Song: "While My Guitar Gently Weeps"
Writer: George Harrison
Band: The Beatles
Album: The Beatles (The White Album)
If you've read any of my sports posts, you may have caught on to the fact that I have a soft spot for the underdog. In rock 'n' roll, there is no better underdog story than that of George Harrison. The Beatles' epic has been told over and over again, oversimplified by many as the saga of two songwriting geniuses and their two Liverpudlian sidekicks. Not for nothing did George call his own record label Dark Horse.
1968 was a critical year in the history of the band. Their longtime manager Brian Epstein had died of a drug overdose in August of '67 and the group had decided to manage themselves. It was the beginning of the end. While their musical output was still astonishing in both quality and quantity, group cohesion was disintegrating. The public face of the change, of course, was Yoko Ono. But in reality, her relationship with John Lennon was more a result of the changing dynamics than their cause. The dysfunctional marriage stage of the John/Paul relationship was well underway and the two men were clearly headed in very different creative directions.
In the midst of all this, a new voice was emerging. George Harrison had always managed to get a song or two on each Beatles album but, even with such successes as Revolver's "Taxman," his efforts always paled in comparison to the Lennon/McCartney masterworks. In '68, the band's eponymous album heralded many changes, but none more significant than a challenge to the well-established pecking order. John and Paul didn't even want to put "While My Guitar Gently Weeps" on the album until George told them he could get his buddy Eric Clapton to play on the track. To my ears, there's never been any question as to which song on this classic collection stands out from the rest.
John Lennon was the only Beatle who didn't play on the track. Then again, if you wrote the song, Eric Clapton's playing guitar and Paul McCartney's singing backup, why would you even need John Lennon? The Beatles/Clapton collaboration qualifies the song as a genuine rock 'n' roll masterpiece but even pared down to its simplest early versions, WMGGW is hauntingly beautiful:
The song was just the beginning for George. He had the best new song on Yellow Submarine, too, with "It's All Too Much" and arguably the TWO best on Abbey Road with "Something" and "Here Comes the Sun." By the time the group split in 1970, George Harrison might well have been the best songwriter in the band - no small accomplishment. His first solo album, All Things Must Pass, far out-sold the initial Lennon and McCartney solo offerings. The Ugly Duckling had grown into quite the swan, indeed.
My favorite cover of the song is from Harrison's posthumous induction to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. The all-star lineup includes Jeff Lynne, Tom Petty, Steve Winwood, Dhani Harrison and the inimitable Prince on the guitar solo.
I hope you'll join us for the "30 Songs in 30 Days" challenge, inspired by the tumblr list. Our 30 Songs roster:
Stay on target...
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Day 12: A Song from a Band You Hate