4 - The “thank-you” George never got
4 - The “thank-you” George never got
Although he is rarely actually referred to formally as such, George Harrison was the lead guitarist of The Beatles.
He was a better rhythm guitarist than McCartney, and much better than Lennon. Between his having to fight to record his songs and his key backup vocals, it is no wonder that his role as the lead guitarist of the band was sometimes forgotten.
When asked to comment on George’s contributions to the overall sound of the group, McCartney said in 2011: “His solos were very distinctive and made the records. He didn’t sound like any other guitarist.”
George’s unique style was varied, flexible, and he had an incredible way of exteriorizing any musical piece that was presented to him.
His greatest strength was his tone and phrasing, and his impeccable sense of timing. He knew just when to step forward, for a back-up vocal, harmony, or guitar rift, and when to step back -when to hurry and when to wait. He also popularized the “fuzz-tone” produced by the 12-string electric guitar, the slide guitar, the Indian sitar and the ukulele.
The problem was that his musical contributions were so much in the background as part of the canvas of a song that they are hard to isolate. Even his stunning chord at the intro to A Hard Day’s Night gets forgotten due to the brilliance of the music that followed it.
Says rock music critic Anthony DeCurtis:
“Much of what George did was so good that you can easily miss it. He was also very comfortable working in a multitude of styles, R&B, folk, blues, etc. He also had an amazing slide guitar style that was not only bluesy but also had a real lyrical quality about it. He could always be counted on to provide brilliant counterpoints, melody lines, guitar riffs, and hooks which breathed life into McCartney and Lennon’s compositions.”
The February 2003 edition of Acoustic Guitar is probably the only feature article to focus exclusively on the unique contributions of Harrison to the overall sound of The Beatles.
Journalist David Simmons observed: “Even as the distance between Lennon and McCartney increased in later years, Harrison’s guitar work continued to create the impression of a unified group.”
Author Andy Babiuk adds:
“From Sgt. Peppers forward, it was really Lennon songs or McCartney songs but George helped solidify the cohesion because he’d put his signature parts on all of them.”
Babiuk claims that Harrison was particularly crucial to Lennon’s compositions:
“Unlike Paul, John couldn’t really hear all the different parts. He was artistic in a different sense. As a result, in many instances it was up to George to make those songs come to life the way they did on the record.”
Why McCartney and Lennon held George back
While the conventional view is that McCartney and Lennon did not pay enough attention to Harrison’s songwriting abilities until a very late stage, in fact, Harrison’s potential was stunted due to the humungous egos of McCartney and Lennon. While in the early days they could look down on his talent as a songwriter, halfway through their career they could not ignore it.
Instead of encouraging him, as close friends and longtime band mates should have, they put “quotas” on the number of his songs that could appear on each album. Worried about their own privileged positions in the band, they had enough rivalry with each other and didn’t want a three-way competition.
Yet he spent years helping make their songs sound great with his vocals and incredible guitar riffs and hooks. But when it came to his songs – they helped him if they felt like it. When he brought in a song to work on, a fraction of the time spent on a McCartney and Lennon track was devoted to it. As great as Lennon and McCartney were, they were simply petty and wanted to ensure they stayed out in front ahead of their longtime friend and band mate.
When they did take George’s songs seriously, the result was outstanding. McCartney’s work on Taxman,Something andWhile My Guitar Gently Weep defined these tracks.
Says George Martin: “I guess he could never collaborate with anybody in his writing and therefore when the split came he had more strength because he was forced to be alone. We forced him to be a loner.”
Considering how prolific he became as a solo artist, had McCartney and Lennon given him the chance, it is possible he would have surpassed both of them.
George’s legacy has been completely ignored
George’s personal legacy, who he really was, what he believed, and how he lived, was also ignored by the official version of Beatles history. Even more so than his musical contributions.
Says Beatle scholar Wilfrid Mellers: “Without George’s increasing magnetic attraction The Beatles could not have grown from their original childish Eden to that interfusion of the corporeal and the spiritual, and of subconscious forces light and dark, which we have seen to characterize their mature creations.”
With his commitment to the Hindu religion and philosophy, he encouraged us to search for a higher meaning in our lives. He served as our guide, telling us that we should be looking for “answers” in natural, spiritual methods. He was – as some would say, a “Shaman” that guided a generation.
Mellers writes: “George’s love songs tend to be romantic, even nostalgic, sublimating sexual desire into man’s eternal and unappeasable longing for wholeness. In the most basic of ways he has always been a ‘religious’ composer – thus his interest in Eastern music– was a logical extension from the first premise.”
With his commitment to the Hindu religion and philosophy, he singlehandedly bridged East and West. This impacted an entire generation of Western youth – leading to the widespread movements devoted to Yoga, TM, vegetarianism and concern for the environment.
Joshua M. Greene, author of Here Comes the Sun: The Spiritual and Musical Journey of George Harrison, writes:
“Everything George did he did seriously, whether it was learning how to play guitar or how to plant a garden. But his devotion to God was stunning. Daily prayer, meditation, love songs, devotional works.”
George’s quest for spiritual fulfillment started with the music – or was filtered through the music first. For him, music was a vehicle for self-awareness.
One of the most difficult feelings for musicians and singers to describe is what music means to them. This is because for most of them it is something very “spiritual.” George’s vocals are his spirituality speaking directly to us. The spiritual message that he found for us was delivered through his music.
On what music means to him, he remarked: “I think people who truly can live a life in music are telling the world, ‘You can have my love, you can have my smiles. Forget the bad parts, you don’t need them. Just take the music, the goodness, because it’s the very best, and it’s the part I give most willingly."
His quest was not for hit records, fame, or monetary rewards, but to seek out that which humans have pursued for millennia: the meaning of life and our higher spiritual purpose. What he was as a person was much more important than his the musical contributions.