George Harrison: vocals, backing vocals, acoustic guitar, harmonium, Moog synthesiser, handclaps
Paul McCartney: backing vocals, bass, handclaps
Ringo Starr: drums, handclaps
Uncredited: four violas, four cellos, double bass, two piccolos, two flutes, two alto flutes, two clarinets
The song expressed Harrison’s relief at being away from the tensions within The Beatles, the troubles with Apple and the various business and legal issues which at the time were overshadowing the group’s creativity.
‘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 and 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’.
Harrison’s understated use of a Moog synthesiser was a key feature of ‘Here Comes The Sun’. Robert Moog’s then-recent invention was a rarity in the UK at the time, and The Beatles were keen to experiment with its sounds.
I first heard about the Moog synthesiser in America. I had to have mine made specially, because Mr Moog had only just invented it. It was enormous, with hundreds of jackplugs and two keyboards.
But it was one thing having one, and another trying to make it work. There wasn’t an instruction manual, and even if there had been it would probably have been a couple of thousand pages long. I don’t think even Mr Moog knew how to get music out of it; it was more of a technical thing. When you listen to the sounds on songs like ‘Here Comes The Sun’, it does do some good things, but they’re all very kind of infant sounds.
In the studio
The rhythm track was recorded in 13 takes on 7 July 1969, Ringo Starr’s 29th birthday. The final take – announced as “take 12 and a half” – was selected as the best. Take nine, meanwhile, was included on some formats of the 50th anniversary reissue of Abbey Road.
The multitrack tape had Paul McCartney’s Rickenbacker bass guitar on track one; Starr’s drums on two; Harrison’s Gibson J-200 acoustic guitar on three; and his guide vocals on eight. In the final hour of the session Harrison taped an additional guitar part using the same J-200 on track four.
The next day, onto track five, Starr overdubbed drum fills and Harrison added more electric guitar, this time played through a Leslie speaker. Harrison then recorded lead vocals on track six, and he and McCartney added two sets of backing vocals to tracks seven and eight, wiping the previous day’s guide vocals in the process.
Two reduction mixes were then made; take 15 was chosen as the better one, and was used for further overdubs. It combined the acoustic guitar, electric guitar and drum fills on track three.
On 16 July handclaps and a harmonium were overdubbed, in a session produced by Glyn Johns. The handclaps were added to track eight, and Harrison’s harmonium performance – later erased – was recorded onto track five.
The orchestra – the names of the players undocumented – was recorded on 15 August. Two clarinets, two alto flutes, two flutes, and two piccolos were recorded onto track four, and four violas, four cellos, and string bass were added to track five. The latter overdub replaced Harrison’s 16 July harmonium part.
‘Here Comes The Sun’ was completed four days later, on 19 August 1969, when Harrison taped his Moog part on track four. This partly erased the woodwind parts from the previous session.
Some time after midnight in the morning of 20 August the song was mixed in stereo. This was done in just one attempt, with the tape running slightly faster – at 51 cycles per second rather than the usual 50 – reducing slightly the length of the song. This raised the key by approximately a quarter-tone.
One of the bonus items on the DVD/Blu-ray release of Martin Scorsese’s 2011 documentary George Harrison: Living In The Material World was a studio scene featuring Dhani Harrison, George Martin and Giles Martin listening to the ‘Here Comes The Sun’ multi-track tapes.
The tapes revealed a hitherto unheard guitar solo which was left out of the album mix. This is likely to have been recorded by Harrison on 6 August 1969.
The tape box containing the master mix from the morning of 20 August contained the handwritten instruction: “Don’t use guitars for solo from 6 + 7”.