George Harrison found fame within The Beatles as the smart and savvy late bloomer. The guitarist was always in possession of some serious style on the guitar, but it would take some internal strength and external encouragement to see Harrison become the iconic songwriter he would later show himself to be. It means for a large portion of the Fab Four’s conquest of the airwaves, Harrison had a different viewpoint from the rest of the group.
Unlike Paul McCartney and John Lennon, the band’s principal songwriters, Harrison never really pursued fame. More spiritual than his counterparts, Harrison relished songwriting as a part of his pursuit of enlightenment more so than commercial success or critical acclaim. It means that he was rarely drawn into the same populous furore that the aforementioned pair were. Whether it was when John Lennon sat down with David Sheff or Paul McCartney with Mark Lewisohn, both of the band’s chiefs had given their feedback on pretty much the entire back catalogue of The Beatles. Within those conversations often arose the subject of ‘favourite Beatles song’.
It’s a subject we’ve likely all broached at one point or another in our lifetimes. Thanks to the band’s widespread appeal, it’s a conversation that almost everyone can have an opinion on too. Paul McCartney often flirts between two favourite songs, ‘Here, There and Everywhere’ and, more recently, ‘You Know My Name Look Up The Number’. John Lennon, meanwhile, used to try and dodge the question as a singular entity but noted down some of his favourite such as ‘Help!’ and ‘Strawberry Fields Forever’ as being some of the best. Harrison, however, usually swerved such simple requests, but we think there may be an answer.
We’re not saying that Harrison was a cantankerous interviewee, far from it. He conducted himself with a warm intelligence that felt both alluring and in need of respect. Harrison also noted many of the band’s songs that he enjoyed or even loved. But there seems to be one that stayed with him longer than most, ‘In My Life’.
Penned by John Lennon as one of his more melodious hits, the song was counted by the bespectacled Beatle as one of his best: “For ‘In My Life’, I had a complete set of lyrics after struggling with a journalistic vision of a trip from home to downtown on a bus naming every sight. It became ‘In My Life’, which is a remembrance of friends and lovers of the past. Paul helped with the middle eight musically. But all lyrics written, signed, sealed, and delivered. And it was, I think, my first real major piece of work.
“Up till then, it had all been sort of glib and throwaway. And that was the first time I consciously put my literary part of myself into the lyric. Inspired by Kenneth Allsop, the British journalist, and Bob Dylan.” The song was also one of the band’s famed producer, George Martin’s favourite songs too. Speaking for Anthology Martin recalled: “‘In My Life’ is one of my favourite songs because it is so much John. A super track and such a simple song. There’s a bit where John couldn’t decide what to do in the middle and, while they were having their tea break, I put down a baroque piano solo which John didn’t hear until he came back. What I wanted was too intricate for me to do live, so I did it with a half-speed piano, then sped it up, and he liked it.”
But why could it be considered George Harrison’s favourite song? The answer is twofold. Firstly, the song is a part of Harrison’s favourite album by The Beatles, Rubber Soul. It feels right that Harrison’s favourite LP would reflect a time of creative unknowns and artistic challenges. It was also the album that critics have defined as a marked turning point: “Rubber Soul was my favourite album,” he once revealed. “Even at that time, I think that it was the best one we made,” he added when reflecting on the iconic record in the ’90s. While it could be easy to see this as the first moment Harrison really broke out, he loves the album for a different reason.
He wistfully recalled: “The most important thing about it was that we were suddenly hearing sounds we weren’t able to hear before. Also, we were being more influenced by other people’s music, and everything was blossoming at that time—including us.”
It’s a fair assumption then that Harrison would have loved ‘In My Life’ simply as part of the album, but there’s more to the story. The ‘While My Guitar Gently Weeps’ singer didn’t do much touring in his career. Despite being in one of the most successful bands of all time, then, once they had split, having one of the most potent solo careers of the group, Harrison didn’t like life on the road and largely refused to take part in any scheduled tour. The one time he did conduct a tour, in 1974, the Quiet Beatle vowed never to do it again after a series of blunders and poor performances. However, during those moments on stage, there was one song Harrison would always play — ‘In My Life’.
It’s probably obligatory that Harrison should include one song from The Beatles catalogue for a solo tour. After all, it would have sent the audience into overdrive. But the fact that he chose to steer away from his won songs and focus on one of John Lennon’s highly suggests that he loved the original song. Of course, Harrison would change some of the lyrics for his own purpose, but there’s a sincerity in the performance which confirms that, at the very least, this was a song that Harrison held dear to his heart.
Watch George Harrison perform The Beatles song ‘In My Life’ live in 1974, below.