When George Harrison was asked to join The Quarrymen in 1958, he was just 14. Indeed, the 17-year old John Lennon had been hesitant to let such a youngster join his group, but after seeing Harrison play the guitar, quickly the de facto band leader warmed to the idea. Over the next few years, Harrison established himself as an essential component of The Beatles, but as the group shot to fame, so too did Harrison’s ambitions. Tired of playing other people’s chords, he decided he wanted to start writing songs.
With both Lennon and McCartney already dominating The Beatles’ songwriting output, it’s no wonder George Harrison felt unnerved by the idea of writing a track that would be able to compete with the likes of ‘Please, Please Me’, ‘She Loved You’, and Love Me Do’. As Beatles Manager Brian Epstein once recalled: “George’s songwriting was painful for him because he had no one to collaborate with, and John and Paul were such a sort of collaborative duo that they would throw out a word of advice to George and so on, but they didn’t really work with him.”
As John Lennon would later explain, Harrison’s desire to have an equal stake in The Beatles songwriting marked a huge shift in the band-dynamic, one that had seen The Beatles go from a resident band in a Hamberg nightclub to the biggest band on the planet in just a few years.
“Paul and I really carved up the empire between us, Lennon remarked in Anthology. “George didn’t even used to sing when we bought him into the group, he was a guitarist. He just wasn’t in the same league for a long time. That’s not putting him down, he just hadn’t had the practice that we had.”
With little songwriting experience to speak of, Harrison, for a long time, felt ashamed of his efforts, preferring to let John and Paul take the lead. “They’d been writing since we were in school, so they’d written all of their bad songs before we got into the recording studio, Harrison once recalled with a hint of resentment. “For me, I had to come from nowhere and start writing and to have something at least quality enough to, you know, put in the record with all the other ”wondrous’ hits.
But as the 1960s progressed and The Beatles got more and more adventurous, George Harrison’s songwriting really took off, and, more importantly, the other Beatles started accepting his tracks. “He wrote ‘Don’t Bother Me,’ I remember. That was one of the first ones,” McCartney said in the ‘late ’70s. “And then he started to improve from that and eventually he became very good, you know, getting a classic with like ‘Something’ or ‘In The Way She moves’, which I think Frank Sinatra still refers to it as his favourite Lennon and McCartney song. Thanks, Frank.”