As Beatlemania took hold, John Lennon and Paul McCartney dominated the group’s output: “There was an embarrassing period when George’s songs weren’t that good and nobody wanted to say anything,” John Lennon later said. “He just wasn’t in the same league for a long time – that’s not putting him down, he just hadn’t had the practice as a writer that we’d had.”

Known as “the quiet one” of The Beatles, Harrison’s first published composition was ‘Don’t Bother Me’, which he wrote while ill in a hotel room in Bournemouth in the summer of 1963. It appeared on their second album With The Beatles.

Harrison was later dismissive of Don’t Bother Me, saying “It was a fairly crappy song. I forgot all about it completely once it was on the album… At least it showed me that all I needed to do was keep on writing and then maybe eventually I would write something good.”

During The Beatles’ first US tour, Rickenbacker gave Harrison a 12-string electric guitar – a 360/12 model. The instrument became characteristic of The Beatles early to mid 1960s sound, particularly on the A Hard Day’s Night album, and influenced many other bands including The Byrds.

Harrison sang at least one song on all The Beatles’ albums, though as a songwriter he remained in the shadow of Lennon and McCartney. Following ‘Don’t Bother Me’, his next self-penned songs were ‘I Need You’ and ‘You Like Me too Much’, on 1965’s Help! album.

Indian music

George Harrison’s interest in Indian music was awoken by a scene in the Help! film. While making the film, a Hindu devotee gave each member of The Beatles a book on reincarnation, which led to a fascination with many aspects of Eastern religion, culture and philosophy.

The Byrds’ David Crosby introduced him to the music of Ravi Shankar during a US tour in 1965, and he became fascinated by the sitar. He became friends with Shankar, who became his sitar teacher.

Harrison became the first Western musician to play a sitar on a pop record. The song was ‘Norwegian Wood (This Bird Has Flown)’, on the 1965 album Rubber Soul.

After ‘Norwegian Wood’ I met Ravi Shankar in London for dinner. He offered to give me instruction in the basics of the sitar. It was the first time I had ever really learnt music with a bit of discipline. Then I listened to Indian music for the next two years and hardly touched the guitar except for recording.
George Harrison

For 1966’s Revolver he recorded ‘Love You To’, which featured no Western instrumentation. Following the recording of that album, he went on a pilgrimage to India with his wife Pattie. The couple had met during the filming of A Hard Day’s Night, and married on 21 January 1966.

Pattie introduced George to transcendental meditation, and in 1968 they, along with the rest of The Beatles and their partners, travelled to India to study with Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. Although the band later fell out with the Maharishi, Harrison continued his interest in Eastern philosophy. He embraced the Hare Krishna tradition, and in 1969 produced the single ‘Hare Krishna Mantra’ by the Radha Krishna Temple.

Published: |