Wah-Wah

All Things Must Pass album artwork - George HarrisonWritten by: Harrison
Recorded: May-October 1970
Producers: George Harrison, Phil Spector
Engineers: Ken Scott, Phil McDonald

Released: 30 November 1970 (UK), 27 November 1970 (US)

George Harrison: guitar, vocals, backing vocals
Eric Clapton: guitar
Pete Ham, Tom Evans, Joey Molland: acoustic rhythm guitar
Klaus Voormann: bass guitar
Billy Preston, Gary Wright: keyboards
Ringo Starr: drums
Jim Price: trumpet
Bobby Keys: saxophone
Mike Gibbins: tambourine

Available on:
All Things Must Pass
The Concert For Bangla Desh

Wah-Wah was written on the day that George Harrison walked out of The Beatles during the ill-fated Get Back/Let It Be sessions on 10 January 1969.

Wah-Wah - All Things Must Pass (30th Anniversary Edition) [Remastered]

Harrison had grown unhappy with the increasing tensions of the sessions, the lack of direction, Paul McCartney's drive, ambition and eagerness to return to live performance, and John Lennon's sniping, sarcasm and closeness to Yoko Ono.

They were filming us having a row. It never came to blows, but I thought, 'What's the point of this? I'm quite capable of being relatively happy on my own and I'm not able to be happy in this situation. I'm getting out of here.'

Everybody had gone through that. Ringo had left at one point. I know John wanted out. It was a very, very difficult, stressful time, and being filmed having a row as well was terrible. I got up and I thought, 'I'm not doing this any more. I'm out of here.' So I got my guitar and went home and that afternoon wrote Wah-Wah.

It became stifling, so that although this new album was supposed to break away from that type of recording (we were going back to playing live) it was still very much that kind of situation where he already had in his mind what he wanted. Paul wanted nobody to play on his songs until he decided how it should go. For me it was like: 'What am I doing here? This is painful!'

Then superimposed on top of that was Yoko, and there were negative vibes at that time. John and Yoko were out on a limb. I don't think he wanted much to be hanging out with us, and I think Yoko was pushing him out of the band, inasmuch as she didn't want him hanging out with us.

George Harrison
Anthology

After they split up, none of The Beatles was averse to referencing his former band in song - perhaps the best known example being Lennon's stark statement that "The dream is over" on 1970's God. Wah-Wah was the first of Harrison's Beatles-subject songs; others included All Those Years Ago and When We Was Fab.

The Wah-Wah of the title was superficially the foot pedal deployed by guitarists to create an onomatopeic effect. In Harrison's song, however, it was a synonym for headache or other unspecified ailment, representative of his desire to break free from The Beatles and fame.

Wah-wah, now I don't need to wah-wahs
And I know how sweet life can be
So I'll keep myself free
Of wah-wah, wah-wah, wah-wah

On All Things Must Pass, Wah-Wah acted as a buffer between the spirituality of My Sweet Lord and the stoic resignation of Isn't It A Pity. It showed that Harrison had not forgotten how to play wild rock 'n' roll, and hadn't abandoned his musical roots in his pursuits of more spiritual matters.

Wah-Wah was the opening song in both of Harrison's sets in the two Concerts For Bangla Desh at New York's Madison Square Garden on 1 August 1971. It was the ideal live opener, with Harrison in fine voice, gospel backing vocals, two drummers, more guitarists and a brass section.

Harrison often played the song at his rare subsequent live appearances. It was also the last of his compositions played at the Concert For George tribute, begun by Eric Clapton but with Jeff Lynne and Billy Preston taking some of the lead vocal duties. It was included in the album of the concert, but omitted from the DVD release.

In the studio

Wah-Wah was the first song recorded during the All Things Must Pass sessions, which began in May 1970 at EMI Studios, Abbey Road.

By the time Harrison came to record Wah-Wah he may have lost his immediate anger with The Beatles, but none of his passion. The result was the album's heaviest rock song, a maelstrom of sound which allowed producer Phil Spector free rein at the mixing desk. The full wall of sound armory was deployed, with heavy reverb and instruments multitracked to give a thick sonic sludge which threatened to tip over into chaos.

Harrison knew the recording was cluttered and would have benefited from being stripped back.

He knew it was overproduced. If you have all those acoustic guitars on top of each other, it clutters the sound. He knew that.
Klaus Voormann
While My Guitar Gently Weeps, Simon Leng

The production features Bobby Keys and Jim Price on saxophone and trumpet respectively, virtually reprising parts they had played on Delaney & Bonnie's Coming Home, featuring Eric Clapton. Coming Home is perhaps the closest musical predecessor for Wah-Wah, showing that Harrison had moved on from being influenced by Lennon and McCartney and was learning from his new peers.

On 17 August 1970 Phil Spector wrote a letter to Harrison in which he outlined his thoughts on the first mix of the All Things Must Pass album. He gave specific suggestions on 14 songs, and an overview of how he envisaged the final release sounding.

This still needs some bridge, and perhaps a Bobby Keyes [sic] solo. Also needs lead vocal and background voices.
Phil Spector

7 responses on “Wah-Wah

  1. Scott

    Please do not say that George wrote this song after he temporarily quit the Beatles because of a fight with Paul. It is well documented that he left the Let It Be sessions because of a fight with John. (They even came to blows–and we even know the reasons why they clashed that day.) Maybe because of the Let It Be movie where we see a row between Paul and George, people are inclined to speculate that that was the reason why George quit the sessions, which is false.

  2. julio sanchez

    when are they going to release a version of “All things Must Pass” stripped down (de-specotorized)? Just like Double Fantasy. Love George, Love the songs, hate the production.

    1. aak

      yeah, I know what you mean. The album is amazing, but some (most) songs were overproduced. This album would be pretty awesome as an “unplugged” performance.

  3. John

    I am sure it was a culmination of frustrations but George specifically says in an interview with Crawdaddy magazine that he got up and left immediately following being filmed having a “row” with Paul.

  4. Thomas

    I don’t think we will ever hear ATMP stripped down. We have Early Takes vol. 1 instead. It’s beautiful. And also I would love to hear “Living In The Material World” spectorized really!

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