Ranking the Top 5 Beatles Songs Where Group Members Played Unusual Instruments

The Beatles were forever tinkering with their sound in the studio in an effort to create something unique and magical. That occasionally meant they’d bring in guest musicians to make it happen. But it also meant that the four members of the group would now and then give it a go on an instrument that was somewhat different for them.

Videos by American Songwriter

We found five songs from The Beatles’ catalog where one of the Fab Four went a bit out of their comfort zone in terms of their instrumental efforts. You might be surprised at the results.

5. John Lennon Playing Organ on “I’m Down”

This one might not sound that odd, because we know John Lennon was an excellent piano player, a skill that he really had the chance to show off once he went solo. But we have to mention him playing organ on “I’m Down” for a couple of reasons. First, he was given a chance to solo on the instrument during the song, a raver that was specifically written to be a showcase live. Second, who could forget him playing the song live at Shea Stadium, as he decided to do a Jerry Lee Lewis impersonation, attempting to play with his feet and elbows and cracking the band up in the process?

4. Ringo Starr Playing Harmonica on “Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite!”

If you go through the credits of all the different Beatles songs, you’ll see that Ringo Starr handled just about every percussion instrument you could imagine at one time or another. But belting out some harmonica on “Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite!”? Bet you didn’t see that coming. Let’s preface this by saying that it’s not like Starr was asked to do a harmonica solo. In fact, he was part of a kind of harmonica chorus, one which also included George Harrison and Beatles associates Mal Evans and Neil Apsinall. All the better to add to the song’s circus-like atmosphere.

3. John Lennon Playing Tenor Saxophone on “Helter Skelter”

“Helter Skelter” was a heavy jam The Beatles extended to its breaking point and beyond, creating one of the centerpieces of the White Album. But while much of the song came from the four men in the studio bashing away until Ringo got blisters, they did add some overdubs. At one point in the song, as the jam breaks down briefly, you can hear a high-pitched saxophone enter the mix. That’s Lennon offering that instrumental embellishment. While the group easily could have hired a session man, that it is such a minimal part probably led to Lennon taking the role.

2. Paul McCartney Playing Recorder on “The Fool on the Hill”

Paul McCartney dated the British actress Jane Asher for about five years in the ’60s, often writing songs about the ups and downs of their relationship. He also lived with Asher’s family for a stretch, and her mother, well trained in music, gave him lessons on the recorder. That’s right, that instrument that you likely played as a kid in grade school. McCartney remembered those lessons on “The Fool on the Hill,” as he plays the chiming part that pops up on several occasions. The instrument, played by Brian Jones, also figured prominently in The Rolling Stones’ classic “Ruby Tuesday.”

1. George Harrison Playing Swarmandal on “Strawberry Fields Forever”

We know that George Harrison famously introduced the music of India to The Beatles when he played the sitar on “Norwegian Wood (This Bird Has Flown)”. But he would continue to add different elements of that sound on subsequent Beatles songs. Most of those instances came during songs that he wrote, such as “The Inner Light” and “Within You Without You.” But on “Strawberry Fields Forever,” John Lennon’s mesmerizing gem of a song, The Beatles added everything but the kitchen sink. In the track, Harrison plays the swarmandal, a kind of Indian zither, to dramatically introduce the final verses.

When you purchase through links on our site, we may earn an affiliate commission.

Photo by Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

Leave a Reply

Abi Carter Lights Up the 'American Idol' Stage With 'Little Mermaid's' "Part Of Your World"

Abi Carter Lights Up the ‘American Idol’ Stage With Little Mermaid’s “Part of Your World”