The life-changing advice John Lennon gave George Harrison
It’s well known that working behind the songwriting prowess of John Lennon and Paul McCartney was a challenging thing for George Harrison to do. As part of The Beatles, Harrison had a grand stage to try out his early songwriting skills, but it was still proving difficult to get into the spotlight. The leading players had always been Lennon and McCartney and changing the status quo of such a successful operation was always going to be an uphill struggle.
Eventually, as time went by, Harrison’s esteem as a consummate songwriter grew and grew his cosmic and spiritual influence on the band’s direction did too. Of course, after The Beatles, Harrison would have arguably one of the most positive solo careers, his album All Things Must Pass is a masterpiece — but none of that would have happened without John Lennon.
The bespectacled Beatle may sometimes be perceived as an egomaniac determined to champion his own work above others, but the truth is that Lennon was loyal to his friends and was keen to see success for all The Beatles, in or out of the band. So when George was struggling to get his songwriting up to speed, Lennon passed on a piece of advice that not only changed his time with the Fab Four but potentially changed his whole life after that.
“The most difficult thing for me is following Paul’s and John’s songs,” Harrison once said os having to work within the band of songwriters. “Their earlier songs weren’t as good as they are now, and they obviously got better and better, and that’s what I have to do.”
Harrison would eventually move past his own “hang-ups” about writing music. “I used to have a hang-up about telling John and Paul and Ringo I had a song for the albums because I felt at that time as if I was trying to compete. I don’t want the Beatles to be recording rubbish for my sake just because I wrote it — and on the other hand, I don’t want to record rubbish just because they wrote it.” For Harrison, it was simply, “The group comes first.”
Of course, Harrison’s career within The Beatles was still a fruitful one, in the latter stages of the Fab Four’s illustrious career, the guitarist’s influence was perhaps the most lasting one. Creating some of the band’s best songs such as ‘While My Guitar Gently Weeps’, ‘Here Comes The Sun’ and of course the everlasting ‘Something’—but the latter track wouldn’t have happened without Lennon.
Harrison: “I wrote the song ‘Something’ for the album before this one, but I never finished it off until just recently. I usually get the first few lines of words and music together, both at once and then finish the rest of the melody. Then I have to write the words. It’s like another song I wrote when we were in India. I wrote the whole first verse and just said everything I wanted to say, and so now I need to write a couple more verses. I find that much more difficult.”
Often trying to complete a song or piece of art is far more challenging than beginning with a new idea. It was a problem that Lennon had faced many times and one that he was more than happy to share his experiences of with his bandmate Harrison.
Luckily the older Beatle had some advice for the fledgeling songwriter: “John gave me a handy tip,” Harrison remembered. “He said, ‘Once you start to write a song, try to finish it straight away while you’re still in the same mood.’ Sometimes you go back to it and you’re in a whole different state of mind.
“So now, I do try to finish them straight away,” recalled Harrison. After taking the advice, he completed one of the finest songs in the band’s history.
It’s a process that Harrison took with him into his solo work and the debut solo record All Things Must Pass which put George Harrison at the top of the Beatles pile, if only for a short while.