The extremely talented lead guitarist of the Beatles, George Harrison, would have turned 75 this year on February 25. Although he passed away in 2001, Harrison’s legacy continues to thrive. George was the youngest of the Beatles, and was often referred to as “the quiet Beatle” since he wasn’t as boisterous as Paul or John. His talent for playing guitar, singing and composing music made him a legendary contributor to the music scene and how “classic rock” is viewed today. His appreciation of the Indian classic style and focus on universal love would stay with him throughout his lifetime. In honor of this rock god’s (and my personal favorite Beatle) birthday, here are some of the more well-known songs he composed.
“Don’t Bother Me”
This song was featured on the second Beatles album, With the Beatles. It was released in the U.K. on November 22, 1963 and a year later in the states. It was George’s first official Beatles song. He wrote it while he was sick in bed at a hotel room. He considered it an exercise in whether or not he could actually write a song. The Beatles never performed the song live or at any of their BBC sessions, but it sparked Harrison’s desire to compose future songs. The melancholy lyrics weren’t standard Beatles style, but they would eventually became a characteristic of a George Harrison song.
“If I Needed Someone”
This song was released in 1965 on the Rubber Soul album. It is the first touch of Indian classical music that Harrison would soon be known for including due to the folk rock styling and twelve-string electric guitar. The song’s inspiration was Pattie Boyd, whom Harrison would marry in 1966. He wrote it as a love song for her. When released, this song was considered Harrison’s best song to date. Harrison was still struggling to find his voice at the time, though he would continue to write songs and to develop his personal style. We are all grateful he continued!
The opening track of Revolver, “Taxman” was written by Harrison to attack the high levels of taxation taken by the British Labour government. It was the sixth song written by Harrison to be included on an album issued by the Beatles and was a marked change from “Don’t Bother Me.” Harrison provided both the rhythm guitar and lead vocal for this song. It was the only time a UK-issued Beatles album opened with a Harrison song. The album was released in 1966.
“Within You Without You”
Released on the 1967 Beatles album Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, this song marked Harrison’s infatuation with the Indian classical style. Harrison was inspired by his six-week stay in India and loved the sound of the sitar. It included Indian instrumentation such as sitar, dilruba and tabla. It was a significant departure from previous Beatles pop songs and it also marked Harrison’s interest in Hindu philosophy. Although the only composition of Harrison’s on Sgt. Pepper, it was extremely successful and introduced the Indian classical style to new fans in the West.
“While My Guitar Gently Weeps”
Appearing on the 1968 double album, the White Album, this particular song marks the discord between the Beatles after they returned from India in early 1968. This particular song marked the start of a prolific period for Harrison as a songwriter. He also returned to the guitar as his primary instrument instead of the sitar, which he had used for the previous two years. Like in many of his songs throughout his career, Harrison revisits the theme of universal love in this composition. Harrison provided double-tracked vocals, backing vocal, acoustic guitar and the organ for this song.
“Here Comes the Sun”
This lovely song was first released on the Beatles’ 1969 album Abbey Road. It is one of Harrison’s best known compositions. In combination with “Something,” these songs shot Harrison to the level of recognition as a songwriter that previously only belonged to John and Paul. Harrison wrote the song while at his good friend Eric Clapton’s house, playing hooky from having to go to another meeting with the studio. This particular song emits a sense of hope and optimism and is well known as one of the Beatles’ best recordings. George provided lead and backing vocals, acoustic and electrical guitars, harmonium, Moog synthesizer and handclaps for this song.
Also released on Abbey Road, this particular song was the only one written by Harrison to top the U.S. charts before the band’s break up in 1970. John and Paul considered this particular song to be George’s finest. It is the second-most covered Beatles song after “Yesterday.” Harrison initially believed that the melody came to him too easily and might have been from another song. Many critics believe the song to be the best track on Abbey Road, and it is a favorite of many Beatles fans. Like most songs on this list, Harrison provided the lead vocal, lead guitar and rhythm guitar.
“I Me Mine”
The final Beatles album to be released, Let It Be, included this song written by Harrison. It was the last new track recorded by the band prior to their split in April 1970. The song focuses on the disharmonious relationship of the group at the time of writing. In it, Harrison laments the ego problems plaguing the group. The song’s title is a conventional way of referring to the ego in a Hindu context, a theme that never seemed to leave Harrison’s mind. Harrison provided lead and harmony vocals, acoustic guitar and lead guitar for the song.
“My Sweet Lord”
Perhaps the best known song from Harrison’s solo career, “My Sweet Lord,” was released on his 1970 triple album All Things Must Pass. It was Harrison’s first single as a solo artist, and it topped charts worldwide. It was the biggest-selling single in 1971 in the U.K. Harrison wrote the song in praise of the Hindu god Krishna. The sound is trademark Harrison-style, with heavy Indian influences. The song is slightly infamous for the copyright infringement suit that later accompanied it. Despite the infamy, it remains the most popular Harrison composition post-Beatles.
“What Is Life”
Another of the more popular songs from Harrison’s solo career, “What Is Life” was released on his 1970 triple album All Things Must Pass. It was a top-ten hit in the United States, Canada and elsewhere. Backing musicians for the song include Eric Clapton and the entire Delaney & Bonnie Friends band. Harrison claims he wrote the song very quickly. The lyrics are uplifting and tend to be like most Harrison songs – directed to both a deity and a lover. Harrison provided vocals, lead guitar, acoustic guitar, slide guitar and backing vocals for this particularly popular pop hit.
George Harrison wrote I, Me, Mine as an autobiographical work to describe his musical journey. The book describes much of his inspiration for these particular songs and more. Before you go, tell us your favorite Harrison song and let us know why it’s your favorite!
Katy is the Promotions Coordinator at Half Price Books Corporate.