Released: 26 September 1969 (UK), 1 October 1969 (US)
George Harrison: vocals, lead guitar, handclaps
John Lennon: guitar, piano
Paul McCartney: backing vocals, bass, handclaps
Ringo Starr: drums, handclaps
Billy Preston: Hammond organ
Unknown: 12 violins, 4 violas, 4 cellos, double bass
George Harrison’s finest moment on the Abbey Road album was one of the record’s undisputed highlights, and showed him finally leaving the songwriting shadow of Lennon and McCartney.
Something was written during the 1968 sessions for The Beatles (White Album), though it wasn’t finished until the following year.
I had written Something on the piano during the recording of the White Album. There was a period during that album when we were all in different studios doing different things trying to get it finished, and I used to take some time out. So I went into an empty studio and wrote Something.
A demo version of Something, recorded by Harrison on 25 February 1969, his 26th birthday, was included on Anthology 3. Although originally offered to Jackie Lomax, the guitar-and-vocals demo was given to Joe Cocker. Cocker’s version was recorded before The Beatles’, but not released until November 1969.
In her autobiography Wonderful Tonight, Harrison’s former wife Pattie Boyd claimed the song was written about her. Harrison downplayed the sentiment, saying it was, in fact, written with Ray Charles in mind.
It has probably got a range of five notes, which fits most singers’ needs best. When I wrote it, in my mind I heard Ray Charles singing it, and he did do it some years later. At the time I wasn’t particularly thrilled that Frank Sinatra did Something. I’m more thrilled now than I was then. I wasn’t really into Frank – he was the generation before me. I was more interested when Smokey Robinson did it and when James Brown did it. But I’m very pleased now, whoever’s done it. I realise that the sign of a good song is when it has lots of cover versions.
I met Michael Jackson somewhere at the BBC. The fellow interviewing us made a comment about Something, and Michael said: ‘Oh, you wrote that? I thought it was a Lennon/McCartney’.
The song took its first line from the James Taylor song Something In The Way She Moves.
I could never think of words for it. And also because there was a James Taylor song called Something In The Way She Moves which is the first line of that. And so then I thought of trying to change the words, but they were the words that came when I first wrote it, so in the end I just left it as that, and just called it Something.
John Lennon and Paul McCartney both rated the song highly. Lennon said, “I think that’s about the best track on the album, actually,” while McCartney said “For me I think it’s the best he’s written.”
George had a smugness on his face when he came in with this one, and rightly so – he knew it was absolutely brilliant. And for the first time, John and Paul knew that George had risen to their level.
Something has been recorded by a range of performers, including Elvis Presley, Shirley Bassey, Frank Sinatra, James Brown and Smokey Robinson. It has become the second-most covered Beatles song after Yesterday. Sinatra called it “the greatest love song ever written,” and made it a fixture of his live set.
I thought it was George’s greatest track – with Here Comes The Sun and While My Guitar Gently Weeps. They were possibly his best three. Until then he had only done one or two songs per album. I don’t think he thought of himself very much as a songwriter, and John and I obviously would dominate – again, not really meaning to, but we were ‘Lennon and McCartney’. So when an album comes up, Lennon and McCartney go and write some stuff – and maybe it wasn’t easy for him to get into that wedge. But he finally came up with Something and a couple of other songs that were great, and I think everyone was very pleased for him. There was no jealousy. In fact, I think Frank Sinatra used to introduce Something as his favourite Lennon/McCartney song. Thanks Frank.
In the studio
Following the 25 February solo demo, recording for Something began properly on 16 April 1969. The Beatles recorded 13 takes, with George Harrison on guitar, Paul McCartney on bass, Ringo Starr on drums and George Martin on piano. Although John Lennon was in the studio on the day, he didn’t play on the recording, which also featured no vocals.
A re-make of Something was begun on 2 May. This time 36 takes were recorded, forming the basis of the eventually-released version. Again, on this day no vocals were recorded, but Lennon played piano, and Billy Preston contributed an organ part.
At this point the song was 7’48″ long – a four-chord coda in 6/8 time, led by John Lennon on piano, nearly doubled the song’s length. The chord pattern was later sped up by Lennon and used as the basis for the song Remember, which appeared on his 1970 album Plastic Ono Band.
On 5 May McCartney overdubbed another bass part, and Harrison taped his guitar solo. Something was then left until 11 July, when Harrison recorded his lead vocal, and the song was edited down to 5’32′.
Paul started playing a bass line that was a little elaborate, and George told him, ‘No, I want it simple.’ Paul complied. There wasn’t any disagreement about it, but I did think that such a thing would never happened in years past. George telling Paul how to play the bass? Unthinkable! But this was George’s baby, and everybody knew it was an instant classic.
It was later reported that Harrison re-recorded his lead guitar part during the 15 August orchestral overdub session. However, the take 37 reduction mix made on 11 July contains Harrison’s final solo, indicating that it was in fact recorded on 5 May.
Handclaps and McCartney’s backing vocals were added on 16 July. Recording was finally finished almost a month later, on 15 August, when the strings were overdubbed.
Something was completed on 19 August, when the extended instrumental jam was finally edited from the end.
Initially released on Abbey Road, the song was issued in the US and UK as a double a-side single, along with Come Together, in October 1969. In the UK it was the only time that a single was taken from an already-released Beatles album; previously they had either released songs ahead of their albums, or on the same day.
Something was George’s first single, released in October. It was a great song, and frankly I was surprised that George had it in him.
Something peaked at number four in the UK. In America it fared better, topping the Billboard chart for a week. It also marked the first time a George Harrison song was the a-side of a Beatles single.