‘While My Guitar Gently Weeps’ is one of The Beatles‘ most famous songs and arguably one of George Harrison’s masterpieces. It was recorded in 1968 as part of the White Album sessions and was written as an exercise in “randomness” in which he consulted the Chinese Book of Changes.
“The Eastern concept is that whatever happens is all meant to be,” Harrison once commented. “Every little item that’s going down has a purpose. ‘While My Guitar Gently Weeps’ was a simple study based on that theory… I picked up a book at random, opened it, saw ‘gently weeps’, then laid the book down again and started the song.”
While the sessions went ahead for The White Album, the relationship between Harrison, Paul McCartney, John Lennon and Ringo Starr was beginning to swell. Arguments were rife and, as Harrison felt his song was getting overshadowed by the main songwriting of Lennon and McCartney, he looked elsewhere for inspiration after struggling with a creative drive for over a month.
Harrison, instead of turning to his bandmates, asked close friend Eric Clapton for help and, on September 6th, 1968, Clapton turned up at Abbey Road Studio to do just that — but it took a considerable period of convincing. “Nobody ever plays on the Beatles’ records,” Clapton is thought to have said to Harrison with a moment of trepidation. “So what?” Harrison replied. “It’s my song”.
In a 1987 interview with Guitar Player Magazine, Harrison was asked whether it had bruised his ego to ask Clapton to play on the song. “No, my ego would rather have Eric play on it. I’ll tell you, I worked on that song with John, Paul, and Ringo one day, and they were not interested in it at all,” he said. “And I knew inside of me that it was a nice song.”
Harrison added: “The next day I was with Eric, and I was going into the session, and I said, ‘We’re going to do this song. Come on and play on it’. He said, ‘Oh, no. I can’t do that. Nobody ever plays on the Beatles records’. I said, ‘Look, it’s my song, and I want you to play on it’. So Eric came in, and the other guys were as good as gold because he was there.
“It left me free to just play the rhythm and do the vocal. So Eric played that, and I thought it was really good. Then we listened to it back, and he said, ‘Ah, there’s a problem, though; it’s not Beatley enough’ – so we put it through the ADT [automatic double-tracker], to wobble it a bit.”
The song would end up being released as the B-side to the much contentious McCartney-written effort ‘Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da’ and be one of four Harrison tracks to be included on the White Album. For many, the track marked a pivotal moment in the development of Harrison’s songwriting prowess with critics elevating his material to that of his bandmates and, according to historian Erin Torkelson Weber, “equal to some of Lennon and McCartney’s best compositions”.
You can listen to the track that features Eric Clapton on the track below.