Of the four Beatles, it’s George Harrison’s legacy that has undergone the most radical transformation. John Lennon feels slightly less deified than he once did, as his status as an icon of peace is now tempered by the struggles (and failings) he experienced as a husband and father. What we think of Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr hasn’t changed all that much: Macca is a nice and cool dude who always comes off a wee bit schmaltzy, and Ringo is, well, Ringo – an utterly lovable guy who remains an underrated drummer (he’s a melodic genius).
George, in contrast, has grown in stature. Known as the “quiet Beatle,” he was recognized as a definite talent, but never grabbed the spotlight as he wasn’t as outwardly witty as his bandmates. Then, over the course of the following decade, he morphed into a rock star. His string of pop hits, as well as the epic album All Things Must Pass, proved that he was every bit as talented as his fellow Quarrymen, John and Paul.
Nearly 15 years after his untimely death from lung cancer, George, in many respects, is the most relevant Beatle and the one with the most impact.
To pay tribute to George’s life and myriad accomplishments, we took a deep dive into his career, from his days as a Quarryman to his role in the supergroup, the Traveling Wilburys.
From Liverpool to EMI
*March 1958: *George auditions for The Quarrymen, playing Arthur “Guitar Boogie” Smith’s “Guitar Boogie Shuffle.” Schoolmate Paul McCartney is stoked, while John Lennon thinks he’s too young (George was 15). The latter eventually relents and George becomes a Quarryman.
August 1960 – December 1962: The Beatles hone their chops playing red-light district dives in Hamburg, Germany. They also party their butts off. The songs that George sings lead on appear on future Beatles albums, including Chuck Berry’s “Roll Over Beethoven” and Carl Perkins’ “Everybody’s Trying to Be My Baby.”
February 11, 1963: The Beatles and producer George Martin record the bulk of the quartet’s first album, Please Please Me. George sings the Lennon-McCartney tune “Do You Want to Know a Secret?” and the Brill Building number “Chains,” originally a hit for The Cookies.
November 22, 1963: The Fab Four’s second full-length, With the Beatles, becomes a global smash. It features George’s first writing credit, the moody “Don’t Bother Me.”
February 9, 1964: The Beatles make the first of four TV appearances on The Ed Sullivan Show. They perform the hit “I Want to Hold Your Hand.” Every teenage girl in America watches and screams.
*July 10, 1964: *A Hard Day’s Night is released and zooms up the charts. (The movie does gangbusters too.) In addition to George’s “I’m Happy Just to Dance With You,” many of the cuts feature him on his Rickenbacker 12-string. The guitar’s pristine sound influences the West Coast folk-rock sound of The Byrds, Buffalo Springfield and The Mamas and the Papas.
August 28, 1964: Bob Dylan and The Beatles hang for the first time in NYC. According to rock mythology, the folk icon turns the band on to Mary Jane. Over the years, Dylan grows closest to George.
February – April, 1965: The Beatles film their second motion picture, Help! Several scenes feature Indian musicians, who stoke George’s curiosity.
August 1965: While touring North America with The Beatles, George chills with The Byrds’ David Crosby. The California hipster exposes him to more Indian music, in particular the work of sitar virtuoso Ravi Shankar.
George Looks to the East
*December 3, 1965: *Rubber Soul emerges, a stunning jump in sophistication for The Beatles. George contributes two fantastic tunes: “Think for Yourself” and the deliciously noncommittal “If I Needed Someone.” He also adds sitar to John’s “Norwegian Wood (This Bird Has Flown).” It’s not the first Indian-inspired song from a British Invasion band (see The Yardbirds’ “Heart Full of Soul” and The Kinks’ “See My Friends”), but it’s still a landmark sonic innovation.
July 6, 1966: George travels to India to purchase a sitar. He begins earnestly studying the instrument, first with Shankar then Shambu Das. He also begins exploring Eastern mysticism and religion.
August 5, 1966: The release of Revolver further cements The Beatles’ standing as rock’s most cutting-edge outfit. George’s genius is all over the record. Outside of his compositions, “I Want to Tell You,” “Taxman” and the propulsive raga-rocker “Love You To,” his sitar is heard on John’s droning, acid-fried classic “Tomorrow Never Knows.”
*November – December 1966: *The Beatles record John’s “Strawberry Fields Forever.” The psychedelic epic is enhanced by George’s swarmandal, an Indian-style harp.
June 1, 1967: The band unload their art-pop masterpiece, Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. George’s sole contribution, “Within You Without You,” is yet another foray in his emerging raga-rock sound.
*March 15, 1968: *Paul’s “Lady Madonna” is released as a single. The flipside is “The Inner Light,” another raga rocker from George; it’s his first tune to appear on a single. After hanging with Eric Clapton and Jimi Hendrix, George re-embraces the electric guitar.
October 1968: While Cream record their final album, Goodbye, George pops into the studio to add some rhythm guitar to “Badge.” Due to contractual obligations, he’s credited as “L’Angelo Misterioso.”
Faltering Fab Four
November 1968: With the White Album sessions winding down, George jets to Woodstock, New York, to chill with Dylan and The Band. He and Dylan pen “I’d Have You Anytime,” which pops up on 1970’s All Things Must Pass, an album profoundly influenced by The Band’s earthy roots-rock.
*November 22, 1968: *Despite recording sessions mired in squabbling, The Beatles manage to put out the brilliant White Album. George proves he’s John and Paul’s equal by turning in four stunners: “Piggies,” “Long, Long, Long,” “Savoy Truffle” and the classic “While My Guitar Gently Weeps,” featuring pal Clapton on lead ax.
January 10 – 17, 1969: During the middle of the contentious sessions for the Get Back film project (eventually morphing into the Let It Be album), George has rows with Paul and John and temporarily leaves the group. The band formally announced its break-up a few weeks before the album was released in May 1970.
*February 22 – August 20, 1969: *The Beatles record the masterpiece Abbey Road. George contributes “Something” and “Here Comes the Sun.”
October 31, 1969: “Something” is tapped for a single. It’s the first A-side for George. It becomes the second most covered Beatles tune after Paul’s “Yesterday.” Frank Sinatra declares “Something” the “greatest love song of the past 50 years.”
George’s Solo Career Takes Off
November 23, 1970: George releases “My Sweet Lord,” the lead single from his forthcoming All Things Must Pass. The glorious, Vedic-flavored song becomes the first No. 1 single in America by a former Beatle.
November 27, 1970: Arguably the greatest solo release by a Beatle, All Things Must Pass features Phil Spector’s production and a star-studded cast of session musicians. The triple LP fuses wall-of-sound grandeur, catchy Anglo-pop and country rock. Amazingly, most of its monster hits – “My Sweet Lord,” “Isn’t a Pity,” “What Is Life?” – were rejected by the Beatles when George first introduced them between 1967 and ’69.
*May – July, 1971: *George produces a good chunk of Badfinger’s Straight Up. He also adds slide guitar to the pop gem “Day After Day.”
August 1, 1971: George and Ravi Shankar organize the “Concert for Bangladesh.” The pair of star-studded performances at Madison Square Garden helped raise awareness and funds for Bangladesh refugees. Featuring Bob Dylan, Leon Russell, Eric Clapton, Ringo Starr and Badfinger, it establishes the blueprint for future benefit/activist concerts (from No Nukes to Live Aid). The event also spawns a hit live album and documentary.
*September 9, 1971: *John releases his most beloved solo record, Imagine. George’s guitar is heard on highlights, “Gimme Some Truth” and “How Do You Sleep?”
October, 1972: George returns to the studio to begin work on a follow-up to All Things Must Pass. Living in theMaterial World eventually comes out in the summer of 1973. It’s another hit, thanks in large part to the intoxicating single “Give Me Love (Give Me Peace on Earth).”
*March 5 – July 26, 1973: *George logs considerable session time on Ringo. The set is a massive success and legitimizes the drummer’s solo career.
May 1974: He starts his own imprint, Dark Horse Records.
*November, 1974: *George becomes the first ex-Beatle to tour North America. Longtime friend and mentor Ravi Shankar opens for him.
September 15, 1975: George releases “You,” the lead single from the forthcoming Extra Texture (Read All AboutIt). It’s his last album for Apple Records.
September, 1976: A United States district court judge finds George liable for copyright infringement. The suit claimed the single “My Sweet Lord” is the same as The Chiffons’ classic “He’s So Fine.”
November 19, 1976: Thirty Three & 1/3 comes out on Dark Horse Records. It contains two of George’s best tunes from the late ’70s: “Crackerbox Palace” and “This Song.”
June 1, 1981: Concentrating on family life, (son Dhani was born in 1978), George finds time to put together Somewhere in England, anchored by hit single “All Those Years Ago,” a touching tribute to old friend John Lennon, who was murdered the previous year.
George Conquers MTV
November 11, 1987: Cloud Nine, co-produced by studio wizard, is George’s most successful album since the early ’70s.
October 12, 1987:Cloud Nine’s “Got My Mind Set on You” is tapped for a single. People go bonkers for theof taxidermied animals singing and dancing. To date, it’s the last solo single from an ex-Beatle to hit No. 1 in the States. (Check out the 1962 original from R&B singer James Ray.)
*January 20, 1988: *The Beatles are inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Mick Jagger delivers a fantastic and heartfelt induction speech describing The Beatles as a “four-headed monster.” George, Ringo, Yoko Ono and Julian Lennon, take the stage. Paul is conspicuously absent.
*October 18, 1988: *George, Dylan, Tom Petty, Jeff Lynne and Roy Orbison unveil their debut, Traveling Wilburys Vol. 1. Sadly, Orbison passes away two months after the record’s release.
April 24, 1989: George plays and sings on “I Won’t Back Down,” the first of many hit singles from Tom Petty’s Full Moon Fever album. He and Ringo pop up in the video too.
October 29, 1990: The sardonically titled Traveling Wilburys Vol. 3 is released.
1992: George, Paul and Ringo resurrect The Long and Winding Road, a long-dormant documentary project that will eventually be renamed The Beatles Anthology_and unveiled in the autumn of 1995. It features “Free as a Bird” and “Real Love,” the first “new Beatles music” since 1969.
October 16, 1992: George appears at The 30th Anniversary Concert Celebration for Bob Dylan. Held at Madison Square Garden, the star-studded event is released as a concert album the following year.
The Final Years
1997: George is diagnosed with throat cancer. Over the next few years the cancer slowly spreads to his lungs and brain.
November 12, 2001: George, Paul and Ringo meet for the last time at a hotel in New York City.
November 29, 2001: Rock loses one of its greatest icons when George Harrison, age 58, succumbs to lung cancer. In keeping with Hindu tradition, his ashes are sprinkled in India’s Ganges and Yamuna Rivers.
November 18, 2002: George’s final solo album, Brainwashed, is released. The 12-song collection, some of it dating to the late ’80s, was finished by longtime collaborator Jeff Lynne and son Dhani.
March 15, 2004: Tom Petty and Jeff Lynne induct George, as a solo artist, into the Rock Hall. His wife Olivia and Dhani accept on his behalf. The evening’s all-star jam is one for the ages: Lynne and Petty take lead on “While My Guitar Gently Weeps,” while the one and only Prince rips a phenomenal guitar solo.