George Harrison was known as the ‘Quiet Beatle’ and provided nuanced lead guitar throughout the entire career of The Beatles. John Lennon first formed The Quarrymen in 1956; this line up did not resemble anything like the Fab Four we know and love today, but it is the bedrock for what was to come. Lennon would lead the band into its eventual final transformation into what would become The Beatles – with the drummer Ringo Starr being the final member to join.
Paul McCartney joined John Lennon’s The Quarrymen in 1957, and per the request of McCartney, Harrison, who was Macca’s fellow schoolmate at the time, joined the group a year later. The three core members would form chemistry based on blues music from the ’50s and the early rock ‘n’ roll music of Buddy Holly, Little Richard, and Elvis Presley.
Especially during the early years, The Beatles were driven by the core songwriting partnership of Lennon and McCartney; at this point, Harrison had not developed his songwriting voice, although he would be chipping away at it in the background while most of the attention was cast on Lennon and McCartney. Even still, the ‘Quiet Beatle’ provided important lead guitar that brought the songs written by the other two into greater definition and contrast.
To more of an extent than the other Beatle songwriters, Harrison’s musicality was informed by the guitar work of jazz greats such as Django Rheinhardt. Although, Harrison also had a love for some other quirkier acts who were more prominent in the British entertainment industry before the boom of rock ‘n’ roll, which was an American phenomenon at this point. Artists such as George Formby and Lonnie Donegan were among these acts to push through a new sound.
Perhaps unfairly so but in typically honest fashion, Lennon once said in an interview: “George didn’t even used to sing when we brought him into the group, he was a guitarist. He wasn’t in the same league for a long time. That’s not putting him down, he just hadn’t had the practice at writing that we had.”
Harrison, reflecting along the same lines as Lennon’s comments, once said: “They had a lot of practice, put it that way. They had been writing since we were in school. So they had written most of their bad songs before we had gotten into the recording studio. For me, I had to come from nowhere and start writing and to have something at least quality enough to be able to, you know, put it in the record with all the wondrous hits.”
George Martin would add to that, “I think George realised what he was up against with both John and Paul and also me to a certain extent because I must confess, that I would obviously concentrate on the guys who were giving me the hits and in the beginning George’s work was kind of tolerated, ‘oh yes we must have a George song in this thing.'”
Martin added, “It’s kind of saying ‘well it’s not going to be as good as the others but we will let him have it on,’ which was terribly unfair, I know that and I do regret that, but you can’t blame me because I had to deal with two marvellous people as well as him.”
Harrison would begin to take his songwriting more seriously and work out the kinks of earlier bad material that tends to get written prior to your good songs; they say that for every one good song you write, you have to write 50 bad ones.
Harrison’s first song to be included on a Beatles record was ‘Don’t Bother Me’, which appeared on the 1963 record With The Beatles. “The first song was written basically as an exercise to see if I could write a song. I wrote that in a hotel in Bournemouth. We were doing a summer season. I was sick in bed, maybe that’s why it turned out ‘don’t bother me’.”
According to Harrison himself, he didn’t like it. “It’s not a very good song, but it at least showed me that, you know, all I needed to do was keep on writing and maybe someday I’d write something good,” he said.
McCartney shared Harrison’s enthusiasm for his desire to want to get better, and he believed in him too. “‘Don’t Bother Me’, I remember, kind of the first launch, and then he started to improve from that and eventually became very good, you know, getting like a classic with ‘Something In The Way She Moves’ which is, I think…Frank Sinatra still refers to it as his favourite Lennon-McCartney song.”
On reflection, George Martin made a keen observation: “George’s songwriting was painful for him because he had no one to collaborate with and John and Paul was such a collaborative duo that they would throw out a word of advice to him and so on, but they didn’t really work with him.”
It wouldn’t be until after two albums later when another Harrison song would be included. Help! would contain two of his songs: ‘I Need You’ and ‘You Like me Too Much’. ‘I Need You’ preceded the other one on the tracklisting, making it Harrison’s second official song for the Liverpool band. The song also appeared in the Fab Four’s film of the same name during the scene that was filmed on the Salisbury plain.
Allegedly, Harrison wrote the song about the model Pattie Boyd who he married in 1966. It was also the first song to feature the Beatles’ use of the volume pedal, and many have speculated as to why Harrison hadn’t contributed more songs prior to these two. Perhaps it was just a simple lack of productivity. George Martin maintained that it was because “none of us (The Beatles) had liked something he had written,” which had sown discouragement within Harrison.
By the time The Beatles did Revolver in 1966, George Harrison had begun contributing more than just two songs per record, and he was playing more of a pivotal role in the innovative spirit of the group. This was probably partly to do with the fact that The Beatles as a whole were starting to break out of their traditional ways of working and were spending more time in the studio. For Revolver, Harrison contributed ‘Taxman’, ‘Love You To’, and ‘I Want To Tell You’.
The last few Beatles albums produced some of Harrison’s greatest songs, including ‘I, Me, Mine’, ‘Something’, ‘While My Guitar Gently Weeps’, and ‘Here Comes The Sun’. Tensions were building towards the end of their career; Harrison had Eric Clapton come record with Harrison on ‘While My Guitar Gently Weeps’, for example.
‘Something’ is probably one of the best George Harrison songs of all time, with or without The Beatles. “Everybody assumed I wrote it about Pattie. The words are nothing, really,” Harrison said in 1969.
“There are lots of songs like that in my head. I must get them down. Some people tell me that ‘Something’ is one of the best things I’ve ever written. I don’t know. Maybe they’re right, maybe they’re wrong. It’s very flattering though… It’s nice. It’s probably the nicest melody tune that I’ve written.”
What songs did George Harrison write for The Beatles? Well, below you’ll find a list of all the songs with a handy playlist to boot.
All the songs George Harrison wrote for The Beatles:
- ‘Don’t Bother Me’ – With The Beatles
- ‘I Need You’ – Help!
- ‘You Like Me Too Much’ – Help!
- ‘Think For Yourself’ – Rubber Soul
- ‘If I needed Someone’ – Rubber Soul
- ‘Taxman’ – Revolver
- ‘Love You To’ – Revolver
- ‘I Want To Tell You’ – Revolver
- ‘Within You Without You’ – Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Heart’s Club
- ‘Blue Jay Way’ – The Magical Mystery Tour
- ‘While My Guitar Gently Weeps’ – The White Album
- ‘Piggies’ – The White Album
- ‘Long, Long, Long’ – The White Album
- ‘Savoy Truffle’ – The White Album
- ‘It’s All Too Much’ – The Yellow Submarine
- ‘Only A Northern Song’ – The Yellow Submarine
- ‘Something’ – Abbey Road
- ‘Here Comes The Sun’ – Abbey Road
- ‘I, Me, Mine’ – Let it Be
- ‘Dig It’ – Let it Be
- ‘For You Blue’ – Let it Be