George Harrison may have been the Beatles’ lead guitar player, but you’ll find songs that featured John Lennon or Paul McCartney taking solos.
In the case of “Taxman,” George’s composition that kicked off Revolver, Paul took the solo when George couldn’t nail down the part quickly enough in the studio. On “Get Back,” John learned the lead because George left the group during the Let It Be sessions.
In other cases, John simply wanted to give a solo a go. “I like playing lead sometimes, so I do it,” he said in 1964. After returning from the band’s first tour of America, that’s what he did on ‘You Can’t Do That,” a track he’d written for A Hard Day’s Night. It became his first solo on a Beatles release.
Speaking about his guitar work in a ’64 Melody Maker interview, John noted how he felt like stretching out of his rhythm playing on occasion. “I’d find it a drag to play rhythm all the time, so I always work myself out something interesting to play,” he said.
On “You Can’t Do That,” he wanted a different approach. “There really isn’t a lead guitarist and a rhythm guitarist
on that, because I feel the rhythm guitarist role sounds too thin for records,” he said. “Anyway it drove me potty to play chunk-chunk rhythm all the time.”
At about 1:30, you hear John dig into a solo, which lasts about 20 seconds. As with his solos in later years, he doesn’t dazzle technically on “You Can’t Do That” but he does deliver an emotional punch that’s perfect for his rocking song.
In those days, John definitely deferred to George when it came to taking a solo. “I never play anything as lead guitarist that George couldn’t do better,” he told Melody Maker. But John probably didn’t get any complaints on this one.
Despite John’s powerhouse vocal and George’s superb 12-string part on this track, “You Can’t Do That” didn’t make the cut as the A-side of the next Beatles single. That side-A went to “Can’t Buy Me Love,” a track Paul wrote and recorded during the band’s January ’64 stay in Paris.
A few days after John dropped his first recorded solo, he was back at it again on the band’s cover of “Long Tall Sally.” This time around, the track featured solos from both John (first) and George (second). It would be a preview of the three dueling guitars fans later got on “The End.”