Remember When: George Harrison Stepped Out of the Shadows as a Songwriter on ‘Abbey Road’

The Lennon/McCartney songwriting duo loomed so large within The Beatles it made it difficult for George Harrison to find his footing as a songwriter. That all changed on the group’s final record Abbey Road, released in 1969, as the so-called “Quiet Beatle” delivered arguably the two finest songs on the record.

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Harrison’s songwriting shone here and there within the group’s catalog before that album. But Abbey Road proved that not only could Harrison go toe-to-toe with songs by John Lennon and Paul McCartney, but also that he was ready to build an impressive solo career.

Few Opportunities for George

George Harrison was always playing catch-up in the songwriting department to John Lennon and Paul McCartney. The two established themselves immediately as a formidable pair right from the band’s first UK releases in 1962. As early as the band’s third album, A Hard Day’s Night in 1964, the Lennon/McCartney tandem was responsible for every song on the record, a rare feat in those days when covers and ghostwritten songs often filled out rock and roll albums.

The prolific nature of Lennon and McCartney also meant there was no burning need for Harrison to develop as a writer. He did pen one track on With the Beatles in 1963, but the moody “Don’t Bother Me” didn’t exactly seem like a breakthrough. It would be two years before he would again contribute as a songwriter.

But when he did, on Help! in 1965, the progress he had made was evident, especially with the lilting love song “I Need You.” From that point forward, Harrison would have at least one credit on each Beatles’ album, often inserting his unique sensibilities into the track. He could alternate between cynicism for the here and now and a spiritually sanguine outlook on life as a whole.

For example, Harrison fearlessly called out Draconian tax policies on “Taxman” and mocked societal inequality in “Piggies.” But he could provide haunting, cosmic perspectives, influenced by his interests in Eastern religions, on tracks like “Within You Without You” and “While My Guitar Gently Weeps.”

That last song also showed Harrison that he would have to occasionally take matters into his own hands when it came to showcasing his songwriting efforts. Frustrated by his bandmates’ lack of interest in the song, he jolted them into line when he brought Eric Clapton in to play the guitar. When it came to the pair of songs he wrote for Abbey Road, however, he only needed to let his two masterpieces do the talking for him.

Two Classics for the “Road”

While strolling through Clapton’s garden carrying an acoustic guitar on a somewhat rare sunny day in England, Harrison brought “Here Comes the Sun” to life. Characterized by nimble acoustic guitar work, a winning melody, and an optimistic outlook, it could easily have been a single. But another Harrison track was going to beat it to the punch.

Harrison had started writing “Something” as far back as the White Album sessions in 1968, but struggled to find the words. He received inspiration from the opening line of a James Taylor song, and eventually completed the song in time for Abbey Road. This time, there was no way Lennon and McCartney could ignore what he had done. They chose the stunning ballad as part of a double A-sided single along with “Come Together.” It was the right move, as “Something” would top the U.S. charts.

Beyond The Beatles

As it turns out, Harrison had been bringing songs to Lennon and McCartney for years that the two had shunted aside as not being worthy of a Beatles record. Perhaps the success of “Something” and “Here Comes the Sun” helped Harrison realize these other songs were special as well. Many of them would appear on his smash solo debut All Things Must Pass, which turned out to be a triple album because he had so much material.

It’s likely that George Harrison’s songwriting talent wouldn’t have stayed bottled up forever. But the success of those two wondrous Abbey Road songs certainly opened the floodgates. And it proved that The Beatles always had a secret songwriting weapon, even if they didn’t deploy it all that often.

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