Hear Paul McCartney and George Harrison’s remarkable isolated vocals on Beatles’ hit ‘Something’
‘Something’, a song written by George Harrison and included as part of The Beatles’ iconic 1969 album Abbey Road, marked a historic moment for the songwriter.
With Harrison taking lead vocals on the track, he would later admit that the song was written about the Hindu deity Krishna and, when speaking to Rolling Stone in 1976, explained: “All love is part of a universal love,” when discussing his writing style.
‘Something’ will forever remain a special track for George Harrison. Not only was it the first song he was able to release with The Beatles as a fully-fledge single. But it was also the first song for The Beatles to reach number one that wasn’t suffixed with “written by Lennon-McCartney.” A landmark moment.
For that reason alone the Abbey Road number became a moment of pride for the guitarist who had struggled to impose his songwriting will on the Fab Four. But the song also worked as a clear indicator of Harrison’s bright solo future away from the band and his chaotic life at the time of writing. “He told me in a matter-of-fact way that he had written it for me,” said Harrison’s then-wife Pattie Boyd in a book about her life. But the facts are a little hazy.
Harrison and Boyd had met on the set of Hard Day’s Night and had enjoyed some blissful moments. But by the end of The Beatles career, Harrison had begun to step out on Boyd with frightening regularity and Boyd herself had begun to look elsewhere.
It meant when BBC journalist David Wigg asked Harrison who the song was written for in 1969 the guitarist answered: “Maybe Pattie, probably.” Even Wigg wasn’t convinced, following up with “Really?” Clearly rumours of Boyd and Harrison’s loose relationship was beginning to be exposed. Harrison moved on quickly in the interview but the guitarist kept relatively quiet about ‘Something’ muse.
“I wrote it at the time when we were making the last double album,” he told David Wigg. “And it’s just the first line ‘something in the was she moves’ which has been in millions of songs. It’s not a special thing but it just seemed quite apt.” But musically, Harrison was clear with his direction.
“When I wrote it, I imagined somebody like Ray Charles doing it. That’s the feel I imagined, but because I’m not Ray Charles, you know, I’m sort of much more limited in what I can do, then it came out like this.”
In 1996, Harrison would clarify his comments and quickly take back the idea that he had written the song for Boyd who shortly after the track’s release had entered into a relationship with Harrison’s best friend, Eric Clapton. Instead, Harrison pointed towards more spiritual inspiration for the song. “Everybody assumed I wrote it about Pattie,” said Harrison to author Joshua Greene. In Greene’s book, he confirms that Harrison had revealed that he had in fact written the song as an ode to Hare Krishna and spirituality.
Harrison’s love song is regarded by many as some of his finest work and, as the years have passed, countless major figures have attempted to put their own spin on the song. The likes of Shirley Bassey, Joe Cocker, Peggy Lee, Bruce Springsteen, Elton John and Frank Sinatra have all added their versions of ‘Something’ to the canon but none can do it quite like The Beatles.
“George’s ‘Something’ was out of left field,” Paul McCartney once explained about the song on which he provides impeccable harmonies. “It was about Pattie, and it appealed to me because it has a very beautiful melody and is a really structured song. I think George thought my bass playing was a little bit busy. Again, from my side, I was trying to contribute the best I could, but maybe it was his turn to tell me I was too busy.”
In the end though, after multiple reworks, ‘Something’ was completed and announced Harrison’s arrival to the big stage and raised his songwriting reputation to new levels. As Harrison enacts his vision, it’s fitting that he should use the vocal talent of Paul McCartney to help him. Macca was so often the opposing force of Harrison’s grievances that the vision of the pair performing together in the studio warms our heart andf our sense of irony.
Taking the lead vocals with Macca providing backing, you can enjoy their harmonies in the isolated vocal tracks below.