The Top 20 Beatles Songs, #5: “While My Guitar Gently Weeps”

“While My Guitar Gently Weeps”

Album: The Beatles (The White Album) (1968)

Composer: George Harrison

This may be a Beatles countdown, but for that piercing guitar solo you anticipate from the first clanging of Paul’s piano – you can thank Eric Clapton. “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” is a George Harrison creation that almost didn’t make it. With a little more Eastern influence and “with a little help from” his friend, George made this one of the most essential tracks on The White Album.

Upon returning from India with the musical skeleton for this song, George was ruminating over I Ching, a Chinese text whose title roughly means “The Book of Changes.” What stuck out to him was “The Eastern concept…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.” He described his breakthrough: “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.”

After George completed the song, it was met with widespread indifference. The band recorded a few unreleased takes to humor him, but he would not give in. As much of the problem was political rather than musical, he decided to bring in some new blood. His buddy Eric Clapton was not only a guitar god, but also an impossibly approachable guy who “made everyone act better.” Each of the Beatles brushed up their parts and left lead guitar duties to Clapton. Though he was initially hesitant to steal any of the Fab Four’s thunder, his bluesy soloing obliterates the steadily descending verses and meshes flawlessly with the with the band’s mournful sound and george’s unrelenting vision.