! album, Paul McCartney was beginning to emerge as a talented musical arranger capable of filling multiple musical roles (as everyone discovered when he recorded the mega-hit "Yesterday" on that album by himself, playing his own acoustic accompaniment).
Here are five instances where someone other than George Harrison played lead guitar on a Beatles recording:
It's dirty, it's catchy, it's highly innovative, and it's ... Paul. Mostly executed on one string (the "G" string, for those keeping score), this searing solo is a great example of McCartney's highly simplistic, yet highly creative approach to music-making. Was George ok with this? Yes, and in fact he later commented, "I was pleased to have Paul play that bit on 'Taxman'. If you notice, he did like a little Indian bit on it for me."
2. Ticket to Ride
A Lennon/McCartney composition, this song has more of McCartney's fingerprints on it than most fans probably realize. That catchy, stuttering drum pattern throughout the intro and verses? That was Paul's idea, which he conveyed to Ringo. As John said in 1980, "Paul's contribution was the way Ringo played the drums." Of course, it was more than that, as Paul came back to the studios as the song was being completed, and laid down an overdub track of himself playing the lead guitar lines that sit between the bridge and the verses.
3. Good Morning, Good Morning
By the time Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band was being recorded, Paul McCartney was more or less the sole driving force behind the band. The album concept was his idea, and he plays the majority of instruments on many of the album tracks, including this one. John C. Winn, in That Magic Feeling, notes that "On, John filled the final track with a second lead vocal, harmonizing nicely with himself in places. A second reduction combined both vocal tracks and freed a track for overdubs of backing vocals and Paul's stinging guitar solo."
4. You Can't Do That
No, not the opening intro lines, which are 100% George enjoying the exotic sounds of his brand new Rickenbacker 12-string, but the actual solo which begins at aroundin the song -- that's all John, blending his skills as a rhythm guitarist with his desire to take the solo spotlight for once. Notice that, as is befitting a rhythm guitarist more accustomed to playing full chords, this solo features several two- and three-note blends and bends. As John explained, "I'd find it a drag to play rhythm all the time, so I always work myself out something interesting to play. The best example I can think of is like I did on 'You Can't Do That.'"
5. Paperback Writer
That classic opening lick, chunked out on the low strings of the guitar? It's Paul McCartney again. This is perhaps the most surprising instance in this list, because most fans are probably familiar with the promo film for this song, which show George playing lead guitar and Paul thumping away on the bass. But as Peter Frampton revealed (quoted in Graeme Thomson's wonderful bio on George, Behind the Locked Door), "I'd put on Paperback Writer and say [to George], 'I love the guitar on that,' and he'd say, 'Oh, that's Paul.'" George's part on this song? Rhythm guitar, while John was content to supply backing vocals and some tambourine.