Wednesday, February 25, 2009


Happy birthday to George Harrison! Huzzah! 66 years ago today, George was born, the youngest of his parents' four children, in that small terrace house on Arnold Grove that all the Liverpool Beatles tours stop at now. To celebrate his birthday, let's listen to the song generally recognized as his best song written as a Beatle, and perhaps in his entire career, "Something."

I've never loved this promotional video (what's with all the capes?), but I do love the song, and this is what they made to go along with it, so... here.

Yeah, you know, OK, this isn't a very rock & roll song to celebrate today's very rock & roll birthday, but I love "Something," and you know you love it too. Just admit it already. "Something" is a work of freaking genius, the pinnacle of George's songwriting up to this point, so we can't celebrate George without also celebrating "Something." It is one of the most frequently covered Beatles songs ever, second only to "Yesterday," and no less a master than Frank Sinatra called it "the greatest love song of the past 50 years." He was probably right, too.

And consider that this masterpiece came from a songwriter who began with "Don't Bother Me" back in 1963-- which was a solid effort, but destined to be overshadowed, as were so many subsequent songs, by the towering geniuses of those other two guys that happened to be in his band. It couldn't have been easy to write songs under the shadows of John and Paul, but George kept at it, settling into a pattern of roughly a song per album side through the Beatles' career. But only a songwriter of real talent could have written "Something," and it just goes to show how far he'd come-- it's a song to absolutely rival the best Lennon-McCartney songs. John famously said that he thought it was the best track on Abbey Road. Personally, I'm inclined to agree with him.

George freely admitted to cribbing the opening lyric from James Taylor's "Something in the Way She Moves;" he had actually signed Taylor to Apple Records, which had released his first album in early 1969, so there was presumably some kind of creative relationship there that made George feel OK about borrowing. From that line, though, it seems the song pretty much wrote itself. George worked on it during the White Album sessions, but since that album was more than full by the time the song was ready, it had to wait until Abbey Road to see the light of day. (Well, at least as a Beatles song-- for some reason George let Joe Cocker release his cover version a couple months before Abbey Road came out-- but I cannot in good faith recommend that version. Ick. For what it's worth, George apparently wrote the song with a singer like Ray Charles in mind.) About a month after the release of Abbey Road, "Something" was also released as a double A-side single with "Come Together," which was George's first (and, sadly, last) A-side single for the Beatles. He truly earned it.

The opening triplet figure on the drums from Ringo sends us right into the justly famous soaring guitar line. Then the guitar steps back, and in the first verse George's vocal and Paul's incredible bass are front and center-- the bass is so melodic that it almost works as counterpoint to the vocal. When strings enter on the second verse, they're so subtle that you almost don't hear it unless you're listening for it, which is the kind of thing that producer George Martin really had a knack for. So the verses are moving softly along, and the lyrics seem to be about the process of falling in love, or the hesitancy before making some kind of leap into  love-- it sounds tentative and sweet and magical all at once.

But then at the bridge the mood changes, and the frequently pessimistic George can't help but turn this a little on its head, complicating the issue by suggesting that you just can't know if love like this is eternal (and sadly he and then-wife Pattie, who's so lovely in the above video, would personally learn that themselves before too long). But this idea seems to torment him-- his vocal is different here, far more impassioned. There's a pretty drastic non-traditional key change into the bridge, and the whole texture is thicker; if you haven't noticed the strings yet, this is where you do. (In fact, this is maybe my favorite Beatles strings moment ever-- listen to the cellos when George sings "will my love grow-- I don't know"-- damn, that is SWEET. For some reason that cello line ALWAYS just gets to me. CHILLS.) We're also getting much more aggressive drumming from Ringo and a bit of piano from John, part of a longer piano solo that eventually ended up getting cut. The syncopated lines in the bridge add some edge, too. In fact, the whole bridge is perfect-- just what the song needs to keep from being too sweet and sticky. And then George's guitar solo, which.... well, of course. It's beyond awesome, one of his best ever. One more go through the verse (with Paul singing backup to great effect), and then the guitar motif that's too good to end the song just once flirts briefly with another key change before flying up to that beautiful last chord.

OK, I've written a lot, and apologies for that, but don't you think this is a song to linger over? I think I might go listen to it again.

At any rate, celebrate George's birthday today however you see fit! Meditate! Play a sitar, or just listen to one! Eat jelly babies (his favorite)! Use the word "grotty" as often as possible! Watch Life of Brian, which George produced-- that's a particularly excellent way to celebrate (if you're feeling heretical) because today is also Ash Wednesday, so you'd sort of be killing two birds with one stone. Or just eat cupcakes and engage in a marathon All Things Must Pass listening session, which is probably what I'm going to do. Happy birthday, George!

"Something," released in the U.K. side A track 2 of Abbey Road, September 26, 1969; in the U.S. October 1, 1969. Double A-side single w/"Come Together" released in the U.K. October 31, 1969; in the U.S. October 6, 1969.


  1. I cannot believe no one posted a comment here. Though i am coming to this article on Something a week or so late, i am going to write anyway. I agree with you that Something is quite a wonderful song. I can not listen to it without being totally captivated by it. It wraps around and gets inside. Your writing about it is truly inspired, Megan. My eyes welled up reading your words while hearing the corresponding music "in my mind" as you described it. Wonderful blend of history, observation and feeling. Keep up the terrific blog site. You've picked a worthy subject and you have insights that are worth sharing. --- Frank

  2. Wow, thanks for the many kind words, Frank! I'll definitely be keeping it up... Songs as good as "Something" make me particularly loquacious, as you can see.

  3. I don't want to get off on a Paul rant here, because George (as Paul himself said) was a dear and gentle man, but it is interesting to note Paul's role as supporting composer/sideman. George's acknowledged two best songs are "While My Guitar Gently Weeps" and "Something". For me, the entire experience and feeling of "Guitar" is setup up by the opening piano riff - something Paul wrote himself and gave to George. (It is interesting that Paul's riff follows George's chord progression exactly - the man is a musical genius.) The restraint of George's vocal here is made majestic by the underlying uncontrollable passion of Paul's bass line. What would this song be without that bass? A magical moment of collaboration. George's guitar work here - his masterful restraint as he bends and slides notes above that bass - is right up there with anything Clapton has done. There was nothing ever like them. Long live The Beatles.