For a while, before stepping out of the shadow of John Lennon and Paul McCartney, George Harrison was thought of merely as the guitarist in The Beatles. Harrison would go on to prove his doubters wrong stepping up to the challenge of a solo album with aplomb.
One of the pinnacle moments on his debut solo album All Things Must Pass allowed Harrison to combine both his potency as a songwriter with his unique guitar playing style. Below, we’re taking a listen to George Harrison’s isolated guitar track on his classic song ‘What Is Life’.
Harrison is often overlooked when considering rock’s greatest guitarists. Not concerned with the noodling virtuoso playing of Hendrix and Clapton, Harrison kept his playing loose and luscious. His work with The Beatles provided him many moments to shine on the guitar, from the delicacy of ‘Here Comes The Sun’ to the rock and roll edge he lends to ‘Don’t Let Me Down’, he was never the Quiet Beatle on guitar.
When he got his opportunity to really speak up on the microphone, however, it was clear that Harrison had been holding back a wealth of talent. Lyrically he was spiritually aligned with the intrigue of the country and his solo album, imbued with the transcendent notions of Easter philosophy, shot him to the top of the musical pile.
One track that helped that come to fruition was the stunning ‘What Is Life’. It may not be as instantly recognisable as ‘All Things Must Pass’ but Harrison’s ‘What Is Life’ was a popular hit when it arrived in 1971. It has since featured across a host of different film and TV projects always adding a lifting moment of human connection.
It may seem a simple song to construct but in fact, it’s wrapped in layer upon layer of intricacy so well aligned that it feels like one big sound. It’s a testament to Harrison’s style that he is able to carry off such a track without a degree of inauthenticity.
Lyrically, Harrison was now able to say exactly what he wanted. Yet, despite this, somehow it still feels like Harrison is most clear in his message when letting his guitar speak for him.
The lead line, fuzzed and frenetic, does enough to capture the attention and motor you away, it shouts and screams for the shy Harrison and is a joyful listen on its own.