The 5 Best Beatles Songs in Which the Fab Four Swapped Instruments

While The Beatles reimagined the art of record-making, they also reinvented themselves.

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The band’s experimentation grew significantly, beginning with Revolver, where, together with engineer Geoff Emerick and producer George Martin, they revolutionized standard recording techniques.

They experimented with tape loops and new instruments, such as the Mellotron and Moog synthesizer, but also swapped instruments. The revolving band chairs included Paul McCartney behind the drum kit, George Harrison with a bass, John Lennon as lead guitarist, and Ringo Starr singing lead vocals.

The Beatles’ instrument swapping didn’t begin with Revolver. An earlier example appears on Help! with McCartney’s lead guitar bursts in “Another Girl” after Harrison struggled to record his part. Meanwhile, the band members expanded their roles and foreshadowed what post-Beatles albums would sound like. Eventually, tensions became too much as Harrison grew as a songwriter, McCartney continued to exert his influence, and Lennon became bored and distracted from the band.

To honor The Beatles’ internal reinventions, here are five iconic moments when the Fab Four swapped instruments.

“Back in the U.S.S.R.” from The Beatles (1968)

When Paul McCartney wrote his tribute to the Beach Boys, “Back in the U.S.S.R.,” Ringo Starr had quit the band. As a result, McCartney recorded a frantic drum track, while John Lennon and George Harrison added additional bass parts. Lennon and Harrison also recorded drum and percussion tracks as the trio tried their best to emulate Starr’s signature style. Starr eventually returned to the band and found his drum kit decorated with flowers.

Flew in from Miami Beach, BOAC
Didn’t get to bed last night
On the way, the paper bag was on my knee
Man, I had a dreadful night

“She Said She Said” from Revolver (1966)

A 1965 acid trip with Roger McGuinn and David Crosby of The Byrds inspired Lennon to write “She Said She Said.” During the episode, actor Peter Fonda told Harrison he knew “what it’s like to be dead.” The psychedelic Revolver track is a rare Beatles song recorded without McCartney. Harrison did his best to mimic McCartney’s famous bass runs following a studio squabble. In Barry Miles’s biography Many Years from Now, McCartney explained how an argument escalated. He said, “Oh, f–k you!” And they said, “Well, we’ll do it.”

She said, “I know what it’s like to be dead.
I know what it is to be sad.”
And she’s making me feel like I’ve never been born

“Here Comes the Sun” from Abbey Road (1969)

One of Harrison’s most well-known Beatles songs doesn’t feature Lennon, who was recovering from a car crash. By the time the Fab Four recorded Abbey Road, it wasn’t uncommon for individual band members to be absent from studio sessions. Rather than continue clashing with each other, the song’s writer recorded many of the instruments themselves. Harrison recorded various instruments on “Here Comes the Sun,” including acoustic and electric guitars, Moog synth, and harmonium. McCartney and Starr appeared on their regular instruments, with Macca adding backing vocals.

Little darling, it’s been a long, cold, lonely winter
Little daring, it feels like years since it’s been here
Here comes the sun, doo-doo-doo-doo
Here comes the sun, and I say
It’s all right

“The Ballad of John and Yoko” Non-album single (1969)

Lennon and McCartney recorded “The Ballad of John and Yoko” as a duo. However, the song begins with Lennon saying, “Go a bit faster, Ringo.” And McCartney, playing drums, said, “OK, George.” It became The Beatles’ final No. 1 UK single. Lennon wrote the song in Paris while on his honeymoon with Yoko Ono. Harrison missed the session while looking for a new house, and Starr was busy filming The Magic Christian with Peter Sellers.

Drove from Paris to the Amsterdam Hilton
Talking in our beds for a week
The newspapers said, “Say, what’re you doing in bed.”
I said, “We’re only trying to get us some peace.”

“Taxman” from Revolver (1966)

Lennon suggested the lyric about Prime Minister Harold Wilson and the opposition leader Edward Heath after Harrison had asked for help with the song. McCartney assumed lead guitar duties and recorded the solo, played in the style of Harrison’s raga influences. Ahead of its time, “Taxman” is an early mod track from which The Jam borrowed heavily for their song “Start!”

Should five percent appear too small
Be thankful I don’t take it all
’Cause I’m the taxman
Yeah, I’m the taxman

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Photo by William Lovelace/Daily Express/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

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