Former Beatle George Harrison was only 58 years old when he died of lung cancer on Nov. 29, 2001. The ‘quiet Beatle’ seldom took the spotlight, allowing John Lennon and Paul McCartney to become the de facto faces of the band, but his music didn’t step aside for anyone.
Whether with the Beatles or in his solo career, Harrison’s songs continue to have an impact long after the man has left us. Although there’s a huge library of songs to choose from, here are five that are must-haves on any playlist. In no particular order:
While My Guitar Gently Weeps (The White Album, 1968)
Listed at #10 on Rolling Stone’s list of The Beatles 100 Greatest Songs, Harrison credited the I Ching with the inspiration for this classic. He said, “I wrote “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” at my mother’s house in Warrington. I was thinking about the Chinese I Ching, the Book of Changes… The Eastern concept is 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. “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” was a simple study based on that theory. 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.”
Badge (Goodbye, 1969)
Because of its inclusion on Cream’s final album, “Badge” is probably more often associated with Clapton than with Harrison, but it was co-written by the two guitarists. Harrison said, “I helped Eric write ‘Badge’ you know. Each of them had to come up with a song for that Goodbye Cream album and Eric didn’t have his written. We were working across from each other and I was writing the lyrics down and we came to the middle part so I wrote ‘Bridge.’ Eric read it upside down and cracked up laughing– ‘What’s BADGE?’ he said. After that, Ringo walked in drunk and gave us that line about the swans living in the park.”
Something (Abbey Road, 1969)
“Something” is the second-most covered Beatles’ song (“Yesterday” is the first), and over the years, has been covered by over 150 artists, including such superstars as Elvis Presley, Frank Sinatra, Eric Clapton, Tony Bennett, and Joe Cocker. Harrison himself was quoted as saying his favorite cover was James Brown’s, although he said he was thinking of singer Ray Charles when he wrote it. The original draft was a hefty eight minutes long, but was cut down considerably for use on Abbey Road.
Here Comes the Sun (Abbey Road, 1969)
1969 was a rough year for Harrison. He was arrested for marijuana possession, had his tonsils removed, and relationships in the band were becomingly increasingly strained to the point that the members were hardly communicating. In his autobiography, Harrison said, “Here Comes the Sun” was written at the time when Apple was getting like school, where we had to go and be businessmen: ‘Sign this’ and ‘sign that’. Anyway, it seems as if winter in England goes on forever, by the time spring comes you really deserve it. So one day I decided I was going to sag off Apple and I went over to Eric Clapton’s house. The relief of not having to go see all those dopey accountants was wonderful, and I walked around the garden with one of Eric’s acoustic guitars and wrote “Here Comes the Sun.”
My Sweet Lord (All Things Must Pass, 1970)
Considering the sheer volume of music on All Things Must Pass (a triple album), it’s sometimes amazing that any one of the songs stands out. Instead, of being lost in the shuffle, though, “My Sweet Lord” became an international #1 hit when the single was released in 1970, and was also the first solo single by one of the former Beatles to hit #1. Rolling Stone ranks it at #460 on their 500 Greatest Songs of All Time. The song highlighted Harrison’s spiritual side, praising the Hindu god, Krishna, but it has been covered numerous times by Christian artists (revised to remove the Krishna references).