The song George Harrison wrote the day he quit The Beatles: “Fed up with the bad vibes”

George Harrison’s role in The Beatles was a simple one – to begin with, at least. He was the unique and stylish guitarist who stood behind John Lennon and Paul McCartney as the group’s principal songwriters, ready to harmonise at the drop of a hat and deliver leading guitar riffs that would bend one’s mind into unusual shapes. However, by 1969, things had changed, and Harrison was no longer happy to play second fiddle to the dominating duo. He had enjoyed a taste of his own success, been emboldened by Bob Dylan and a future free from the burden of genius bandmates beckoned.

With songs like ‘Taxman’ and ‘Within You Without You’ Harrison had found his musical chops by the time Abbey Road and Let It Be were around the corner, and after a few successful moments on those projects, he was now keen to enact his songwriting skill on the Fab Four’s records more persistently. It was a decision not met with enthusiasm when Lennon and McCartney found out.

The conversations, or perhaps more pertinently the lack of them, led to Harrison temporarily quitting the band, and after being ignored while performing some of the songs he had written. When considering that some of the tracks included in those deathly silent performances were ‘All Things Must Pass,’ the guitarist’s anger is somewhat justified. Harrison stormed out of the Get Back sessions.

Though the record was meant to be an attempt to free themselves from the shackles of precise studio work and once again enjoy the passion of performance, it boasted a similar formula to the band’s previous records: Paul McCartney and John Lennon were in charge. Now highlighted in Peter Jackson’s fly-on-the-wal documentary, for George Harrison, the sessions became unbearable.

The in-fighting and power struggle would eventually lead to the guitarist quitting The Beatles on January 10th, 1969, slap bang in the middle of Twickenham’s Let It Be sessions. Harrison did so unceremoniously and without much fuss externally. Internally, however, the frustration Harrison was experiencing was beginning to take over his life. Though he left the studio in a rut, he would prove his detractors wrong by writing one of the best tracks in his extensive catalogue.

George Harrison had begun to work out his musical style by the turn of 1969. Having spent much of the latter part of the previous year with Bob Dylan and The Band, working on tracks like ‘I’d Have You Anytime’ and with his work on The Beatles so widely loved, Harrison had hope for the future of the Fab Four. The select few of his songs chosen to appear on the previous albums had been well received, and now he wanted more as part of a well-oiled machine.

In truth, during this period, the band had been squabbling for some time. McCartney’s dominance over the group had been at its all-time high on Sgt. Pepper, his overbearing nature already forcing Ringo Starr into quitting once before, sending the drummer to Italy with heavy insecurities weighing atop his shoulders. Meanwhile, Lennon was falling deeper and deeper into his heroin addiction and was being propped up by his creative and personal partner, Yoko Ono, whose inclusion in the studio was a contentious point on its own. Nevertheless, Harrison was hopeful: “I can remember feeling quite optimistic. I thought, ‘OK, it’s the New Year, and we have a new approach to recording.’”

That new approach was Get Back, a multimedia proposition that would record rehearsals for a live concert of new material, ready-made for a TV special. It would see the band return to basics and reconnect with their music in a rawer way. However, things didn’t go smoothly, and Macca quickly took on the conductor role: “At that point in time, Paul couldn’t see beyond himself,” Harrison told Guitar World in 2001. “He was on a roll, but … in his mind, everything that was going on around him was just there to accompany him. He wasn’t sensitive to stepping on other people’s egos or feelings.”

Harrison began to pitch new tracks such as ‘Let It Down’, ‘Isn’t It A Pity’, and even the iconic ‘Something’ — songs which would define either his or the band’s output at this time. However, Lennon and McCartney continued to shoot down the guitarist in favour of their own material, not even bothering to listen to Harrison demoing the new creations. In a recent review of the recording process via Peter Jackson, we see these moments of heartbreak in real-time, with 12 of his best works being chucked on the ash heap.

When you consider the calibre of the tunes up for debate, ‘Run of the Mill’, ‘Isn’t It A Pity’, ‘Sour Milk Sea’ and ‘Not Guilty’ it becomes easier to understand his frustrations. Tensions were frayed already when during a recording session, after Macca tried to direct Harrison on how to play his guitar, Harrison had clearly lost his patience. “I’ll play whatever you want me to play, or I won’t play at all,” Harrison says with a more than dangerous eye. “Whatever will please you, I’ll do it.” Just two days later, the tension would worsen, and the exit door was cracked ajar.

On January 8th, Harrison debuted another classic in ‘I, Me, Mine’ only to be met with more apathetic shrugs. It was here that things became more than a little heated. Lennon’s snide comment had pushed Harrison over the edge, and he, in turn, aimed shots at Yoko Ono, with Lennon remembering him stating: “Dylan and a few people said she’s got a lousy name in New York.” It was enough to light the touch paper that had held the group together for nearly a decade.

Having allegedly come to blows with Lennon in the following days, the camel’s back was finally broken when Harrison turned to his bandmates and suggested they advertise for his replacement and that he would “see you round the clubs”. Later, in 1987, Harrison admitted: “I just got so fed up with the bad vibes,” he told Musician magazine. “I didn’t care if it was the Beatles, I was getting out,” he added.

Lennon may well have been happy to see the back of Harrison at the time, even suggesting they find a replacement quickly with his eyes firmly set on a new man: “I think if George doesn’t come back by Monday or Tuesday, we ask Eric Clapton to play,” he told Get Back director Michael Lindsay-Hogg. “We should just go on as if nothing’s happened.”

That day, arriving at his Surrey home, Harrison enacted the ultimate reply to his oppressive partners by reaching for his guitar and writing one of his most treasured tracks, ‘Wah Wah’. Though it was named in part as a reference to the guitar effects pedal, later Harrison admitted in his biography that it was saying: “You’re giving me a bloody headache,” to his bandmates. The bleating sound and Harrison’s power make this song a classic on its own.

Harrison would eventually return to the session, but soon enough, the band were irreparable, and the Fab Four went their separate ways. Harrison’s All Things Must Pass is widely regarded as the finest post-Beatles album and the first song he would set about recording for his new project? ‘Wah Wah’, George Harrison’s declaration of independence.

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