How many songs did Pattie Boyd — fashion model, photographer, muse, and wife of George Harrison and Eric Clapton — inspire? It’s hard to say, since some of the lyrics purportedly written for her, like those in Harrison’s breakout “Something,” may have been for someone else, then diplomatically attributed to Boyd. Or, in the case of “Something” — the first Harrison song to come out as a Beatles A-side single and the song that convinced the world of his formidable songwriting talents — they might have been about a big, blue supernatural something.
According to Joe Taysom at Far Out magazine, Harrison “became obsessive in his studies of Krishna Consciousness when he wrote the song, and more specifically, its original intent was as a devotion to Lord Krishna.” Harrison “insisted that the original lyric was ‘something in the way HE moves,’ but he changed it.”
The masculine pronoun would have removed all speculation about Boyd but also would have confused listeners in other ways. In any case, Something‘s ambiguity, inherent in the title, made it a classic. Frank Sinatra once called it “the greatest love song ever written.”
Harrison, as usual, demurred: “The words are nothing really,” he said in 1969. “There are lots of songs like that in my head. I must get them down.” The song first came together during the 1968 White Album sessions. “There was a period during that album,” he remembered, “when we were all in different studios doing different things trying to get it finished, and I used to take some time out. So I went into an empty studio and wrote ‘Something.’” Lacking confidence in his ability to persuade the band to record it, he first tried to give the song to Apple Records artist and old Liverpool friend Jackie Lomax. The song, he felt, came too easily and might not be good enough, and he had lifted the opening line directly from James Taylor.
Lomax went with another Harrison tune for his first single, and the Beatle continued to work on “Something,” recording a demo of the finished song in February of 1969. But he still didn’t think of it as Beatles-worthy and gave it to Joe Cocker instead, who released his version that year, with Harrison on guitar. (Harrison later claimed to have written the song with Ray Charles in mind.) Whatever his reservations, he did, of course, finally record “Something” with his bandmates, with results familiar to all and everyone. But you’ve probably never heard the song as you can hear it here, with isolated vocal harmonies “you can’t put a cigarette-paper between,” writes Julian Dutton on Twitter. “Totally in simpatico; a synergy that began I suppose all those years ago on the school bus.”
At the top, hear the multitrack vocals that made the Beatles’ “Something” such an incredible recording (including a fun, yelping sing-along to the guitar solo at around 1:50). Further up, hear the whole song deconstructed into its parts (with timestamps for each one at the video’s YouTube page.) And just above, hear the band figure out the harmonies in a studio demo of the song. It was, John Lennon conceded after Abbey Road came out, “about the best track on the album, actually.” Paul McCartney said of the Harrison classic that “it’s the best he’s written.” And Bob Dylan later remarked that “if George had had his own group and was writing his own songs back then, he’d have been probably just as big as anybody,” a thesis Harrison got to prove the following year with his surprisingly amazing All Things Must Pass.
via Julian Dutton
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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness