It was no secret that Paul McCartney took creative control of The Beatles and kept them busy with various projects of his own design following the death of their manager, Brian Epstein. It’s also no secret that, by the time Epstein passed away, George Harrison began to resent his remedial status in the band compared to McCartney and John Lennon.
Tensions were raised as early as 1967, when Harrison only contributed a single song to Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, ‘Within You Without You’. Harrison had “lost interest in being fab” by that point, and after having won a major battle by getting three songs on the band’s previous LP Revolver, Harrison once again felt like he didn’t fit into the direction that McCartney was taking the band.
These tensions came to a fore around the recording of Let It Be. Harrison had briefly spent time in Upstate New York with Bob Dylan and his backing musicians who would later record as The Band, and the guitarist was inspired by the communal atmosphere. He believed that The Beatles could potentially operate in a similar fashion, but was disappointed when he returned to England and was once again subjected to McCartney’s strong will with regards to composition and arrangement.
Glyn Johns, the engineer/producer who was originally tapped to helm the sessions, explained that Harrison In an excerpt from Graeme Thomson’s book George Harrison: Behind the Locked Door and subsequently published in The Daily Mail. “It was very uncomfortable. To watch this begin and be there in the immediate aftermath was very unpleasant.”
Also speaking to Thomson for the book, Harrison’s former wife Patti Boyd characterised her husband at the time as “terribly unhappy. The Beatles made him unhappy, with the constant arguments. They were vicious to each other. That was really upsetting, and even more so for him because he had this new spiritual avenue. Like a little brother, he was pushed into the background. He would come home from recording and be full of anger. It was a very bad state that he was in.”
According to Boyd, the root of the problem was between Harrison and McCartney. “George saw Paul as difficult. They would tolerate each other, but I think George basically didn’t like Paul’s personality. I just think they really didn’t love each other.”
Harrison actually did quit the band briefly during those sessions, and only agreed to return with a list of requirements that included moving the band out of Twickenham studios, bringing in keyboardist Billy Preston, and making McCartney tamper down his exacerbating demeanour. It was a short term fix, however, as Lennon announced his departure from the group that same year.
Watch YouTube channel ‘Pop Goes the 60s’ do a deep dive on one of George and Paul’s most infamous disagreements, caught on film during Let It Be.