I’ve spent a lot of time listening to The Beatles in my sixty-four years. Over the decades I’ve gone back and forth between who my favourite Beatle is. It was always between John Lennon and George Harrison. Though recently I’ve gained a much deeper appreciation of Paul McCartney’ contribution to music. You can read about my new found appreciation for Macca in an earlier piece I wrote, Why did it take me 50 years to really appreciate Paul McCartney’s music?
When I speak of my favourite Beatle, I don’t speak only of their participation as a Beatle. I include their work as solo artist. In fact, post-Beatles work has a greater influence on who I choose as my favourite. I’ll admit that having a favourite is pointless. But somehow many of us seem to do it.
There’s no specific priority to the reasons why I choose George Harrison as my favourite. It’s a collective. Every time I try to pick one main reason, I get pulled towards another.
Before I list my reasons for picking George, I do want to add that though I’ve said I’ve gone back and forth between Lennon and Harrison, and I’ve mentioned Paul, I don’t want to discount Ringo’s contribution to The Beatles. He may not have written great songs, or sang any great songs, his contribution as a drummer is undeniable. His style and his connection to the other three when playing live and in the recording studio is what most bands dream of. Each of the other Beatles have expressed their respect and admiration for Ringo’s craft and the important part he played. I wouldn’t consider him a contender to be my favourite Beatle, but he is a great drummer with a solid body of post-Beatles work.
Songwriting: George wrote some of the Beatles most memorable songs, including “Something,” “Here Comes the Sun,” and “While My Guitar Gently Weeps.” His post-Beatle songs, “My Sweet Lord,” “All Things Must Pass,” and “Give Me Love (Give Me Peace) are rock classics. His songwriting style was introspective and spiritual. His lyrics explored themes of love, transcendence, and the search for meaning. Even though he was called The Quite One, once he discovered and developed his songwriting ability, he had a lot to say. His songs have such depth and meaning.
Guitar playing: I’ve always had a love for the guitar. A big part of that was listening to the masterful and innovative guitar work Harrison performed. His introduction of the sitar to Western pop music and his use of the slide guitar provided a distinctive sound to The Beatle’s music and influenced many guitarists who came after him. It’s said that you can tell a great guitarist if his style is recognized by others. Guitar legend Eric Clapton said that Harrison’s guitar style is one of the best and most easily recognizable.
Personality: Even though Harrison was often seen as the quite and introspective member of The Beatles, he also had a great sense of humour and quite the rebellious streak. One story that often comes to mind about his humour is when The Beatles first met George Martin, who went on to produce their albums, including much of their solo work. After explaining the recording process, Martin asked the group if they had any comments or concerns. Harrison quickly deadpanned, “Yes, I don’t like your tie.” Martin said that single comment confirmed he was going to like working with this guy. One small, yet ever so rebellious, gesture we witness, if paying attention, is in the Get Back documentary when the police are finally able to get on the roof of Apple Records, during their famous rooftop concert, to shut them down for disturbing the peace, at noon. A police officer walks over and unplugs Harrison’s guitar amplifier in the middle of a song. George immediately walks over and plugs it back in, then steps away to continue playing.
Harrison had a strong spiritual side with a quest for truth and the meaning of life. He had a strong sense of advocacy and humanitarianism. He cried out for the environment and hosted the first large scale benefit concert when he hosted The Concert for Bangladesh with Ravi Shankar the Indian sitarist and composer.
Despite his fame he was a humble man. Shankar said that a person who seeks to know God must be able to do so in the midst of humility. Shankar said that Harrison was the humblest person he had met. He founds this especially relevant given Harrison’s fame.
Underdog status: In the early years of The Beatles, George was overshadowed by the more charismatic and outspoken Lennon and McCartney. When they first formed as a group George was only fifteen, while McCartney was sixteen and Lennon was seventeen. Lennon and McCartney decided then and there that they were and would always be the songwriters for the group. Harrison finally had one song on their second album and had to fight hard to get a minimum of two songs onto each album. Both Lennon and McCartney later admitted that they didn’t consider Harrison a gifted writer until his contributions to their last album. Meanwhile he had penned some amazing music. When The Beatles broke up, he had enough unpublished songs, that Lennon and McCartney had rejected for the group, to put out the legendary triple album All Things Must Pass, which included the international hit “My Sweet Lord.” The album still remains the highest selling post-Beatles album by a former Beatle.
As I mentioned earlier, having a favourite Beatle is of little significance. Yet, we do this type thing all the time. We tend to find a connection to an artist, an athlete, or an actor. The fact that I’ve chosen to say George Harrison is my favourite Beatle doesn’t diminish the contribution of the other Beatles to the band, for me. I have a deep appreciation for each of them.