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When They Was The Fab Four: George Harrison Remembers The Beatles

It’s a perfect evocation of those heady days of Beatlemania when those loveable Mop-Tops, the Fab Four, ruled the world.

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George Harrison When We Was Fab

“When We Was Fab.” Say it with a Liverpudlian accent and it can only be referring to one thing. For that matter, said with any accent it can only ever be referring to one thing: The Beatles, aka the Fab Four. This was George Harrison’s hook line, and title, for his 1988 single, the second to be taken from his Cloud Nine album. It’s a perfect evocation of those heady days of Beatlemania when those loveable Mop-Tops, the Fab Four, ruled the world and we all thought they would go on forever.

George co-wrote the song with Jeff Lynne, who also co-produced the album that shortly pre-empts the two of them forming The Traveling Wilburys with Tom Petty, Bob Dylan and Roy Orbison. ‘When We Was Fab’ is a musical nod to the psychedelic sound that the Beatles had made their own in 1967, through its use of sitar, string quartet, and backward tape effects. According to George, “… until I finalised the lyric on it, it was always called ‘Aussie Fab’. That was it’s working title. I hadn’t figured out what the song was going to say… what the lyrics would be about, but I knew it was definitely a Fab song. It was based on the Fabs, and as it was done up in Australia there, up in Queensland, then that’s what we called it. As we developed the lyrics, it became ‘When We Was Fab’. It’s a difficult one to do live because of all the all the little overdubs and all the cellos and the weird noises and the backing voices.”

Besides being such a catchy song, there’s fun to be had just noting the little musical motifs that reference Fab Four classics. Much credit must go to Jeff Lynne who had himself been so obviously inspired by the Beatles during his time with Electric Light Orchestra – just as Take That were inspired by ELO on their “comeback” album, Beautiful World.

Ringo Starr is among the other musicians on the track and he appears in the video directed by 10cc’s Godley and Crème. It also features Jeff Lynne; Elton John, putting the coin in the cup; and Neil Aspinall, The Beatles’ road manager, holding a copy of John Lennon’s Imagine album. There are also appearances from Ray Cooper, while Paul McCartney is rumoured to have played the bass while dressed in a walrus suit. (As it happened, the rumour proved untrue. McCartney later recalled: “George wanted me to be in it but I wasn’t available. So I suggested that he put someone else in the walrus and tell everyone that it was me.” Indeed, in a 1988 interview, George quoted the lyrics to ‘Glass Onion’, saying, “Here’s another clue for you all, the walrus was Paul.”)

‘When We Was Fab’ was released at the end of January 1988 and, a week later, on 6 February, it made the UK chart for the first time. Despite the fact that it only reached No.25 in the UK, and two places higher in the US chart, the song endures as one of George’s most popular. The single art incorporates Klaus Voormann’s 1966 drawing of George, was used on the cover of Revolver, along with a  drawing by Voormann, depicting George as he was 22 years later.

Cloud Nine can be bought here.

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24 Comments

24 Comments

  1. jorge eneique villa torres

    February 6, 2015 at 12:19 pm

    GEORGE DI ‘ BEST !!1

  2. Rock Singer

    February 6, 2015 at 12:29 pm

    George Harrison once referred to the Beatles as the Spice Boys

  3. mariorenato

    February 6, 2015 at 5:03 pm

    è stato uno dei grandi

  4. PAMELA

    February 6, 2015 at 5:34 pm

    They were fabulous….I got to see them in Montreal back in 63….it was my “awakening”….and life has

    • Robert

      February 7, 2015 at 11:59 am

      Hummmm…back in September ’64, actually.

  5. Tom

    February 6, 2015 at 6:42 pm

    I don’t know where you got this information but that is definitely NOT Julian Lennon holding a copy of Imagine. It’s not even the Imagine album, it’s the Mind Games album.

  6. Tom

    February 6, 2015 at 6:43 pm

    I don’t know where you got this information but that is definitely NOT Julian Lennon holding a copy of Imagine. It’s not even the Imagine album, it’s Mind Games.

    • steve

      February 6, 2015 at 7:12 pm

      The music video that accompanied the song was directed by Godley & Creme.[2] Ringo Starr appears first as Harrison’s “assistant” and then as the drummer. Also making guest appearances in the video are Jeff Lynne, Elton John (putting the coin in the cup) and Julian Lennon (holding a copy of John Lennon’s Imagine album). Paul McCartney is rumored to have appeared in the walrus suit, playing the bass.[3] Other appearances feature Paul Simon (pushing a cart) and Ray Cooper.[2]

      The video received six nominations at the 1988 MTV Video Music Awards, including best art director for Sid Bartholomew.[2][4]

    • Steve H

      February 7, 2015 at 10:33 pm

      I don’t know whether that’s Julian Lennon (though it doesn’t immediately look like him to me), but I do know that that is the reverse cover of ‘Imagine,’ not ‘Mind Games.’

      I’ve always loved this video! Very imaginative and evocative.

  7. Major Rogers

    February 6, 2015 at 7:46 pm

    When We Was Fab is the most beautiful tribute to band mates that I have ever heard. It’s pretty much a love song that clearly shows the passion George had towards the band.

  8. Terrence A. LeBeu

    February 6, 2015 at 8:29 pm

    This is my first time at this site: when I gotten an invite by this link, on Facebook; The Beatles and George Harrison shared a link. I couldn’t resist.

  9. james liston

    February 7, 2015 at 8:50 pm

    Hey The Beatles were the greatest band for there time. no one could touch them. even today

  10. Chris Muller

    February 7, 2015 at 9:38 pm

    I have all the Beatles albums. I even have the first u.s. album from V.J.

    • Pam VA

      February 6, 2016 at 11:04 pm

      If it’s Stereo, that Vee Jay album is worth thousands.

  11. Davy Mathews

    February 7, 2015 at 11:43 pm

    i love THE Beatles and especially George who Seems to Be a very spiritualiteit Guy!
    Often I play his songs on my guitar!
    It always gives me goose bumps And a sort of happy and melancholique feeling!
    Here come’s THE Sun and my sweet lord!
    Love it?
    Thanks for all THE lovely memories!
    They Will live forever!
    X

  12. donleitcholennon

    February 8, 2015 at 12:43 pm

    very nice article ,very interesting but the only thing i dont like is the reference to take that, please dont put their name with anything pertaining to the beatles it just does’nt rock.

  13. Michelle Leclerc

    March 20, 2015 at 6:26 pm

    Je ne suis plus fan annulé mon abonnement

  14. Sid

    June 17, 2015 at 1:43 am

    That’s not Julian Lennon but Neil Aspinall, roadmanager and personal assistent of The Beatles.

  15. Darryl MvGarry

    February 6, 2016 at 10:49 am

    After having read about the song, I can understand it better. The influence of Jeff Lynne is quite noticeable. It dominates the sound on the track. Writing and working with George Harrison, it invigorated both their careers. I suppose it was a chance for JL to experience being a Beatle, too.

  16. Colleen

    February 6, 2016 at 5:33 pm

    @tom it said Neil aspenwall was hold the book not Julian

  17. richard parry

    February 7, 2016 at 4:31 pm

    The world still misses you – RIP

  18. Gary Lee

    May 1, 2016 at 6:13 pm

    It is the Imagine album being carried by Aspinall, not Mind Games. You’d think that since this an old article they would have corrected that by now…

  19. Jerry Chamness

    February 9, 2018 at 1:06 pm

    Already bought! Can’t wait.
    The MonaLisa-Twins at
    http://www.MonaLisa-Twins.com

  20. SLM100

    February 7, 2019 at 8:34 pm

    1988 – THE SUMMER OF GEORGE!

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