George Harrison is, without doubt, one of the most prominent songwriters of his generation. Never viewed as the principal songwriter of The Beatles – even after displaying the supreme talent he had at his disposal – Harrison is rightly seen as having a bad deal, with many suggesting he only really found his feet after leaving the Fab Four and finding his own feet. His album All Things Must Pass might well be one of the best post-Beatles albums ever released, and he delivered countless impressive songs after that. Below, we’ve picked out ten of the best from Harrison’s imperious solo career.
Stuck alongside two of the greatest pop songwriters of all time in John Lennon and Paul McCartney, Harrison was always likely to struggle to assert himself. However, eventually, the cracks in the Harrison dam began to show and once one song arrived, more and more flowed through. It would accelerate the end of the Beatles and his own beginnings with his solo career.
“George got stuck with being the Beatle that had to fight to get songs on records because of Lennon and McCartney. Well, who wouldn’t get stuck?” Bob Dylan once said in a 2007 interview. It’s hard to argue with; it must’ve been relatively stifling to sit between two such musical powerhouses. “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,” Dylan added.
In 1970, following The Beatles disbandment, Harrison did just that and released one of the most poignant albums of any Beatles solo career with the brilliant LP All Things Must Pass. He then went one further and created a chart-topping new album in 1987 with Cloud Nine, enjoying a myriad of musical partnerships in between.
Harrison had a unique vision when creating music, whether it be with The Beatles or out on his solo material. The artist was able, unlike any other, to put the most complex and marvellous themes and ideas into sweetly wrapped morsels of musical gold. With a gentle touch and an utterly captivating tone that felt both comforting and guiding, Harrison quickly became one of the most revered songwriters of his generation. Below, we have ten stunning examples of that songwriting prowess.
George Harrison’s 10 best solo songs:
10. ‘Bangla Desh’
One of Harrison’s crowning achievements in music is not a song or album but arranging the first-ever concert benefit with The Concert For Bangladesh. This event saw a plethora of stars take to the stage in support of the war-torn country and aid in the fight against famine. This standalone single was released by Harrison to raise money and awareness for the stricken country.
One of the first solo singles Harrison ever released, the track reached a post-Beatles fanbase still hungry for any morsel of the band. It sent the song into the top 30 and promoted his history-making event alongside collaborator Ravi Shankar.
9. ‘Simply Shady’
Reflecting on Harrison’s work, it becomes pretty easy to pick out central themes. There’s spirituality, humanity, love, kindness, and in ‘Simply Shady’, the darker side of rock and roll. George himself once described the track as “what happens to naughty boys in the music business” and sees him at his most confessional.
It was a dark period for Harrison. He had accrued an increasingly painful cocaine habit, his spiritual centre was at an all-time low, and his first wife, model Patti Boyd, was sleeping with his best friend, Eric Clapton. This is all of those feelings put it to one single Dark Horse track.
8. ‘Got My Mind Set On You’
It’s not often that we’d include a cover in such a list, but this one is particularly worthy of consideration as being one of the finest earworms of all time. One of the most infectious songs ever written was expertly performed by Harrison on his 1987 chart-topping album Cloud Nine.
Initially written by Rudy Clark, the song saw Harrison back in the charts after a five-year hiatus. It may not be Harrison’s most remarkable release, but it certainly is one of the most played. Expect to hear this at every wedding forevermore and expect to enjoy it too; it’s hard to avoid such a warm tone, jovial pace and demand for shuffling feet.
7. All Those Years Ago’
At the time of John Lennon’s death in 1980, each of the Fab Four experienced life out on their own solo path. Harrison, in particular, had enjoyed being released by The Beatles. Away from the shadow of Lennon-McCartney’s songwriting powerhouse, the spiritual sounds of George Harrison were finally given ample room to breathe.
However, Harrison welcomed Starr and McCartney’s talents on one song specifically as they all paid tribute to their fallen friend, John Lennon. The song in question was ‘All Those Years Ago’.
‘All Those Years Ago’, released in May 1981, six months after Lennon’s tragic murder, was Harrison expressing his sadness at losing not only a mentor and a bandmate but one of his best friends. The song had originally started as a track for a new Ringo Starr album that Harrison had penned for his former drummer. However, following Lennon’s death, Harrison took the song back and adapted the lyrics to the circumstances.
6. ‘Wah Wah’
“At that point in time, Paul couldn’t see beyond himself,” Harrison told Guitar World 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.”
Harrison admitted: “I just got so fed up with the bad vibes,” he told Musician magazine. “I didn’t care if it was the Beatles; I was getting out.” That day, arriving at his Surrey home, Harrison enacted the ultimate reply to his oppressive partners by reaching for his guitar and writing one of his most treasured tracks, ‘Wah Wah’.
Though it was named in part as a reference to the guitar effects pedal, later Harrison admitted in his biography I, Me, Mine that it was saying: “You’re giving me a bloody headache,” to his bandmates. The bleating sound and Harrison’s power make this song a classic on its own.
5. ‘I’d Have You Anytime’
The track was written alongside Bob Dylan as Harrison tried to find his own ‘voice’ on record. Harrison remembered in his autobiography: “He seemed very nervous, and I felt a little uncomfortable—it seemed strange especially as he was in his own home. We got the guitars out, and then things loosened up.”
One such loose track to come out of the sessions was ‘I’d Have You Anytime’, which, apart from being sincerely underappreciated, sees Dylan become the only co-writing credit on All Things Must Pass.
It must’ve been a point of pride for the guitarist as he made the song the first track on the album.
4. ‘Run of the Mill’
Following The Beatles’ break-up, the band’s members weren’t shy about voicing their disdain for one another either. Not only did they trade insults in interviews; after all, all anybody wanted to talk about was the Fab Four anyway, but the bandmates also used songs to shoot barbs at one another. George Harrison had suffered greatly at the band’s hand as the principal songwriters in the group stifled his songwriting style.
Harrison told Derek Taylor in 1979 of the song’s composition, “It was when Apple was getting crazy…Paul was falling out with us all and going around Apple offices saying, ‘You’re no good’ – everyone was just incompetent (the Spanish Inquisition sketch). It was that period – the problem of partnerships.”
In typical Harrison style, his song would be a touch more subtle. The ‘My Sweet Lord’ singer would do it in a more nuanced way than his counterparts on his triple solo album All Things Must Pass. The record featured several subtle references to his time in The Beatles, hinting at his displeasure of being so low on the ladder. But ‘Run of the Mill’ is undoubtedly the track in which Harrison goes into the most depth about his troubles with John Lennon, Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr.
3. ‘Isn’t It A Pity’
One guaranteed way to check to see if your song is a great one is to see who else has enjoyed both listening or performing it. If Harrison was to have looked around, he would have noticed that only the very best had ever taken on his song ‘Isn’t It A Pity’.
The track, most notably covered by Nina Simone, is a classic Harrison effort. Dripping in laconic melody, the guitarist takes us through the spiritual balancing we must all go through.
The song is one of the more moving moments on All Things Must Pass and another from the rejected Beatles songs pile. While it’s possible to understand that the Fab Four were their own outfit with their own direction, it’s tough to see how a song as beautifully constructed as this could be rejected while other Beatles’ hits were picked up. However, with room to branch out on his own, Harrison found himself mining gold wherever he turned.
2. ‘My Sweet Lord’
One of Harrison’s most iconic solo efforts, the track is a perfect summation of All Things Must Pass LP and the path he intended to carve out for his solo career. Another moment of higher-thinking meeting pop music, the general public could have easily missed this song.
In the autobiography, I, Me, Mine, Harrison said: “I thought a lot about whether to do ‘My Sweet Lord’ or not because I would be committing myself publicly, and I anticipated that a lot of people might get weird about it.” He continued, “I wanted to show that ‘Hallelujah’ and ‘Hare Krishna’ are quite the same thing.” And he did.
The track remains a moment of transcendent joy as he blends the warmest celestial moments with pop’s comforting glaze.
1. ‘All Things Must Pass’
If you survey the internet landscape for the George Harrison’ Best Of’ articles, you will be unlikely to find this little transcendental number on any of their lists. Why? We’re not sure. But are we going to mull it over for years and lose our cool over it? No. Thanks to one of the greatest songs ever written, George Harrison’s ‘All Things Must Pass’.
Originally recorded by Harrison as a demo for The Beatles on his 26th birthday, the song remains one of the few moments where western pop meets eastern ideology. Scrapped by The Beatles, the material eventually appeared on the album of the same name.
Its lyrics are based on a translation of part of chapter 23 of the Tao Te Ching, and the track acts as a moment of songwriting bliss. Harrison explains the most complex of theories with a simple, soaring and heartfelt moment of connection and advice.
It’s the poetry of his creation, the intent of his art and the soul of the man making it, that shines through everything he does.