“If you don’t know where you’re going, any road will take you there.” — George Harrison
The Beatles were a behemoth of culture from the very beginning of their journey, quickly gaining fans and fervour with every new release. The Quiet Beatle, the band’s guitarist and spiritual guru, AKA George Harrison took a little longer to get going. But while he may have taken a few years to get going in writing songs for The Beatles, he was still able to pull out some fantastic numbers for the Fab Four, perhaps some of their best, in fact. Below we’ve picked out ten of our favourite songs from the coolest Beatle.
It’s easy to forgive people when they forget the undoubted contribution George Harrison made to The Beatles. Not only with his pitch-perfect harmonies and unique guitar playing but with his songwriting too. His first contribution would come in 1963, but it wasn’t until much later that the singer really felt at home. Apart from the domination of the Lennon-McCartney partnership in the media, Harrison also slipped under the radar largely because that’s exactly how he liked it.
By the time Harrison had spent some time in India, connection with his spirituality and later with the inspirational figure of Bob Dylan, Harrison had seemingly balanced his worries and begun writing in earnest. It would see the guitarist arguably have the most immediately successful solo career of John Lennon, Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr.
His album All Things Must Pass was a revelation for its seamless integration of Eastern and Western philosophies, the colliding of pop cultures amid a transcendental album of pure brilliance. The record would gain Harrison the acclaim he was due, even if he didn’t really want it. The record confirmed Harrison as a songwriter to be reckoned with.
But, in truth, the writing was on the wall for a long time as, by looking through the artist’s top 10 Beatles songs, will show you.
Find the full list below.
George Harrison’s 10 best Beatles songs:
10. ‘If I Needed Someone’, Rubber Soul
Released as part of the band’s 1965 album Rubber Soul, this song marked out Harrison as much more than the Fab Four’s principal guitarist. Often described as The Beatles “pot album”, this track, in particular, was drenched in the hazy style of The Byrds and reflected the changing attitudes of the time.
Written with a 12-string Rickenbacker, ‘If I Needed Someone’ was penned primarily for Pattie Boyd, Harrison’s then-girlfriend whom he married soon after its release, and also played into his other love — Indian classical music.
The track possesses a wealth of songwriting gold. It is often suggested to have multiple meanings, one in particular points to Harrison as the first pop star to write a song about the jaded lifestyle of groupies and free living.
9. ‘I Need You’, Help!
Only the second of Harrison’s creations to be released by the band, appearing in the group’s film Help!. Still far from Harrison’s songwriting zenith, the guitarist shows it was always in his locker.
The feature film sets the backdrop to a scene shot on Salisbury Plain where the Fab Four are being protected from a murderous cult by the military.
Another single for Pattie Boyd, George Harrison reflected on the calm that she provided in his hectic life and sees Harrison start to define his signature style. The song was part-composed with John Lennon’s help as the pair added structure to the track on the day of Ringo Starr’s wedding.
8. ‘I, Me, Mine’, Let It Be
Arguably the best song on Let It Be, Harrison, by this stage of The Beatles’ career, had not only found his style, but he had cultivated it and was ready to celebrate it. He was not confined to any standard themes of writing pop songs and was instead a deeply personal and honest songwriter. The song title would later go on to title Harrison’s autobiography.
The track is perhaps most notable for being written alongside Bob Dylan’s tutelage after Harrison had spent some time with the folk singer before returning to The Beatles. Upon doing so, Harrison offered up the song but was routinely ignored by the power couple of the group, Lennon and McCartney.
Perhaps the most poignant reflection of these times is Harrison’s ‘I, Me, Mine’, a song that denounced the ego and favoured Hindu texts’ idea of universal consciousness. It’s a moment in time that signified that Harrison’s spiritual and physical worlds would always collide.
7. ‘Taxman’, Revolver
The opening track of 1966s Revolver is an indicative one. It highlighted that George Harrison had firmly thrown his hat in the ring as yet another seasoned songwriter for the band to choose from. It also saw Harrison again draw from personal experiences.
Harrison said: “‘Taxman’ was when I first realised that even though we had started earning money, we were actually giving most of it away in taxes. It was and still is typical.” At the time, top earners were being taxed 95% hence ‘There’s one for you, nineteen for me’, referencing the pre-decimal pound, equalling 20 shillings.
In his infamous 1980 interview with Playboy magazine John Lennon proclaimed the song as a landmark moment for Harrison, a moment when he realised his potential: “I remember the day he [Harrison] called to ask for help on ‘Taxman’, one of his first songs. I threw in a few one-liners to help the song along because that’s what he asked for. He came to me because he couldn’t go to Paul because Paul wouldn’t have helped him at that period.
“I didn’t want to do it … I just sort of bit my tongue and said OK. It had been John and Paul for so long, he’d been left out because he hadn’t been a songwriter up until then.”
6. ‘I Want To Tell You’ Revolver
To compound Lennon’s point, Harrison had clearly begun to find his groove on Revolver as he again found a place with this gem of a track in ‘I Want To Tell You’. The third track of the album written by George (‘Taxman’ and ‘Love You To’) was the first time the guitarist had ever been granted more than two songs for an album.
Harrison drew inspiration for the psychedelic track again from his personal experiences, this time from the hallucinogenic drug LSD. In his autobiography, Harrison said that the song addresses “the avalanche of thoughts that are so hard to write down or say or transmit” and sees the guitarist attempt to explain the expansive properties of LSD in earnest.
It’s another track deeply entrenched in Harrison’s religious and spiritual leanings as well as his love for Indian classical music.
5. ‘Love You To’, Revolver
To complete the Revolver set is not just an idea of Harrison’s increasing weight of output but also showed off that the guitarist also dealt only in the purest of gold. Three songs on the album and three absolute winners. It saw Harrison pick up the sitar for the second time in his Beatles career after ‘Norwegian Wood’.
At the time, it was a groundbreaking move and one of the most deliberately stylistic expressions on a pop record you would have ever heard. Shortly after the record was completed, Harrison would travel to India to train under sitar expert Ravi Shankar.
It was another departure from the boyband image The Beatles had been tarnished with and once again tore up the rulebook for a classic love song. Instead, Harrison intertwines the physical, emotional and spiritual all into one.
4. ‘Within You Without You’, Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band
Often thought of as ‘Paul McCartney’s record’, Sgt. Pepper wasn’t a pleasant experience for George Harrison. “Sgt Pepper was the one album where things were done slightly differently,” he said in Anthology. “A lot of the time … we weren’t allowed to play as a band so much. It became an assembly process — just little parts and then overdubbing.”
It was misaligned with Harrison’s newfound spiritualism, having just returned from six weeks in India, his songwriting style which was far removed from a costumed concept album, Harrison was trying to find the real him and didn’t need to play make believe to do it.
“After [the India trip], everything else seemed like hard work,” George said. “It was a job, like doing something I didn’t really want to do, and I was losing interest in being ‘fab’ at that point.”
That wouldn’t stop the guitarist from contributing one of the album’s finest moments in the beautiful ‘Within You Without You’. It is deeply ingrained with Harrison’s new Eastern identity and was an accurate reflection of where his music would eventually go without the band. To make the point clearer, George recorded the album in London, alone and without the band’s other members.
3. ‘Here Comes The Sun’, Abbey Road
Arguably the most famous of George Harrison’s compositions, ‘Here Comes The Sun’ is one of the most beautiful songs The Beatles ever produced. Recorded as part of Abbey Road, the song is a transcendent moment for anyone who hears those first iconic notes.
The track was written alongside Eric Clapton during a difficult moment for Harrison: “‘Here Comes the Sun’ was written at the time when Apple was getting like school, where we had to go and be businessmen: ‘Sign this’ and ‘sign that.’ Anyway, it seems as if winter in England goes on forever, by the time spring comes you really deserve it.
“So one day I decided I was going to sag off Apple and I went over to Eric Clapton’s house,” he continued. “The relief of not having to go see all those dopey accountants was wonderful, and I walked around the garden with one of Eric’s acoustic guitars and wrote ‘Here Comes the Sun’.”
Not bad for a casual jaunt around the garden, to come up with one of the most widely adored songs of all time. We’ll bet that if you played his song at any cafe, restaurant or park, upon hearing Harrison’s first sunshining notes, you will see a sea of smiles. And really, that’s what music is all about.
2. ‘Something’, Abbey Road
When artists such as Frank Sinatra pick out your work and label it as “the greatest love song of the past 50 years,” you know you’re doing something right. ‘Something’ will forever remain a special track for George Harrison. Not only was it the first song he was able to releases with The Beatles as a fully-fledged single, but it was also the first song for The Beatles to reach number one that wasn’t suffixed with “written by Lennon-McCartney.”
For that reason alone, the Abbey Road number became a moment of utter pride for the guitarist who had struggled to impose his songwriting will and wont 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.
Many people have toyed with who the song might be ‘for‘. Whether it was written for Pattie Boyd or for the universe as a whole is up for debate. But Harrison said: “Everybody assumed I wrote it about Pattie. The words are nothing, really,” while reflecting, back in 1969.
“There are lots of songs like that in my head. I must get them down. Some people tell me that ‘Something’ is one of the best things I’ve ever written. I don’t know. Maybe they’re right, maybe they’re wrong. It’s very flattering though… It’s nice. It’s probably the nicest melody tune that I’ve written.”
It’s quite simply gorgeous.
1. ‘While my Guitar Gently Weeps’, The Beatles
George Harrison’s greatest song with The Beatles quite simply has to be the masterpiece ‘While My Guitar Gently Weeps’. It was recorded in 1968 as part of the White Album sessions and was written as an exercise in ‘randomness’ where 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.”
Instead of looking to the help of his bandmates Paul McCartney and John Lennon to finish the track, Harrison instead turned to Eric Clapton once more. “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.”
It allowed Harrison to put extra time and effort into his vocal delivery and the song shines all the more for it. Quite easily in the top 10 of all-time Beatles songs, the fact that it was only released as a B-side to ‘Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da’ is every reason you need for why George Harrison had some tough luck in The Beatles.