“George got stuck with being the Beatle that had to fight to get songs on records because of Lennon and McCartney. Well, who wouldn’t get stuck? If George had had his own group and was writing his own songs back then, he’d have been probably just as big as anybody.” — Bob Dylan.
If you wanted to get a recommendation from a single songwriter in the world of music, then Bob Dylan would likely be your first port of call. George Harrison, who had struggled for years to make a sincere impact from within The Beatles, was one such lucky songwriter to enjoy the freewheelin’ troubadour’s praise.
The singer and songwriter was an artist waiting to explode from the Fab Four cocoon when the band broke up in 1970. Shortly after the band’s dispersal, Harrison began emerging as a beautiful pop-wielding butterfly. The guitarist would shake off his ‘Quiet Beatle’ moniker, walk to the stage front and quickly assert himself as one of the finest songwriters in the world with his solo album All Things Must Pass.
The record would outsell much of the other Beatles’ efforts and confirm what Bob Dylan already knew: George Harrison was a supremely gifted songwriter. Of course, there were moments when this truth was exposed to the wind. Songs like ‘Taxman’ hinted at a surge of songs in 1966, but it would take until 1969’s Abbey Road before Harrison really hit his stride with songs like ‘Here Comes The Sun’ and ‘Something’ now considered two of the band’s finest efforts. Once The Beatles broke up, Harrison really opened the taps.
The musician’s songwriting was governed by a few things. Following his mind-expanding trips, both with LSD and to see Maharishi Mahesh Yogi in India, much of Harrison’s work was affected by Eastern philosophy. It was a spiritual side to the singer that had only ever been hinted at during his time with the band. Also, with a free reign away from Lennon-McCartney, the songwriter worked his way across genre and style without a second thought, delivering a range of songs on his following albums. However, after – and one or two times during – his time with The Beatles, Harrison’s songs often had other targets in mind: The Beatles, themselves.
Below, we’ve gathered up five songs in which George Harrison made his feelings about The Beatles very clear. Having spent so many years stifled by the powers that be, Harrison quickly broke out of his box and delivered scathing reflections of the band he had cherished so dearly. Many of the songs listed below are imbued with this pointed resentment, but there is a more emotionally charged moment.
Listening to these songs, it becomes abundantly clear that George Harrison may have only been the Quiet Beatle because he was always biting his tongue. Of course, the years would pass, and the tensions between Paul McCartney, John Lennon, Ringo Starr and Harrison would ease, but there’s no denying the struggles Harrison had to overcome being in the most successful band the world had ever seen.
The songs George Harrison wrote about The Beatles:
‘I, Me, Mine’
This was the very last song The Beatles ever worked on and is depicted in the Let It Be movie. It saw the Fab Four gather at the iconic Abbey Road studios early in 1970 and complete the track. With Lennon arriving in full peace campaign regalia, the song is the final moment of harmony.
However, lyrically it told a different story, as it reflected on the growing tensions between the group and, most notably, the giant egos that went with them. “Suddenly I looked around and everything I could see was relative to my ego,” Harrison said in his autobiography of the same name in 1980. He continued, sharing his distaste for the growing need to please oneself: “Like ‘that’s my piece of paper’ and ‘that’s my flannel’ or ‘give it to me’ or ‘I am’. It drove me crackers, I hated everything about my ego, it was a flash of everything false and impermanent, which I disliked.”
Never one to be dictated to, Harrison added: “But later, I learned from it, to realise that there is somebody else in here apart from old blabbermouth. Who am ‘I’ became the order of the day. Anyway, that’s what came out of it, ‘I, Me, Mine’.”
Perhaps one of the most revealing moments of Peter Jackson’s revolutionary documentary Let It Be, is when Harrison attempts to play the song for his bandmates and is only met by sniggering jokes and jovial snides.
‘Sue Me, Sue You Blues’
One of the sadder moments of The Beatles break-up was realising just how business savvy they were. The preferred image of any band in their fans’ mind’s eye is that they would happily be writing and recording music if they were paid or not. Living on fresh air and musical dalliance, this image is sadly far from any expected reality. When McCartney broke away from the band, he did so with lawyers and business advisors in tow, providing first-year projections and red lines not to be crossed. For the first months of the band’s split, the group was embroiled in courtroom conferences.
McCartney was happy to hide behind Linda’s father and family as they prepared his continuous litigious behaviour. Lennon equally duelled with McCartney within the courtroom experience. But for one of Macca’s fiercest opponents, the need for so many lawyers was unbearable. George Harrison made his feelings clear on ‘Sue Me, Sue You’.
With McCartney winning the courtroom battle but dirtying his name, Harrison’s song was clear in what that meant: “Now all that’s left is to find yourself a new band.” The duo were never known as the closest of friends but it would appear that Harrison took aim on this song.
‘Run of The Mill’
Following the group’s break-up, the band’s members weren’t shy about voicing their disdain for one another. Not only did they trade insults in interviews; after all, all anybody wanted to talk about was the Fab Four anyway, but the bandmates also used songs to shoot barbs at one another. George Harrison had suffered greatly at the band’s hand as the principal songwriters in the group stifled his songwriting style.
Harrison told Derek Taylor in 1979 of the song’s composition, “It was when Apple was getting crazy…Paul was falling out with us all and going around Apple offices saying ‘You’re no good’ – everyone was just incompetent (the Spanish Inquisition sketch). It was that period – the problem of partnerships.”
In typical Harrison style, his song would be a touch more subtle than those. The ‘My Sweet Lord’ singer would do it in a more nuanced way than his counterparts on his triple solo album All Things Must Pass. The record featured several subtle references to his time in The Beatles, hinting at his displeasure of being so low on the ladder. But ‘Run of the Mill’ is undoubtedly the track in which Harrison goes into the most depth about his troubles with John Lennon, Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr.
“At that point in time, Paul couldn’t see beyond himself,” Harrison told Guitar World in 2001 about the band’s demise. “He was on a roll, but…in his mind, everything that was going on around him was just there to accompany him. He wasn’t sensitive to stepping on other people’s egos or feelings.”
Harrison admitted: “I just got so fed up with the bad vibes,” he told Musician magazine. “I didn’t care if it was the Beatles, I was getting out.” That day, arriving at his Surrey home, Harrison enacted the ultimate reply to his oppressive partners by reaching for his guitar and writing one of his most treasured tracks, ‘Wah Wah’.
Though it was named in part as a reference to the guitar effects pedal, later Harrison admitted in his autobiography I, Me, Mine that the song said: “You’re giving me a bloody headache” to his bandmates. The bleating sound and Harrison’s power make this song a classic on its own.
‘All Those Years Ago’
While the other tracks on our list are angry and barbed, this one is purely constructed out of love and sadness for the good times they could no longer recall.
At the time of John Lennon’s tragic death in 1980, each of the Fab Four experienced life out on their own solo path. Harrison, in particular, had enjoyed being released by The Beatles. Away from the shadow of Lennon-McCartney’s songwriting powerhouse, the spiritual sounds of George Harrison were finally given ample room to breathe.
However, on one song specifically, Harrison welcomed Starr and McCartney’s talents as they all paid tribute to their fallen friend, John Lennon. The song in question was ‘All Those Years Ago’.
‘All Those Years Ago’, released in May 1981, six months after Lennon’s tragic murder, was Harrison expressing his sadness at losing not only a mentor and a bandmate but one of his best friends. The song had originally started as a track for a new Ringo Starr album that Harrison had penned for his former drummer. However, following Lennon’s death, Harrison took the song back and adapted the lyrics to the circumstances.
‘Isn’t It A Pity’
One guaranteed way to check to see if your song is a great one is to see who else has enjoyed both listening or performing it. If Harrison was to have looked around, he would have noticed that only the very best had ever taken on his song ‘Isn’t It A Pity’.
The track, most notably covered by Nina Simone, is a classic Harrison effort. Dripping in laconic melody, the guitarist takes us through the spiritual balancing we must all go through.
The song is one of the more moving moments on All Things Must Pass and another from the rejected Beatles songs pile. While it’s possible to understand that the Fab Four were their own outfit with their own direction, it’s tough to see how a song as beautifully constructed as this could be rejected while other Beatles’ hits were picked up. However, with room to branch out on his own, Harrison found himself mining gold wherever he turned.