After hearing Elvis Presley’s ‘Heartbreak Hotel’, George Harrison picked up a guitar and began to learn how to play seriously. He learned covers, started bands and began to expand his knowledge of music. He met a boy called Paul McCartney on the way to school. After many bus journeys and conversations about music, Paul introduced him to John Lennon. Though Lennon worried that the 15-year-old George is too young, they inducted him into their band The Quarrymen, who later changed their name to The Beatles.
In 1961, the band gained a new manager and began to gain a bit of popularity in their hometown of Liverpool. Making a commitment to his craft, Harrison invested in his first American guitar. Lennon and McCartney began to pen original songs for the band. With the success of their first single ‘Love Me Do’, the young guitarist, inspired by his friends, would begin his journey into songwriting.
‘Don’t Bother Me’ With The Beatles, 1963
“I know I’ll never be the same, if I don’t get her back again”
‘Don’t Bother Me’ was George’s first song to appear on a Beatles album. After watching how from Lennon and McCartney worked, he penned the song whilst ill in bed. The upbeat rock n roll song is considered his very first composition and a fairly decent starting point for the 20-year-old.
‘I Need You’ Help!, 1965
“Please remember how I feel about you, I could never really live without you”
George’s work wasn’t released with The Beatles’ again until Help! their fifth studio album. Two of Georges songs made an appearance this time; ‘I Need You’ and ‘You Like Me Too Much’. Naturally influenced by the band, both songs reflected The Beatles current style of love songs and ’60s rock n roll. Although they are great songs in their own right, they were still overshadowed by fellow bandmates songs like ‘Yesterday’.
‘Think For Yourself’ Rubber Soul, 1965
“Although your mind’s opaque, try thinking more if just for your own sake”
Rubber Soul showcased how influential George had become to the band’s music. It became his favourite Beatles album and two more of his own compositions made it. His new found love of sitar and Indian music is weaved throughout the album. George hinted in his biography that ‘Think For Yourself’ was inspired the close-mindedness of the British government at the time, sparking the beginning of George’s politically influenced songs. The band had also begun experimenting with LSD which possibly could have been the reasoning for this new experimental take on rock music.
‘Taxman’ Revolver, 1966
“Should 5% appear too small, be thankful I don’t take it all”
The sixth Beatles song by George was written in anger. The now 23-year-old had begun to notice that the majority of the band’s income went to the government. A huge 95% was taken away and, decided to vent his frustration through song. ‘Taxman’ became a political statement that still resonates today. The young Beatle was learning how to spread his message through song.
‘Within You, Without You’ Sgt. Pepper, 1967
“Try to realise it’s all within yourself, no one else can make you change”
George’s second Indian-influenced composition came after his trip to India, where he learned sitar from mentor Ravi Shankar. It signalled a moment in George’s life where he began to experiment with his spirituality and religion. George brought this exotic style of music to a whole new audience who’s current ‘Love and Peace’ mentality suited the zen philosophy. The sitar soon became a staple of a new genre of music dubbed Psychedelia.
‘Blue Jay Way’ Magical Mystery Tour, 1967
“We’ll be over soon,” they said. Now they’ve lost themselves instead”
As The Beatles fully embraced the psychedelic music scene, George penned the haunted, dark ‘Blue Jay Way’. George wrote the song whilst sleepily waiting for his publicist to arrive. Soon after, he visited the Haight-Ashbury area. George was disappointed to find that it wasn’t full of free love and hippies, but full of drug addicts and dropouts. He finished ‘Blue Jay Way’ and decided to reject psychedelia with a ‘farewell to acid’.
‘While My Guitar Gently Weeps’ The White Album, 1968
“I look at the world and I notice it’s turning, while my guitar gently weeps”
George’s songwriting had come a long way by the time The White Album was released. ‘While My Guitar Gently Weeps’ is arguably one of his best. Featured Eric Clapton guitar solos and a swooping melody, it became one of The Beatles’ most iconic tracks. George, upon further cultural discoveries, was inspired by the Chinese I Ching (The Book Of Changes) which notes that everything happens for a reason. It also served as a reflection of the emerging dysfunctions in the band at the time.
‘Something’ Abbey Road, 1969
“Somewhere in her smile she knows, that I don’t need no other lover”
Now confident in his own songwriting abilities, ‘Something’ was the youngest Beatles’ first A-side single. And his confidence paid off, as the single was released to critical acclaim. Many artists covered this song such as Frank Sinatra, James Brown and Elvis Presley. This traditional love song was adored by John Lennon who stated it is ‘the best song on the album’. ‘Something’ along with ‘Here Comes The Sun’ proved that he could write just as well as the others. But with tensions and egos high, George still seemed to be allocated no more than two or three songs on each album…
‘I Me Mine’ Let It Be, 1970
“All I can hear, I me mine, I me mine, I me mine…”
As frictions rose in the band, Harrison wrote his commentary from the sidelines in ‘I Me Mine’. Lennon and McCartney, wrapped up in their own work, showed little interest to George’s songs. Encouraged by friends Eric Clapton and Bob Dylan, Harrison recorded the track which captured the demise of The Beatles.
‘My Sweet Lord’ All Things Must Pass, 1970
“I really want to see you Lord but it takes so long.”
With a huge pile of rejected Beatles songs, George released All Things Must Pass– his first solo record since The Beatles split. At last, George’s songwriting could be enjoyed in a whole chart-topping collection, confirming that the Beatles’ abilities were just as good as McCartney’s and Lennon’s. Although there are many brilliant gems on the album dating as far back as 1966 (and even a track, written at Woodstock with Bob Dylan, ‘I’d Have You Anytime’), it was ‘My Sweet Lord’ that became George’s iconic track. Unfortunately, George was taken to court and lost for the song’s similarities to ‘He’s So Fine‘ By The Chifftons.
‘Got My Mind Set On You’ Cloud Nine, 1987
“I really want to see you Lord but it takes so long.”
Now into his 40s with a number of credible solo albums under his belt, the former Beatle released his final solo album Cloud Nine. After a break from music, his catchy cover ‘Got My Mind Set On You’ re-established George as a significant artist. The cover of the record features his first American guitar which he purchased in 1961, before the fame, the fights and the financial difficulties. George brought it back to what he loved from the start, music.
Listen to more songs in our George Harrison Playlist.