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.

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  1. Perhaps royalities are the reason, but I always felt Paul deserved writing credit on this. He did as much on it as he did on any John song. And that is what is great about this song. It is not just one dominating Beatle. They all do something that adds so much to it (but here, I’d say Paul does a lot to make the final arrangement.) It is great to have Clapton on solo. It is a fairly smooth solo, unlike his work on Cream’s Wheels Of Fire (released around the same time) where many of his solos are frantic outbursts.

  2. I love the music on this song, and the George/Paul harmonies are gorgeous, but the lyrics are banal and it shouldn’t have made the top 20. (Ian MacDonald, who wrote perhaps the best Beatles book ever, “Revolution in the Head” also found the lyrics banal, so I realize I’m not the first to suggest this.) I’m surprised that a site that’s supposed to be about song writing would pick a song with lyrics like “I look at the floor and I see it needs sweeping.” Okay. Plus the whole diverted/perverted/inverted rhyming schtick; what does that entire verse have to do with the rest of the song anyway? George got lazy here with the words.

    Actually, this whole list bothers me because it’s got too many Lennon songs on it. And not nearly enough Paul. There’s a clear bias, which is typical. I mean, why is Julia even on this list? It’s a pretty song, but Lennon lifted the first 2 lines directly from Khalil Gibran. And “All You Need is Love” is another lackluster choice.

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