It was written for Chris O’Dell, who had worked for The Beatles at Apple Corps in London and was a friend of George and Pattie Harrison. George composed the song in April 1971 in Los Angeles while waiting for O’Dell to visit his rented home in Malibu.
One night I was sitting in the living room listening to Van Morrison’s new album, Tupelo Honey, when the phone rang. I put down the bedspread of many colors (I changed the yarn color according to the season, and I was currently in spring) and picked up the phone, reaching for the pack of Marlboros and my lighter as I said hello. Eileen was in her bedroom, where she often hibernated, and her kids were in the basement watching television.
‘Chris?’ I immediately recognized George’s voice, and my heart skipped a beat. I hadn’t heard from him in months, and I hadn’t let myself think about how much I missed him. George and Pattie were my lifelines to the world I had left behind, a world I had loved and hadn’t wanted to leave.
‘George! Oh my God, where are you? Are you here in LA?’
‘Yeah,’ he said, and I could almost see him smiling on the other end of the line, pleased by my reaction. ‘I’m in Malibu. I just got here today for some meetings with Capitol Records. Hey, why don’t you come out and see me?’ I smiled to myself, surprised and happy that he called me the day he arrived in town.
‘It’s kinda late, and I’m sure you’re tired from the trip,’ I said. ‘How about if I drive over sometime this weekend?’
He gave me the telephone number at the house and before we hung up, I promised to call him within the next few days.
O’Dell delayed meeting Harrison, uneasy about the record industry hangers-on that tended to surround him in LA. She was also battling a burgeoning cocaine and barbiturate habit. The drugs made her listless and unmotivated, but she eventually visited him after he called twice more and left a message asking where she was.
That night at the beach he wasn’t all that interested in small talk; instead he wanted to talk about the situation in Bangladesh and how Ravi Shankar was asking for his help to bring attention to the starving people and the terrible suffering in that country caused by military upheavals and a disastrous cyclone. He talked for a long time, educating me about what was happening there politically and how the Bangladeshi people were affected. I didn’t know much at all about the situation and listened in amazement as he detailed the horrors that had befallen the country.
He suddenly looked at me, his eyebrows raised, as though he had just remembered something.
‘I have something for your,’ he said. He jumped up from the couch and headed for the bedroom. I felt my heart beat faster. Uh-oh, I thought. What if he comes back with a negligee and asks me to try it on? You just never knew with George.
He returned half a minute later with his acoustic guitar and sat down next to me on the couch. Pushing his hair back behind both ears, holding the pick in his right hand between his forefinger and thumb, he looked at me, his head tilted, and said, ‘I’m going to make you famous.’
I had no idea what to expect. He began singing, looking straight at me. It was such a fun song. So light and folksy.
As George sang I tried to cling to every word, hoping to remember them. He sang about the rice that never made it to Bombay, the smog polluting the shores, and how he couldn’t care less about the broken record player on the floor.
I was dumbstruck. I didn’t knew what to say. I felt – awkward. That was the word. Totally awkward. I had no idea how to react.
He played the last chord, hands still on the guitar, and laughed. He knew full well what it meant to have a Beatle write a song about you, and he was getting a big kick out of my stupefied reaction… I couldn’t believe George had written a song for me, and he’d even used my name as the title of the song! I was embarrassed and I was overwhelmed. I didn’t know what to say or how to act. The song was a gift and it was too big, too much.
Harrison recorded ‘Miss O’Dell’ at his Friar Park studio during the Living In The Material World album sessions.
The song ends with Harrison saying “Garston six nine double two”. 6922 was the telephone number for the McCartney family home at 20 Forthlin Road, Liverpool, in the late 1950s and early 1960s.
I remember the great excitement at 20 Forthlin Road when we had the phone put in. I still remember the phone number: Garston 6922. George still remembers it. It’s ingrained.
Many Years From Now, Barry Miles
‘Give Me Love (Give Me Peace On Earth)’ was Harrison’s first single since ‘Bangla Desh’ in July 1971. The single, with ‘Miss O’Dell’ on the b-side, was released on 7 May 1973 in the USA, and 25 May in the UK.
It topped the US Billboard Hot 100 for one week, and peaked at number 8 on the UK singles chart. It was also a top 10 hit in Australia, Canada, Ireland, the Netherlands, New Zealand, and Norway.
‘Miss O’Dell’ was a bonus track on the 2006 reissue of Living In The Material World.
One evening after dinner [in the summer of 1971] we were all gathered in the living room by the fireplace when George picked up his guitar, gave me an impish little grin, and began to sing ‘Miss O’Dell’. He seemed to get a real kick out of my reaction. I sank down into the sofa cushions, feeling embarrassed and uncomfortable being the center of attention. I was also worried about Pattie’s reaction. When George told her that he’d written a song for me, how did she feel? Did she think something might have happened between us when he was living in the house by the beach all by himself? I instantly felt protective towards her, knowing how deeply she had been hurt by George’s flirtations and affairs. Pattie always came first, no matter what, and I didn’t want bad feelings to come between us. I couldn’t bear the thought of her being upset with me.
When George finished, Pattie gave me a big smile.
‘It’s wonderful!’ she said. She looked so sincere, and I believed her, but I always had a nagging little worry that she might have been a little jealous that George had written a song for me. I recently asked her how she felt about the song. ‘Oh, Chris,’ she said, ‘I really loved it! You were always such a good, loyal friend. I thought it was wonderful that George would write a song about you.’ That finally set my mind at rest.