George Harrison was always the jewel in The Beatles’ mighty crown. He was the understated genius who was more than thrilled to let John Lennon and Paul McCartney soak up the accolades while he conjured up sweet noise in the background. Despite writing considerably less material for The Fab Four than his counterparts, he did write Frank Sinatra’s favourite Beatles song, and who can disagree with Ol’ Blue Eyes?
It’s not just Sinatra who was in awe of Harrison’s mercurial prowess as a songwriter, this was an opinion shared with none other than Bob Dylan. Harrison was famously his favourite Beatle, and the two built a close friendship, even becoming bandmates in The Travelling Wilbury’s. Dylan uttered in 2007, “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.”
Being front and centre was never his aim. Although towards the end, he got frustrated with his role in The Beatles, he was thwarted by his position. His anger is easy to understand, considering that Harrison showed he was just as accomplished at songwriting as Lennon or McCartney on Abbey Road.
Harrison’s two efforts on the album, ‘Here Comes The Sun’ and ‘Something’, showed his progression as a songwriter, with the latter famously which Frank Sinatra called “the greatest love song of the past 50 years”.
Paul McCartney later spoke about how it was difficult for Harrison to break through as a songwriter in The Beatles and how thrilled he was with the guitarist when he stepped up to deliver ‘Something’. However, he does fail to mention the plethora of loved tracks that Harrison later released, which were shunned by The Beatles.
“He finally came up with ‘Something’ and a couple of other songs that were great, and I think everyone was very pleased for him,” McCartney explained. “There was no jealousy. In fact, I think Frank Sinatra used to introduce ‘Something’ as his favourite Lennon-McCartney song. Thanks Frank.”
The fact that Sinatra didn’t even realise George Harrison was the creator of ‘Something’ didn’t bother the quiet Beatle, who wasn’t best pleased to discover that Ol’ Blue Eyes had decided to cover the track, but grew to see as a sign of the song’s success.
“When I wrote it, in my mind I heard Ray Charles singing it, and he did do it some years later,” Harrison revealed in Anthology. “At the time I wasn’t particularly thrilled that Frank Sinatra did ‘Something’. I’m more thrilled now than I was then. I wasn’t really into Frank – he was the generation before me. I was more interested when Smokey Robinson did it and when James Brown did it. But I’m very pleased now, whoever’s done it. I realise that the sign of a good song is when it has lots of cover versions.”
The Beatles’ supreme reign came to an end just as George Harrison was finding his groove as a songwriter, and by the time they split, he was a confident artist in the form of his life. This vigour is evident across All Things Must Pass, which was littered with tracks that The Beatles somehow rejected and that alone explains why he needed the band to split more than anybody else.