During the early days of The Beatles, Brian Epstein was quick to ascertain the four different personalities of the band members. John Lennon was the rock ‘n’ roll star—rebellious and raunchy. Paul McCartney, meanwhile, was the boy next door—cute as a button and wouldn’t say boo to a goose. Ringo was the affable and laugh-a-minute-joker while George Harrison was quickly labelled the ‘Quiet Beatle’. Reserved and restrained, Harrison held back a lot of the scathing criticism he had bubbling up inside him.
We’re certainly not trying to paint Harrison as a cantankerous corner of the quartet but he, equally, certainly didn’t suffer the foolishness of fame as ably as the rest of the group. Harrison was a genuine rock guitarist and took his role with all seriousness, a paradigm that was not only welcomed but somewhat thrust upon him by the songwriting partnership of Lennon and McCartney. That was, however, until Harrison picked up his own pen and started to jot down some tunes.
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 become. 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’ is a particularly fantastic track—it’s really quite mediocre in comparison to the rest 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. 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.”
“I think John and I were really concentrating on—’We’ll do the ‘real’ records,’ but because the other guys had a lot of fans we wrote for them too,” remembered McCartney in 1988. “George eventually came out with his own, ‘Don’t Bother Me,’ but until then he hadn’t written one.”
Many people will look to Lennon and McCartney as the people to have brought personality to pop music. The Beatles made it cool to express yourself in your music and not just sing about girls, hot rods and dance halls. But, in reality, it was George Harrison who was the adventurous songwriter as he used his sick bed in a hotel in Bournemouth to pen his first, pioneering, song for The Beatles.