While My Guitar Gently Weeps

The Beatles (White Album) artworkWritten by: Harrison
Recorded: 25 July; 16 August; 3, 5, 6 September 1968
Producer: George Martin
Engineer: Ken Scott

Released: 22 November 1968 (UK), 25 November 1968 (US)

George Harrison: vocals, backing vocals, acoustic guitar, Hammond organ
John Lennon: rhythm guitar
Paul McCartney: backing vocals, bass guitar, piano, organ
Ringo Starr: drums, tambourine, castanets
Eric Clapton: lead guitar

Available on:
The Beatles (White Album)
Anthology 3

George Harrison's most celebrated song on the White Album, While My Guitar Gently Weeps was inspired by the I Ching, and featured his friend Eric Clapton on lead guitar.

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Harrison began writing the music for the song in India, although the lyrics were mostly completed upon his return to England.

I wrote While My Guitar Gently Weeps at my mother's house in Warrington. I was thinking about the Chinese I Ching, the Book of Changes... The Eastern concept is that whatever happens is all meant to be, and that there's no such thing as coincidence - every little item that's going down has a purpose.

While My Guitar Gently Weeps was a simple study based on that theory. I decided to write a song based on the first thing I saw upon opening any book - as it would be a relative to that moment, at that time. I picked up a book at random, opened it, saw 'gently weeps', then laid the book down again and started the song.

George Harrison

A demo version of the song was recorded by The Beatles at Harrison's bungalow in Esher, Surrey, in May 1968. It featured several lines which were later left out.

I look at you all, see the love there that's sleeping
While my guitar gently weeps
Problems you sow are the troubles you're reaping
Still my guitar gently weeps

I look at the trouble and hate that is raging
While my guitar gently weeps
As I'm sitting here, doing nothing but ageing
Still my guitar gently weeps

A solo version of While My Guitar Gently Weeps was recorded at Abbey Road on 25 July 1968, featuring just Harrison on acoustic guitar, with a subtle organ part appearing towards the end. These early versions deploy the fingerpicking guitar style taught to The Beatles by Donovan in Rishikesh.

Recorded in a single take, the June version was later included on Anthology 3, and, with a new orchestral arrangement written by George Martin, on the Love album.

It also included a verse that was dropped from later recordings:

I look from the wings at the play you are staging
While my guitar gently weeps
As I'm sitting here doing nothing but ageing
Still my guitar gently weeps

Harrison later complained that Lennon and McCartney didn't give the song the attention he felt it deserved. The presence of Eric Clapton on lead guitar, at Harrison's request, made the rest of the group take the song more seriously.

We tried to record it, but John and Paul were so used to just cranking out their tunes that it was very difficult at times to get serious and record one of mine. It wasn't happening. They weren't taking it seriously and I don't think they were even all playing on it, and so I went home that night thinking, 'Well, that's a shame,' because I knew the song was pretty good.

The next day I was driving into London with Eric Clapton, and I said, 'What are you doing today? Why don't you come to the studio and play on this song for me?' He said, 'Oh, no - I can't do that. Nobody's ever played on a Beatles record and the others woulnd't like it.' I said, 'Look, it's my song and I'd like you to play on it.'

So he came in. I said, 'Eric's going to play on this one,' and it was good because that then made everyone act better. Paul got on the piano and played a nice intro and they all took it more seriously.

George Harrison

In the studio

Following the 25 July solo demo, The Beatles returned to While My Guitar Gently Weeps on 16 August. They recorded 14 takes with Harrison on guitar, Lennon on organ, McCartney on bass and Starr on drums.

The song was left alone until 3 September, when a series of overdubs were added - the first on Abbey Road's new eight-track recording equipment. Harrison worked alone, spending the entire eight-hour session trying to record a backwards guitar solo.

The next day Harrison recorded two lead vocal parts, and maracas, drums and lead guitar were also added. However, upon hearing a playback of the recording so far, Harrison decided to scrap it and begin afresh.

The remake was started that same day. The Beatles recorded 28 takes; the basic track had Harrison on acoustic guitar and guide vocals, Lennon on guitar, McCartney playing piano and organ, and Starr on drums.

While My Guitar Gently Weeps was completed on 6 September. Eric Clapton, playing a Les Paul guitar, performed his guitar solo, which went uncredited on the album. During the mixing stage the solo was varispeeded to give it more of a 'Beatles sound'.

The same day also saw the addition of a distorted bass part, played by McCartney, some organ by Harrison, and percussion by Starr. Finally, Harrison taped his lead vocals, with backing harmonies from McCartney.

80 responses on “While My Guitar Gently Weeps

  1. Wilbox

    Oh what I’d give to hear the original which george overdubbed his bits and pieces on to before the remake with Eric Clapton.

    That really should have been an instant inclusion on Anthology 3! Craziness.

      1. Simon

        That’s actually the perfect summation of John to me. Overly insecure when he’s not front and center and that comes across as a total whiner that has no problems with dissing the others work. Complains about how Hello Goodbye is “three minutes of contradictions and meaningless juxtapositions” – yet has no problems with I Am The Walrus which is even more of the same.
        Not to discount him as a member of the group at all but seriously … not the legend everyone makes him out to be.

  2. brian

    George’s demo version of this song which is on Anthology is so haunting and beautiful. On another note, I give George alot of credit for bringing his friend Eric Clapton in to play on the song.

  3. Jean Erica Moniker

    All the lead guitar sounds like Clapton. Even on the remastered version, I only hear one lead guitar throughout and there’s no doubt it’s EC. Paul’s bass and piano parts are amazing on this song as is George’s vocal.

    1. Joe Post author

      I’ve always wondered about that. The Lennon on lead guitar info came from Mark Lewisohn’s Sessions/Chronicle books, where he says on 5 September 1968 they did a remake with Lennon on lead. But maybe his contribution was wiped or mixed out after Clapton recorded his solo the following day.

      For now I’ve listed Lennon as rhythm guitar, but I suppose it’s debatable whether he even played on the song.

    2. Tobias Talock

      Yea…Paul as usual giving it his all. Although in the beginning neither him nor John were too keen about it. When they got down to it, he contributed an amazing piano part, as well as bass, organ, and backing vocals.

      1. beatlemania

        john’s playing a part that no one really noticed. in ‘i don’t know how’ parts he played the exact notes with bass. only in higher octaves. you must listen to the bass track to hear it or listen to the song very carefully. and i’m sure that part wasn’t one of clapton’s leads because his playing his own lead during that part.

        1. bronx boy billy

          You are exactly right, beatlemania! Search on Youtube for a clip entitled `While my guitar gently weeps (Guitar and bass).’ In the right channel you can clearly hear the bass as well as a 2nd ELECTRIC GUITAR, most notably, as mentioned, during the “I don’t know…” parts. It’s a beautiful piece of playing that I never really appreciated until hearing it isolated.

    3. Mickie

      Ditto, Jean! I love when George sings! Most people say they can’t tell the Beatles apart when they sing, but when you’ve listened to them for long enough, some times you can really tell, especially the way they sing and the way they present themselves.

  4. Andy

    In one of the outtakes of the song (in The Beatles Rock Band) you can hear George saying “Ok, just trying, take one.” followed by an acoustic guitar sound (John), piano (Paul), and a lead guitar (George).

    And I think Ringo played drums 😀

  5. B.H.Z.

    I’ve always preferred the Anthology 2/Love version of this song. I dunno, there’s just something about the whole sound of the White Album recording that “breaks” the song.

    Just George and his guitar (and an orchestral string section, I guess) is all this song needs. The Love version is George’s “Yesterday”.

  6. Razor

    Just another example of how messed up the whole deal was for George. This song is the best one off the White Album and got no serious imput from John or Paul until Eric showed up.

    Can you say jealous? It seems the great writting team of Lennon and McCartney were too wrapped up in their own egos.

    1. Joseph Brush

      I have mentioned the following before and will do so again:
      show me another successful group that had a third songwriter who contributed 22 songs to the canon of the group.

      1. Von Bontee

        Sounds like a challenge to me! I assume you’re talking about GOOD songs only. I’ll give it some thought…

        OK: Fleetwood Mac! (Had at least 4 writers with 22+)

        Probably Blue Oyster Cult. Moby Grape and The Byrds have an outside chance. Some people (not me) would say Queen or the Eagles.

    1. Joe Post author

      There’s some clarification in Walter Everett’s masterful book The Beatles As Musicians (Revolver to Anthology). He says that Lennon is only audible in the coda, notably at 3’43-3’46, 3’54-4’03 and 4’1-4’15. He plays his Epiphone Casino with added tremolo, and it’s mixed in the centre of the stereo spectrum.

  7. BeatleMark

    Had to go back and listen to that! The parts Joe mentions from the book, are John’s vocal “moans” depicted at the times stated in his comment??? I can’t really hear John’s guitar specifically. Looks like there’s another book I’ve got to buy. 🙂

    1. Joe Post author

      Yeah, I’m not quite sure I can hear it either. I wonder if it’s the ‘clicking’ rhythm sound best heard from 4’10 (that’s what I should have written before, not 4’1).

      Walter Everett’s books are truly great, though very advanced for non-music graduates or students. He dissects the songs, paying less attention to the cultural stuff that surrounded The Beatles, and looks instead at what they played and how it was recorded.

      I got both his Beatles volumes as Christmas presents, and I’ve found them really engrossing. They’re like a more in-depth study than Ian Macdonald’s Revolution In The Head.

      1. Gustavo

        I’ve already order this book from Amazon, and I’ve been reading some parts from Google Books. So far it’s seems a pretty good work, and I think is way beyond more accurate than McDonald’s. This one, along with Lewishon, Babiuk books (plus Martin, Emerick and Miles) and Alan W. Pollack “Notes on…” should be the basis for an accurate and detailed list of credits on each song, the ultimate list… so far.

    1. Jack

      John is on electric rhythm, while George is on Acoustic lead. I can hear them very clearly throughout the song. Use headphones to get a better feel of their guitars.

  8. Jeff

    One of my all time fave Fab songs. Always has been. This is George’s premier White Album tune and it is one of his standout tracks. All four Beatles played on the song, and with a fine guitar part by Eric Clapton, it was among the White Album’s best. George’s vocal was amazing as was Paul’s backing vocal.

  9. Nick Green

    If you listen with headphones you can hear throughout the song (white album version) the accoustic rhythm strummed guitar of George, the picking style electric guitar I presume of John in the background (similar to the style in parts of Happiness is a warm gun), and the Clapton lead.

  10. kedame

    Are the screaming/moans at the end of the song George? My sister said it made the song sound dirty, but I never really thought of it that way.

  11. James Percival

    One thing I’d like to mention is that I grew up in a small village in Cheshire from 1962 onwards (I was born just before Pleaase Please Me was released – good timing eh?), and when I bought Hunter Davies’ 1978 reprint of the authorised biorgraphy I was really intrigued when I found out that he bought a bungalow for his parents in the Chehire village of Appleton. (Hunter mistakenly described this as being in Lancashire in his book, but that was one his minor errors – there were many far more serious!). Appleton was about 5 miles from my home and I often wondered about where the bungalow was, but I didn’t make any effort to track it down until the internet age. One thing that slightly complicated matters was the construction of a large housing estate in the village in the 1980s, but eventually I realised where it was, and when George died I drove to the road and found it. As Hunter described it is a large L shaped bungalow now surrounded by a modern housing estate. I made a silent vigil to George, well aware of the story that he wrote ‘While my guitar gently weeps’ there, and wondered if the current owners even realised the Beatle connection. It was a strange moment; part of my heritage mixing with the legacy of the Beatles, and paying homage to my favourite Beatle. I wonder how many other fans have visited the place, although George’s mother was the ulitimate parental fan by all accounts.

    1. Jen

      Listening to the anthology demo, and read the phrase ‘I look from the wings at the play you are staging’ just as the phrase was sung. If you’re looking for reasons to believe in some kind of unknown force, there’s some fuel for your fire.

  12. DB

    I listened to the song today with headphones, and concentrated on John’s electric rhythm guitar (right-side). It is very subtle, but first-rate with a nice sound that complements the song very well. (And George’s songs are never easy to get the rhythm down.) When John put his mind to it, he was a very good rhythm guitarist. My hunch is Clapton in the studio got his competitive juices going. This is one fine song.

  13. Larry

    Does anyone else hear the 12-string guitar in the right channel at 0:50 or so? I’d never noticed that before! I guess George broke out the Rickenbacker one more time before the end of the band.

  14. David

    Well as far as my information tells me is that John didnt play on this track or most of Georges songs during this period. This is well documented.

  15. David

    I’m just listening at a 5 track *.ogg file of this wonderful song. It is clear that someone is pick a note an using tremolo to get it sounding like a theremin exactly at 3’43-3’46, 3’54-4’03 and 4’10-4’15, which confirms the Walter Everett’s book information about John’s contribution (that Joe pointed out). This sound is audible over the organ and lead guitar parts.
    Also, there is only one lead guitar audible doing the arpeggios in the verses, the fills and the solos. It could be the case that John did the arpeggios and Eric the fills and the solos, but not two lead guitars are audible at the same time.
    Finally, more than one acoustic guitar is audible. Actually you can hear just one acoustic in the bridge after the first solo around 2’30-3’03 and more thatn one (or maybe a 12-strings guitar) in the verse from 3’04 on.
    Great, really great song.

  16. Bill

    John Lennon did not play on While My Guitar Gently Weeps acorrding to the great book, The Complete Recordings of The Beatles.

    Lennon often would not show up for Harrison songs or would be doing something else in the studio. Alot of rivalry, in otherwords the student was becoming as good as the teacher.

  17. Joseph Brush

    The book is wrong,Lennon was on this song. As for the student-teacher comparison, there’s no way Harrison’s small output equalled John’s songwriting efforts by White Album time.

    1. Jimmy_Jam

      Seek out the bass — isolated — on Youtube. Just speculating here but darned if that isn’t the Fender IV (he even plays chords in some spots!). Doesn’t sound like the jazz bass at all to me, unless he turned the treble WAY up. Despite all the documentation, after hearing this I’d like to theorize that Lennon played bass, McCartney piano and organ. Please listen before commenting.

      1. Bronx Boy Billy

        I did a search for WMGGW isolated bass… and, yes, the bass does truly does sound like the 6, with chords played in many spots throughout. The bass has the same tonal quality of Helter Skelter. Also, the bass line (and the execution), while wonderful and highly effective, is quite simplistic. I’m started to lean towards the theory of Lennon on bass also.

  18. Gregg

    Hi. I found an interesting link is this information accurate?

    “According to the book the Beatles by Bob Spitz, George Harrison did play the solo as it was later mixed in with Eric Clapton’s solo (take 15) on a later take. Lennon and McCartney’s playing for the first 14 takes wasn’t being taken seriously as Harrison knew it was a great song. Then Harrison invited Clapton to play. Previously the Beatles weren’t getting along in the studio. Yoko Ono would often comment on songs sung by McCartney and Harrison, “that’s no good Beatles,” after their songs. Clapton was warmly welcomed which helped brighten the atmosphere. Then Clapton improvised the lead guitar playing in one take. However Harrison came back with engineers Geoff Emerick and Mal Evans. Harrison did another take copying Clapton’s playing in order to give it a more wailing crying sound. It was then played back with the original and it was both mixed in. Notice the double tracking but you can hear they’re not identical as digital and analog delays were not used. Also note the instruments as you can hear Ringo drumming, then an acoustic guitar, a bass, a piano, and an organ. That means that either Lennon or McCartney were on two tracks on two insturments. This proves that the nonsense that “While my guitar gently weeps” was done on one take is a myth. As for Harrison’s cherry red Les Paul Lucy can also be heard on Dear Prudence and Revolution 1 lead guitar work which I really love. Another great song that Harrison uses it on is on “Something,” “Oh Darling,” “She came in throught the bathroom window,” “Maxwell’s Silver Hammer,” and “the End”from Abbey Road. In fact that’s Harrsion’s great arpeggio riffing on Oh Darling.”

  19. FizzleJayWay

    Is it bad I prefer the Love version to the original on The White Album… I can appreciate the music in the original but I’ve always preferred lyrics more and it’s so clear and beautiful on the Love album 🙂

    1. Inyo

      Right you are. Clapton’s solo, all the way. Clapton even mentioned at the time, after cutting loose with the remarkable solo, that it didn’t sound “Beatley enough.” That’s why a sound engineer went back with the “varispeeder” to add greater distortion and “Beatleness” to the final edit.

  20. Tone

    I could be wrong, but I’ve always felt that the heavy, flat-picked, “on the beat” bass-line in this song was Harrison on the Bass VI. Paul’s bass style is usually fluid and somewhat groovy. It just doesn’t sound like his work on the track.

  21. carlos

    I think John played the tremolo guitar during a few seconds in different times and maybe a second rhythm acoustic. What I can clearly hear is a 12 string (Rickenbacker for sure) during the choruses along with the bass. I don´t think that´s John. I´m sure that´s George,

  22. cold turkey 1987

    Excellent song. The only problem with this one is that it overshadows long, long, long which I believe to be almost as good as wmggw. I prefere the anthology 3 version to the epic souding vibe of the album versio, I love both but the line about watching the play you are staging line is my favorite line. Imagine if paul and john would have shown as much attention to Georges other tracks such as long, long, long, blue jaw way, olde brown shoe and earlier stuff such as dont bother me, taxman, and think for yourself. Jst my humble opinion. Is the anthology 3 version the same version as was used for the love album?

  23. Elías Modernell

    Hello, I’ve just read this thread and I had no idea about the varispeed thing. If it’s true this machine was used, then it means the take that contains the solo was played in another key, doesn’t it? And I think The Beatles were not too keen on changing keys. Can anyone explian this to me? Thanks

  24. BeatleBug

    I LOVE the Anthology version of this. Maybe I’m just a sucker for ballads, but I feel like it really brings out the “gently weeping” of the song. The rocked-up White Album version, while groovy, is more like “while my guitar stormily sobs” than “gently weeps” and therefore, in my opinion, doesn’t suit quite so well.

    One of the rare instances where I wish they’d kept the approach of the early takes!

    1. Silly Girl

      Hey Joe,
      I’ve been learning to play (and therefore listening very closely to) the Anthology version, and I’m pretty sure it’s flat-picked. You can hear the plastic of the pick jangle against the strings, especially on those high rolling strums. So it’s not finger-picked at all. Plus, if I have my facts right, which I’m not sure I do, but… Donovan only taught John the technique… with Paul watching with his corner-eyes… no George…?
      I’ve made it my life’s work to reproduce the record’s sound as exactly as possible, so I use a pick even though I normally despise picks– I prefer fingernails.

  25. Graham Paterson

    A great George Harrison number. I love the opening to this song. The instruments pounding in a foreboding fashion. As we all know George’s friend Eric Clapton is their adding much to this song. Wonderful lyrics by Harrison, along side musicianship of the highest order.

  26. craig

    When I first heard this song many moons ago I knew there was something different about the guitar lead which I didn’t think it was Harrison but I never gave it another thought. When I found out it was Clapton it made sense because it had a different drive to it…but not necessarily a Cream influence. Showed the versatility of Mr. Clapton.

  27. Jonathan Gorales

    I have a question, in everyone’s opinion, could George Harrison play the solo if Eric Clapton never played it? Earlier it was thrown around that George followed Eric’s lead, but quietly…is that true?

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