“I’ll tell you one thing for sure: once you get to the point where you’re actually doing things for truth’s sake, then nobody can ever touch you again because you’re harmonising with a greater power.” — George Harrison
George Harrison was an unlucky fellow, all things considered. The guitarist and songwriter may have struck gold when he joined The Quarrymen with two local lads named John Lennon and Paul McCartney, but he would spend most of his early career playing third fiddle to the pair of songwriting greats. Of course, he would be an integral part of The Beatles, the soulful conscience of the band, providing a moral compass and a new style of songwriting that would eventually surpass his bandmates all ends up.
Despite having such a late start to life in terms of writing tracks, especially compared to the pair of impresarios, Harrison made up for the lost time and delivered 22 impeccable songs for the Fab Four across their canon that shine bright than almost everything the group composed. While the undoubted contribution of Harrison is most keenly noted by his unique guitar playing style and wonderful harmonies, the songwriter soon proved himself to not only be a match for the Lennon-McCartney monopoly but be criminally undervalued by the pair, eventually pursuing a solo career that would prove, for the most part, to be more successful than the golden boys of pop.
With the release of All Things Must Pass, most certainly the best post-Beatles album of the bunch (a bunch which includes Ram and Imagine), Harrison proved himself to be a dynamic and unique songwriter. But, in truth, he had been laying the foundations with The Beatles, even if it was being routinely overlooked. Across a collection of 22 tracks, Harrison lays the blueprint for the new sound he would pursue out on his solo adventures.
However, if you’ve ever struggled to find a starting place with Harrison’s contribution to The Beatles, then we’ve got you covered as we rank the guitarist’s songs in order of greatness. There’s no doubt that not every song of the guitarist can be considered great, but looking at the rich pickings on offer, it’s hard to argue that he didn’t have the most potent contribution of the Fab Four.
Check it out, below.
Ranking George Harrison’s Beatles songs worst to best:
22. ‘Long Long Long’
Arguably, by the time The Beatles hit their stride on The White Album, Harrison had shaken off much of his nerves surrounding songwriting and was beginning to contribute with far more regularity. That doesn’t mean they’re always good though.
The White Album has often been regarded as being too long and we’d suggest one track to cut off the record would be this contribution from Harrison which not only never seems to go anywhere but, as the name might suggest, takes too long to get there.
21. ‘You Like Me Too Much’
Shared as part of the UK release for Help!, the guitarist displays his growing sense of songmanship as he delivers a bluesy moment on what many people would call The Beatles’ final pop record.
The track is also notable because it features Paul McCartney and producer George Martin playing two different piano parts on separate ends of the same Steinway grand piano. In truth, Harrison hadn’t quite hit his stride but the song is pleasant enough.
20. ‘I Need You’
Only the second of Harrison’s creations to be released by the band, appearing in the group’s film Help!. In the feature film, it set the backdrop to a scene shot on Salisbury Plain, a location 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.
19. ‘It´s All Too Much’
“‘It’s All Too Much’ was written in a childlike manner from realisations that appeared during and after some LSD experiences and which were later confirmed in meditation,” Harrison once said of the Yellow Submarine song.
It’s a testament to Harrison’s writing that the track is so low on our list and yet offers a view of Harrison’s dexterity. Skirting the spirituality which had begun to take over his work, the guitarist delivers the track with a nursery rhyme tone which, somehow, turns the psychedelia up a notch or two with aplomb.
18. ‘I Want to Tell You’
One thing that Harrison often struggled to complete, especially in comparison to his bandmates Lennon-McCartney, was somehow moving his thoughts from conceptual sketches into lyrics and, eventually, into song. Neatly, the guitarists decided to express that frustration through a song.
Originally given the title of ‘Laxton Apple’ and then ‘I Don’t Know’ following George Martin asking for the title and getting the latter response, the song is another stepping stone for Harrison.
His third song on Revolver and it proved he was moving forward with both his sound and his conception.
17. ‘For You Blue’
Much maligned by Beatles fans, Let It Be sees some of George Harrison’s greatest work. While ‘For You Blue’ may not be the best of his on the record, it certainly packs a punch of 12-bar blues that would have and still does leave Fab Four fans smiling.
“It’s a simple 12-bar song following all the normal 12-bar principles, except that it’s happy-go-lucky,” said Harrison of the track. With Lennon taking over on a lap steel guitar, in the outtakes Harrison can be heard encouraging his bandmate saying “Go Johnny go!” and “Elmore James’ got nothing on this baby!”
The guitarist was clearly in the groove for this one and it’s not hard to see why.
16. ‘The Inner Light’
Another of Harrison’s archetypal spiritual songs, this one was concerned not with Indian teachings but that of the Taoist guide to living, Tao Te Ching. The track was released as the B-side to ‘Lady Madonna’.
The song remains a firm favourite with Harrison’s family. His son, Dhani, re-recorded the number this year with the further announcement of Harrison’s Material World Foundation, donating $500,000 to the MusicCares COVID-19 fund.
“These lyrics sung by George are a positive reminder to all of us who are isolating, quarantined or respecting the request to stay in our homes,” said his widow Olivia. “Let’s get and stay connected at this difficult time. There are things we can do to help and we invite you to share your Inner Light.”
15. ‘Old Brown Shoe’
One of Harrison’s most easily overlooked gems, ‘Old Brown Shoe’ was originally released as the B-side to ‘The Ballad of John and Yoko’. “I started the chord sequences on the piano, which I don’t really play,” recalled Harrison in his autobiography I, Me, Mine, adding: “And then began writing ideas for the words from various opposites… Again, it’s the duality of things – yes no, up down, left right, right wrong, etcetera.”
The idea of duality was a common theme in Harrison’s work. While his counterparts in the group would go on to both make pop hits and try to change the world with a message, the guitarist always managed to skirt the line between the two. Often far more concerned with focusing one’s attention inward rather than trying to change the world.
14. ‘Only a Nothern Song’
The title of the song shows a little of Harrison’s character away form music. While often labelled the Quiet Beatle, the truth of the matter is, Harrison was a very introspective guy and while he wasn’t as bright and bushy-tailed as his bandmates, he certainly knew a joke or two.
‘Only A Northern Song’ is not only a pun on their hometown but a reference to the band’s previous publishing company.
“‘Only A Northern Song’ was a joke relating to Liverpool, the Holy City in the North of England. In addition, the song was copyrighted Northern Songs Ltd, which I don’t own, so: ‘It doesn’t really matter what chords I play… as it’s only a Northern Song’,” recalled Harrison in Anthology.
13. ‘Savoy Truffle’
When George Harrison finally began to find his feet with songwriting on The Beatles’ White Album, he was heralded for his spirituality and his all-encompassing sound, one which managed to feel warm, emotional and engaging all at the same time. However, some songs he still reserved for a bit of fun, one track even saw him poke fun at his friend Eric Clapton.
The track is ‘Savoy Truffle’ and sees Harrison poke fun at his old pal and Clapton’s newly fixed teeth. “‘Savoy Truffle’ on The White Album was written for Eric (Clapton). He’s got this real sweet tooth and he’d just had his mouth worked on. His dentist said he was through with candy.
“So as a tribute I wrote, ‘You’ll have to have them all pulled out after the Savoy Truffle.’ The truffle was some kind of sweet, just like all the rest— cream tangerine, ginger sling— just candy, to tease Eric.”
It is true that Harrison was far more concerned with inner peace than conquering the globe and he made his feelings clear on songs like ‘Taxman’ and ‘Piggies’. Both written in 1966, it would take two more years for ‘Piggies’ to find a home on The White Album.
“‘Piggies’ is a social comment,” recalled Harrison. “I was stuck for one line in the middle until my mother came up with the lyric, ‘What they need is a damn good whacking’ which is a nice simple way of saying they need a good hiding. It needed to rhyme with ‘backing,’ ‘lacking,’ and had absolutely nothing to do with American policemen or Californian shagnasties!”
11. ‘Blue Jay Way’
In 1967, George Harrison was beginning to find his own style of songwriting. The guitarist had contributed a few songs to the Fab Four by this point but hadn’t quite yet reached his upcoming heights. But one track which appeared on the Magical Mystery Tour EP and album was made when Harrison was just sitting back and waiting for the time to pass by.
‘Blue Jay Way’ is a rare early song from Harrison to be featured on the band’s album and was written primarily as George Harrison waited for publicist Derek Taylor to arrive at the house, a house situated on, yep, you guessed it, Blue Jay Way. “Derek Taylor got held up,” Harrison remembered, speaking with Hunter Davies in 1968. “He rang to say he’d be late. I told him on the phone that the house was in Blue Jay Way. And he said he could find it okay… he could always ask a cop.
“So I waited and waited. I felt really knackered with the flight, but I didn’t want to go to sleep until he came. There was a fog and it got later and later. To keep myself awake, just as a joke to pass the time while I waited, I wrote a song about waiting for him in Blue Jay Way. There was a little Hammond organ in the corner of this house which I hadn’t noticed until then… so I messed around on it and the song came.”
The track was one of several songs that Harrison composed on the keyboard between 1966-1968 and saw the guitarist begin to finally find his feet within songwriting, having played third fiddle for so long. It also saw Harrison begin to imbue his work with the delicacy of Indian classical music.
10. ‘Think For Yourself’
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.
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.
9. ‘If I Need Someone’
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.
Written with a 12-string Rickenbacker, ‘If I Needed Someone’ was penned for 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 and 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. Naturally, he was rather dismissive of the song: “‘If I Needed Someone’ is like a million other songs written around a D chord. If you move your finger about you get various little melodies. That guitar line, or variations on it, is found in many a song, and it amazes me that people still find new permutations of the same notes.”
8. ‘Don’t Bother Me’
The guitarist’s first tune for The Beatles, a song which featured on With The Beatles in 1963, was an indicator of the kind of writer not only that he would become but that the entire band would evolve into. That’s because before the band’s now-famous meeting with Bob Dylan, a moment in time which many people suggest sprung The Beatles’ autobiographical songwriting into action, Harrison was writing songs about the life he found himself living.
Now, we’re not trying to say that Harrison’s first song ‘Don’t Bother Me’ should be at the top of his canon but it certainly showed a string to the band’s bow which they had never truly explored. “The first song that I wrote… as an exercise to see if I could write a song,” he once said. “I wrote it in a hotel in Bournemouth, England, where we were playing a summer season in 1963. I was sick in bed…maybe that’s why it turned out to be ‘Don’t Bother Me.'”
The track showed the promise of what writing about the world that surrounding you could be like and also hinted that Harrison’s future was in songwriting as well as recording. Even Harrison, looking back in 1980, was quite critical of the track: “I don’t think it’s a particularly good song… It mightn’t even be a song at all, but at least it showed me that all I needed to do was keep on writing, and then maybe eventually I would write something good. I still feel now: I wish I could write something good. It’s relativity. It did, however, provide me with an occupation.” While Harrison rarely gave it the time of day, we think the full vocals and double-tracked harmonies make for something a little more special than originally thought.
7. ‘Love You To’
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.
6. ‘Within You Without You’
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. “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 finest moment of the album in the beautiful ‘Within You Without You’. It is deeply ingrained with the new Eastern identity Harrison had gathered 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 other members of the band.
The opening track of 1966 effort 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 which equalled 20 shillings.
In his infamous 1980 interview with Playboy magazine, John Lennon said of the song’s landmark moment: “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.”
4. ‘I Me Mine’
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 to a point of crystalline crescendo. 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 which denounced the ego and favoured Hindu texts’ idea of universal consciousness. It’s a moment in time which signified that Harrison’s spiritual and physical worlds would always collide.
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-fledge 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 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 once said: “Everybody assumed I wrote it about Pattie. The words are nothing, really,” while reflecting 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.”
2. ‘Here Comes the Sun’
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. 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 beaming notes, you will see a sea of smiles. And really, that’s what music is all about, isn’t it?
1. ‘While My Guitar Gently Weeps’
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 simply had to leave The Beatles.