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George Harrison

Lead Guitarist George Harrison truly emerged as a composer in his own right on Abbey Road, the Beatles' last album to be produced.


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The Influences and Music

As youths, the members of The Beatles were enthusiastic followers of British rock-and-rollers, notably Cliff Richard and The Shadows, whose stage presence and female following were often cited by the band as one of their inspirations to begin performing publicly. In their early days as performers, the band took some cues from local Liverpool favourites Rory Storm and the Hurricanes, who Ringo played with prior to joining the Beatles.

Many of the Band's influences were American in origin. Chuck Berry was perhaps the most fundamental progenitor of the Beatles' sound. They recorded covers of "Roll Over Beethoven" and "Rock And Roll Music" early on and many other Berry classics were in their live repertoire. Chuck Berry's influence is also heard (in altered form) on later recordings such as "Everybody's Got Something to Hide Except Me and My Monkey" (1968) and "Come Together" (1969) (when "Come Together" was released, the owner of Chuck Berry's copyrights sued John Lennon for copyright infringement of his song "You Can't Catch Me", after which the two reached an amicable settlement, the terms of which included an agreement that Lennon cover some Chuck Berry songs as a solo artist).

George Harrison had a fondness for American rockabilly music, particularly that of Eddie Cochran and Carl Perkins. The band's early stage show featured several Perkins tunes; some of these (notably "Honey Don't" featuring an early Ringo vocal) would eventually make it to vinyl. Moreover, Harrison's guitar work remained highly influenced by rockabilly styles throughout the band's tenure.

The Beatles' distinctive vocal harmonies were also influenced by those of early Motown artists in America; early Beatles staples included faithful versions of Barrett Strong's Motown recording of "Money (That's What I Want)" and The Marvelettes' hit "Please Mr. Postman".

While many of these American influences drew from the blues music form, The Beatles, unlike their contemporaries the Rolling Stones, were seldom directly influenced by the blues. Drawing inspiration from an eclectic variety of sources, their home idiom was closer to pop music (during their early fame they were sometimes referred to as a mod band, a label they seem to have resisted).

At the height of Beatlemania, John Lennon declared "Before Elvis, there was nothing." In comments recorded for the Anthology TV series all four band members spoke of him in glowing terms, with George Harrison (showing his knack for religious allusions) saying "Seeing Elvis was like seeing the messiah arrive." However, it has been argued Presley's musical influence on the Beatles may have been indirect, with opinion somewhat split; although few deny there was an influence, the extent of it has been the subject of controversy among fans and music historians.

The Beatles were also fond of Little Richard and some of their songs (especially in the early repertoire) featured falsetto calls similar to his, notably on their version of his song "Long Tall Sally". In 1962 he socialised with the Beatles around Hamburg and they performed together at the Star Club. "Long Tall Sally" became a permanent fixture in the Beatles' concert performances, and McCartney's singing on their recorded version is widely regarded as among his best rock and roll vocal performances.

Apart from the up-beat, optimistic rock and roll sound of Little Richard and others, McCartney's influences include ragtime and vaudeville, owing much to his father's musical interests. Their impact is apparent in songs like "When I'm Sixty-Four" (composed during The Quarry Men period), "Honey Pie", and "Maxwell's Silver Hammer". Of their early single, "From Me To You", McCartney said, "It could be done as an old ragtime tune... especially the middle-eight. And so we're not writing the tunes in any particular idiom." His songwriting was also influenced in part by Brian Wilson of The Beach Boys, who was in turn spurred on by the Beatles' work. Wilson acknowledged that the American version of Rubber Soul challenged him to make Pet Sounds, an album which then inspired McCartney's vision of Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band. The song "Back in the USSR" was based on a suggestion by Mike Love to McCartney and contains overt allusions to the Beach Boys' "California Girls". The song "Here, There and Everywhere" is said to have been written the evening that Lennon and McCartney first listened to Pet Sounds.

The Everly Brothers were another influence. Lennon and McCartney consciously copied Don and Phil Everly's distinctive two-part harmonies. Their vocals on two 1962 recordings, "Love Me Do" and "Please Please Me" were inspired by the Everlys' powerful vocal innovation on "Cathy's Clown" (1960), the first recording to ever reach number one simultaneously in the USA and in England. "Two of Us", the opening track on Let It Be is overtly composed in the Everly style and McCartney acknowledges this in the recording with a spoken "Take it Phil."

The song-writing of Gerry Goffin and Carole King was yet another influence. Some say that one of the Beatles' many achievements was to marry the relative sophistication of Goffin and King's songs (which used major-seventh chords, for example) with the straightforwardness of Buddy Holly, Berry and the early rock-and-roll performers. Lennon and McCartney's goal when they first began writing together was to become "the next Goffin and King."

John Lennon's early style has clear relationships to Buddy Holly and Roy Orbison ("Misery" from 1963 and "Please Please Me" from 1963). "That'll Be the Day" was the first song Lennon learned to play and sing accurately and the first song the proto-Beatles ever put to vinyl. McCartney admitted, "At least the first forty songs we wrote were Buddy Holly influenced." Lennon said that Holly "made it okay to wear glasses. I WAS Buddy Holly." The naming of the Beatles (originally the Silver Beatles) was of course, Lennon's way of paying tribute to Buddy Holly's band, The Crickets. The Beatles covered Holly's "Words of Love" on their album Beatles for Sale.

After hearing the work of Bob Dylan Lennon was heavily influenced by folk music ("You've Got To Hide Your Love Away" and "Norwegian Wood (This Bird Has Flown)" from 1965). Lennon is said to have been stunned by Dylan's song Subterranean Homesick Blues, and made to wonder at how he could ever outdo it.

Lennon also played the major role in steering the Beatles towards psychedelia ("Tomorrow Never Knows" from 1966, and "Strawberry Fields Forever" and "I Am the Walrus" from 1967) and then renewed his interest in earlier, "good old rock and roll" forms towards the close of the Beatles' career ("Don't Let Me Down" from 1969).

Paul McCartney is perhaps best known as the group's romantic balladeer. Beginning with "Yesterday" (1965), he pioneered a modern form of art song, exemplified by "Eleanor Rigby" (1966), "Here, There and Everywhere" (1966) and "She's Leaving Home" (1967). Meanwhile McCartney kept his affection for the driving R&B of Little Richard in a series of songs Lennon dubbed "potboilers", from "I Saw Her Standing There" (1963) to "Lady Madonna" (1968). "Helter Skelter" (1968), arguably an early heavy metal song, is also a McCartney composition.

Originally, The Beatles' work focused around themes of optimistic, giddy love akin to that of a boy who had just fallen in love, as typified by their performances of songs on The Ed Sullivan Show, such as "All My Loving", "She Loves You" and "I Want To Hold Your Hand".
George Harrison derived his early guitar style from 1950s rockabilly figures such as Carl Perkins, Scotty Moore (who worked with Elvis Presley) and Duane Eddy. "All My Loving" (1963) and "She's A Woman" (1964) are prime examples of Harrison's early rockabilly guitar work.

In 1965 Harrison broke new ground in the West by recording on "Norwegian Wood (This Bird Has Flown)" with an Indian sitar. His long collaboration with Sri Ravi Shankar, a famous Hindustani Musician, influenced many of his compositions, some of which were based on Hindustani forms (most notably "Love You To" (1966), "Within You, Without You" (1967), and "The Inner Light" (1968)). Indian music and culture also influenced Lennon and McCartney, with the use of swirling tape loops, droning bass lines and mantra-like vocals on "Tomorrow Never Knows" (1966) and "Dear Prudence" (1968).

Harrison retained Western musical forms in his later compositions, emerging as a significant pop composer in his own right, although occasionally reprising major themes indicating his relationship with Hindustani music and the Hindu god Krishna. His later guitar style, while not displaying the virtuosity of Jimi Hendrix or Eric Clapton, was distinctive with its use of clear melodic lines and subtle fills as in "Something" (1969) and "Let It Be" (1970), contrasting with the increasingly distorted riffs and rapid-fire guitar solo work of his contemporaries.

Ringo Starr rarely wrote songs but he is often noted for his gentle comic baritone on "Yellow Submarine" (1966) and "Octopus's Garden" (1969) along with his steady drumming and everyman image. Given his own performance on Buck Owens' "Act Naturally", Starr was likely responsible for the group's occasional interest in surprisingly authentic country sounds in songs such as "What Goes On" (1965) and "Don't Pass Me By" (1968).

Later Beatles material shifted away from dance music and the pace of the songs is often more moderate, with interest tending to come from melody and harmonic texture rather than the rhythm ("Penny Lane" from 1967 is an example). Throughout their career the Beatles' songs were rarely riff (or ostinato)-driven. "Day Tripper" (1965) and "Hey Bulldog" (1969, recorded 1968) are among the notable exceptions.

The decision to stop touring in 1966 caused an abrupt change in direction. Reportedly stung by criticism of "Paperback Writer", the Beatles poured their creative energies into the recording studio, making a determined attempt to produce material they could be proud of. They had already shown a clear trend towards progressively greater complexity in technique and style but this accelerated noticeably in Revolver. The subject matter of the post-touring songs was no longer you, I, love, boy meets girl and so on, taking them far from the days in 1963 and similarities with bands such as The Hollies. All manner of subjects were introduced, from home repair and circuses to nonsense songs and others defying description.

The extreme complexity of Sgt. Pepper's reached its height on the Yellow Submarine soundtrack album, parts of which (for example "It's All Too Much" and "Only A Northern Song") were left over from 1967 and were apparently used because the Beatles themselves weren't much interested in the animated film as a project and weren't inclined to exert themselves by producing much new material for it.

The iconic Abbey Road album cover.
After the Revolver/Sgt. Pepper's phase the creative surge seemed to exhaust itself and their self-titled double album, largely written in India, reverted to a much simpler style and sometimes simpler subjects (for example "Birthday"). Some of it (for example "Why Don't We Do It In The Road" and "Wild Honey Pie") was far less complex than their material of just a year or two before. In 1969 the band began its disintegration during sessions for the abortive Get Back project (which eventually emerged in 1970, much altered, as Let It Be). This had been intended as a return to more basic songs and an avoidance of thorough editing or otherwise "artificial" influences on the final output. Ironically Let It Be was heavily overdubbed and edited by producer Phil Spector in his wall of sound technique. With (what they thought of as) the disaster of Get Back looming behind them, George Martin was asked to produce the last album the Beatles recorded, Abbey Road, representing a mature attempt to integrate what they knew and use recording studio techniques to improve the songs rather than experiment to see what happened. It represented a final effort, as McCartney once put it, to "leave 'em laughing."

Beatles music is still performed in public by tribute bands such as the Bootleg Beatles, and shows like Beatlemania!. They were the inspiration for the spoof documentary The Rutles (1978) created by Neil Innes and Eric Idle that featured affectionate musical pastiches of Beatles songs written by Innes.

For many, the group's musical appeal lay in the interaction of John and Paul's voices and musical styles. It is said they not only supplied missing bits and pieces for each other's songs, but shared a competitive edge that brought out the best in them both. George's lead guitar and vocals along with Ringo's understated but faithful drumming contributed their own chemistry. Finally, the Beatles' stage presence and charm as a group kindled their live shows, as well as relationships with key people in their careers. After the group dissolved many critics cited inconsistencies in each of their solo releases as a demonstration of how important this group collaboration had been: Together they sparked each other to reach heights rarely attained on the later solo releases.

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