The Meaning Behind the Song “Cheer Down” by George Harrison and How It Got into a Hit Movie

We don’t know a ton yet about the Sam Mendes film project that’s supposed to deliver four movies, one based on each member of The Beatles, in 2027. For example, who knows how Mendes and company will approach the soundtracks of those films? What we do know is that George Harrison had some success in the soundtrack world with his 1989 song “Cheer Down.”

What does the song mean? What’s with that strange title phrase? And how did it end up on a soundtrack? To get to the answer, we have to go back to the late ’80s, when Harrison, against all odds, returned to the top of the rock music world.

By George
George Harrison’s solo career didn’t have much momentum heading into the second half of the ’80s. To most of the world, Harrison didn’t seem to care much about it, preferring a private lifestyle over the commitment to recording and touring that his fellow surviving Beatles seemed to prefer. Little did anyone know that Harrison was gearing up for a stunning comeback.

The catalyst was Jeff Lynne, the leader of the hitmaking band ELO. Lynne had decided to back off from recording in favor of production duties, in particular for Harrison, an artist he idolized. Harrison and Lynne worked throughout 1987 on the album that would become Cloud Nine, which would include a No. 1 single and eventually pave the way for the creation of the supergroup Traveling Wilburys.

Among the songs that Harrison worked on for the album was “Cheer Down,” which took its title from a phrase that his wife Olivia would occasionally use when George got too hyped up. It didn’t make it onto the record, but, as Harrison said in 1992, it wasn’t a total loss.

“There’s a song here, when Eric [Clapton] was doing the Journeyman album, and I wrote this song for him, but he didn’t use it. I think we made an attempt at it, we just ran through the song, and at that time he was working with Michael Kamen doing the music to Lethal Weapon 2, and the director Dick Donner heard this song, and he wanted it in the film. And Eric didn’t really want it—he didn’t want to have a single out from the movie—so Dick Donner asked me if I’d record the song, which I did.”

Despite the exposure from being in a hit film (it appeared in the end credits), “Cheer Down” didn’t find footing as a single. Which is strange, because it’s a sharp song. Harrison is in fine voice, and Lynne’s production gives him an excellent foundation.

It’s also a kind of Wilburys mini-reunion, as Tom Petty helped Harrison write the lyrics. The studio pros that recorded it were aces as well, as former ELO member Richard Tandy adds piano and Deep Purple’s Ian Paice sits in on drums. Harrison’s weeping slide guitar adds the finishing touch.

The Meaning of “Cheer Down”
“Cheer Down” features some cleverly funny lyrics from Harrison and Petty, as the narrator reassures a downbeat companion that he’ll be in her corner, no matter what. The slightly askew title phrase works great in this context, since it seems to give this girl the go-ahead to feel bad if she needs to do so. Compare that to somebody telling you to cheer up all the time, which can get quite annoying.

The narrator can see that the girl is trying to hide her sorrow, what with her trembling within and the smile that’s out of place. Even if things go bad, such as crashing stock shares or balding hair, he’ll be there. When your teeth drop out, Harrison sings, You’ll get by without taking a bite.

In the final verse, he gives her a promise with gallows humor that Harrison’s buddies in Monty Python would appreciate: If your dog should be dead / I’m going to love you instead. “Cheer Down” was intended as a giveaway, but was fated to belong in the catalog of the sardonic George Harrison. The Wry Beatle was always a better description than the Quiet Beatle anyhow.

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