The Beatles can be a surprising resource for simple guitar parts, whether you’re just learning to play guitar or looking to add some fun, classic songs into your repertoire. Here are five Beatles songs you should try on for size.
“Everybody’s Trying to Be My Baby”
The lineage of “Everybody’s Trying to Be My Baby” reaches back through the decades, serving as a sterling example of how pliant a song can become in the hands of different artists. The closing track on 1964’s Beatles For Sale, the song was actually conceived by Rex Griffin in 1936. In its original incarnation, it was a toe-tapping Western swing number, but Carl Perkins famously retooled it in 1956, altering its lyrics and fashioning it into a rockabilly tune. Johnny Cash ended up covering the song, too.
The Beatles cover of the classic is the best-known version though, recorded in one take in the fall of 1964 with George Harrison on vocals and guitar. “Everybody’s Trying to Be My Baby” uses a simple I-IV-V blues progression (E, A, B7), but allows George to show his love, mastery and dedication to fiery rockabilly guitar with his solo, which uses a Chet Atkins-style pick and finger technique.
“Twist and Shout”
Though John Lennon was stricken with a sore throat and a cough, The Beatles recorded this Isley Brothers soul freak-out during a fruitful marathon session – 11 songs in just less than 10 hours. Played quick and dirty so as to capture a live concert sound, the songs that would become 1963’s Please Please Me made use of Lennon’s hoarseness, saving the vocal gymnastics of “Twist and Shout” for the day’s final cut. Despite how rigorous the song’s vocals are, it’s a relative cinch to play on guitar, also utilizing the I-IV-V progression (D, G, A7).
“If I Needed Someone”
From 1965’s Rubber Soul, “If I Needed Someone” was originally written by Harrison as a guitar practice exercise for his future wife (and Eric Clapton’s “Layla” subject) Pattie Boyd. It’s also an unabashed homage to The Byrds; Harrison even sent his first recording of the song to Byrds guitarist Roger McGuinn for a preview, explaining that he had as good as copied McGuinn’s riff from “The Bells of Rhymney.” This chiming ballad shows how much you can do with two chords (and three more on the bridge). To play it, use a capo at the 7th fret and arpeggiate a D chord-shape to a C chord-shape (sounding A and G).
A spectacular opener to Abbey Road, “Come Together” shows The Beatles exploring new terrain – simple grooves that carry Lennon’s increasingly dark, bluesy and Bob Dylan-influenced lyrics. Lennon got the idea for the song from Timothy Leary’s message to “come together” against California gubernatorial candidate Ronald Reagan, but the song ended up mining much more than just politics. The first line is a hat tip to Chuck Berry (“Here come up old flat-top / he come groovin’ up slowly” is very close to a lyric on Berry's “You Can’t Catch Me”). Incidentally, a lawsuit ensued from Berry’s publisher. “Come Together” can be accomplished on guitar with a blues shuffle in D (D, G, A, with a simple and very effective little riff in D to kick it off and act as the hook.) Chorus is B, G, A.
A 1967 Guitar Player interview with Pete Townshend gave rise to this rumbling track from “The White Album.” Paul McCartney, who wrote the song, read about Townshend trying to achieve the loudest, rawest, dirtiest guitar tones he could, and decided he, too, wanted to go as gritty as possible. Today, the resulting “Helter Skelter” can be credited with instigating proto-punk, grunge and the Manson family. Most of the song roars along in E major, the first chord every guitarist learns, then goes into a big pre-chorus G, A and E and a chorus of A and E with sloppy, nasty, blues-based first position riffs.