John Lennon and George Harrison had a relationship like no other. Having lived fast, arm in arm, through the meteoric rise of The Beatles, the creative duo grew ever closer as tensions within the band evolved to an unmanageable level. However, it wasn’t always plain sailing.
The reality of the relationship is that Harrison always looked up to Lennon, leaning on him as an almost older brother-type figure. Lennon, who was relentlessly propping up headlines in the press, took most of the heat and subsequent fame from the band considering he was one half of the most prolific songwriting duos of all time in Lennon-McCartney. He was the rough side of the diamond, the unruly figure, the one who wouldn’t always abide by the rules.
Just outside of this partnership was George Harrison, the ‘quiet Beatle’ who had been building his confidence and rubbing shoulders with the likes of Bob Dylan, Eric Clapton and more. When McCartney emerged as the de facto leader of the Beatles following the sad death of their manager Brian Epstein, Harrison was arriving as one of the greatest songwriters of his generation and became increasingly suffocated by McCartney’s demanding approach within the studio. In fact, shortly before the band’s infamous split letter arrived at anyone’s door, The Beatles almost called it a day following a fight between George Harrison and the band.
Harrison later spoke of Paul’s dictatorship over songwriting, later telling Rolling Stone, “My problem was that it would always be very difficult to get in on the act, because Paul was very pushy in that respect,” he said. “When he succumbed to playing on one of your tunes, he’d always do good. But you’d have to do 59 of Paul’s songs before he’d even listen to one of yours.”
It was comments like the above that led to the wider discussion that Harrison’s issues with McCartney are what led to his momentary departure from the band during the Let It Be sessions. However, in an incident that was seemingly swept under the carpet, Harrison and his closest confidante, John Lennon, almost came to blows.
With Harrison struggling to find harmony within the band unit, he began letting his discontent show. Not only had Harrison become tired of Lennon’s partner Yoko Ono and her continued involvement with The Beatles, but he also began struggling with the new dynamic of the group. In the meantime, Lennon, with his trademark wit, would often land not-so-subtle digs at his bandmate.
Of course, the situation arrived at breaking point. Michael Lindsay-Hogg, a pioneer in music film production who worked closely with The Beatles, remembered of the moment George quit: “At the morning rehearsal, I could tell by his silence and withdrawal that something was simmering inside him, and so in my role as a documentarian, I’d asked our soundman to bug the flower pot on the lunch table,” he said, before adding: “We’d finished the first course when George arrived to stand at the end of the table. We looked at him as he stood silent for a moment. ‘See you ’round the clubs,’ he said. That was his good-bye. He left.”
Harrison stormed out and, before he could even consider his future, Lennon was already lining up Eric Clapton as his replacement – but how had the friendship withered so dramatically? David Stubbs points out in his Uncut article: “Prior to [Ono’s] arrival on the scene, George and John had become tight LSD buddies, at one point to the alienation of Paul and Ringo. Yoko had usurped George’s place in John’s affections. As he admits in the current Beatles autobiography, he ‘lost contact’ with John. That hurt.”
The specific details of the said argument remained under wraps for a considerable amount of time before Lennon sat down with Rolling Stone magazine and recounted: “And George, shit, insulted her right to her face in the Apple office at the beginning; just being ‘straight forward’ you know, that game of ‘Well, I’m going to be upfront because this is what we’ve heard and Dylan and a few people said she’s got a lousy name in New York, and you gave off bad vibes.’ That’s what George said to her and we both sat through it, and I didn’t hit him. I don’t know why.”
Of course, as sibling-like friends do, they both cooled down and put the argument behind them. Harrison, who would rejoin the band in quick time, later reflected on the argument: “They were filming us having a row,” he said. “It never came to blows, but I thought, ‘What’s the point of this? I’m quite capable of being relatively happy on my own and I’m not able to be happy in this situation. I’m getting out of here.’ Everybody had gone through that. Ringo [Starr] had left at one point. I know John wanted out. It was a very, very difficult, stressful time, and being filmed having a row as well was terrible. I got up and I thought, ‘I’m not doing this any more. I’m out of here.’”