Although The Beatles travelled to India, they did so with different expectations of the place. Ultimately, Paul McCartney didn’t throw himself into the prospective mind-expansion the visit offered with quite the same level of vigour and excitement as George Harrison did, which likely explained their growing rift during the 1970s. But the trip to India allowed McCartney the chance to write in a controlled environment, and he basically travelled back to England with The White Album in his back pocket.
But for Harrison, this defeated the purpose of the trip: It was The Beatles’ desire to escape the trappings of London, and embrace the countryside, and everything she presented in an effort to recognise the importance of meditation. They were chanting, living, feeling, flowing: Everything the biggest city in Europe prohibited the group from enjoying, and there was plenty of time to write when they returned to the recording studios in London. Harrison made it clear to the bassist that this wasn’t the place to think of the business. “I wrote quite a few songs in Rishikesh and John came up with some creative stuff,” McCartney explained. “George actually once got quite annoyed and told me off because I was trying to think of the next album.”
It’s doubtful that the writer of ‘Lady Madonna’ took kindly to someone suggesting that he should write the next album at another time, especially since Harrison personally profited from the many hit singles the bassist wrote for The Beatles. But Harrison felt there was more to life than work, and told the bassist exactly what he thought. “He said, ‘We’re not f***ing here to do the next album, we’re here to meditate!’ It was like, ‘Oh, excuse me for breathing!’ You know. George was quite strict about that, George can still be a little that way, and it’s like, ‘Oh come on, George, you don’t have a monopoly on thought in this area. I’m allowed to have my own views on the matter.’ ”
This exchange shows why the two were so different in their approaches to music: McCartney was workmanlike and ready to write whenever the opportunity struck, whereas Harrison was more bohemian, writing when inspiration struck him, like an angel coming down from the heavens, presenting him with an opportunity to carry out his next tune.
And it showed in their solo careers, as McCartney released an impressive collection of ten solo albums between 1970 to 1980, the exact figure of albums Harrison released in his lifetime. Harrison released three albums in the 1980s, zero during the 1990s, and only one in the new millennium, which his son Dhani had to complete in his absence.
But Harrison’s work was frequently powerful, and albums Living In The Material World, Extra Texture and Brainwashed show how valid his voice was when it was poised to sing. He sang when he had something to sing about, and didn’t pander to anyone’s expectations but his own.
McCartney continues to challenge himself as an artist, whether it’s collaborating with Kanye West, or singing with the Alice Cooper-led Hollywood Vampires, the bassist remains as busy as he has ever been. He’s carving a new niche for himself as he approaches his 80th birthday, demonstrating a fondness for the new studio techniques that have serviced younger musicians.
I have no doubt that he wouldn’t take kindly to anyone telling him that he can’t write based on their schedule or agenda, as he operates based on what he expects of himself. And in this ever-changing world, in which he’s living, is there any other reason not to? Harrison and McCartney were their own men, and for that, we love them.