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Music

Listen to George Harrison review 'Abbey Road' track by track

For many people, Abbey Road was the moment that George Harrison broke free from the kid brother shackles of his bandmates and rose to the forefront of The Beatles. He had made his statement earlier with ‘While my Guitar Gently Weeps’, but ‘Something’ came along and solidified his place as a fellow master songwriter. It is, in my opinion, undoubtedly one of the very best songs The Beatles ever produced, and that’s saying something. 

Nevertheless, it was a tempestuous time for the band, and Harrison, in particular, because it seemed that the rest of the ‘Fab Four’ were the last to realise just how gifted he was as a songsmith. Thus, eventually, it led to the guitarist quitting The Beatles on January 10th, 1969, in the middle of the Let It Be sessions in Twickenham. In typical Harrison fashion, he did so unceremoniously and with no bridges burned, but it remains a mark of his frustration at the time. While Let It Be might have been the final release from the band, the Abbey Road sessions came after it, thus there was a strange air of both fatalism and reinvigoration heading into it.

“At that point in time, Paul couldn’t see beyond himself,” Harrison told Guitar World back in 2001. “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.” At a time when Harrison was deep into meditation, this behaviour pushed him to his limits and beyond.

He would rock into the studio and pitch brilliance like ‘Let It Down,’ ‘Isn’t It A Pity’ and even the iconic ‘Something’, but Lennon and McCartney couldn’t see the wood for the trees. They not only regarded him as the younger brother of the group, but they also recalled a time before songwriting clicked for George a little too keenly. As Lennon once said: “There was an embarrassing period when George’s songs weren’t that good, and nobody wanted to say anything.”

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Despite this and the frustration and tension that was recalled after the fact, as we all now know, things weren’t actually that bad in the studio when it came to the end of The Beatles. Even Harrison’s exit, just a few months before Abbey Road got walking, had a temporary air to it from the off. As Michale Lindsay-Hogg remembered: “At the morning rehearsal, I could tell by his silence and withdrawal that something was simmering inside him, and so in my role as documentarian, I’d asked our soundman to bug the flower pot on the lunch table.” Ultimately, he left by simply saying: “’See you ’round the clubs,’ he said. That was his goodbye. He left.” And later that day, as though to rub it in, he went home and wrote ‘Wah Wah’. 

He’d get back before then, though, and by September, he was happy to run through the final studio products that this relative molehill of upheaval produced. While chatting with Australian journalist Ritchie Yorke, Harrison gave his ever-measured opinion on each track that appears on the album. As for his own opus, ‘Something’, he modestly opines: “It’s nice. It’s probably the nicest melody tune that I’ve written.”

Tut, it’s beyond the banality of ‘nice’, George, it strides aside from the maudlin march of the everyday to relish in the simplicity of love shared and the exultancy it provides so seamlessly that it often goes unnoticed. Harrison’s song calls you to notice it, and that is a gift that goes beyond the gorgeous amorphous melody.

And aside from romantic love, there is also a note of that same motion from Harrison in his review. As he says of the Ringo Starr song, ‘Octopus’s Garden’, which he helped to champion, “Actually, I think it’s a really great song, because on the surface it’s like a daft kids song but the lyrics are great. For me, I find very deep meaning in the lyrics.” Beyond the self-apparent friendly fondness in Harrison’s review, it also comes to the fore just how many great songs are actually on this masterpiece. Considering the band were apparently ‘done’ by then, that is a minor miracle.

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