An awesome George Harrison Article

An awesome George Harrison Article

A Quiet Revolution

Peter Jackson’s Get Back trilogy has shed new light on a gripping subplot: the emergence of George Harrison and his chafing at his status in The Beatles. But his discomfort wasn’t new, and his flowering as an artist would soon bear extraordinary fruit. “George was finding his independence,” discovers Tom Doyle, “and he wouldn’t be dominated.”

“IS THIS A HARRISONG?” JOHN LENNON enquires of George Harrison. It’s Friday, January 3, 1969 – day two for The Beatles at Twickenham Film Studios – as seen 37 minutes into the opening episode of Peter Jackson’s Get Back doc, the music head’s TV event of this and many other seasons. As Harrison leads the others through the chords and melody of the just-written All Things Must Pass, Lennon and McCartney’s indifference is clear – and painful to watch.

To be fair, Lennon appears to be concentrating on following the chord changes on his Lowery organ, but McCartney comes over as semi-detached and going through the motions. Only when John, Paul and George’s voices begin to knit in harmony during the chorus do we get a tantalizing snatch of how great a Beatles version of the song might have been. Lennon and McCartney both mention All Things Must Pass later, when they read out lists of works-in-progress, but the band are never seen or heard returning to it.

Lennon’s quip referenced Harrisongs Ltd., the publishing company Harrison had begun funneling songs through after his contract with the Lennon/McCartney-biased Northern Songs (with its low royalty rate – another bone of contention) had lapsed in March 1968. But he was also referring to the compositions the increasingly prolific George had been trying, and often failing, to offer the others for inclusion on Beatle records since 1963.

Harrison’s thwarted songwriter frustrations come to a head in Get Back. When he suggests to McCartney that the live album/TV show project might somehow involve more collective responsibility in their writing – “It should be where if you write a song, I feel as though I wrote it, and vice versa…” – McCartney mumbles, “Yeah,” and flicks the ash off his cigar, as Ringo looks on morosely. Later, playing I Me Mine to the others in the studio at Apple, Harrison snaps, “I don’t give a fuck if you don’t want it. I’ll put it in my musical.”

“George was writing more,” Ringo remembered in 1995’s The Beatles Anthology documentary. “He wanted things to go his way. When we first started, they basically went John and Paul’s way. But George was finding his independence and he wouldn’t be dominated.”

Lennon and McCartney’s underrating of Harrison – and lack of diplomacy – is evident throughout Get Back, as is the fact that the latter seems to be spoiling for a fight. But, by Wednesday, January 29, the day before the rooftop gig, George had reached a decision as regards his future creativity. He told an encouraging John and Yoko, “I’ve got so many songs that I’ve got like my quota of tunes for the next 10 years or albums. I’d just like to maybe do an album of [my] songs. ’Cos all these songs of mine I could give to people who could do ’em good. But I suddenly realized, ‘Y’know, fuck all that.’ I’m just gonna do me for a bit.”

IF WE COULD WATCH A TIME-LAPSE FILM OF GEORGE Harrison’s blossoming as a songwriter, it would show an initially tentative growth taking on strange, unusual and, ultimately, beautiful forms through the 22 solo George compositions that appeared on Beatles records.

It was in the middle of the group’s six-night August 1963 run at the Gaumont in Bournemouth, when Harrison was ill and recuperating in his room at the Palace Court Hotel, that he was moved to pick up a guitar and write the exploratory Don’t Bother Me. Previously, Harrison had co-credits with McCartney (The Quarrymen’s In Spite Of All The Danger) and Lennon (the ’61 instrumental Cry For A Shadow), but this was his first attempt to fly solo.

“I decided to try to write a song, just for a laugh,” he later told Beatles biographer Hunter Davies. “I forgot all about it ’til we came to record the next LP. It was a fairly crappy song.”

Appearing at the end of ’63 on With The Beatles, Don’t Bother Me was better than Harrison’s dismissive estimation – musically upbeat, but lyrically grumpy. The latter aspect was set to become a recurring motif in his early songs, though there would be two further Beatles LPs before the public would hear another Harrison tune. “I was involved in so many other things that I never got round to it,” he told Davies.
In truth, as George Martin remembered, Harrison had presented the others with half-finished songs in the interim, but “none of us had liked something he had written”. McCartney, in Anthology, admitted that he and John tended to edge George out. “I don’t think he thought of himself very much as a songwriter,” he said. “John and I would obviously dominate… not really meaning to, but we were ‘Lennon and McCartney’.”

Help! in 1965 featured Harrison’s achingly lovelorn I Need You and comparatively ho-hum You Like Me Too Much, but as Lennon later confessed, supporting George’s writing was an obligation rather than a pleasure.

“There was an embarrassing period where his songs weren’t that good,” John reckoned. “Nobody wanted to say anything, but we all worked on them – like we did on Ringo’s. I mean, we put more work into those songs than we did on some of our stuff. So, he just wasn’t in the same league for a long time – that’s not putting him down, he just hadn’t had the practice as a writer that we had.”

Harrison was a fast learner, however. Musically, he filled his songs with fresh outside influences, copping Roger McGuinn’s chiming 12-string Rickenbacker riff from The Byrds’ arrangement of The Bells of Rhymney for If I Needed Someone on Rubber Soul, or throwing in the odd, effective chord change, such as the dissonant E7 flat 9 in I Want To Tell You on Revolver (that first appears before the line “When you’re here” and was, for Harrison, meant to convey frustration at his inarticulacy).
Still, the saturnine lyrical tendency remained, whether George was attacking targets vague (the personal/political judgements of Think For Yourself) or very specific (Taxman), the latter so obviously great that it was pushed to pole position in the track list of Revolver. At the same time, an inner peace seemed to descend upon Harrison, as experiments with LSD led to a deeper spiritual search.
Some cynicism lingered in the words of Love You To, Harrison’s first raga-influenced offering (“There’s people standing round/Who’ll screw you in the ground”), but by Within You Without You and particularly the Bombay-recorded The Inner Light – the first Harrison composition to appear on a Beatles single, the B-side of Lady Madonna – the heaviness in Harrison’s soul had, for now, lifted.

BY THE WHITE ALBUM, HARRISON WAS GETTING a song per side of the twin disc album, and lyrically, psychedelia had given way to surrealism. George had bought into the ’67 Summer of Love only very briefly, overwhelmed by lysergic wonder in It’s All Too Much (written and recorded that year but surfacing in ’69 on the Yellow Submarine soundtrack), before becoming disillusioned and fearful when he was mobbed on a visit to Haight-Ashbury. That sense of trippy paranoia was beautifully conveyed in the woozy Blue Jay Way on Magical Mystery Tour, while earlier ’67 recording and Sgt. Pepper also-ran Only A Northern Song might have been a pop at his publisher but the sense of a band “going wrong” was unsettlingly and brilliantly realized through Tomorrow Never Knows-styled tape loop montage.

Then, as they did for all The Beatles, things got weirder. If While My Guitar Gently Weeps was gorgeous in its abstraction, then Piggies and Savoy Truffle were intangibly scary (even before the Manson Family had taken the former’s contempt for unenlightened humanity as a license to cull). Elsewhere, in his fourth contribution to The White Album, George’s reluctance to push himself forward was rendered in audio. Arguably, only with the full-fat Giles Martin remix in 2018 did the whispery Long, Long, Long finally reveal its true wonder.

All the while, it was hard to shake the impression that Harrisongs were being suppressed by Lennon and McCartney. Written in 1966, and destined for All Things Must Pass, Isn’t It A Pity, his gentle lament for failing inter-personal relationships, was repeatedly overlooked for Beatles albums (engineer Geoff Emerick recalled that it was considered for inclusion on Sgt. Pepper; Beatles author/historian Mark Lewisohn says it was in the running for Revolver). When Harrison re-aired it at the Twickenham sessions in ’69, he had to remind Lennon that it had been rejected by him three years before.

Harrison likely fancied Isn’t It A Pity to be his first “standard”, since he thought about offering it to Frank Sinatra after meeting the singer in Los Angeles in the summer of ’68 when producing Jackie Lomax’s Is This What You Want? for Apple. Harrison should perhaps have trusted his instincts. Sinatra was later to cover another Harrison composition, Something, lauding it as “the greatest love song of the past 50 years” (though initially he misattributed it to Lennon and McCartney).

Something was, of course, Harrison’s first and only Beatles A-side – a sign that Paul and John were finally prepared to accept that George was now their songwriting equal. In a conversation between the three taped at Apple in 1969 by Lennon and Ono’s PA Anthony Fawcett, McCartney said as much: “I think that until now, until this year, our songs have been better than George’s. Now this year his songs are at least as good as ours.”

George chipped in, “That’s a myth, because most of the songs this year I wrote last year or the year before, anyway. Maybe now, I just don’t care whether you are going to like them or not. I just do ’em.”

THE DELUGE OF SONGS THAT revealed themselves on All Things Must Pass in November 1970 was perhaps inevitable, then. It was fitting that the triple LP’s opening track, I’d Have You Anytime, was a Harrison/Dylan original, since the one songwriter who really took George seriously, pre-Abbey Road, was Bob.

As the two became friends, writing I’d Have You Anytime together in Woodstock at Thanksgiving in 1968 (only weeks before the Get Back/Let It Be sessions began), Dylan’s endorsement emboldened Harrison, while in turn the latter encouraged the former to employ more sophisticated chords in his own compositions. Dylan had long admired The Beatles’ twisty and original progressions, saying, “Their chords were outrageous, just outrageous.”

Ken Scott, one of the engineers on All Things Must Pass, had first met Harrison in 1964 when working on A Hard Day’s Night. By 1970, he could see that George was walking taller. “He was no longer under the thumb of John and Paul,” Scott told MOJO in 2020. “So, he was a lot freer. He had proved his worth as a songwriter. This gives you a lot more courage, I guess, to put forth your own ideas.”

The spiritual dimensions of All Things Must Pass were explored more fully on Harrison’s second solo album, 1973’s Living In The Material World. Bassist (and Revolver cover artist) Klaus Voormann played on both records and remembers that, “on the next LP it was much more apparent. There were [mostly] religious type of songs on it. I certainly felt George was very, very serious about it and he needed a sort of anchor.”

From here, point proven, Harrison’s output grew patchier, as his tendency towards reticence returned. Ironically, he seemed happiest when back in a band. His Traveling Wilburys compadre Tom Petty revealed that George, “told me many times he was very uncomfortable being the guy up front having to sing all the songs. It was just not his idea of fun.”

As a modern barometer of Harrison’s songwriting success, however, a search for The Beatles on Spotify reveals that Here Comes The Sun beats any and all Lennon/McCartney songs in popularity, with over three quarters of a billion plays – 300 million more than its nearest competitor, Let It Be, and nearly double those for Yesterday. In the end, the dark horse may have won the race after all.

#GeorgeHarrison #Beatles #TheBeatles #GetBack #TheTravelingWilburys #TravelingWilburys #music #musicicon #SingerSongwriter #BobDylan #TomPetty

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