Thursday, April 17, 2008

The Genesis of George Harrison

The Lennon/McCartney team is, of course, a juggernaut in the art world. Like any cosmic happening, it is wonderful accident that transcends explanation. Lennon and McCartney were perfectly matched, and through their partnership the unfaltering repertoire of The Beatles is possible, without a single failing track-- well, that is, except when they had to indulge George.

Poor George. The guy was the best teenage guitarist in Liverpool perhaps, but on the world stage he was revealed to be ugly, unpersonable and talentless. Being in The Beatles was agonizing for him, because he didn't have Paul's looks, Lennon's charisma, Ringo's likability...what was he even doing there? Harrison, only 14 when he joined the group, was younger than the others, and never overcame a profound inferiority complex.

Despite all of this, Harrison bravely attempted to learn how to write music after they already were the #1 band in the world-- quite a standard to live up to for the novice. He had to publicly stumble through the writer's process, with Lennon and McCartney diplomatically (if reluctantly) giving a nod his impoverished attempts by including usually one or two Harrison tracks on each Beatles LP.

Finally, his discovery of the sitar and Indian music in general was heartening, and Lennon especially coaxed him into the avant-garde armed with this unique aesthetic. Harrison, meanwhile, learned to manage the sheer profundity of being a Beatle by turning to God.

Then, on the final Beatles album, Abbey Road, something extraordinary happened: Harrison's submission's surpassed Lennon/McCartney tracks. Today, Abbey Road is considered by many to be the greatest Beatles record, and Harrison's songs are almost uniformly named the finest of all.

How extraordinary! The cosmic happening of Lennon/McCartney was enough to make the Beatles, THE BEATLES. That Harrison rose triumphantly to the occasion, is nothing less than astonishing.

Of his two tracks on Abbey Road, "Here Comes the Sun" and "Something", Something is the greater of the two.

Harrison's often childlike, strained voice finds a comfortable range in this composition, and is laden with a dewy affection. The resonant lead guitar takes the emotional weight, however, and it's yearning moans are heartbreaking. "Something" sounds like what love feels like.

You've no doubt heard this track before, but I suggest you listen to it twice more. Once, just for its sweeping beauty in and of itself, and second, with a sharp ear for the bass line.

Not to take anything away from Harrison, every time I listen to this song, the more convinced I am that its genius in part dwells in McCartney's bass.

The bass line, remarkably, nearly 100% counterpoint. This is an astounding feat. The bass line could be extracted, put on its own track and not only would it be completely unrecognizable as "Something", it would stand as a great song in its own right.

Really listen to the bass. "Something" is, in fact, two songs at once.

Lennon has always said McCartney is the greatest living bass player, which, from Lennon who gives little more than a shrug of approval to McCartney's finest compositions-- is the highest of praise, and not without merit. McCartney's bass lines in every Beatles track is usually one of the highlights of their songs. He has a deep understanding of the function the bass can play and how to add an entirely new dimension to any song that far exceeds the typical simplistic role of the bass in popular music, pushing the boundaries of how many levels one song can potentially have. There are, in fact, entire books written on his stunning contributions to the role of the bass.

So, again, listen to this song 2x if you can. "Something" is as much a celebration of Harrison's genesis as it is of McCartney's virtuosity. Finally, "Something" is most importantly, a soaring testament to the love-- the consistent theme of Beatles music.


Cara said...

Hmm. Abbey Road is definitely my favorite Beatles album and my favorite album of all-time, period. But I'm in it largely for the B-side medley. Out of the A-side, I Want You (She's So Heavy) is by far my favorite song.

From an objective standpoint, so long as we're not counting the B-side all as one song, I'd say that Something probably is the best. It's an absolutely amazing song, but it's just not particularly my cup of tea. I've always felt that While My Guitar Gently Weeps was Harrison's greatest accomplishment, just an absolutely stunning composition. And it's definitely in my top ten favorite Beatles song. It's one of those songs where I just close my eyes and marvel at the brilliant perfection of it all.

Rachel said...

I've had a rebirth of Something love with my discovery of the bass line (obviously). More and more, I'm convinced of Paul's genius.

Ricardo said...

You have a nice blog going on...
For me Harrison is my favorite beatle. I love his beatles´ songs, his solo work, the songs he hadn´t released yet... Well, everything.
I think I remember reading that George said once he´s favorite chord was A minor and that he related to that. Something like that. Have you heard or red that?
And to Cara, who loves the B-side medley: I think George´s guitar in that medley is brilliant. Is a diamant, pulished and perfect.
I haven´t heard much recognition for that, so I wanted to point it out.
Rachel, I hope you continue posting!
PS: If my writing makes me appear like a stupid, that´s because I´m from Argentina. I read english very well, but my writing skills are far from what I want them to be.
Peace and love!