‘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.
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.
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 written during the Let It Be fiasco, which began with the rehearsal of the songs and ended up as the movie Let It Be. We had been away from each other after having had a very difficult time recording the White album. That double album was so long it went on forever, and there were all kinds of other bullshit things happening in the band; pressures and problems and after that we came back from a holiday, and went straight back into the old routine. It is that concept of how everybody sees and treats everybody else, allowing no consideration for the fact that we are changing all the time.
I remember Paul and I were trying to have an argument and the crew carried on filming and recording us. Anyway after one of those first mornings – I couldn’t stand it; I decided this is it! – it’s not fun anymore – it’s very unhappy being in this band – it’s a lot of crap – thank you I’m leaving. ‘Wah-Wah’ was a ‘headache’ as well as a footpedal. It was written during the time in the film where John and Yoko were freaking out screaming – I’d left the band, gone home – and wrote this tune.
I Me Mine
‘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.
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 early mixes of the All Things Must Pass album. He gave specific suggestions for 18 of the songs, plus 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.
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.