If there’s one thing that has never truly sat right within the context of The Beatles’ esteemed iconography, it’s that George Harrison should be called ‘The Quiet Beatle’. Though often reserved in interviews in the band’s early years, the reality of the guitarist keeping a low profile was that his searing wit was too cutting for public consumption. Able to deliver a devastating line with the flick of an eyebrow, Harrison’s scything side shouldn’t be overlooked.
Of course, throughout his career and personal life, Harrison rarely refused to offer himself up as a walking example of the good, bad and ugly of humanity. Within The Beatles, Harrison became their de facto spiritual leader, providing them with Easter philosophy and an outlook on life that seemed to ground a band destined to spend their later years in the lofty heavens of pop music perfection. However, when the band split like an atom, spewing out a heap of radioactive mess, it was Harrison who came out victorious, not only taking the accolade of the greatest post-Beatles album but seemingly showing the world that he had been hidden away for too long.
On All Things Must Pass, Harrison’s songwriting talent was finally given the room it deserved to shine, and he didn’t disappoint, providing an album that not only shared a blistering rock sound but also flecked those stylings with spiritual moments of grandiose awakening. It was the exact balance he had been seeking to achieve with the Fab Four but was never quite allowed to achieve. However, hidden within this batch of well-meaning songs of soulful exploration were a few moments of vicious retaliation.
In the final years of his time with The Beatles and the time following their split, Harrison allowed his personal experiences to bleed into his work. As such, the perennially frustrated figure of Harrison, a supreme songwriter who, at the height of his skill, had to play third fiddle to Lennon-McCartney, let rip across the pages and the airwaves, not only picking out his bandmates for their huge egos or lack of care but eviscerating them within some of his finest songs.
All is well that ends well, however, and, after some time had passed, Harrison enjoyed a fairly civil relationship with The Beatles following their split. Aside from a few instances, the Fab Four remained friends throughout most of their lives and, when Harrison struggled with cancer prior to his passing in 2001, his pals Ringo Starr and Paul McCartney were there to hold his hand. It means we can look back at these songs are perfect moments of personal expression in their purest sense.
Below are some of the most vicious songs George Harrison wrote about The Beatles. Of course, we’re overlooking songs like ‘When We Were Fab’ as they’re more favourable to the Fab Four, but they’re just as fantastic.
George Harrison’s vicious songs about The Beatles
‘I, Me, Mine’
The final song The Beatles would record together works as the perfect opening gambit for our list. Not only is it a fine song, but it also shows the vast difference between Harrison and his bandmates — ego. By the time ‘I, Me, Mine’ was finished in 1970, so was the band. The song, therefore, remains a key piece of the puzzle as to figuring out the demise of The Beatles, it just so happens that the song is about the bandmates growing egos.
“Suddenly I looked around and everything I could see was relative to my ego,” Harrison said in his autobiography in 1980. He continued, sharing his distaste for the growing need to please oneself, “like ‘that’s my piece of paper’ and ‘that’s my flannel’ or ‘give it to me’ or ‘I am’. It drove me crackers, I hated everything about my ego, it was a flash of everything false and impermanent, which I disliked.”
Never one to be dictated to, Harrison added: “But later, I learned from it, to realise that there is somebody else in here apart from old blabbermouth. Who am ‘I’ became the order of the day. Anyway, that’s what came out of it, ‘I, Me, Mine’.” The song also contains some of Harrison’s key advice for living too, “The truth within us has to be realised. When you realise that, everything else that you see and do and touch and smell isn’t real, then you may know what reality is, and can answer the question ‘Who am I?’”
As Harrison succinctly describes it in Beatles Anthology, “‘I, Me, Mine’ is the ego problem. There are two ‘I’s: the little ‘i’ when people say ‘I am this’; and the big ‘I’ – ie duality and ego. There is nothing that isn’t part of the complete whole. When the little ‘i’ merges into the big ‘I’ then you are really smiling.”
‘Run of the Mill’
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. 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.
“At that point in time, Paul couldn’t see beyond himself,” Harrison told Guitar World in 2001 about the band’s demise. “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 autobiography 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.
‘Sue Me, Sue You Blues’
One of the sadder moment of The Beatles break-up was realising just how business savvy they were. The preferred image of any band in their fans’ mind’s eye is that they would happily be writing and recording music if they were paid or not. When McCartney broke away from the band, he did so with lawyers and business advisors in tow. It meant that the group were, for the first years of their split, embroiled in courtroom conferences.
McCartney was happy to hide behind Linda’s father and family as they prepared his continuous litigious behaviour. Lennon equally duelled with McCartney within the courtroom experience. But for one of Macca’s fiercest opponents, the need for so many lawyers was unbearable. George Harrison made his feelings clear on ‘Sue Me, Sue You’.
With McCartney winning the courtroom battle, Harrison’s song was clear in what that meant: “Now all that’s left is to find yourself a new band.”