One of George Harrison’s greatest songs is about how The Beatles went sour
The Beatles’ split, it is safe to say, wasn’t on the greatest of terms. After close to a decade at the top of global culture mountain, with simply nobody in their peripheries, the altitude had taken its toll on the Fab Four’s relationships and had begun to see them turn sour. Particularly the friendships between George Harrison and the rest of the band, which had become increasingly fractured as their lives drifted apart an inch at a time.
Following the group’s 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. Paul McCartney famously took aim at John Lennon’s sanctimonious virtue signalling on ‘Too Many People’ on his solo album Ram. In turn, that song led to John Lennon writing the viciously cruel ‘How Do You Sleep?’, a pointed track that came hurtling across the airwaves straight back at McCartney.
George Harrison would also write about his feelings towards the other Fab Four members, though, perhaps 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.
The song was initially written during the strange period when the band were shooting the Let It Be documentary in January 1969. It was around the time that Harrison had decided he’d “had enough” and quit The Beatles for a short period of time as all the bad blood had got too much for him. It was during this time that he realised that being in a band would no longer suit his purpose and, if he wanted to get his spiritual message out there, he would need his own platform. All Things Must Pass the magnificent solo LP would be that moment.
‘Run of the Mill’ closed out the second side of the record and is a vintage piece of work which stands up with anything that The Beatles, together or individually, have ever produced. In the opening lyrics, Harrison starts singing about choice and “when to and not to raise their voices”. In the chorus section, he then ponders on how “no one around you can carry the blame for you.”
Harrison, in the later verses, sings directly about perhaps his most fearsome adversary in the band, Paul McCartney. Considering he remained close friends with Lennon and Ringo Starr following the initial split of the band and asks himself “how I lost your friendship.” The guitarist then answers his own question, and swoons: “I see it in your eyes, Though I’m beside you, I can’t carry the blame for you.”
The business side of The Beatles had begun to take its toll on Harrison, who was struggling to see the value in their Apple Corps side project: “Me, I was never really interested in Apple shops or anything else,” Harrison told Melody Maker in 1975. “During the whole Apple period, I was always mainly interested in working in the studio, recording…I couldn’t be bothered to follow through [with business ideas]. I suppose my attitude didn’t help.”
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.”
George Harrison was also clearly upset at his treatment within the band, the repeated discussions of not being seen as an equal to Lennon and McCartney had pushed him close to the edge. “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?” A question once posed by Bob Dylan, the singer-songwriter who also said of Harrison’s talent, “IfGeorge had had his own group and was writing his own songs back then, he’d have been probably just as big as anybody.”
A few months down the road and things would change. Weeks after he wrote ‘Run of the Mill’, he was given more time on the upcoming album Abbey Road and delivered the beautiful ‘Here Comes The Sun’ and ‘Something’, material that proved himself to his bandmates that he was no junior to them. Despite the fact Lennon-McCartney had still rejected plenty of amazing songs that would make up his solo album, it was clear Harrison had made his point. Only a little while down the road and Harrison would have his own huge-selling album and a permanent mark against his name.
In 2012, Mojo spoke with Olivia Harrison if there is one particular song of her late husband that always connects him with her with George to which she replied citing this All Things Must Pass track explaining: “It’s a really beautiful song. Its lyrics are very inspiring — ‘It’s you that decides/Which way will you turn’ — and always a lovely reminder of him.”