Wednesday, March 06, 2013

An Appreciation of George Harrison's 22 Beatles' Songs, Part 1

George during his Beatlemania days
In 2006 Bloggerhythms posted a tribute to George Harrison, one of only two non-original articles ever to appear on this site. The essay was a good synopsis of the guitarist's role with The Beatles that was originally written back in 2001 for the Philadelphia Inquirer and reprinted here with the author’s permission. While the article was an overall discussion about Harrison being one of rock’s most celebrated second or third bananas it never discussed his songs in any depth.

To make up for that oversight, and to celebrate what would have been the mystical Beatle's 70th birthday about two weeks ago, it's time to discuss the twenty-two songs he wrote and released for The Beatles while the band was together. We’ll cover the first eleven songs today.

"Don't Bother Me" – With The Beatles (1963)
This is the first song George ever wrote by himself and he attempted it while sick in bed for no other reason than to see if he could write one. It's a fast paced tune that is typical of most early Beatles' songs in many ways but the guitar sounds are deeper and heavier than usual for the period. It's not a bad beginning. George would soon do a lot worse before he became the great musician he was.

"I Need You" – Help! (1965)
This minor tune was supposedly about Patti Boyd. It's one of the first songs in which George employed special effects on a guitar, this time using a device called a volume pedal. Appearing on the band's transitional album it sounded like nothing else they recorded before. It’s a fairly ordinary piece of work that stands out only because of the unusual sound emanating from the writer’s axe.

"You Like Me Too Much" – Help! (1965)
WOOF! Lyrically, this song proved that George still couldn't be taken seriously as a composer. One of the reasons Help! doesn't quite make the list of The Beatles' greatest albums is because George spilled this sour glass of milk all over Abbey Road studios. The song is even more appalling because Harrison wasn't fooling around. He really believed it was worthy of a place on the album. It's surprising that George Martin didn't put the kibosh on this one. Fortunately, it wouldn't take this fledgling songwriter much longer to improve by leaps and bounds. Things would really change for him on the group's next LP.

"If I Needed Someone" – Rubber Soul (1965)
George's songwriting muse benefited greatly by working daily with John Lennon and Paul McCartney but he was also quickly absorbing influences from outside the band. He freely admitted this song was based on The Byrds' "The Bells of Rhymney" and it shows. His twelve string playing is the highlight of the best song he wrote to date.

"Think for Yourself" – Rubber Soul (1965)
This is another track that indicated George was improving as a songwriter but the highlight is undoubtedly McCartney's overdubbed fuzz bass which was one of two bass lines used on it. It's the most intelligent song Harrison ever wrote before Hinduism became a major fabric in his life. He proved he could be a deep thinker. One of his more rewarding early songs.

"Taxman" – Revolver (1966)
The Beatles' very first political protest song was a dandy. It's clever, sarcastic, and at times even nasty. Lennon claimed he helped George with the lyrics and the whole group is cooking in full rock mode. Very raucous for 1966 with a great electric lead solo by McCartney. One of the very best songs the band ever put on vinyl.

"Love You To" – Revolver (1966)
George's first, full foray into Indian music with the composer playing sitar. A second sitar, tabla, and tambura were all supplied by outside Indian musicians. The only other Beatle to appear here is Ringo Starr who added some tambourine so it's virtually a Harrison solo track. Unlike his future ventures into Indian music this song still rocked because of the bass and electric fuzz guitar he added to the arrangement.

"I Want To Tell You" – Revolver (1966)
This song is about the difficulties of communicating your thoughts. It's not standard Beatles fare up to this point in time, but production-wise it's the closest The Fabs came on Revolver to sounding like the young power poppers of two years earlier. With exuberant harmonies from Lennon and McCartney and a great backing track Harrison proved he was learning the art of songwriting well. All three of his Revolver compositions were the equal of those offered up by his two more accomplished bandmates.

"Within You Without You" – Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band (1967)
There are no other Beatles on this track except for Harrison. His sitar is accompanied by several classical Indian musicians and a string section put together by George Martin. The quiet Beatle's interest in Hinduism and Eastern philosophy was in full flower here. It's an eerie sounding experiment and the lyrics are deep, deep, deep. A lot of fans hate this song. I don’t.

"Blue Jay Way" – Magical Mystery Tour (1967)
Named after a street in Los Angeles where George was temporarily living. Blue Jay Way is about the guitarist waiting for Derek Taylor, The Beatles' Press Officer, to arrive there in the fog. It's listenable, but a disappointing followup to his work from the previous three albums. The dirge just drones on and on, is too psychedelic for its own good and too tied to its era, so it sounds dated today.

"The Inner Light" - B-Side to "Lady Madonna" (1968)
This is another track featuring only Harrison and some Indian musicians. Lennon and McCartney only assist by adding backing vocals. Not even the composer plays on the song. It's another piece influenced by Eastern philosophy and religion, this time from a book called Taoist Tao Te Ching. It was the last time he dove deeply into Asian cultures while still with The Beatles. The song is interesting and educational but not something one would want to listen to on a regular basis. Fortunately, the shy one would up lighten up for much of the rest of his Beatles career and not take himself, or the world, so seriously. Frankly, it was time for a change that soon resulted in his best work with the quartet.

5 comments:

  1. Taxman is the pick of the bunch here but I've always had a sneaking appreciation of 'If I Needed Someone'. Can't wait for part 2!

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  2. Props to "Taxman," but I love "I Want To Tell You" and "Within You Without You" a little bit more. And I, too, am looking forward to Part 2!

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  3. Hate to be a nitpicker but the title of the song is "Love You To". Thanks for the props to George, he deserved better treatment and more album tracks while with The Beatles.

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    1. Thank you for the correction. I fixed it.

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  4. Thanks for posting this Charlie! I'm gonna have to go with Taxman as well.

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