In January 2002 Mojo magazine marked the death of George with several articles. I was invited to write about Something - arguably his best-loved song, but one that's shrouded in mystery.
'I met Michael Jackson somewhere at the BBC,' George recalled. 'The fellow interviewing us made a comment about Something and Michael said; 'Oh, you wrote that? I thought it was a Lennon-McCartney...'
It's possibly the vaguest love song ever written. Contrary to popular belief, it wasn't even inspired by a specific lover. The first line was nicked from another song and, for a while, its lyric laboured with a line that went 'attracts me like a pomegranate'. And yet... There is something about Something. Sinatra loved it, and so did John Lennon. It's arguably the most romantic song ever written by a bus driver's son from Wavertree.
George Harrison's great gift to The Beatles begins with a deliciously liquid guitar figure, but it was written on a piano - in Abbey Road's Studio 1 - during a lull in the making of the White Album. Taking shape too late for inclusion on that record, it was offered to Joe Cocker. (By the time Cocker's version appeared, the definitive Beatle edition was already on release.) George's own demo was taped on his 26th birthday, 25 February 1969, alongside an early draft of All Things Must Pass.
The author had already found his first line ('Something in the way she moves') in the title of a James Taylor song. Taylor was an Apple discovery, making his debut LP in London while The Beatles were recording the White Album. Now, for the second line, Harrison wondered how the lover attracted him. 'Like a cauliflower,' suggested Lennon, just to get over the hump. Until 'no other lover' occurred, though, George made do with 'pomegranate'. Imprecision remains a constant in this song: the woman's allure cannot be described, nor can the fate of their relationship be guessed at. But it's the singer's tongue-tied sincerity, perhaps, which has helped to bind this song so close to its listeners' hearts.
We normally assume that Something is a hymn of devotion to George's wife at that time, Pattie. (She would eventually leave him, of course, for the arms of his friend Eric Clapton, having inspired the classic love song Layla.) But Harrison has denied that Pattie was the source of Something. 'I just wrote it,' he told one interviewer in 1996. 'And then somebody put together a video. And what they did was they went out and got some footage of me and Pattie, Paul and Linda, Ringo and Maureen, it was at that time, and John and Yoko and they just made up a little video to go with it. So then, everybody presumed I wrote it about Pattie, but actually, when I wrote it, I was thinking of Ray Charles.'
The final take of Something includes some organ by Billy Preston and a tasteful string setting by George Martin. Ringo and Paul perform their own roles with some flair, though the bass is thought too busy by some. (Which would support one theory of The Beatles' art, namely that George was a lead guitarist with the self-effacing style of a bassman, while McCartney was a bass-player who liked his instrument to shape the music, much as a lead guitarist might.) John Lennon played little part in its making, but was later moved to call Something the best track on Abbey Road.
McCartney, indeed, seldom lets an interview go by these days without confessing that he never gave George enough scope on the group's records. Producer George Martin was likewise impressed: 'Frankly, I was surprised that George had it in him.' The band had lately taken to allowing Harrison the B-sides of its singles (The Inner Light on Lady Madonna, Old Brown Shoe on Ballad Of John And Yoko). But this time - for the first time - he got the A-side. Backed by Lennon's Come Together, Something stalled at Number 4 in the British chart, but a subsequent rash of cover versions served to confirm its standing as a Beatle classic. (It was also the first Beatle single to be skimmed off an existing album; so enormous were sales of Abbey Road that demand for the single was inevitably dampened.)
The critical stir created by Something was reinforced by its partnership on Abbey Road with another Harrison stand-out, Here Comes The Sun. The favourable impression was heightened by their open, uplifting and positive nature. In this they contrasted with the carping, guarded or downright bitter tones of predecessors such as Taxman, Piggies or Savoy Truffle; they were happier, too, than the doleful Blue Jay Way and While My Guitar Gently Weeps; and they were altogether free of the sitars'n'sermonising that so many people disliked in Within You, Without You. (The Indian influence may not be apparent on Something, but George believed he'd blossomed as a melodicist thanks to his study of the sitar.)
Statistically it's the most covered Beatle song after Yesterday. George attributes this to its approachable five-note range, but it's been tackled by the most advanced vocalists, from Peggy Lee to Frank Sinatra. George's favourite was by James Brown; he was also pleased to hear it sung by the man who inspired it, Ray Charles. It was memorably bellowed by Shirley Bassey ('But we won't talk about that,' said George. Miss Bassey, in fact, was heard to wonder if she might become Dionne Warwicke to George's Burt Bacharach). 'When even Liberace covered it, you know that it's one of them that ends up in an elevator.'
Sinatra famously praised Something as one of the great love songs of the age. He especially admired the way the lyric evokes a girl who isn't even present. The composer's satisfaction was only marred, one supposes, when Frank attributed the number to John and Paul. Then again, he was not the only superstar confused as to the provenance of Harrison's masterpiece. 'I met Michael Jackson somewhere at the BBC,' George recalled. 'The fellow interviewing us made a comment about Something and Michael said; 'Oh, you wrote that? I thought it was a Lennon-McCartney.'
The irony was that Harrison -- the Dark Horse - was finally coming to the front as the Great Beatle Sweepstake was reaching a close. Abbey Road was their last collective effort. His solo career got off to a grand beginning with All Things Must Pass, but as a showcase for your writing - and even John and Paul found this - there was nothing to equal The Beatles. In later years he gave the impression of wishing the song had been his alone, not shared with a band whose fame became so oppressive to him. He looked back with pride on Something - 'probably the nicest melody line I've ever written,' he called it - but there was a note of resignation in his 1987 assessment. Something, he said, was 'the song that's probably the biggest one for the rest of my life.'
See a complete index of Paul Du Noyer's Beatle articles here.