Who did George Harrison write The Beatles “greatest love song”, ‘Something’ for?
We’re dipping into the Far Out Magazine vault and looking back to one of George Harrison’s best songs with The Beatles, the beautiful and timeless love song ‘Something’. Released in 1969, the song would be Harrison’s first single for the Liverpudlian group, his first number one and it would mark him out as a wildly talented songwriter, equal to the pairing of John Lennon and Paul McCartney.
When esteemed 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 and Harrison was rightly proud of his creation up until his tragic death in 2001. But who was this pop ode in aid of, who was the subject of Harrison’s affections? Many people pointed to Pattie Boyd but the answer is a little more convoluted than that — it is Goerge Harrison, after all.
‘Something’ will forever remain a special track for George Harrison. Not only was it the first song he was able to release with The Beatles as a fully-fledged single, a feat which is not small considering the egos he surmounted to do so, but it was also the first song the guitarist wrote for The Beatles to reach number one and the first to hit that spot which 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, up until that moment, had struggled to impose his songwriting will on the Fab Four. However, 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. “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 said in a 2007 interview. It’s hard to argue with, it must’ve been relatively stifling to sit between two such musical powerhouses as John and Paul. “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.”
It was ‘Something’ which really proved that fact. “He told me in a matter-of-fact way that he had written it for me,” said Harrison’s then-wife Pattie Boyd in a book about her life—but the facts are a little hazy. Harrison and Boyd had met on the set of Hard Day’s Night and had enjoyed some blissful moments but, by the end of The Beatles career, Harrison had begun to step out on Boyd with frightening regularity and Boyd herself had begun to look elsewhere.
It meant when BBC journalist David Wigg asked Harrison who the song was written for in 1969 the guitarist answered: “Maybe Pattie, probably.” Even Wigg wasn’t convinced, following up with “Really?” Clearly, rumours of Boyd and Harrison’s loose relationship was beginning to be exposed.
Harrison moved on quickly in the interview and apart from insisting that he had the melody from very early on and that the line “Something in the way she moves” had come from “elsewhere,” (James Taylor), Harrison kept quiet about ‘Something’ muse.
“I wrote it at the time when we were making the last double album,” he told David Wigg. “And it’s just the first line ‘something in the way she moves’ which has been in millions of songs. It’s not a special thing but it just seemed quite apt.” But musically, Harrison was clear with his direction and the intent of the track. “When I wrote it, I imagined somebody like Ray Charles doing it. That’s the feel I imagined, but because I’m not Ray Charles, you know, I’m sort of much more limited in what I can do, then it came out like this.”
In 1996, Harrison would clarify his comments and quickly take back the idea that he had written the song for Boyd who shortly after the track’s release had entered into a relationship with Harrison’s best friend, Eric Clapton. Instead, Harrison pointed towards more spiritual inspiration for the song.
“Everybody assumed I wrote it about Pattie,” said Harrison to author Joshua Greene. In Greene’s book, he confirms that Harrison had revealed that he had in fact written the song as an ode to Hare Krishna and spirituality—but even that feels a bit tenuous.
“The words are nothing, really,” Harrison said 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.”
In reality, the only muse this song had was Harrison himself, likely far more passionately consumed by achieving his first number one for The Beatles than anything else. ‘Something’ may well be a love song. But it’s a love song for himself.