It has been ten years since George Harrison passed away. While cancer claimed him at the age of 58, he left behind a treasure trove of songs worthy of our lasting attention whether they appeared on Beatles records, on his solo albums, or with other collaborators. A quiet Beatle he was not. So here are my ten favorite George Harrison songs.
Co-written with Eric Clapton, “Badge” appears on Cream’s final album Goodbye which was released in 1969. Harrison contributes a memorable guitar solo. It wasn’t the first time Harrison and Clapton had collaborated and it would not be the last.
Who knew that Harrison would pen the Beatles’ first and most enduring protest song? This was Harrison’s response to the 98% super tax imposed on Britain’s wealthiest citizens by the Labour government of Harold Wilson. Granted, it was John Lennon who suggested that Wilson and Conservative Party leader Edward Heath be named in the song. But the anger and derision in the song was all Harrison’s:
In those days we paid 19 shillings and sixpence [96p] out of every pound, and with supertax and surtax and tax-tax it was ridiculous — a heavy penalty to pay for making money. That was a big turn-off for Britain. Anybody who ever made any money moved to America or somewhere else.
The policy would force fellow Beatle Ringo Starr, the Rolling Stones as well as British actors like Michael Caine and Roger Moore to leave the U.K. and become tax exiles in the United States or other parts of Europe. Ironically, Harrison would remain a British resident.
The opening song on the Beatles’ 1966 album Revolver, “Taxman” has long been a favorite of conservatives and ranked number two on John J. Miller’s list of the fifty greatest conservative rock songs. Only “Won’t Get Fooled Again” by the Who kept it from the top spot. But given President Obama’s soak the rich policies, if Miller were to update the list perhaps it would hit number one.
8. Old Brown Shoe
This Harrison composition was recorded in 1969 and was a B-side for John Lennon’s “The Ballad of John & Yoko.” “Old Brown Shoe” starts with an interesting bass/piano intro, met by muffled vocals and a great guitar solo. Yet another in a long line of underappreciated gems Harrison wrote in the shadows of Lennon-McCartney.
7. Savoy Truffle
This song appeared on their 1968 double LP The Beatles (a.k.a. The White Album) and was inspired by Eric Clapton’s chocolate cravings. However, the lyrics to “Savoy Truffle” sour both with Clapton’s stomach and when Harrison turns his attention to Paul McCartney’s “Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da,” which appeared earlier on The White Album. I think it’s safe to say that this is the only song in the history of rock ‘n’ roll that makes reference to Montelimar.
6. The Inner Light
This was also a B-side (the A-side was McCartney’s “Lady Madonna”). Recorded in 1968 with local musicians in Bombay (now Mumbai) while working on his first solo album Wonderwall. Lennon and McCartney would later add backing vocals. “The Inner Light” is a showcase for Harrison’s love of Indian music and spirituality. The lyrics, “The farther one travels the less one really knows,” have stuck with me.
5. Only a Northern Song
Here is Harrison at his bitter best. Northern Songs Ltd. was the publisher of the Beatles’ catalogue. While Lennon and McCartney owned 30 percent of the holdings, Harrison and Ringo Starr held less than 2 percent between them. This meant that Lennon and McCartney made more money off of Harrison’s songs than did Harrison. As he put it, “It doesn’t really matter what chords I play/What words I say or time of day it is/As it’s only a Northern Song.” Originally considered for inclusion on Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, it eventually saw the light of day on the Yellow Submarine soundtrack in 1969. I have long enjoyed its over-the-top psychedelic arrangements.
4. I’d Have You Anytime
Although many great songs came from Harrison’s landmark 1970 triple solo album All Things Must Pass (i.e. “My Sweet Lord,” “What Is Life,” “Wah-Wah,” “Isn’t it a Pity” and the title track), my favorite song is the lead track, “I’d Have You Anytime.” Harrison co-wrote this song with Bob Dylan. Judging by this early demo, it might have been intended as a duet. However, Dylan does not appear on the final recording although Eric Clapton chimes in on lead guitar.
The second track on side one of their 1969 album Abbey Road, “Something” is the second most covered song in the Beatles’ catalogue aside from “Yesterday.” Its most famous cover was recorded by Frank Sinatra who said, “It’s one of the best love songs I believe to be written in fifty to a hundred years.” There’s nothing more I can add.
2. While My Guitar Gently Weeps
Originally intended as an acoustic piece, Lennon & McCartney had little interest in the song until Harrison brought in Eric Clapton to play lead guitar. “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” has become a staple of classic rock and The White Album wouldn’t have been the same without it.
1. Here Comes the Sun
Harrison wrote the song while standing in Eric Clapton’s garden after escaping another tense business meeting with the other Beatles and executives from Apple Records. Leading off side two of Abbey Road, “Here Comes the Sun” never fails to make me feel good. I am far from alone. So with that I’ll end this on a positive note.