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George Harrison In 20 Solos

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George Harrison’s songwriting just got better and better over the years, as he went from contributing occasional songs to Beatles albums to crafting what for many people is one of the great albums of the rock era, All Things Must Pass. George’s guitar playing is all too often overlooked by even long time fans, but the subtlety of his slide guitar work, and the sheer inventiveness of his playing deserves to be put in the spotlight so here we are, George Harrison In 20 Solos.

We start with a solo that the more knowledgeable among you will immediately go, “Hey, that’s not just George playing, it’s also Paul.” The guitar solo that is appears on ‘The Night Before’ was recorded in February 1965 and it is such a clever idea that it could not go unacknowledged. George and Paul play the double tracked solo, an octave apart. Genius! In October 1965, The Beatles were in the studio working on tracks for Rubber Soul, including George’s ‘If I Needed Someone’. Playing a 12 string electric guitar George conjures a solo that underpins the harmony vocals that according to Roger McGuinn inspired the guitar sound for The Byrds.

00164909 The Beatles Pop GroupGeorge began writing ‘Within You, Without You’ on a pedal harmonium and the song was simply labelled, ‘Untitled’ when it was recorded at Abbey Road Studios in March 1967; all the musicians sat on a carpet with the lights low and incense burning. George had an Indian friend playing tabla and the Beatles’ engineer, Geoff Emerick does a wonderful job of recording the instrument in a way that enhances the track so much. George was the only Beatle in the studio that day and it’s him and Neil Aspinall playing tamburas with the dilruba and svarmandal played by Indian musicians from the Asian Music Centre in Finchley Road, North London. Two more dilrubas, it’s similar to a sitar but played with a bow, were overdubbed a little later as well as George’s sitar.

Released on Yellow Submarine, ‘Hey Bulldog’ is a classic that according to Geoff Emerick was “one of the few times that he nailed it right away. His amp was turned up really loud, and he used one of his new fuzz boxes, which made his guitar absolutely scream.” In the promo film for the song George can be seen playing his cherry-finish Gibson SG.

Is it a solo or is it a riff? Whatever it is George’s playing on ‘Here Comes the Sun’ redefines beautiful. Delicate and perfect it evokes the mood and sets the scene. ‘Something’ is a defining song for George and his solo is so perfect that it’s impossible to hear this song by anyone without wanting to hear George’s solo inserted into the cover. It may only be a b-side but George’s ‘Old Brown Shoe’ is an overlooked gem. Again it’s the sheer inventiveness of George’s solo that makes it worthy of inclusion.

On ‘Let it Be’, George’s playing is the complete antithesis to ‘Something’ or ‘Here Comes the Sun’ and like so much of his playing it’s so innovative. George was not happy with the solo that John originally picked to appear on the song and decided to redo it. George’s guitar is played through a rotating Leslie organ speaker, which gives it a distinctive warbling sound. ‘I Me Mine’ was the last song to be recorded by The Beatles before they split up, yet it’s included not for any reasons of nostalgia but because George shows he can rock out with the best of them.

George Harrison_edited-1Recorded in 1971, George’s slide guitar on Badfinger’s ‘Day After Day’ is another example of sharing the spoils because Pete Ham also plays slide, but it’s George’s distinctive solo that elevates this catchy song to a whole new level. Recorded the same year, ‘Gimme Some Truth’ from John Lennon’s Imagine is the perfect foil for the venomous lyrics that John spits out.

The first solo from one of George’s solo albums is ‘Give Me Love (Give My Peace On Earth)’ taken from, Living In A Material World. It became his second single to top the American charts. George’s slide solo at the opening of the song is sublime, it makes you smile and uplifts the spirit…what greater gift can there be?
Extra Texture, George’s final album for Apple Records, includes the fabulous ‘This Guitar (Can’t Keep From Crying)’ that was written by George in response to some of the criticism he received during his 1974 North American tour. Almost inevitably it is compared with ‘While My Guitar Gently Weeps’ and it is unsurprising that it does not come up to the standard of George’s 1968 anthem. But, imagine for a minute that there had not been the former song? ‘This Guitar’ would be viewed entirely differently; for it is an excellent song. George’s slide guitar is to the fore, which in itself is something of a rarity for Extra Texture.

Thirty Three & 1/3 was released on George’s newly formed Dark Horse Records, and despite George being ill with hepatitis during its making, it’s proved to be an enduring record, full of great songs. It includes another of George’s hidden gems, the delicate and beautiful tribute to a Motown legend, ‘Pure Smokey’, which features two of George’s most lovely guitar solos.

11715 (© Harrison Family)‘Blow Away’ was a single from George’s eponymous 1979 album and is perhaps less well known than many of his songs, but it shouldn’t be, particularly as it includes some of George’s most lyrical guitar playing. A decade later George released Cloud Nine and among its tracks is the beautiful, ‘Just For Today’ that could easily have come from All Things Must Pass. It’s a beautiful song that is made even more so by an exquisite, trademark, Harrison slide guitar solo.

Two years later George was asked by Belinda Carlisle to add a solo to her song, ‘Leave a Light On’. According to the singer, “Rick [Nowels, the album’s producer] said we should get someone cool and with a distinctive style to play the lead guitar part. I thought for a moment and said ‘What about George Harrison?’ I had met George briefly a few years earlier in San Remo Italy and Morgan [Mason, Carlisle’s husband] through his work on Sex Lies and Videotape” – a film Mason had produced for Harrison’s HandMade Films – “knew someone who was close to [Harrison] and able to get word to him. George responded right away, saying he’d love to help out.” It is by all accounts one of George’s favourite solos.

George HarrisonGeorge’s guitar playing on ‘Free As A Bird’, John’s demo song that the other three Beatles recorded in 1994 is just the best of the best. It could be no one else but George, simple, effective, heartfelt and perfect. George’s final studio album, his twelfth, was released in 2002, a year after he tragically passed away. It includes ‘Marwa Blues’, that is the perfect homage to George’s exceptional guitar playing. Shortly before he passed away George contributed a guitar solo to Bill Wyman’s cover of Ketty Lester’s ‘Love Letters’ for a Rhythm Kings album. When he sent his solo back to the former Rolling Stone he said in a tongue in cheek note, “It’s my one note solo” – but George plays that sweet note better than anyone.

What is your favourite of George’s guitar solos?

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42 Comments

42 Comments

  1. GERRY Dempsey

    May 30, 2016 at 10:18 pm

    What about his solo on Back in the USSR surely on of his best

    • Lew karp

      May 31, 2016 at 4:24 am

      Believe Paul played lead on back in the ussr

      • montimer

        August 31, 2018 at 2:23 pm

        George Harrison played the guitar solo (s) on Back in the USSR, according to Simon Leng, Mark Lewisohn, and one James Taylor, who attended the sessions.

    • Howard

      June 1, 2016 at 8:19 pm

      That’s Paul.
      Most of the really good guitar stuff on pre-’69 Beatles is Paul.

      • montimer

        August 31, 2018 at 2:22 pm

        “Most ot the really good stuff” pre -’69 ––And I love her, Can’t Buy Me Love, Long Tall Sally, Hard Day’s Night, She’s A Woman, Fixing A Hole, She Said, She Said, And Your Bird Can Sing, et al.––are all George Harrison.

        You really don’t know anything about guitar playing or the Beatles

  2. KM

    May 31, 2016 at 3:25 am

    Hard to believe that his slide guitar on The Bluest Blues (from the Ten Years After reunion album Pure Blues) isnt included. Alvin Lee has raved about it at length, and even claimed that after trying to approach that quality in his own solo on that track, he came to terms with his limitations and spent the next few years trying to adjust his own guitar style to try to match the simplistic perfection that George provided.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YDzyama_wCI

    • uDiscover

      May 31, 2016 at 9:30 am

      KM, excellent shout out!

    • scott weinberg

      May 31, 2016 at 4:36 pm

      Totally love that song and it should definitely have made the list. But pretty sure it was on an Alvin Lee solo album, not Ten Years After.

  3. Mathieu Houle

    May 31, 2016 at 4:21 pm

    Hi there!

    Great article, great songs, of course! BUT the solo in “The Night Before” is played by Paul, not George!

    Paul played solos on a few Beatles songs (“Taxman” is one, for instance), particularly on the “Help!” album (on “Another Girl” and “Ticket To Ride”, all the guitar licks are played by Paul).

    Mark Lewisohn refers to that in his sessions books…

    • montimer

      August 31, 2018 at 2:26 pm

      Mathelue Houle:

      And those solos that Paul played are not very good. The classic, Beatles’ sound-defining, and indeed among iconic solos of sixties –– And I love her, Can’t Buy Me Love, Long Tall Sally, Hard Day’s Night, She’s A Woman, Fixing A Hole, She Said, She Said, And Your Bird Can Sing, et al.––are all George Harrison’s.

      The guitar lick that intros Ticket to Ride is George Harrison’s.

  4. Mathieu Houle

    May 31, 2016 at 4:24 pm

    So sorry about my remarks regarding Paul’s “solo”, I read so quickly that I didn’t see your precise remark about the fact that they’re playing together!

    Please forget my comment and please forgive me! 😉

  5. joe

    May 31, 2016 at 4:43 pm

    You left out one of his best on Cheer Down.

    • Rick Potts

      June 1, 2016 at 12:38 am

      This!

  6. JON

    May 31, 2016 at 7:28 pm

    BOYS

  7. Paul A

    May 31, 2016 at 10:39 pm

    How can you possibly choose ?!?!

  8. Coleman

    June 1, 2016 at 1:31 am

    Don’t forget his beautiful acoustic guitar solos on “And I Love Her” and “Till There Was You”.

  9. Nara

    June 1, 2016 at 2:05 am

    His solo on John Lennon’s “How Do You Sleep?” deserves credits too!

  10. Bobby

    June 1, 2016 at 2:35 am

    I’m still a blown away by the work he put in on I’m Only Sleeping. Decided he wanted to play it backwards so he practiced for hours on end and nailed it.

  11. Tom Quinn

    June 1, 2016 at 2:47 am

    “And Your Bird Can Sing” is one of my Top Five.

  12. Alex

    June 1, 2016 at 2:50 am

    His solo on the song Cloud Nine is brilliant. Makes hair on the back of my head stand up!!

  13. Todd

    June 1, 2016 at 3:48 am

    What about the very short, very George solo on Cream’s Badge? That always makes me smile.

  14. Tom

    June 1, 2016 at 4:40 am

    This is a great article but the solo featured on Let It Be is not the solo that George played through the Leslie organ speakers. It is the first solo mentioned.

  15. Bill Bick

    June 1, 2016 at 8:41 am

    George’s brilliance is every bit as evident in the nearly inaudible interjections he so often provides which help hold the listener’s attention between vocal phrases (e.g., in “She Loves You” and “I Wanna Hold…”) as it is in his solos, which always clearly reference the melody and amplify upon it without the usual self-indulgence that characterizes the work of so many who seem more interested in showcasing their talent and abandoning the song’s original beauty.

    • Vincent Drysdale

      June 1, 2016 at 6:45 pm

      Those in between parts, especially on I Want To Hold Your Hand, have always fascinated me. When I hear them I think, “What made him think of that?”. They’re very unusual, but make the songs in my opinion.

  16. Ken

    June 1, 2016 at 1:17 pm

    While my guitar gently weeps
    And your BYRD can sing
    Cheer down
    If I needed someone
    …just to mention a few

  17. Edgard G. M.

    June 1, 2016 at 1:30 pm

    “Cheer down” is my favorite…

  18. Andrew

    June 1, 2016 at 2:35 pm

    I know he was just reproducing the original Carl Perkins solo
    but I thought he did a great solo on HONEY DON’T

    • Dee

      June 1, 2016 at 3:48 pm

      Wasn’t it Eric Clapton who played on “While My Guitar Gently Weeps?”

      • Cheri

        June 1, 2016 at 11:32 pm

        That’s what I had heard also.
        Another thing…if you listen to It don’t come easy and Let it Rain they are almost exact intros.
        In Clapton’s autobiography he refers many times to the friendship between himself and George. Since reading that I find myself picking out the Clapton in the Beatles and the George in Clapton’s music. Great stuff!

  19. Svander

    June 1, 2016 at 4:01 pm

    what about “here comes the sun” solo that didnt make it to the record? It is indeed awesome

  20. Norm Kross

    June 1, 2016 at 4:04 pm

    I recently read that at the recording session for “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” George was not happy with how he was playing the lead. The story went that George called in his friend Eric Clapton for the lead guitar on that cut, but at the time Eric couldn’t be credited because it violated stipulations of his record company contract. If you listen carefully, the style of that lead sounds more like Clapton. References: Guitar World, The Bealles Bible, and whereseric websites, or search Eric Clapton with the song title. No doubt about this one.

  21. Rick Milam

    June 1, 2016 at 4:15 pm

    The comment by Geoff Emerick was one of the few nice things he ever had to say about George. He sided totally with Paul in his criticisms of George’s playing and how long it took him to get something down. I’m a fan of George, both for his playing, although not technically advanced, and for his personal style, especially as he matured. Geoff comes across as a jerk in his book.

  22. L'Angelo Mysterioso

    June 1, 2016 at 5:33 pm

    George was also a fine country picker from the Carl Perkins school, as demonstrated in “All My Loving”, “Act Naturally’ and “What Goes On”.

  23. Kevin

    June 1, 2016 at 6:43 pm

    You left out some of the best ones, starting with “And Your Bird Can Sing.” I think he played that with Paul, and it’s a masterpiece. Another great one is the guitar break on “Got to Get You Into My Life.” That’s two guitars and it really jumps out. And the solo on “Something” is harmonically really nice. There are plenty more, but those immediately come to mind.

  24. Paul Griggs

    June 1, 2016 at 10:53 pm

    Although Roger McGuinn says that George influenced him in playing a 12 string Rickenbacker when it came to “if I needed someone” George himself said his guitar pattern was influenced by McGuinn’s guitar playing on The Byrds track “Bells of Rhymney”

  25. Jake Gerber

    June 2, 2016 at 12:15 am

    If you want to hear a couple of his solos,where there were two guitars,like Bird and night before. I’ll post them on my web page.
    Mind you,I’m not going to set everything up,this will be a one off. I’ll just use GarageBand on my phone and play each of the parts separately ,then together. So you’ll hear the low parts first,then the high harmonies ( thirds and octaves for the most part ) then hear both of them together . I’ll also just be using a Martin D-42 acoustic , no electronics …

  26. Michael Hatton

    June 2, 2016 at 1:03 am

    One of my favorite solos is “Your Love Is Forever” from the 1979 ‘George Harrison’ album. Sublime.

  27. GS

    June 2, 2016 at 4:40 am

    Love the solo on Let It Be that’s not put through the organ speaker, the one that John picked. So raw! I think he’s playing a strat.

  28. Steve Baker

    June 2, 2016 at 4:49 am

    I can’t believe you didn’t include one of George’s best singles, “Cheer Down”, which he wrote as the theme song for “Lethal Weapon 2”. This song had some of his best slide lead playing I have ever heard.

  29. Tom

    June 2, 2016 at 4:57 am

    If you want to hear pure early Harrison, get yourself the “Beatles For Sale” album (I guess it was called “Beatles 65” in the US. On this album George is all over the place with his his Gretsch in best Carl Perkins / Chet Atkins rockabilly style. Just listen to “I Don’t Want To Spoil The Party” or “Honey Don’t”:

  30. M shaw

    June 7, 2016 at 1:16 am

    A fantastic, much overlooked song from Abbey Road, ‘I Want You/She’s so Heavy’ is one of my favorites. Outstanding music by all 4, the guitar solos are incredible. If I could keep only one album (what a nightmare!) that’s the one.

  31. o svetu

    July 10, 2016 at 6:23 pm

    Hello to every one, the contents present at this web site are actually remarkable for people knowledge, well, keep up the good work fellows.

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