The sour song George Harrison wrote for The Beatles that turned pop music on its head
It took a little while for the spiritual and sublime songwriting talent of George Harrison to emerge from The Beatles. Harrison, often dubbed the ‘Quiet Beatle’, was being rather more contemplative than subdued as he soon delivered a plethora of songs, both with and without The Beatles, that would concern the spiritual balance of the modern world. One of his first songs for the band was similarly steeped in the subtleties of spirituality and turned pop music on its head upon its release.
The Fab Four made their name on the back of some seriously rigid rock ‘n’ roll tropes. Those tropes acted as themes for much of the band’s early songwriting. Simply put, if it didn’t mention girls, cars and listening to music, the song was destined to be a chart flop. It was something that had clearly been playing on George Harrison’s mind when he wrote the song ‘Think For Yourself’ for The Beatles album Rubber Soul.
The album is largely seen as the moment The Beatles did away with their perceived boyband image and instead began chasing artistic integrity above all else. The group had dominated the charts for a few years now and the idea of writing yet more pop songs about being in love or going on saccharine dates made the group baulk. Instead, John Lennon and Paul McCartney began investing their own life into the work and, it appears, so did George Harrison.
It’s not one of Harrison’s most famous Beatles song, in fact, it may be his least famous. But ‘Think For Yourself’ is quite possibly the archetypal tune for the composer, not only delivering a thought-provoking piece of pop but adding a touch of sourness to proceedings too. “‘Think For Yourself’ must be written about somebody from the sound of it,” hazily recalled Harrison in his autobiography I, Me, Mine, “But all this time later I don’t quite recall who inspired that tune. Probably the government.”
It would be a strange case if the government did inspire the song as it is largely considered one of the first true break-up songs, meaning that it’s not a love song for heartbroken teens but written about a pure moment of heartbreak. Lyrically, the song is loaded with more negative words than The Beatles were used to with “misery,” “lies,” and “ruins” all being featured in the lyrics. While it may seem a little trite in 2020, rest assured it was akin to a revolutionary idea in 1965.
The song was also notable for Paul McCartney’s use of a ‘fuzz box’ — a decision that would be a pioneering one when the band were pushing forward: “Paul used a fuzz box on the bass on ‘Think For Yourself’. When Phil Spector was making ‘Zip-A-Dee-Doo-Dah’, the engineer who’s set up the track overloaded the microphone on the guitar player and it became very distorted,” remembered Harrison.
“Phil Spector said, ‘Leave it like that, it’s great’,” the guitarist added, “Some years later everyone started to try to copy that sound and so they invented the fuzz box. We had one and tried the bass through it and it sounded really good.” The band took the sound and began to experiment more intently within the studio, it would pave the way for perhaps The Beatles’ most experimental LP, Revolver.
John Lennon and Paul McCartney were the kings of pop music in 1965. A partnership that churned out chart-topping hits with considerable ease. By 1965, they had begun to change their style but, it would seem, George Harrison, despite being regarded as a secondary songwriter at the time, was already three steps ahead of them, deliberately subverting pop’s longest-held tropes and producing a high-quality track at the same time.