The Case For George Harrison, Best Beatle

by Kevin Burton

    I asked a co-worker, a big Beatles fan who has played guitar since high school, for his opinion on The Big Question: Who was the most essential Beatle?

   I suppose I was spoiling for a McCartney/Lennon fight. That discussion goes to Paul McCartney and John Lennon and stops there, right?

   “McCartney was certainly the most prolific,” my co-worker said, then trailed off into thought. 

  He said some things about Lennon’s thuggish behavior and eventually came up with George Harrison as the most essential Beatle.

   I said I would buy that, and we moved on without a Lennon/McCartney debate.

   George Harrison was born on this day in 1943. The quiet Beatle died of lung cancer on Nov. 29, 2001.

   All my Beatles regrets center on Harrison.  Had McCartney and/or Lennon collaborated more with Harrison, we could have had even more classic Beatles songs. And maybe that would have also kept Harrison from turning to Indian music.

  I love “Norwegian Wood” because Harrison’s sitar was different but it was made to fit into rock and roll sensibilities.   Other songs, such as “Within You Without You” from Sgt. Pepper, don’t sound like Beatles records to me.

   Harrison was the band’s best guitarist. He saved the Abbey Road album with “Here Comes The Sun” and “Something.”

   Frank Sinatra famously called “Something” his “favorite Lennon/McCartney song” which could be seen as an insult both to Harrison and to Lennon/McCartney. 

   Jack Whatley, writing in Far Out Magazine, makes the case for Harrison. In lifting up Harrison, he tears down Lennon and McCartney a bit, unfairly, I think. But he has some good thoughts.

  “When you lay it all down, paw through the facts, the details, dissect the body of their work and prize apart myth and music, it’s hard not to recognize George Harrison, the band’s guitarist, spiritual guide, adventurous musical experimenter and serial vibe-checker as the favored member of the Fab Four,” Whatley writes.

   “Brian Epstein began the constant audience competition for who was the ‘best Beatle.’ The Fab Four’s crafty manager was always sure to separate their personalities as attributes to be traded like top trumps.”

    “John Lennon was the rocker, the dangerous side of the band; Paul McCartney was the boy next door with a smile that made girls melt, George Harrison was put forward as the quiet Beatle while Ringo Starr was simply Ringo, the cheeky chappy with a glinting wink,” Whatley writes. “As a smart piece of marketing, Epstein kept these distinct personas rumbling for as long as he could.”

   “Harrison also manages to encapsulate everything that endeared us to the other three members of the band,” Whatley writes.

“Much like Ringo Starr, Harrison was equipped with searing wit, but his words were usually barbed, unlike Ringo. It was part of why he kept quiet for so long. Like Lennon, Harrison was undoubtedly dangerous. He was the reason The Beatles were kicked out of Hamburg for playing the clubs underage. As McCartney was famed for doing, Harrison eventually became a prolific songwriter.”

   “Tracks like ‘While My Guitar Gently Weeps,’ ‘Here Comes The Sun,’ ‘Within You Without You’ and ‘Something’ not only speak highly of a gifted songwriter but go on to define The Beatles as a whole,” Whatley writes.  “It’s a songwriting style that not only provided a clear image of the man behind the songs — rooted in love, driven to seek a higher power, and flourishing with the kind of musicianship that only Harrison could wield — but they superseded his collaborators’ efforts and still hinted at a struggle that everyone can connect with.”

   “Though he had some notable dodgy moments during his solo career, his seminal album “All Things Must Pass” is easily better than anything the Fab Four create outside the band,” Whatley writes. “ Add to that his work with the Travelling Wilburys, and you have a canon of work unlike any other.”

   John Hugar, writing on, rated “All Things Must Pass” second among the Fab Four’s post-Beatles albums, behind “Band on the Run” by Paul McCartney and Wings. 

   “While Harrison’s first two solo albums were Electronic Sound and Wonderwall Music this feels like his spiritual debut, and it was certainly a revelation. Tracks like “My Sweet Lord,” and “Isn’t It A Pity” showed that Harrison was just as strong a songwriter as Lennon or McCartney,” Hugar wrote.  

   “John Lennon was the consummate artiste, difficult and demanding but wholly easy to predict. Paul McCartney, similarly, was driven only by making music and not much else. Ringo Starr was, and still is, simply Ringo,” Whatley writes.

   “Harrison, however, represents a little piece of us all. He reminds us of ourselves, trying to live a life full of spiritual enrichment and total balance but naturally falling victim to our own humanity.”

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