He was the diffident Beatle, a quiet and unassuming figure beside the towering egos of John Lennon and Paul McCartney. But, after his innate creativity was allowed to flourish, George Harrison made his own mark as a great songwriter, with works such as Here Comes The Sun, While My Guitar Gently Weeps holding their own beside those of his colleagues.
And Something was hailed by Frank Sinatra as “the greatest love song ever written.”
The son of a bus driver, George Harrison was born in the Hunts Cross area of Liverpool on 25 February 1943.
As A Teenager With John & Paul
Although his childhood home was a back-to-back-terrace house with an outside toilet, a scholarship to the Liverpool Institute, where he met Paul McCartney, a year his senior, held out the promise of a better life.
Like millions of his contemporaries, the young George Harrison fell under the spell of rock ‘n’ roll, especially the records brought to Liverpool by visiting seamen and played, by night, on Radio Luxembourg.
Aged 14, he bought a £3 guitar, music replaced his academic studies and, a year later, his mastery of more than the mere basic chords brought about his induction into The Quarrymen, a group which featured John Lennon and Paul McCartney.
After learning their trade and honing their musical abilities in British clubs and on Hamburg’s notorious Reeperbahn the group, now known as The Beatles, settled their line-up in 1962 with the addition of a drummer, Ringo Starr.
Singing She Loves You
After finding a manager, Brian Epstein, and signing for the little-known Parlophone label, The Beatles quickly established themselves as a major act.
George Harrison’s stage presence, thoughtful and concentrated alongside the grimacing and pouting of Lennon and McCartney, was a crucial factor in the group’s success.
When The Beatles ‘broke’ the United States in 1964, his superstar status was assured. George Harrison’s lead guitar style, based on that of his hero, Carl Perkins, defined the sound of the mid-sixties.
George Harrison’s burgeoning love affair with oriental mysticism first made itself known on Norwegian Wood, John Lennon’s tale of an extra-marital fling.
Acoustic guitar and muted bass were augmented by a new instrument, the sitar. The paradigm had shifted, this was serious rock music for serious people.
1966’s Revolver saw three Harrison compositions, including Taxman, a bitter and cutting protest at the 95% surtax which he and his colleagues now had to pay and the following year’s Sergeant Pepper brought Within and Without You, a reflective Indian love song.
But it was during the group’s long death-throes, between 1968 and 1970, that George Harrison finally found his voice with three inspirational tracks.
Harrison & The Beatles Transformed Popular Music
While My Guitar Gently Weeps, a bitter-sweet reflection on love and morality, augmented by the guitar of Eric Clapton, the deceptively simple Here Comes The Sun, one of the first songs to feature a synthesiser, and Something, a paeon of praise to his then wife Pattie Boyd, transformed his reputation.
Indeed, when released as a single, the much-covered Something sold more than a million copies.
Aged just 26 when The Beatles finally split, George Harrison threw himself into meditation and gardening, transforming the vast grounds of his house, Friar’s Park in Henley on Thames.
His critically-acclaimed triple album, All Things Must Pass, featured the hit single My Sweet Lord, for which he was later successfully sued for ‘subconscious plagiarism’.
And, in 1971, 13 years before LiveAid, he organised the star-studded Concert for Bangladesh, to help the famine-ridden country.
He Was Just 26 When The Beatles Split
During the 1970s, George Harrison’s musical output varied in quality from the well-received Thirty-Three to a Third to Dark Horse, his artistic nadir produced following his divorce from Pattie (he would marry his second wife, Olivia Arias, in 1978).
In 1980 All Those Years Ago, his homage to the recently-murdered John Lennon went to Number Two in the UK charts.
Alongside this, though, his career as a film producer went from strength to strength. He backed Monty Python’s Life of Brian and, through Handmade Films, was responsible for The Long Good Friday, Time Bandits and Mona Lisa.
The 1980s saw a revitalised Harrison team up with former ELO front-man Jeff Lynne, first on his own album Cloud Nine and then, with the addition of Bob Dylan, Tom Petty and Roy Orbison, as The Traveling Wilburys. Orbison’s death put paid to the project after two albums.
Although he appeared onstage at a benefit concert for the Natural Law Party during the 1992 British General Election, George Harrison’s lifestyle became more and more reclusive, the success of The Beatles’ Anthology, for which he teamed up again with Paul and Ringo for, having made him financially secure. In December 1999 he was nearly killed when stabbed by an intruder in his Henley mansion and repeated treatment for cancer kept him in the headlines.
George Harrison once quipped, “I guess if you’re going to be in a rock group it might as well be The Beatles.”
Following his youthful success, he spent the second half of his life in a love/hate relationship with the memories of the days when he and John, Paul and Ringo changed the sound of pop music forever.