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Music

The song Paul McCartney claimed was written by the spirit of George Harrison

@SamWKemp

It’s easy to forget just how young George Harrison was when he died – merely 58, in fact. Two years earlier, he’d been violently attacked by a man suffering from paranoid schizophrenia, a person who broke into his home in Friar Park and stabbed the former Beatles musician in the chest. If it wasn’t for his wife incapacitating the attacker with a fireplace poker, who knows what would have happened.

Harrison would later say that he felt the knife go into his chest, his lungs exhale, and the blood began to fill his mouth. He was hospitalised with over 40 stab wounds, many to the lungs, a section of which were later removed. While his injuries were downplayed by his family to the press, in 2001, he began receiving treatment for various forms of cancer. Those closest to him believed that the attack in 1999 had sparked something that could no longer be extinguished. In 2001, he left the world with the final words: “Everything else can wait, but the search for God cannot wait, and love one another.” Three years later, Paul McCartney sat down to write a song that his friend and former Beatles bandmate would be proud of.

The track he came up with was ‘Friends To Go’, which appeared on McCartney’s 2005 album Chaos And Creation In The Backyard. While Paul confessed that the song was intentionally written to sound like something Harrison might have composed, ‘Friends To Go’ was far more than a tribute. In fact, McCartney claimed that he’d been helped to write the song by Harrison’s spirit three years after his death. “The funny thing about it was I felt as if I was almost George Harrison during the writing of that song,” McCartney once said. “I just got this feeling, this is George. So it was like I was writing – I was like George – writing one of his songs. So I just wrote it, it just wrote itself very easily ’cause it wasn’t even me writing it.”

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Although many of The Beatles’ earliest hits were written by the pop partnership of Lennon and McCartney, by the time the Fab Four got to Rubber Soul, Harrison was writing tracks with a unique and poignant edge, tracks that were recognisably Beatlesesque, but also fresh and marvellously left-field. He’d contributed songs to the group’s earlier records, of course, but, with the help of Bob Dylan – a close friend of Harrisons – he developed a songwriting style that was somehow independent of Lennon and McCartney’s approach, one that was informed as much by classical Indian music as it was by modern musical technologies.

It was this unique style that McCartney wanted to replicate in ‘Friends To Go’. Speaking to Gary Crowley after the release of Chaos And Creation In The Backyard, he explained the inspiration behind the track, stating: “Funny thing about some songs is when you’re writing them you can think you’re someone else. I mean when I was doing Long and Winding Road I thought I was Ray Charles. In actual fact, my record of it, the Beatles record of it, is nothing like Ray Charles at all. But in my mind, I was being him. I was playing Ray. And on ‘Friends to Go’ I realised I was playing George Harrison. So, to me, it just started to sound like a George Harrison song. So I was writing with that in the back of my mind, so it was kind of like (sings) ‘I’ve been waiting on the other side for your friends to leave so I don’t have to hide.'”

McCartney continued: “You know that whole sequence I can see George doing it. (Sings) ‘I’ve been waiting on the other side for your friends to go.’  So that was it. You know I was just sat down to write and the feeling of George came over me and I just kept writing it thinking ‘George could have written this.’ It was nice.

“It was like a sort of friendly song to write. And I just kept imagining I was just over by some sort of housing estate, where these people lived, in a sort of block of flats and I was like over the other side over here just watching them and waiting for them to go so I could go in. I don’t know why, a psychiatrist could probably have a whale of a time with that one.”

Stream the song, below.