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"While My Guitar Gently Weeps"

Categories: Beatles songs

Lenmac indifference to "While My Guitar Gently Weeps" had been partly responsible for the bad vibe that had started to filter into the making of the great white monster, though there were many factors which came to a head with Ringo's decision to quit the band.

Though the composition — in acoustic form, at least — had been more than ready well before 'the one and only' had stood up and walked out, he'd been and gone and come back by the time it was eventually condescended any serious studio time. Clearing the sea of flowers from his kit (a typically George gesture), this was Billy Shears' get back track on the album.

The bouquets only partially sweetened the general Abbey Road atmosphere, however, prompting Harrison to invite his mate Eric to softly sob the solos on his Gibson for the song, in an attempt to impose a little discipline in the ranks. It did seem to work: "The other guys were as good as gold because he was there. Also, it left me free to just play the rhythm and do the vocal".

Said rhythm part was acoustic, with John shadowing on electric. Macca's strident bassline punctuates the whole thing sublimely: that six-string, so prevalent throughout the LP, being exploited to the full. Both he and George provided organ parts, though it's Paul's insistently jangling piano which really stands out. And Ringo was clearly glad to be back, serving up some inimitable drumwork and cymbal schwips, aided and abetted by his trusty tambourine.

Quite apart from his reconciliatory role (which proved to be fairly short-lived) Clappy's contribution was masterful — though, of course, he didn't do nowt that Mr H couldn't've easily pulled off himself under happier circumstances. His involvement was uncredited, at his own insistence, remaining the source of much rumour and speculation until it was officially confirmed years later. They even had George Martin remix it through the double-tracker, 'to make it sound more Beatley'. Sweet Lord alone knows what he remixed it through to marry the solo with "Lady Madonna", many years later, on LOVE!

Double-tracking similarly allowed George to sing backing to his own lead, assisted by Paul. I have a hunch that both JL and the 'special guest star' may've also thrown in a few of the moans and groans towards the end... Whatever the case, it's an extraordinary Harrison vocal: haunting and heartfelt, fully in line with the lament of the lyric, loaded in turn with poignant poetic imagery.

The 'gently weeps' part of the title had come from an I-Ching-cum-Dadaist experiment — open a book at random, and pick out the first words that you see. Still, what I've always wondered is precisely who he was directing the song at. Given the degree of inter-Beatle tensions at the time, and the other three's less serious embrace of the spiritual dimension which he considered so fundamental, could it be that George was subtly trying to give them a bit of a shake?

I look at you all,
See the love there that's sleeping...

I don't know why... I don't know how...

With every mistake,
We must surely be learning...

Eric stepped in once more for the Concert For Bangladesh rendition, and — yet again — with Paul reprising his piano part and Ringo on drums, for the Concert For George testimonial gig, Jeff Lynne sharing the vocal. Lynne was joined by fellow Wilbury Tom Petty to sing it upon George's posthumous inauguration into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, with Prince doing the soloing. Dhani Harrison was on stage for both of the latter performances.

Still those guitars gently weep.
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