Which Beatle Played the Wild Piano Solo on Paul’s ‘Lovely Rita’?
As musicians, The Beatles could do many things. In addition to playing bass, Paul McCartney could (and did) play drums when Ringo wasn’t around. Paul also played piano and guitar (and trumpet) on Beatles records. And he acquitted himself well on just about everything he played.
In the group’s early recordings, you’ll hear John Lennon playing harmonica in addition to his typical rhythm guitar duties. As for George Harrison, the Beatles’ lead guitarist learned to play the sitar, tamboura, and Moog synthesizer over the years.
However, the band also had its limitations. For example, no member of The Beatles could read music, and none had much technique at the piano. Late in the band’s run, Billy Preston filled that void with his excellent keyboard work.
But in the mid-’60s, when the group needed a strong piano part, no one expected a Beatle to play it on record. When Paul’s meter-maid ode “Lovely Rita” lacked a piano solo, producer George Martin stepped in and took it. You hear him playing on Sgt. Pepper’s track.
Martin reeled off the piano solo as an answer to a request by Paul.
When recording John’s classic “In My Life” for Rubber Soul, there was never any question as to who would handle the Baroque-sounding keyboard part on that track. Martin suggested it to John in the studio and then recorded it quickly on his own.
During the Sgt. Pepper’s sessions for “Lovely Rita,” Paul got to the solo but lacked ideas. George gave it a whirl on guitar but couldn’t come up with anything suitable. When engineer Geoff Emerick suggested a piano solo, Paul asked for someone to play it.
After Emerick wouldn’t do it, Martin jumped in and quickly delivered the solo you hear on the record. As with his “In My Life” solo, Martin reportedly played it at a slightly slower speed and had it sped up in the control room.
Even still, the trills and rapid chord-work — not to mention the impressive run at the close of the solo — were well beyond the keyboard powers of any Beatle in the studio.
A studio trick supplied the solo’s honky-tonk feel.
By the time the band made Sgt. Pepper’s, the gang in the studio expected to come up with a new way of recording things on nearly every track. For “Lovely Rita,” Emerick used sticky tape to make the recording machine’s tape wobble.
In The Complete Beatles Recording Sessions, he said that’s what gave Martin’s solo its “honky-tonk feel.” Indeed, the piano part seems to enter from another place and time, but works anyway
As for the song as a whole, there’s a great deal of goofing around on the recording. The shuffling sound you hear was a product of John, Paul, and George running combs over pieces of paper.
You never knew what you would get on a Beatles record at this point in time, and on “Lovely Rita” the band and the production team reached deep into the bag of tricks.