By now it is a truism to call George Harrison ‘the Beatles' secret weapon’; his role in the shadow of the most famous songwriting duo of all time, Lennon / McCartney, did not prevent the band's lead guitarist from giving the Liverpool band some of the most memorable songs in their history. It is evident that at the beginning his contributions were not on a par with those of John and Paul, but little by little he gained confidence and by the end, with Abbey Road, Harrison could say that he was on a par with his two famous partners, even though they still included most of their songs.
In the time from when they recorded Love Me Do, on September 4, 1962, to their last recording date together, on January 4, 1970, less than eight years later (though Lennon did not participate), Harrison sang 28 songs as lead vocalist of the band, composing 22 of them, which could be two entire (and long) albums that would bear his pen. Only one of that songs was released as the A-side of a single, Something, and the albums in which he participated the most were The White Album, with four songs (not many if we take into account that it was a double), and Revolver, with three. For those who want the complete list, here they go in order of appearance, Don't Bother Me, You Like Me Too Much, I Need You, Think For Yourself, If I Needed Someone, I Want to Tell You, Love You To, Taxman, Within You Without You, Blue Jay Way, It's All Too Much, It's Only A Northern Song, The Inner Light, Savoy Truffle, Piggies, While My Guitar Gently Weeps, Long Long Long, For You Blue, Old Brown Shoe, Here Comes The Sun, Something and I Me Mine. These are our 10 favorites:
I Need You (1965)
The first song recorded by the Beatles - at that time still called The Quarrymen - written by Paul McCartney and George Harrison, was In Spite Of All The Danger, a kind of plagiarism/homage of Elvis' Tryin' To Get To You, but it was really Paul's song in which he decided to give credit to his friend for the two solos he played. Of course, that was the end of the McCartney/Harrison songwriting pairing as, shortly after, it give way to the much better known Lennon/McCartney that would dominate the history of the Fab Four, so much so that the first four Beatles albums would only feature one song written by Harrison, Don't Bother Me, on the second, With The Beatles. But in 1965 Harrison began to improve ostensibly, something that would be confirmed on Rubber Soul, but which could already be appreciated in this great little love song that appeared on Help, both on the record and in the film. Harrison plays with the volume pedal on his Rickenbacker 360 12-string to give that signature sound to a bubbly tune dedicated to his then-newly wedded wife, Patty Boyd.
If I Needed Someone (1965)
There has always been talk of the two-way influence between the Beatles (mainly John) and Dylan, or between the Beatles (mainly Paul) and the Beach Boys, but there is less talk of a third way of reciprocal influence and that is between the Beatles (mainly George) and the Byrds, and this song is perfect proof. First we should go back to how folkies like Roger McGuinn, David Crosby and Gene Clark were amazed when they saw A Hard Day's Night, and how they sold their acoustics to get electric guitars. The guitar that would change everything would be the Rickenbacker 360 12-string that McGuinn bought after seeing Harrison with one in the movie. The fact is that less than a year later the use that the Byrds’ leader made of it on his debut album (especially on The Bells Of Rhymney) would lead Harrison to compose one of his first masterpieces, If I Needed Someone that appeared on Rubber Soul; which signalled the start of the band’s mature stage. The jangling effect of the Rickenbacker, together with the wonderful harmonies of Paul and John, and George's incredible melody make it one of the great songs of a must-have album.
Something may have been the only Beatles’ single written by Harrison but Lennon and McCartney had previously given him the immense honor of opening with one of his songs on one of their albums, and not just any album but Revolver, one that many consider the best of the band’s career. Taxman is a musical enormity of a song whose only flaw is a lyric about a millionaire complaining about the fact he pays too much tax... But, as I said, musically it is a marvel in which he gets a lot of help from Paul McCartney. Macca delivers a totally iconic bass line, with his Rickenbacker 4001 (which the Jam would later rip off on Start!), as well as taking care of the song's magnificent solo on his Epiphone Casino, while Harrison takes care of the rhythm on his Stratocaster. Lennon only appears on backing vocals, also with McCartney, and despite the fact that, due to the sour ending, the relationship between McCartney and Harrison did not go through its best moments at the end, Paul was much more collaborative on George's songs than John was, who does not even appear on many of them.
Love You To (1966)
Harrison will always be linked to the introduction of the sitar in rock music, making its first appearance in Lennon's Norwegian Wood, but he also used it with great force in three of his own compositions, Love You To, Within You Without You and The Inner Light. I like all three quite a bit but I'll go with the first one, also included on Revolver, in which Harrison delivers a great riff on the sitar, as well as playing his J160 acoustic, managing to seamlessly fuse Indian music into a pop song, which is also helped by the tabla playing of Anil Bhagwat.
While My Guitar Gently Weeps (1968)
A stratospheric song that should have been chosen as a single and is one of the great (the best?) songs from the Beatles' White Album. The funny thing is that Harrison had presented the song to Lennon and McCartney and received typical indifference from his bandmates, but Harrison was sure of the song's potential, so he convinced his friend Eric Clapton to accompany him to the studio to record the song. The guitarist was unsure, he might already be considered the God of guitarists but the Beatles were on another planet, even for rock stars like him. Even so, he agreed and everyone was highly respectful to the guest and the song was recorded in a much better atmosphere than the rest of the album. McCartney again helps out a bit, by playing piano, but it's Clapton who stands out the most with one of the best performances of his career, offering his friend an unforgettable solo on Lucy, Harrison's Les Paul Standard.
Savoy Truffle (1968)
Savoy Truffle is another great song that came out of the friendship between Harrison and Clapton. The Beatle was very amused by the Cream guitarist's passion for chocolate and sweets, so he decided to write Savoy Truffle as a warning of the possible consequences of ingesting so much sugar. This injoke is enhanced by a colossal horn section (three tenor saxophones and three baritone saxophones), which is something unusual for the Beatles but that would appear during Harrison's solo career, and in which Harrison also takes care of all the guitars, specifically with his J160 acoustic and Lucy, with which he takes the solo, in another song in which John Lennon is absent.
Old Brown Shoe (1969)
This song is a little gem that was relegated to a B-side of The Ballad Of John And Yoko, a song recorded exclusively by John Lennon and Paul McCartney. I guess they put this Harrison song on the B-side as a kind of compensation. Despite that it is one of the four Harrison songs that appear on the mythical compilation that collects the best of the band from 1967 to 1970, and which is known as the blue album. In spite of its relative obscurity, it is a song that is not out of place among some of the best songs of the 20th century. The thing is that it is a great song that Harrison introduced during the recording of Get Back (what would later become Let It Be) but in the end (the story of his life) it did not make it onto the album. The song was re-recorded in April 1969, during the first sessions for Abbey Road, but in the end it was used on the B-side of The Ballad Of John And Yoko. The song has a bluesy, angry sound, with Harrison taking over the distorted bass, as well as delivering one of the best solos of his Beatles career on his Rosewood Telecaster.
One of the artists that the Beatles signed to Apple was a young James Taylor; in fact, his eponymous first album featured the uncredited participation of McCartney and Harrison, who played bass and sang on one of his songs, Carolina In My Mind. However, the song that dazzled the guitarist was another of the songs on that album, Something In The Way She Moves. From that title, which gave him the opening phrase of the song, Harrison brought together his Krishna research and his love for Patty Boyd, his wife, resulting in, in the words of Frank Sinatra himself, "the greatest love song ever recorded" (although "the Voice" mistakenly attributed it to Lennon and McCartney, which highlights Harrison's ‘bad luck’ in sharing a band with two of the greatest pop songwriters of all time). This time Harrison does take over the lead guitar himself, bringing out the most sublime notes on his beloved Lucy.
Here Comes The Sun (1969)
A huge work that Harrison composed on a beautiful April morning, while walking in the garden with his friend Eric Clapton by his side. The sun was shining after a long and grey winter and the quiet Beatle knew how to perfectly transmit that feeling of joy and turn it into music. His introduction with the acoustic, his Gibson J200, is already able to melt ice by itself, but when the voice enters you can already feel that this song is something like happiness encapsulated in three minutes of pure musical ambrosia.
I Me Mine (1970)
The only Beatles song to be recorded in its entirety in the 1970s, in one of the last recording sessions they did to finish Let It Be, on January 3, 1970, and in which John Lennon was absent (the last session in which the four of them were together was on August 20, 1969). Even so, it was a particularly productive session, with the Beatles becoming a trio (in one of the outtakes reprised on Anthology, Harrison can be heard joking about the situation: "You all will have read that Dave Dee is no longer with us. But Mickey and Tich and I would just like to carry on the good work that's always gone down in [studio] number two."). He wasn't wrong - the work they did that day was terrific, with a splendid Harrison on lead guitar and a song divided into two parts, a sort of plaintive waltz and a rock & roll explosion, in which Harrison lamented the absurd fight of egos between Lennon and McCartney that was leading the band to its breakup. It was Harrison's last contribution to the band and the last song recorded in its entirety by the Beatles. In fact Harrison held it in such high regard that in 1980 he titled his autobiography after it. After the Beatles’ bitter dissolution Harrison dazzled the world with the excellent All Things Must Pass, a triple album in which, at last, he could give free rein to all the material he had been accumulating without being recorded for being the third in the echelon of the greatest band in history… but that is a story for another time...