This list of songs is inspired by lists published by radio station KEXP-FM from Seattle in 2010, as well as the latest poll taken in 2021 by Rolling Stone Magazine. For the most part I will faithfully countdown from their lists, starting at Song #500 and going until I reach Song #1. When you see the song title listed as something like: Song #XXX (KEXP)….it means that I am working off of the official KEXP list. Song XXX (RS) means the song is coming from the Rolling Stone list. If I post the song title as being: Song #xxx (KTOM), it means I have gone rogue and am inserting a song choice from my own personal list of tunes I really like. In any case, you are going to get to hear a great song and learn the story behind it. Finally, just so everyone is aware, I am not a music critic nor a musician. I am a music fan and an armchair storyteller. Here is the story behind today’s song. Enjoy.
RS: The Top 500 Songs in Modern music History.
Song #279: While My Guitar Gently Weeps by The Beatles.
One of the most noteworthy aspects of The Beatles musical catalogue is the evolution of their songwriting. In the very beginning, John Lennon and Paul McCartney wrote short, simple, catchy little Pop gems such as “I Wanna Hold Your Hand” and “Love Me Do”. But, as their career hit the mid-later stages, they produced songs with much greater maturity, richness and depth such as “Eleanor Rigby”, “Something” and “A Day in the Life”. As we leave our youth and enter our adult lives, we gain new knowledge and with it, hopefully, the wisdom that comes from experience. That certainly seemed to be the case with John, Paul, George and Ringo. One of the Beatles most affected by the education he was receiving in Life was George Harrison. In the early days of The Beatles, Harrison seemed more like the kid brother who was tagging along with his older brother and his older brother’s friends. George Harrison was a quiet member of the band; leaving the public relations work to John and Paul, for the most part. He, also, left the songwriting and musical direction to them, as well. But, as time went on and he gained more confidence in his own abilities as a musician, Harrison began to write his own songs and bring them to the band. One of the first songs he brought to them was when they were preparing to record the “White Album”. The band had just famously gone to India to study Transcendental Mediatation under the mentorship of Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. Tensions were beginning to form within the band, as Lennon and McCartney, in particular, presented competing and conflicting visions for the band, moving forward. Harrison, who was deeply invested in the principles of harmony espoused by Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, was dismayed at the lack of cohesion from within his own group. So, he put his feelings down in the form of a song called, “While My Guitar Gently Weeps”.
***At this point in today’s post, I have to stop and make an editorial comment. In order to completely tell the full story of this song, I have to break a rule of my own. It pains me to do this but, for the rest of the post, I have to talk about Eric Clapton. While I don’t approve, at all, of his politics, I do acknowledge his musicianship and, because of those skills, he ended up playing a critical role in “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” coming to fruition. So, having swallowed my principles whole, here we go…..
As the “White Album” was being prepared, Eric Clapton was still a member of a group called, “The Yardbirds”. He was the same age as most of “The Beatles” and had already carved out quite a reputation for himself as a guitar virtuoso. Like many talented performers located in the same geographic area, Clapton and the members of “The Beatles” swam in the same social waters and often appeared at events on the same bill. Consequently, they all got to know one another. Out of those meetings, Eric Clapton and George Harrison became fast friends. They maintained this solid friendship over the course of many decades, right up until the time of Harrison’s death a few years ago. So, as the members of “The Beatles” gathered to start recording the “White Album”, Harrison presented his lyrics for the song, “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” to the rest of the group. Because Harrison wasn’t a contributing member of the writing team, Lennon and McCartney were dismissive of the song, at first. But, Clapton lent his friend support and actually recorded the guitar parts that Lennon would have normally played. Clapton’s presence and reputation caused the rest of “The Beatles” to acquiesce in the end and “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” made the cut and appeared on the album. In doing so, it became the only song in the entire “Beatles” catalogue to contain music contributed by someone outside of the official group. Because of the enormously positive reception the song received from the public, Harrison became emboldened to write more. From the fruits of his labour came classic songs such as “Something” and “Here Comes the Sun”.
All throughout the remaining days of “The Beatles”, George Harrison and Eric Clapton remained as friends. They did so even though Clapton made no secret of his desire for Harrison’s wife, Patti Boyd. It is even said that Clapton’s signature song, “Layla” was about Boyd. The song is based on a novel about a character driven to madness because he cannot have the object of his desires.
“I tried to give you consolation
When your old man let you down
Like a fool, I fell in love with you.
You turned my whole world upside down.
Layla…..you’ve got me on my knees
Layla…..I’m begging, darlin’ please
Layla…..darlin’ won’t you ease my worried mind.”
“Layla” is George Harrison’s wife, Patti Boyd. Yet, through it all, Clapton never made a move while Harrison and Boyd were married. When they eventually divorced, Clapton approached Harrison and made his intentions known. Apparently, Harrison laughed and called Clapton his “husband-in-law” from that point onward. Friendships take many forms and theirs was certainly a unique and tolerant and supportive match, for sure.
In any case, that maturation of George Harrison dovetailed nicely with the maturation of “The Beatles”, as a band. It is unfortunate that the timing of Harrison’s appearance as a creative force within the band happened so close to the dissolution of the band, itself. Who knows what other beautiful songs George Harrison would’ve written in that creative space that they all shared. For what it is worth, I have never read anything that suggests that Harrison shared Clapton’s political views. My understanding is that, after discovering Transcendental Meditation and travelling to study in India, Harrison, next, became a devotee of a book/philosophy called, “I Ching”, which speaks to the inter-connectivity of all living things. It is a belief in inclusivity…..which is the polar-opposite of Clapton’s Nationalist exclusivity-driven proclamations. But yet, despite harbouring differing opinions about how the society in which they lived in should function AND despite Clapton coveting Harrison’s wife all through his marriage, the two were a supportive constant in each other’s life. The very first manifestation of that was in the form of Clapton helping his friend get his first song on a “Beatles” album. That song was, of course, “While My Guitar Gently Weeps”. Enjoy.
PS: the video is from “The Prince’s Trust” charity concert. Ringo Starr, Clapton, Elton John, Jeff Lynne, Phil Collins and more, are all playing in this video.
The link to the video for the song, “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” by The Beatles, can be found here.
The link to the official website for The Beatles, can be found here.
The link to the official website for George Harrison, can be found here.
Thanks, as always, to KEXP for supporting the very best of music from around the world. The link to their website can be found here.