This weekend marks George Harrison's 80th birthday, a milestone that he would never glimpse. In the spirit of remembrance, I much prefer to dwell on the outcomes that he did manage to realize. And chief among those, of course, were his musical attainments, which, in many ways, remain unparalleled.
During my recent interview with Harrison's first wife Pattie Boyd, we discussed her memories of George, especially his "slow burn" as a songwriter toiling in the shadows of John Lennon and Paul McCartney. We also made time to reflect on the couple's March 1964 "meet-cute" on a railway car during the film shoot for "A Hard Day's Night," the Beatles' first feature film.
For Pattie, meeting George was a revelation. An aspiring model, she accepted a walk-on part in "A Hard Day's Night," which placed her in George's orbit for a day-long shoot on their mobile film set. "He was so delicious," she recalled. "He was so good-looking and had the most beautiful, velvety brown eyes."
As their train ambled back to London, George struck up the nerve to ask her out. But it was a no-go. Pattie told him that she had a boyfriend, and George's face just "dropped. He was so unhappy. And I thought, 'Oh, God, maybe he doesn't know anyone?' So I said, 'You come join us!' But that wasn't what George had in mind, so that was it."
And it might have remained that way if it weren't for the film's director, Richard Lester, who called Pattie and the other walk-ons back for a press shoot at Twickenham Film Studios. Only this time, Pattie was ready. "By this time, I had told my boyfriend that perhaps we shouldn't be seeing each other anymore. So when I saw George again, he asked, 'How's your boyfriend?' I said, 'Well, I don't have a boyfriend anymore.' So that was it. That was the start."
The couple's first date would be chaperoned by Beatles manager Brian Epstein. "I was actually 19, and George was 20," said Pattie, "so Brian organized everything for us."
They met that evening at Brian's private club, where he choreographed the evening. "He knew the menu, he knew which wines to choose," Pattie recalled, "because he was quite sophisticated. And we were very young and had only been to little bistros. So Brian was there to sort of educate us, I suppose you could say."
During the early years of her budding relationship and later marriage to George, Pattie enjoyed a birds-eye view of the Quiet Beatle's progress as a composer.
"George's songwriting got better and better," she remarked. "He was so super-talented, but there was frustration because he enjoyed being in the studio with John and Paul, who were, you know, the ultimate songwriting team. It left little space for George, and it became a bit frustrating for him. But on the other hand, he was building up a wonderful catalog of his own music."
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But even during those early days, when the Lennon-McCartney juggernaut was transforming the Beatles into household names, George managed to exert a considerable impact on the group's sound. In one song after another, he contrived a series of guitar embellishments that elevated the Beatles' music at every turn.
Take such tunes as "Please Please Me," "She Loves You," "I Want to Hold Your Hand," and "It Won't Be Long." In each and every instance, George created a series of guitar licks that drove Lennon-McCartney compositions into the stratosphere.
In one song after another, he contrived a series of guitar embellishments that elevated the Beatles' music at every turn.
"In the end," said Pattie, "it didn't matter who wrote the song." George invariably "worked hard and contributed as much energy and creativity as possible."
By the time of their disbandment, George had succeeded in not only placing his work on a par with the greatest Lennon-McCartney compositions; he had even managed to eclipse the quality of their output. Latter Beatles-era songs such as Harrison's "Here Comes the Sun," "Something," and "While My Guitar Gently Weeps," among others, routinely rank among the upper echelon of the Beatles' achievements.
In such instances, George succeeded in placing his wares among the greatest songs in pop-music history. As Pattie pointed out — with a fondness and well-earned sense of pride — even half a century later, "we still can't get enough of those songs. They're extraordinary, and they have stood the test of time."
Watch for a full interview with Pattie Boyd coming soon to the Everything Fab Four podcast.