George Harrison

George Harrison, 1968By the late 1960s Harrison had become an assured songwriter. Following Taxman, the bitter social commentary which opened Revolver, he wrote Within You Without You, which mainly featured Indian musicians and instruments, for Sgt Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band. He also contributed an unprecedented four songs to 1968's The Beatles: While My Guitar Gently Weeps, Piggies, Savoy Truffle and Long, Long, Long.

But Harrison's high point as a songwriter in The Beatles came with Abbey Road in 1969. He wrote Here Comes The Sun at Eric Clapton's house, while ducking out of duties at Apple:

Here Comes The Sun was written at the time when Apple was getting like school, where we had to go and be businessmen: 'Sign this' and 'sign that'. Anyway, it seems as if winter in England goes on forever, by the time spring comes you really deserve it.

So one day I decided I was going to sag off Apple and I went over to Eric Clapton's house. The relief of not having to go see all those dopey accountants was wonderful, and I walked around the garden with one of Eric's acoustic guitars and wrote Here Comes The Sun.

George Harrison

Better still was Something, which was released as a single in October 1969. John Lennon called it "the best track on the album", and McCartney said "I think it's the best he's written". Harrison was given an Ivor Novello award for the song, which was covered by artists including Elvis Presley, The O'Jays and Ray Charles. Frank Sinatra called it "the greatest love song ever written".

The solo years

George Harrison, circa 1970George Harrison described The Beatles' acrimonious break-up as "just a relief. We should have done it years ago". He used the stockpile of songs written while in the group as the basis for All Things Must Pass, the first triple album by a rock artist. It topped the charts, as did the singles My Sweet Lord and Isn't It A Pity.

He organised the first major charity rock concert. The Concert for Bangladesh took place on 1 August 1971, and featured Ravi Shankar, Bob Dylan, Eric Clapton, Leon Russell, Badfinger, Billy Preston and Ringo Starr.

In addition to his continuing solo career, Harrison worked with Ringo Starr on his hits It Don't Come Easy and Photograph, and played on John Lennon's Imagine album. He also performed with Badfinger, Harry Nilsson and Billy Preston.

In 1974 he opened the offices of his Dark Horse label. There he met Olivia Trinidad Arias, who he formed a relationship. The couple married in September 1978, one month after the birth of their son Dhani.

In 1980 Harrison published his autobiography, I Me Mine, written with The Beatles' former publicist Derek Taylor. The book said little new about The Beatles, focusing instead mainly on his non-musical interests, though it did include lyrics and photographs from the 1960s.

Harrison was deeply troubled by the death of John Lennon in December 1980. He changed the lyrics of a song intended for Starr, creating a tribute song for Lennon. All Those Years Ago, featured all three surviving members of The Beatles, and was a hit single when released in May 1981.

George Harrison holding a Sgt Pepper drum, 1987His critically-acclaimed Cloud Nine album, released in 1987, was a welcome hit after a few years in the musical wilderness. It featured the hit single Got My Mind Set On You, a cover version of James Ray's 1962 song, and When We Was Fab, a song with many musical and lyrical references about The Beatles, co-written with Jeff Lynne.

The video to When We Was Fab featured Ringo Starr, plus a man in a walrus costume playing a left-handed bass. Guest appearances were also made by Elton John, Derek Taylor and Neil Aspinall. The cover of the single incorporated Klaus Voormann's drawing of Harrison from the cover of Revolver, along with an updated picture of the older musician.

In 1988 he formed the Traveling Wilburys with Roy Orbison, Bob Dylan, Jeff Lynne and Tom Petty, to record a b-side called Handle With Care for a Harrison single. Encouraged by the record company, they recorded their debut album in two weeks.

In addition to music, George Harrison was also actively involved in his production company Handmade Films. He gave financial backing to the Monty Python film The Life Of Brian, and appeared in one scene. Handmade also produced Mona Lisa, Time Bandits, Shanghai Surprise and Withnail And I.

He also appeared as a reporter in the Beatles parody film The Rutles, and appeared in an episode of The Simpsons.

Harrison reunited with Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr between 1994 and 1996 for The Beatles' Anthology project. In addition to the book and documentary series, he performed on Free As A Bird and Real Love with the surviving Beatles.

All Things Must Pass

George Harrison was initially diagnosed with throat cancer in August 1997, and underwent radiotherapy and surgery. Throughout the late 1990s he battled the disease, having tumours removed from his throat and lung.

George and Olivia Harrison

On the night of 30 December 1999 an mentally unstable intruder, Michael Abram, broke into the Harrison' home at Friar Park in Henley-on-Thames. He stabbed George several times, puncturing his lung. George and Olivia fought off Abram and restrained him until the police arrived. The assailant, who believed he was on a "mission from God" to kill Harrison, was acquited of attempted murder on the grounds of insanity.

Harrison was deeply traumatised by the event, although he did joke that the man was "definitely not auditioning for the Traveling Wilburys". He subsequently largely withdrew from public life, and his final recording session was for a new song, Horse To The Water, released in November 2001 on Jools Holland's album Small World, Big Band.

Harrison's cancer recurred in the same year, and was found to have spread to other organs. Although treated aggressively, it was diagnosed as terminal. He arranged to spend his final months with family and close friends, and worked on songs from an album with his son Dhani, released posthumously in 2002 as Brainwashed.

George Harrison died on 29 November 2001, at the age of 58. During a CNN interview with Larry King in 2007, Paul McCartney described visiting Harrison on his death bed and sitting silently with him, stroking his hand to comfort him.

Following his death Harrison was cremated. His family released a statement, saying: "He left this world as he lived in it: conscious of God, fearless of death and at peace, surrounded by family and friends."

38 responses on “George Harrison

  1. Wes

    Read this snippet in a BBC article today:
    “Meanwhile, George spent years sniping at Paul in public. The two men briefly reunited with Ringo in the mid-90s, but George soon pulled the plug.
    Most embarrassingly, George, Ringo and Yoko all sued Paul in 1985, when they discovered that he was making more from the group’s records than they were.”

    Was wondering if you could shed some light, particularly on George’s sniping at Macca.

    1. Joe Post author

      I’m sure the examples are out there in interviews from the time, but I don’t have any to hand. This extract from the Anthology book (2000) should explain the situation though:

      “Personally I’d found that for the last couple of albums – probably since we stopped touring – the freedom to be able to play as a musician was being curtailed, mainly by Paul. There used to be situation where we’d go in (as we did when we were kids), pick up our guitars, all learn the tune and chords and start talking about arrangements.

      “But there came a time, possibly around the time of Sgt Pepper (which was maybe why I didn’t enjoy that so much), where Paul had fixed an idea in his brain as to how to record one of his songs. He wasn’t open to anybody else’s suggestions. John was always much more open when it came to how to record one of his songs.

      “With Paul, it was taken to the most ridiculous situations, where I’d open my guitar case and go to get my guitar out and he’d say, ‘No, no we’re not doing that yet. We’re gonna do a piano track with Ringo, and then we’ll do that later.’ It got so there was very little to do, other than sit round and hear him going, ‘Fixing a hole…’ with Ringo keeping the time. Then he’d overdub the bass and whatever else.

      “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.

      “It’s important to state that a lot of water has gone under the bridge and that, as we talk now, everybody’s good friends and we have a better understanding of the past. But talking about what was happening at that time, you can see it was strange.”

      As for the court case, on Monday 25 February 1985 it was reported that George, Ringo and Yoko filed an $8.6m lawsuit against Paul for breach of contract, alleging that he was earning a “preferential royalty from Beatles records to the others, as an incentive for him to re-sign with Capitol as a solo artist.” McCartney’s lawyers admitted this was true, but pointed out that Capitol did not decrease the royalties of the others.

  2. robert

    It is tempting to pigeon hole any of the four into pre-determined ideas of their personalities etc., and when it comes to George it’s easy to see him as a gentle soul.

    But one ought to remember that at the time of John’s death, he and George were not on speaking terms at all.
    Something that apparently cast a shadow over George’s final years.

    Point being – they were just blokes – incredibly gifted and talented blokes but filled with all the human flaws the rest of us have.

    1. Joseph Brush

      There is a Rolling Stone interview in the 1980’s in which George stated that he visited John in the Dakota in the late 1970’s. Both guys felt constrained in their conversation due to Yoko’s presence and that John appeared to be trapped in the domestic situation.

  3. sara

    i was only little when he died but i just really wish he was still alive. he was a great and inspiring man who changed many peoples lives along with all the other beatles. life is precious and he knew it was close to the end for him.

  4. JM

    I just discovered your website last couple of days and it’s fantastic.
    I was wondering about same question Wes did. Because it’s strange that, after The Beatles break up, George, John and Ringo worked together in their albums. In fact, Ringo worked with everyone ’til this days.
    But Paul was another story. I assume George and John never invited him to play again in their albums. Only Ringo. And I don’t know if Paul did invite any of them to play in his albums.
    An interesting story to write would be The Beatles relationship after The Beatles.
    Who visited who? How often? How much time did George need in order to forgive Paul? And forgive him for what? And his distance with John after Imagine was caused by the Concert for Bangladesh, when he did invite John but without Yoko? For example: what do we know about the visits they did to each other in the 70’s? The famous story of Paul and John with Saturday Night Live… If they spent the whole day together, how it was like? (because the movie Two of us is a fiction about it) Or the scene in the movie of Linda McCartney Story, where the visited john and Yoko on Christmas and they almost didn’t talk at all.
    Because it seems like George was particularly over-sensitive and resented things for many years. And Paul was his friend since childhood. But, on the other hand, it seems like Paul realy peased everybody off for a really long time and no just once.
    Ringo was the one who achieved something the others couldn’t: be the link between them, be the union between divided parts. It’s a beautiful characteristic of a leader, far away from the cold results. It’s a shame he seemed to stop trying.
    Somebody has more about this topic?

    1. Joseph Brush

      Well JM, the not talking phase between friends, siblings, or relations can go on for a long time. A unifying presence such as Ringo can be nullified over time by a number of reasons such as having his own problems and just being fed up with trying for some kind of reconciliation. The differences in personality traits of each former Beatle was a huge barrier to overcome. The deaths of John and George could also inhibit talking things out due to shock with tangible regrets to follow. The Beatles, after all, were only human.

    2. David Diamond

      I’d love to know the answers to all of these! Is there a book that one (or more) of them has written that is an authorized biography of how things went from their particular point of views? I’ve read a lot of stuff over the years but I never know whether it is just rumor or direct from one of the Beatles themselves.

  5. Thomas Joy (@Motyoj)

    I live in Southern Illinois and went to Benton yesterday. George and Peter visited their sister Louise there in 1963. They erected a plaque there honoring his visit 50 years ago. It was awesome! Louise was there speaking and signing autographs. George enjoyed his stay here. He stayed for two weeks and went camping, played with the Four Vests at the local V.F.W. and bought a guitar in Mt. Vernon. I loved the Beatles and especially George. I think he got the short end of the stick when it came to putting songs on their albums. John once said of Abbey Road, “The two best songs on the record are George’s.” (Here Comes The Sun, and Something) All those years ago…my, my.

  6. Tom

    What about “Do you want to know a secret ” and “I’m happy just to dance with you” as early signs that his songwriting was on par with the more celebrated duo?

  7. Bongo

    I can’t believe that “I” one of the biggest Beatles fans in the world, did not know that the remaining 3 Beatles played on this song????? It should be right up there with “Free As A Bird” & “Real Love” as far as Beatles songs go!

    1. beyondperplexed

      What song? This is an excerpt about George Harrison. There never was a song called “George Harrison”. And which “remaining 3 Beatles” do you mean? Only 2 are left. Sometimes I wonder about people and their reading skills.

  8. Roland Violette

    “Young Blood”(recorded at 1 june 1963 for “Live at the BBC”) is George Harrisson singing in a way unknown after this period. He performs in a great way as good as John and Paul. He seams very happy with his voice, has a large tessitura. So I ask if somebody may explain what happened to him after that time.
    (Sorry, I am French and like most of us I am very bad in other Languages but very close to England!) Thousand Thanks for reply!

  9. Richard Boene

    I just read that a memorial tree that had been planted in George Harrison’s honor was killed by beetles.

    I don’t know whether to cry or laugh.

  10. NEIL

    I think it would be appropriate to plant a weeping Atlas cedar to commemorate George since this tree is mentioned in one of his finest songs ‘Beware of Darkness’, although the climatic conditions in LA may not be suitable where the dead memorial tree was located.

  11. cold turkey 1987

    Harrisons tracks are incredibly underrated and underplayed due to in part the massive amount of songs the mccartney, lennon songwriting pact put out. Only a northern song should have taken when im 64s place. I feel some of the most overlooked harrison tracks include long, long, long , blue jay way. and old browne shoe. I suppose the upside to him only getting two tracks per album, except on pepper, is that he had so many perfect tracks that made all things must pass the best solo album by any beatle.

  12. Brad

    I was aware of the best group the world has ever known ,and in my opinion will ever know in my youth. As The Beatles they were four of the most talented musicians in the world that happened to bump into each other at this time and place in history. George was was a silent master just at rest until his time came. And come it did. What can you say? Absolutely nothing. Just be glad you were here when they were Fab.

  13. Meeeka

    Don’t Bother Me was the first song George ever wrote, amazing no? He was in bed with a cold in Bournemouth, they were all supposedly on holiday, and Paul had told him he’d make more money if he got into songwriting. So, in his bed, feeling yucky, on one of his few holidays of the early days, he wrote how he felt. Pretty cool. not a bad beginning at all.

    Another one of the problems George had with Paul and John was that he was the “little kid”; in teenage years, to be a year or three younger than everyone else makes a big difference. I saw some video from “Anthology” and the three were at Friar Park playing and reminiscing and Paul kept showing off and bossing everyone around. Imagine bossing George around in his own studio, in his own garden. One can see George getting more and more fed up but he was polite, so that by the end of the video, one can see on George’s face that he had a gullet full and was ready to toss McCartney, film crew and anybody else out into the street!

  14. vince r

    George was as talented a musician songwriter composer as Lennon/McCartney. It was not so much an issue of.talent as one of temperment. George while extremely talented was laid back while Lennon/McCartney were driven and the gentleman that he was he stood down when the others pressed. One needs to only look to his All Things must Pass triple album to see its so.

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