Throughout his career in The Beatles, George Harrison only had one defined role: lead guitarist. It’s what he was hired to do when he first joined the band, and for many of his early songs with the band, it was his sole contribution to the creative process. Harrison picked up singing, songwriting, and production as he went along, but his spot as lead guitarist was unchallenged.
Except when someone else stepped in. Starting with Help!, Paul McCartney began to play the guitar more frequently on recordings, including for tracks like ‘Another Girl’ and ‘Ticket to Ride’. Though Harrison almost exclusively still got the solo, McCartney even began to take those as well, starting with ‘Drive My Car’ and ‘Taxman’ and continuing on intermittently throughout the band’s career. Even John Lennon got some lead licks in there, providing the lead guitar for songs like ‘Revolution’, ‘Yer Blues’, and ‘Get Back’.
Still, Harrison’s lack of input was rarely for lack of talent. Often it was simply quicker and more efficient for the song’s writer to play the solo that they had imagined rather than take previous studio time to teach Harrison the part. If Harrison was stumped, or indisposed, he humbly stepped aside. But one solo in particular found Harrison’s lead work fall short of expectations.
The Beatles were completely fried by the time they gathered together in mid-1964. Beatlemania was in full swing, and the band were expected to hit the recording studio when they weren’t out on tour or doing promotions for their film A Hard Day’s Night. The day that the movie premiered in the United States, The Beatles once again entered EMI Studios to begin work on their next album, Beatles for Sale.
With a low amount of original material, the band opted for a number of covers, including the old blues number ‘Mr. Moonlight’. The band put a distinctive samba rhythm underneath the track, and when it came time for a solo, Harrison dutifully plopped down in front of a mic to give it a go. Only this time, his reverb-heavy twang was strange and disconcerting instead of raucous and exciting. When the band found the take they liked best, it was judged that Harrison’s solo wasn’t up to snuff.
Instead, McCartney added an organ that replicated most of the notes. The original version of the take, complete with Harrison’s solo, can be found on the Anthology 1 album. Even with a new instrumental solo, few listeners gravitated towards ‘Mr. Moonlight’, and it currently holds a less-than-stellar reputation among Beatles superfans.
Harrison was clearly at a loss during this period. He offered up no songs of his own on Beatles for Sale, likely still sore after his song ‘You Know What to Do’ was rejected for inclusion on A Hard Day’s Night, electing to cover Carl Perkins number ‘Everybody’s Trying to Be My Baby’ instead. Being faced with an eternity of cover songs or being forced to sing Lennon/McCartney songs for the rest of his life, Harrison buckled down and produced two of his own songs for Help!, ‘You Like Me Too Much’ and ‘I Need You’.