George Harrison’s Beatles Songs

October 25, 2016
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George Harrison’s Beatles Songs

It’s an often repeated cliché about George Harrison’s songwriting during his time as a Beatle that “George was relegated to one song per Beatles album”. This is just rewriting history in a lazy way, which masks his considerable songwriting input to the Beatles career. It’s fascinating to listen to George’s songs chronologically to hear how he matured as a songwriter, becoming a provider of some classic Beatles’ tunes.

George’s first song to appear on a Beatles’ album was ‘Don’t Bother Me’ from the band’s second album, With The Beatles. He wrote it while ill in bed during the summer of 1963 when The Beatles were playing some concerts in Bournemouth, on the south coast of England. According to George it was as an exercise to see if he could write a song, and "at least it showed me that all I needed to do was keep on writing, and then maybe eventually I would write something good."

The-Beatles-Help-Mono-180-Gram-Vinyl
There were no Harrison compositions on either A Hard Day’s Night or on Beatles for Sale and it wouldn't be until the release of the soundtrack to the film Help! in August 1965 that the next George songs were to be heard, and, this time there were two, ‘I Need You’ and ‘You Like Me Too Much’. Both songs were recorded in February 1965 with the former song being included in the film while the latter just appears on the Help! album.

Rubber Soul also came out in 1965 and this also includes two of George’s songs, The first, ‘Think For Yourself’ was unusual in that it was the first of his songs that was not a love song; it was later also featured in the Yellow Submarine movie. His second was ‘If I Needed Someone’, something of a musical coda to his song from the Help! soundtrack.

‘If I Needed Someone’ has been compared by some to the songs that the Byrds had recorded on their debut album, Mr Tambourine Man, which is ironic given that the Byrds had consciously aped The Beatles’ sound from watching them in A Hard Day’s Night. ‘If I Needed Someone’ was covered by The Hollies and made No.20 on the UK singles chart in early 1966.

In August 1966, as if to put to rest the ‘one song per album’ cliché, George had three songs on the band’s ground breaking album, Revolver, and his writing helped to make it so. He also had the kudos of writing the album’s opening track, the brilliant, ‘Taxman.’ This is George’s second non-love song and this time tackles the subject of the high levels of income tax levied by the British Labour government under the leadership of Harold Wilson; the same Mr Wilson that’s referenced in the song’s lyrics. As The Beatles’ earnings put them in the top tax bracket in the UK it meant that they were liable for 95% tax on every pound they earned – "There's one for you, nineteen for me")

George’s second track on side 1 of Revolver returns to the more traditional subject matter with, ‘Love You To’, but it is unusual in another way as it uses Indian instruments. In October 1965 George had played a sitar on 'Norwegian Wood (This Bird Has Flown)’, for Rubber Soul and on ‘Love You To’ there are Indian classical instrumentation – a tabla, a pair of hand-drums, sitar and a tambura that provided the drone, making this the first Beatles song to fully reflect the influence of Indian classical music.

Recorded in June 1966 ‘I Want To Tell You’ is the third of Harrison’s Revolver compositions and it is another song with a less than traditional structure, showing George’s considerable creativity, both lyrically and musically.

Sgt Pepper
For Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band George did have just one of his songs included, another Indian influenced number, and according to John Lennon one of George’s best songs, ‘Within You, Without You’. George began writing this on a pedal harmonium and the song was simply labelled, ‘Untitled’ when he recorded it at Abbey Road Studios on the evening of on Wednesday 15 March 1967. George was the only Beatle in the studio that day; it’s George and Neil Aspinall playing tamburas with the tabla, dilruba and svarmandal played by Indian musicians from the Asian Music Centre in Finchley Road, North London. Two more dilrubas (similar to a sitar, but played with a bow) were overdubbed on 22 March; violins and cellos were added on 3 April under the direction of George Martin. Later that evening George recorded his lead vocals, a sitar part and acoustic guitar.

On the soundtrack to the Magical Mystery Tour, George contributes the delicate, ‘Blue Jay Way’ named after a street in Hollywood where he stayed in August 1967. It’s about friends who had lost their way in the Los Angeles smog looking for the house where George was waiting. In March 1968 The Beatles released 'Lady Madonna' as a single on on the b-side was George's 'The Inner Light' with lyrics that are a rendering of the 47th chapter of the Taoist Tao Te Ching. The instrumental track was recorded in Bombay (Mumbai), India, during the sessions for Harrison's Wonderwall Music in January 1968; it has lead vocals from George and brief backing vocals from John and Paul

The Beatles 1968 album that we’ve all come to call “The White Album” contains four Harrison songs – one on each side of the double album. On side 1 is the wonderful, ‘While My Guitar Gently Weeps’; according to George, "I wrote ‘While My Guitar Gently Weeps’ at my mother's house in Warrington. I was thinking about the Chinese I Ching, the Book of Changes... The Eastern concept is that whatever happens is all meant to be, and that there's no such thing as coincidence — every little item that's going down has a purpose.” ‘While My Guitar Gently Weeps’ features a brilliant guitar solo by Eric Clapton; however, this nearly didn’t happen, George asked Eric on a drive to the studio one day, but Clapton was reluctant to play on the song saying, “No-one plays on Beatles records”. George insisted it would be OK and so Eric recorded the solo, playing a Gibson Les Paul that he had just gifted to George, who subsequently named it Lucy after the actress and comedienne Lucille Ball, a famous redhead.

Lucy
Side 2 of “The White Album” has ‘Piggies’, a song George originally wrote in 1966 and went back to after rediscovering what he had previously written at his parent’s house just prior to recording this album. ‘Long, Long, Long’ is the closing track of side three and it is a beautiful song that many overlook; it is a curious amalgam of waltz, jazz and folk all missed up with a little psychedelia that just works.

‘Savoy Truffle’ is about Eric Clapton’s fondness for sweets and many of its lyrics describe the contents of a box of Mackintosh's 'Good News' chocolates that were popular in the 1960s. Recorded in October 1968 it features six saxophonists – three baritone and three tenors.

The two songs written by George for the Yellow Submarine soundtrack are, ‘Only A Northern Song’ and ‘It’s All Too Much’; the former song was recorded during the sessions for Sgt. Pepper, but was not included on the final album. It refers in part to George’s compositions being owned by Northern Songs Ltd, a company of which he was a minority shareholder. The song itself features some unusual instrumentation - George's organ part with reverb, a distorted trumpet overdubbed by Paul, and a glockenspiel played by John. An edited and slightly sped-up version of the song's basic track, without the overdubs, was released on the Anthology 2 compilation.

Old_Brown_Shoes
In early summer 1969, The Beatles released ‘The Ballad of John and Yoko’ as a 45 and on the b-side was, ‘Old Brown Shoe’ written by George. This song is very redolent of some of George’s solo material in the 1970s and was recorded during the sessions for Abbey Road.

For a few years in the early 1970s, after Frank Sinatra began singing George’s ‘Something’ in concert, the Chairman of the Board would introduce it as being “Written by those great young songwriters, John Lennon and Paul McCartney.” It is for many people George’s best Beatles’ era song, and definitely one of the standout numbers on Abbey Road, but it’s an accolade that could as easily be given to another of George’s compositions from The Beatles’ 1969 album – ‘Here Comes The Sun’..

According to George in his autobiography, "’Here Comes the Sun’ was written at the time when Apple was getting like school, where we had to go and be businessmen, all this signing accounts, and, 'Sign this' and 'sign that.' Anyway, it seems as if winter in England goes on forever, by the time spring comes you really deserve it. So one day I decided I'm going to sag off Apple and I went over to Eric’s [Clapton] house. I was walking in his garden. The relief of not having to go see all those dopey accountants was wonderful, and I was walking around the garden with one of Eric's acoustic guitars and wrote ‘Here Comes the Sun.’”

The_Beatles_-_Last_photo_session
There are another two songs from George on The Beatles’ final solo album, Let it Be. ‘For You Blue’ was started in January 1969 and finished a year later and as well as being included on the album it was the b-side of ‘The Long and Winding Road’ in the US. It was originally called, ‘George's Blues (Because You're Sweet and Lovely)’ and the lyrics even reference blues great Elmore James. George’s second song on Let It Be is, ‘I Me Mine’; it is the last new song recorded by The Beatles before they formally split. George more than most would have appreciated the irony.

So there you have it, George’s solo songwriting contributions to The Beatles and it’s clear to hear how he grew as a writer and how his contributions, way more than the, “one per album” of lazy historians, also helped make many of The Beatles’ albums so complete.

The 16LP The George Harrison Vinyl Collection is out now and can be ordered here.

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56 comments

  1. Bergur Rasmussen

    Nice little article, but apparently you’ve forgotten “The Inner Light” which featured on the B-side of “Lady Madonna” from February 1968; the last release by The Beatles (an also George’s debut on a Beatles single) prior to the launch of the Apple label … and that’s a shame, because it’s quite nice, melodic and captivating …

    1. uDiscover

      Bergur, that was a real over-sight from us, and our only excuse is we were concentrating on George’s album tracks. We have rectified our omission and we agree that it is a wonderful song.

      1. Steven

        lol uDiscover You should know up front… Us Beatle People know our sh*t and are not afraid to let you know when you’re wrong. I’m one of them. lol

      1. Darren Prescott

        Evidently it is YOU who needs to read more carefully Jaakko, as it is clear from the above statement by uDiscover that ‘The Inner Light’ was initially omitted, and later added after the article was published.

        1. Grant C Bennett Sr

          George Harrison without a doubt was the most sincerest deepest loving and soulful beadle and of course I do give props to John and the rest of the boys but George Harrison is the inner light inner core enough so that was beyond the other guys and when George wrote the song something then everyone George Harrison was special and that’s why he so special to me❤️☮️

    2. JAIR

      Yes, Inner Light was mentioned: In March 1968 The Beatles released ‘Lady Madonna’ as a single on on the b-side was George’s ‘The Inner Light’ with lyrics that are a rendering of the 47th chapter of the Taoist Tao Te Ching

    3. terry

      Here is the quote from the article you just read. Whoever at uDiscover accepted your complaint that it was missing also needs to develop the art of double checking

      In March 1968 The Beatles released ‘Lady Madonna’ as a single on on the b-side was George’s ‘The Inner Light’

  2. Claire

    Thanks for this lovely run-down. It’s also notable that George had written (literally) hundreds of songs during the time of the Beatles – the few songs out the many here, don’t cover all that he did, just the ones he was ‘allowed’ to have on the albums.
    Some of the songs rejected by Lennon/McCarthy ended up on All Things Must Pass – widely seen as the best album by a solo Beatle. It’s just a shame that they weren’t willing to recognise that in the later years, George’s song-writing and performing abilities had developed to match their own, or were even better on several songs. Still, history was made.

  3. Ray York

    Are we sure that “I Me Mine’ was the “last new song recorded by the Beatles before they formally split?” After all, that was on Let It Be, which, yes, was the last album to be released, but Abbey Road was the last album recorded.
    Or are you suggesting they formally split before they recorded Abbey Road?
    Just wondering what your take is on that.

    1. Pmckey

      It gets a little confusing but most of Let it Be was recorded January of 1969 but released after Abbey Road. If my memory serves me right, Abbey Road was recorded in the Summer and Fall of 1969. I me mine was recorded in January of 1970 as the last song to be placed on Let it be which was released Spring of 1970.

    2. Orlin

      i Me Mine was the last song completed for the album early in 1970, when George, Paul and Ringo got together for a couple of sessions to complete the necessary overdubs. So it is probably one of the last official Beatles sessions booked at Abbey Road before they disbanded. John, who had quit the previous September, naturally, wasn’t present.

  4. Braun k Combs

    All this stems from where George was taking in all the knowledge of writing and performance is also where the quiet Beatles comes from. You all must admit he was a genius, one of all times. Thank you George we miss you.

  5. Carlos

    What about “Cry for a Shadow” ? The very first composition (Harrison/Lennon) to be recorded professionaly, as a backing band of Tony Sheridan in Hamburg in the early 60´s. And there are a lot of them that weren´t taken seriously by the rest of the band. , “You know what to do” (1964); “The art of dying”; ” Isn´t it a pity” (1966); “See yourself”; “Circles”; “Dehra dun”; “Not guilty”; “Sour milk sea” (1968); “Wah wah”; “Let it down”; “Run of the mill”; “All things must pass”; “Hear me Lord”; “Window window” (1969). Clearly he has always had trouble with John & Paul., especially with Sir George Martin. What a shame.

  6. Robert

    “You know what to do” also deserves a mention, together with the inner light and cry for a Shadow. It was probably hehe second song he presenter to his mate, and it was rvorden, yhough not released at the time. Same with Not Guilty. In 68

  7. Robert

    “You know what to do” also deserves a mention, together with the inner light and cry for a Shadow. It was probably hehe second song he presenter to his mate, and it was rvorden, though not released at the time. Same with Not Guilty in 68. Butvthecwere beatle recordings.

  8. Colin

    Great article. One thing to add: George actually write “If I Needed Someone” as a tribute to The Byrds:

    “The song was heavily influenced by the music of the Byrds, and like most of the songs on Rubber Soul, utilizes a folk rock structure.[1] In a 2004 radio interview with the BBC in London,[2] Roger McGuinn confirmed that Harrison had sent a tape recording of the song to him in Los Angeles before it was released on record. Harrison did this to show McGuinn that the guitar riff he had used in “If I Needed Someone” was based on McGuinn’s own riff in “The Bells of Rhymney”, with the drumming from “She Don’t Care About Time”.”[3][4] “George was very open about it,” said McGuinn, who was then going by his given name, Jim. “He sent [the record] to us in advance and said, ‘This is for Jim’ — because of that lick.”[5]”

    Source:
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/If_I_Needed_Someone

    1. uDiscover

      Colin, thanks for that, really nice additional info. To us what is so interesting is the irony of the Byrds being influenced by the Beatles and then in reverse. The music goes round and round…

  9. jon voranart

    It might be true, one song per album, but it’s always been that one ‘Something’ song the relegate the 10 other songs to the back burner. George song in latter years has that kind of stuff.

  10. Claudyo

    “I me mine” was completed in 1970, but is present in the film “Let it be” (John dancing a waltz with Yoko) recorded during the Twickenham Studios sessions in early 1969

  11. MikeV

    George, as far as I know, liked being a Beatle! Even when G.Martin said to G.Harrison, I am sorry I didn’t pay more attention to you,it was OK with George! Thank you for not letting it bother you.

  12. Bob

    Fans will praise their idols, but the fact remains that George’s songwriting with the Beatles was overall not very good. Songs like “I Like You Too Much” are downright embarrassing. “The Inner Light” is bizarre. Obviously, the big three Harrison compositions, “While My Guitar Gently Weeps,” “Something,” and “Here Comes the Sun” are outstanding, but they don’t elevate the rest. I will say, however, that “It’s All Too Much” is the most underrated Beatles’ track.

  13. Rick

    Thanks for this informative article. I was, however, disappointed you wrote so much about the rather minor (forgive the pun) tune, “Only A Northern Song,” and said nothing about the fabulously and furiously psychedelic masterpiece, “It’s All Too Much.” For many of us this is, despite its placement on a soundtrack record, the pinnacle of the band’s psychedelic period. It would have been a masterful addition to either Pepper or MMT. As it stands, it’s one of the very best Harrison-as-a-Beatle compostions, right up there with “Long, Long, Long,” While My Guitar Gently Weeps,” and “Here Comes the Sun.”

  14. Paul

    To me, Harrison’s greatest song–and one of the greatest of all the brilliant songs the Beatles ever recorded–is “Taxman,” although ironically it was McCartney who played the searing lead guitar solo that out-Becks Jeff Beck. But to fully appreciate this track, you have to hear it in mono, cranked up good and loud. (Unfortunately, the stereo version, which is the version that most people own, is a travesty.) Other truly great Harrison tracks are “I Want to Tell You,” “Savoy Truffle,” “Old Brown Shoe” (what a guitar solo!), and “I Me Mine.” And don’t forget his wonderful vocal on “Happy Just to Dance With You,” one of the forgotten gems from “A Hard Day’s Night!”

  15. greggles clarke

    Dear oh dear…

    ‘There were no Harrison compositions on either A Hard Day’s Night or on Beatles for Sale’

    This is shockingly bad form chaps, (it’s a very weird mistake to make for a specific article about Georges’ songs on Beatles albums!) as any Beatles/Harrison fan will be yelling ‘I’m Happy Just To Dance With You’ at their computer screens!

    The fact that you have put effort into creating this, however, is commendable, as Harrison contributed some of my true favorite Beatles tracks, so it’s good to see them celebrated.

  16. Danny

    As said before, it is a nice article. My only additional comment is to remind everyone that Lennon himself said that one of the reasons the Beatles had to go solo was because, with George’s contributions to the Beatles albums, it was hard getting more than a couple of songs on an album. The first two Lennon album, including Imagine. So George’s songs were no more excluded than anyone else’s.
    .

  17. cleaner100

    George was a major talent and it’s always enjoyable to see his work be praised, though one aspect of this article is trying too hard, IMHO. I don’t get the purpose behind dispelling the “relegated to one song per album myth” as you describe it. Is this statement really a disservice? If anything, it’s an acknowledgement that George had a lot of talent but was was overshadowed by the big two. In actuality, George averaged approximately 1.5 songs per album. Even if he had just one per album, that would still be significant and not damning. After all, this is the Beatles.

  18. David

    I love the conversation about George, the “one side per album” myth depends on which albums you listen too, American or British. My favorite is “It’s all too much” but I also love some of George’s (and Ringo’s) covers better than Paul or John’s. George’s “Roll over Beethoven, Devil in her heart,Everybody’s trying to be my baby” and Ringo’s “Boys, rock! Most bands have maybe one decent songwriter or singer. The Beatles had three.

    And the number one downloaded Beatles song- Here comes the sun…

  19. aurelio ortega

    You forgot the instrumental Flying, which appears in the magical mistery tour album and which is a composition of Lennon McCartney Harrison Starr, the only composition by the four of Liverpool and also another song sung by Harrison, three cool cats although it’s not his, recorded in 1958 as one of the first recordings of the cuartet.

  20. Ricky-Ticky

    There’s a major misconception that Eric Clapton’s work was used on While my guitar gently Weeps, according to Geoff Emerick’s book & The Sessions shows in the GB that he technically advised on, they weren’t, they were recorded over. Obviously more of a political problem than sweet George envisioned & that Eric had perceived. I would think the use of Billy Preston as an outsider was at the end with the added factor of him being black, probably thought of as a kind of outré kudos in those days, that I too lived through! God bless George & the rest of the Beatles plus George Martin, without whom not many blind doors of musical possibilities would have been opened & then smashed apart.

  21. McKendrick

    Ricky-Ticky – the first part of your post is utter gobbledygook, and highly likely utter nonesense.
    Also your trashy comment about Billy Preston is way misinformed. They had been friends since Little Richard’s appearance in Hamburg. That his presence at Apple (on those days) was utilised says more about their realisation that a stabalising medium was sorely required at the time – and worked not only to purpose but to the ultimate benefit of the recordings.
    Jim Jones – no, but ‘Only A Northern Song’ did. That would be why L & Mc wouldn’t have wanted it on Seargent Pepper. It would have been the strongest song on the album. Try it. It works.

  22. French Paul

    “You like me too much”, “Taxman”, “Here comes the Sun”… Never realized George wrote some of the finest Beatles tunes. In terms of writing (and on personal criteria), I’d say he was the best since he has the biggest amount of songs I like in his repertoire (in spite of having far less writing credits than John or Paul) – but I somehow still consider Paul my favorite for some reason (cause let’s face it, everyone has their favorite Beatle :p ).

  23. French Paul

    Oh, and those stories between George and Eric Clapton – great stuff. I knew Clapton had been involved with a lot of bands in the 1960s and 1970s and that he played on albums by The Who and Led Zep’ (IIRC) – along with his contributions to legendary bands like Cream and Blind Faith (a great album here, probably my favorite Clapton-related release) – but I had no idea he was involved in material from the Beatles.

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