When George Harrison claimed that his “lyrics are poor”

In perhaps the most extreme example of self-deprecation in history, George Harrison once claimed he wasn’t good at songwriting. It feels like a joke the second you read it.

While it’s true that Harrison only penned a small percentage of The Beatles’ lyrics, writing around 25 tracks across their discography, his impact is immeasurable. It’s always about quality over quantity, and when Harrison wrote hits like ‘Something’ and ‘Here Comes The Sun’, it could be argued that they were worlds better than some of the 95 songs Lennon put on tape.

That’s one of the major reasons why Harrison ended up walking out on the group. As tensions grew and intensified towards the late 1960s, there were multitudes of reasons why the band would inevitably implode. But for Harrison, it was all down to feeling like his songwriting was being overlooked, and he was being relegated further back to nothing beyond Lennon and McCartney’s guitar player.

Harrison clearly valued his own songwriting enough to put up a fight and kick off some arguments with his old friends. Maybe their doubt of his work got under his skin, leading to a level of insecurity. Maybe Harrison simply wanted to look humble. Whatever the reason was, in 1968, he claimed, “My lyrics are poor, really.”

It seems that Harrison’s relationship with songwriting was tricky and inseparably tangled up in the bandmates, who later somewhat denied his skill. “To get it straight, if I hadn’t been with John and Paul, I probably wouldn’t have thought about writing a song, at least not until much later,” he told Guitar World in 1992, remembering the early days of the band. “They were writing all these songs, many of which I thought were great. Some were just average, but obviously, a high percentage were quality material. I thought to myself, If they can do it, I’m going to have a go.”

It must have been an intimidating move to face up to Lennon and McCartney, who had quickly become a powerful lyrical duo and shared one of his own songs. That only got harder as the Beatles machine got tighter, bigger and heavier with expectation. “We’d be in a recording situation, churning through all this Lennon/McCartney, Lennon/McCartney, Lennon,/McCartney! Then I’d say [meekly], can we do one of these?” Harrison recalled.

But thank god he did. Without Harrison’s influence, not only would the band be missing several of their biggest hits, but they would lose out on a lot of variety as the guitar player also brought in new sounds and styles from a wider pool of inspirations.

Harrison, however, might have been the only person in the world not to see that. He described his earliest songs as “crappy”, and his thoughts on them never seemed to pick up. “The words are always a bit of a hangup for me,” he said in a Beatles biography in 1968. “I’m not very poetic. My lyrics are poor, really. But I don’t take any of it seriously. It’s just a joke. A personal joke. It’s great if someone else likes it, but I don’t take it too seriously myself.”

That feels like the lie of the century. Perhaps even more so than his bandmates, Harrison’s tracks always felt like they were very much taken seriously by the writer. Songs like ‘I, Me, Mine’, ‘While My Guitar Gently Weeps’ and ‘Taxman’ feel like maturing forces, helping to drive the band to more sophisticated and exciting places. They’re definitely not “crappy” or “poor”.

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