IN HONOR OF THE 20TH ANNIVERSARY OF GEORGE HARRISON’S PASSING ON November 29, 2001, we wanted to present a guide to his greatest studio guitar moments with the Beatles. However, instead of simply listing our own choices or putting it to a vote on GuitarWorld.com, we went a completely different route: We asked a slew of respected professional guitarists (and other artists) to pick their favorites and, more importantly, to back up their choices. Fortunately, word got out about “the George project,” and that original slew grew and grew, even including musicians with very real connections to Harrison, including Robben Ford (who was in Harrison’s 1974 touring band), Steve Lukather, Bernie Marsden, Mike Campbell and Nita Strauss’ father — James Strauss, who with his band, Jiva, was signed to Harrison’s Dark Horse Records in the mid-Seventies. And, in the end, it turned out to be a fitting tribute to someone who inspired millions of people around the world to play guitar. The songs aren’t presented in any particular order, but let’s just say the entries with the most quotes beneath the song titles were the clear favorites. Special thanks to Amit Sharma, Andy Aledort, Richard Bienstock, Joe Bosso, Jim Beaugez and Alan Paul.
Lennon/McCartney | Help! (1965)
ANDY SUMMERS (POLICE): “Early on, I think youthful players were intrigued by George’s playing on ‘Help!’ I remember hearing those descending phrases and thinking, ‘Hmm, that’s pretty cool. Where did he get that from?’ He did the same sort of thing in ‘Here Comes the Sun.’ He had a really beautiful style, especially on those kinds of lines.”
BABY’S IN BLACK
Lennon/McCartney | Beatles for Sale (1964)
PAUL GILBERT: “‘Baby’s in Black’ has plenty of loud Everly Brothers-style vocals from John and Paul, so it took me a while to notice the details of George’s guitar playing. But when I focused on the lead guitar, there were great discoveries to be made! Primarily… whammy bar, and lots of it! The last breakdown verse is especially cool, as George follows the chord changes with single-string rhythmic whammy bar dips. The guitar theme that begins the song and repeats throughout has a nice whammy dip ending as well. As is so often the case with Beatle-y things, the creativity lies not in athletic feats, but in supporting the song with memorable hooks, melodies and tones. George’s tone is punchy, clean and very country/western. It makes me wish that I had both a cowboy hat and a Fender amp. Actually, I have both of those. Maybe it’s the Gretsch I need. Or at least a Bigsby on my Ibanez! Let’s get back to the playing: The main guitar solo doesn’t leave George much time for licks, as it’s only one chorus long. But he manages to hit all the chord changes (which whip by faster than most rock players can handle), with a style that swaggers and stumbles at the same time. And don’t forget the well-timed whammy bar dip that makes a smooth transition back into Phil and Don... I mean John and Paul. George’s country/western style remains intimidating to me, as I have no experience with it, and playing with a clean tone often feels like I’ve lost my shred superpowers. Still I remember playing ‘Baby’s in Black’ for fun with my cover band, the Electric Fence, in the mid-Nineties. I didn’t have a whammy on my guitar, so I got the job done by bending the neck, as I had seen Pat Travers do. Now go and listen to him… George, that is!”
FREE AS A BIRD
Lennon/McCartney/Harrison/Starkey | Anthology I (1994)
TOMMY EMMANUEL: “George learned early in his life to invent the right parts for a song and stick to it. He chiseled and honed, he selected the right guitar for the track and he put his love, knowledge and disciplined fire into every song. Funny, though, I think my favorite George parts and solos are on the two songs that were recorded with Jeff Lynne, ‘Free As a Bird’ and ‘Real Love.’ John Lennon wrote the bulk of these classic songs, and Paul, George and Ringo finished them off in typical Beatles style. So musical, so heartfelt and so strong! George’s beautiful Strat parts are tasty, powerful and exactly what the tracks cry out for.”
ERIC JOHNSON: “The slide work he did on the latter-day Beatles song ‘Free As a Bird’ was beautiful… George shows us that it’s about the emotion and not the commotion of the guitar playing.”
DANIEL CAVANAGH (ANATHEMA): “There’s a part where George sings the lines and immediately goes into this incredible overdriven slide solo. I honestly don’t know how he got that good, but he also played the sitar and had this whole other world of influences.”
Lennon/McCartney | Rubber Soul (1965)
ROBBEN FORD: “The solo is just wonderful. [It’s] one of the great chord/melody solos in rock music history for sure.”
JON HERINGTON: “It’s clearly an orchestrated solo, and you can hear two guitars with similar sounds. I love how the solo essentially borrows the rhythm of the song’s vocal melody but alters the notes. The guitars (Strats, according to the reports) are processed to create super-bright, quirky sounds, too, and the solo does just enough to provide a break from the vocal while keeping the character and the groove of the song intact. All the juicy notes of the chord changes are targeted, and the way the solo works its way to the very bottom note of the guitar’s range as it finishes is pure pop magic. And I loved the four-octave leap up to that harmonic on the last note of the solo so much that I stole it for the ending of my solo on ‘Thirteen Feet of Rain.’ I couldn’t resist!”
Harrison | Abbey Road (1969)
WARREN HAYNES (GOV’T MULE): “‘Some-thing’ as a song is a masterpiece, but the guitar solo is a masterpiece in itself. I can’t imagine the song without it. Gov’t Mule recently played it during one of our ‘special’ New Year’s Eve shows where we played the Beatles’ rooftop show along with some other Abbey Road and Let It Be songs; Connor Kennedy joined us on guitar and vocals. At rehearsal he asked, ‘Should I play the solo?’ to which I replied, ‘Yes’ — and he played it note for note. He understandably played his own solo during the show, which was really cool, but the entire audience (and band) heard the ‘record’ solo in our heads. The sign of a truly remarkable solo.”
MIKAEL ÅKERFELDT (OPETH): “‘Something’ is really… something. It’s a very special song, maybe one that John Lennon and Paul McCartney might’ve been jealous of. It’s such a great lead; as a guitar player, George was very overshadowed by the two bosses in the Beatles… he was there mainly to play a bit of lead here and there. He couldn’t really break free from the two leaders, but when he did, he’d outshine them like he did here.”
JOE BONAMASSA: “My favorite Beatles song of all time — and George Harrison’s greatest work. His guitar playing is perfect, his song composition a standard-bearer at this point of other masterworks to be judged. Any part of the song could be a classic chorus in its own right. It just keeps on getting better throughout and leaves you wanting more. I love his use of the Leslie, especially the rhythm part. It also was Frank Sinatra’s favorite “Lennon and McCartney song.” [Editor’s note: During live shows, Sinatra famously attributed “Something” to Lennon and McCartney; he corrected himself by the late Seventies.] ‘Something’ proved that George Harrison was one of the Beatles’ most valuable and underused assets.”
REBECCA & MEGAN LOVELL (LARKIN POE): “George’s solo is a moment of distilled musical beauty. The gummy, chewy guitar tone is unforgettable and the wending melody he crafts perfectly twines the changes of the song. In our minds, the distilled genius of George Harrison is his ability to take complicated chord structures and make them accessible by writing beautiful, simple and memorable melodies over [them]. George is a compositional wizard… he makes magic out of half-steps.”
ZAKK WYLDE: “What an amazing song. He even got Sinatra and Elvis covering that one, which goes to show how amazing it is. Me and John DeServio, who plays bass with me, often talk about George — whenever he solos, you always know it’s him. Even when he was playing in the Traveling Wilburys, you could always tell. Sure, he wasn’t shredding any Al Di Meola, John McLaughlin or Paco stuff, but that’s not who he was. His solos were always so melodic and with so much of his own feel… which is crazy. No one talks about George Harrison the way they talk about Beck, Clapton or Page. But he’s the guy! He really had a voice on the instrument. And at the end of the day, that’s what it’s all about.”
VINCE GILL (THE EAGLES): “Harrison’s playing on ‘Something’ is so identifiable — his phrasing and approach show such restraint. His tone was simple and without the use of excessive effects, which allowed the natural sound of his guitar to shine through. Actually, this is the first recording I ever made with my oldest and dearest friend, Benny Garcia. We did ‘Something’ as best we could.”
MOLLY TUTTLE: “His iconic solo and guitar lines are an integral part of the song and compliment the vocal melody perfectly.”
SCOTT LUCAS (LOCAL H): “Harrison employs this soft, understated touch to such a wild and unpredictable choice of notes. It kills me. He was a master who refused to call attention to himself.”
ADRIAN QUESADA (THE BLACK PUMAS): “Absolute perfection. The solo itself should be a masterclass for any guitarist looking to play melodically and uplift a song in just the right way without overplaying, a perfect combination of style and substance. It also hints at his lead style to come on 1970’s All Things Must Pass, so it’s a moment that connects the dots to his future solo work.”
ELLIOT EASTON (THE CARS): “It’s clearly a composed solo — he didn’t wing that one! That’s exactly what I always tried to do with the Cars, to create a mini-composition within the song itself.”
NANCY WILSON (HEART): “George was responsible for perhaps the most romantic guitar solo of all time when he recorded ‘Something.’ It’s arguably among the most gorgeous and expressive solos in any song.”
HAMISH ANDERSON: “It’s the culmination of George Harrison as both a singer/songwriter and guitarist; everything about the song is pure perfection. When you start to break down any of George’s solos (especially ‘Something’), there’s always something different and totally unique about the way he’d bend notes and his phrasing. I’ve found so much inspiration from how his solos always serve the song; they are so melodic and memorable that you can sing them as if they were a vocal melody line. If you’re looking for a masterclass in a perfectly crafted guitar solo that serves the song, look no further than ‘Something.’”
PAGE HAMILTON (HELMET): “There are a pair of descending chromatic lines over the G chord in the sixth bar of solo that include a b5 to #9 run (C#, C, Bb) and an answer that descends from the 13 (E) to the #5 (D#) to kind of resolve on the 11 of A minor (D). And then he hangs around there with this expressive, repeating vocal-like phrase. For me, solos have never been about showing off practice-room exercises. I’m more into the ones that expand the arrangement, creating a musical section that lifts things up (see Dave Davies, Rick Nielson, Mike Campbell) or changes the vibe and takes you somewhere. Many of us can probably sing George’s solos, but to execute them with his soul, feel, rhythmic sense and creativity is impossible.”
STEVE LUKATHER (TOTO): “A perfect solo — like many of the Beatles’ tracks. It could not have been anyone else.”
Harrison | The Beatles (1968)
JOEY SANTIAGO (PIXIES): “The mix is all about a trip to the dentist’s office. The guitar tone — most likely run through a fuzz pedal — sounds like a drill. The bending, stabbing notes during the lyrics, ‘But you’ll have to get them all pulled out’ really gets the image of a dentist’s drill across vividly. I borrowed those bending, stabbing notes from him and have no intention of returning them anytime soon. The phrasing is total Harrison — even with the fuzz, you can tell it’s him. He does have that ‘George Harrison sound’ as well, but to identify a guitar player with phrasing is rare. It can be imitated; Eric Clapton’s solo on ‘While My Guitar Gently Weeps’ sounds like a nod to George’s style.”
TROY VAN LEEUWEN (QUEENS OF THE STONE AGE): “The chord progression is really fun, and the guitar sound is on point with George’s voice. When I listen to the Beatles’ records in chronological order, I can hear Harrison’s influence on the band’s sound swing from his early country picking into a love of Eastern music with his sitar, then back to superb rock splendor with his slide playing. It seems it was the White Album that started the swing back to electric guitar-driven songs for him. I recently heard that the song was written about Eric Clapton’s love of chocolate. Just goes to show that you never know when inspiration will strike… or the craving for chocolate!”
BUZZ OSBORNE (MELVINS): “The solo is really cool. Totally dry and in your-face production, which I think sounds fantastic. I love the guitar stabs he does throughout the chorus. All in all, a really cool song — and it even has distorted saxophones! One of George’s best.”
SADLER VADEN: “Not only does it showcase his wit behind the pen, but it’s also on full display with his guitar playing on this record. The solo section contains all the aspects of Harrison’s playing that I love. It bridges the gap between his melodic sensibilities and straight-up rock ’n’ roll guitar. The tone has teeth! The way he composed his solos that also incorporated that lovely reckless abandon makes him one of my all-time favorite players, and this track is the perfect example.”
STRAWBERRY FIELDS FOREVER
Lennon/McCartney | single (1967)
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