George Harrison, who died of lung cancer in 2001, would have turned 70 today. We’re remembering him with a look at his wonderful contributions to the Beatles’ catalog. Originally published February 2011.
-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.
The Beatles pose together on Feb. 28, 1968 in an unknown location. From left are Paul McCartney, John Lennon, Ringo Starr and George Harrison. (AP Photo)
Don’t Bother Me
George penned 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 minor key, brooding tune was in contrast to the bouncy pop of Fab Four era Beatles and served as precursor of sorts to the darker corners they’d explore as the '60s wore on. The tune 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 #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.” This tune was the only George Harrison song the band played on tour.
For those among you who think U.S. taxes are too high, consider: when George Harrison wrote this song in 1966, each member of the Beatles was in the U.K.’s highest tax bracket, which meant they were subject to a 95% supertax. Harrison wrote the song out of anger, and the “Mr. Heath” and “Mr. Wilson” called out in the song were Conservative party leader Edward Heath and Labour party leader Harold Wilson – the latter having nominated The Beatles for the MBE just the year before. 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 George Harrison was having a difficult year. The band were 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 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 George 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, 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 on their newly-formed Apple Records – Ringo 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 Eric Clapton to play on the track. When George Harrison died on November 29, 2001, “NBC Nightly News” aired this song instead of their usual lead-in music.