George Harrison plays a sitar in India in 1968 (AP Photo)
Though John Lennon and Paul McCartney wrote the vast majority of Beatles' tunes, George Harrison proved his compositional chops whenever he had the chance. On what would have been his 70th birthday, we look back on his some of his best-loved Beatles songs.
At right: Paul McCartney, John Lennon, Ringo Starr and George Harrison in 1968 (AP Photo)
Don’t Bother Me
Harrison wrote this tune while holed up in a Bournemouth, England hotel room with the flu during a summer tour in 1963. Though he’s credited with writing some Quarrymen material, this is the first Harrison-penned tune the band released, including it on their 1964 U.S. album Meet The Beatles. Harrison later said he wrote "Don’t Bother Me" just to see if he could write a song, and didn’t think highly of it. The brooding tune in a minor key was in contrast to the bouncy pop of the Fab Four-era Beatles and served as precursor of sorts to the darker corners they’d explore as the '60s wore on. "Don't Bother Me" was also featured in a sequence in the 1965 film A Hard Day’s Night.
If I Needed Someone
In addition to being included on The Beatles' seminal Rubber Soul album, this song was released simultaneously by The Hollies. The latter band considered recording the song a mistake as it was one of their few early releases not to be a big hit (it peaked at No. 20 on the U.K. charts). Harrison was dismissive of The Hollies' version, leading to a public spat between the bands. The track shows the influence of another Beatles contemporary, The Byrds, with an opening guitar riff reminiscent of Roger McGuinn’s "The Bells of Rhymney." "If I Needed Someone" was the only song of Harrison's the band played on tour.
For those among you who think U.S. taxes are too high, consider: when Harrison wrote this song in 1966, each member of The Beatles was in the U.K.’s highest tax bracket and each lad was subject to a 95% supertax. Harrison wrote the song out of anger, calling out "Mr. Heath" and "Mr. Wilson," leaders of the Conservative and Labour parties respectively. The song is sometimes cited as an example of Harrison's scintillating guitar work – but many are surprised to learn that the snarling lead solo was actually played by Paul McCartney. In 1981, Weird Al Yankovic paid the song a high compliment by recording a parody version called "Pac-Man" about the videogame craze then sweeping America. The song has also been covered by Stevie Ray Vaughan, Nickel Creek and Pat Travers.
Here Comes the Sun
It was 1969 and Harrison was having a difficult year. The band was having business troubles, he’d been busted for marijuana possession, had temporarily left The Beatles, and had even had his tonsils removed. Perhaps he needed something to lift his spirits, and there is no better spirit-lifting song than "Here Comes The Sun." Harrison wrote the tune while visiting his friend Eric Clapton. "It was just a really nice sunny day," he told the BBC. "And I picked up the guitar, which was the first time I'd played the guitar for a couple of weeks because I'd been so busy. And the first thing that came out was that song." It was the first Harrison song released as a Beatles A-side single.
While My Guitar Gently Weeps
The Beatles' world changed a great deal between 1966 and 1968. They’d quit touring and recorded their masterpiece Sgt. Pepper's, their manager Brian Epstein had died, and the band had come under the sway of and – eventually fallen out with – Indian guru Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. During the recording of the "White Album" – to be the first release from their newly-formed Apple Records – Ringo Starr briefly left the band and John Lennon brought Yoko Ono into the studio, much to the others' chagrin. "While My Guitar Gently Weeps" conveys a weary resignation amidst all the tumult (Harrison says the song was inspired by reading the I Ching, also known, significantly, as "The Book of Changes"). Unsatisfied with his own efforts at soloing, Harrison called on Clapton to play on the track. When Harrison died on Nov. 29, 2001, NBC Nightly News played this song instead of their usual lead-in music.