The life-changing advice John Lennon gave George Harrison while they were in The Beatles
It’s well known that working behind the songwriting prowess of John Lennon and Paul McCartney was an incredibly difficult 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.
Eventually, as time went by, Harrison’s esteem with songwriting grew and grew and his influence on the band’s direction did too. Of course, after The Beatles, Harrison would have arguably one of the most positive solo careers. 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 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.
“The most difficult thing for me is following Paul’s and John’s songs,” Harrison once said. “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. The group comes first.”
Of course, Harrison’s career within The Beatles was still a fruitful one, in the latter stages of the group’s career, the guitarist’s influence was perhaps the most lasting one. Creating some of the Fab Four’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 harder than beginning with a new idea. It was a conundrum that Lennon had faced many times.
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.”
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. Below listen to one of George’s best—’Something’.