“I just got so fed up with the bad vibes. I didn’t care if it was The Beatles; I was getting out.” – George Harrison
George Harrison’s role in The Beatles was a simple one – to begin with, at least. He was the unique and stylish guitarist who stood behind the principal songwriters of John Lennon and Paul McCartney, ready to harmonise at the drop of a hat. However, by 1969, things had changed, and Harrison was no longer happy to play second fiddle.
Harrison had found his musical chops by the time Abbey Road and Let It Be were around the corner, and, after a few successful moments on those projects, he was now keen to enact his songwriting skill on the Fab Four’s records more persistently. It was a decision not met with enthusiasm from Lennon and McCartney.
The conversations, or perhaps more pertinently the lack of them, led to Harrison temporarily quitting the band, and after being ignored while performing some of the songs he had written, Harrison stormed out of the Get Back sessions. Though he left the studio in a rut, he would prove his detractors wrong and by writing one of the best tracks in the band’s extensive back catalogue.
George Harrison had begun to work out his musical style by the turn of 1969. Having spent much of the latter part of the previous year with Bob Dylan and The Band, working on tracks like ‘I’d Have You Anytime’ and with his work on The Beatles so widely loved, Harrison had hope for the future of the Fab Four. The select few of his songs chosen to appear on the previous albums had been well received, and now he wanted more as part of a well-oiled machine.
In truth, during this period, the band had been squabbling for some time. McCartney’s dominance over the group had been at its all-time high on Sgt. Pepper, his overbearing nature already forcing Ringo Starr into quitting once before, sending the drummer to Italy with heavy insecurities weighing atop his shoulders. Meanwhile, Lennon was falling deeper and deeper into his heroin addiction and was being propped up by his partner, Yoko Ono, whose inclusion in the studio was a contentious point on its own. Nevertheless, Harrison was hopeful: “I can remember feeling quite optimistic. I thought, ‘OK, it’s the New Year and we have a new approach to recording.’”
That new approach was Get Back, a multimedia proposition that would record rehearsals for a live concert of new material, ready-made for a TV special. It would see the band return to basics and reconnect with their music in a rawer way. However, things didn’t go smoothly, and Macca was quickly taking on the role of conductor: “At that point in time, Paul couldn’t see beyond himself,” Harrison told Guitar World in 2001. “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 began to pitch new tracks such as ‘Let It Down’, ‘Isn’t It A Pity’, and even the iconic ‘Something’. However, Lennon and McCartney continued to shoot down the guitarist in favour of their own material, not even bothering to listen to Harrison demoing the new creations. When you consider the calibre of the tunes up for debate, it becomes easier to understand his frustrations. Tensions were frayed already when during a recording session after Macca tried to direct Harrison on how to play his guitar, which was not a smart move. “I’ll play whatever you want me to play, or I won’t play at all,” Harrison says with a more than dangerous eye. “Whatever will please you, I’ll do it.” Just two days later, the tension would worsen, and the exit door was cracked ajar.
On January 8th, Harrison debuted another classic in ‘I, Me, Mine’ only to be met with more apathetic shrugs. It was here that things became more than a little heated. Lennon’s snide comment had pushed Harrison over the edge, and he, in turn, aimed shots at Yoko Ono with Lennon remembering him stating: “Dylan and a few people said she’s got a lousy name in New York.”
Having allegedly come to blows with Lennon in the following days, the camel’s back was finally broken when Harrison turned to his bandmates and suggested they advertise for his replacement and that he would “see you round the clubs”. Later, in 1987, 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,” he added.
Lennon may well have been happy to see the back of Harrison at time, even suggesting they find a replacement quickly with his eyes firmly set on a new man: “I think if George doesn’t come back by Monday or Tuesday, we ask Eric Clapton to play,” he told Get Back director Michael Lindsay-Hogg. “We should just go on as if nothing’s happened.”
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 biography 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.
Harrison would eventually return to the session, but soon enough, the band were irreparable, and the Fab Four went their separate ways. Harrison’s All Things Must Pass is widely regarded as the finest post-Beatles album and the first song he would set about recording for his new project? ‘Wah Wah’, George Harrison’s declaration of independence.