Recorded: April 16, May 2 and 5, July 11 and 16, August 15, 1969
Released: October 1, 1969
16 weeks; no. 3
On February 25th, 1969, his 26th birthday, George Harrison recorded three demos at EMI studios. He did two takes each of "Old Brown Shoe," which would end up as the B side of "Let It Be," and "All Things Must Pass," the title song of his 1970 solo album. He also took a pass at a winsome ballad that he had written on piano during a break in the White Album sessions in 1968: "Something." "George's material wasn't really paid all that much attention to — to such an extent that he asked me to stay behind after [everyone else had gone]," says engineer Glyn Johns, who recorded the demos. "He was terribly nice, as if he was imposing on me. And then he plays this song that just completely blows me away."
Harrison initially believed the song was so catchy he must have heard it before: "I just put it on ice for six months because I thought, 'That's too easy!'" The opening lyric — "Something in the way she moves" — was a James Taylor song from his 1968 Apple Records debut. (Harrison had attended sessions for Taylor's record and sang backup vocals on another song.) "In my mind," Harrison said, "I heard Ray Charles singing 'Something.'" Still, he didn't necessarily think it was good enough for the Beatles.
He even gave the song to Joe Cocker, who recorded it first. When Harrison finally presented "Something" to the other Beatles, they loved it. John Lennon said "Something" was "the best track on the album." Paul McCartney called it the best song [Harrison has] written." "It took my breath away," producer George Martin later said, "mainly because I never thought that George could do it. It was tough for him because he didn't have any springboard against which he could work, like the other two did. And so he was a loner."
The other Beatles worked on "Something" for several months, editing, arranging and rerecording it to perfection. In a reversal, Harrison became musical director, telling McCartney how to play the bass line. "It was a first," engineer Geoff Emerick said. "George had never dared tell Paul what to do." At the final session, Harrison shared the conductor's podium with Martin during the string overdubs and recut his guitar solo, a sparkling combination of dirty-blues-like slide and soaring romanticism, live with the orchestra.
"Something" went to Number Three and eventually became the second-most-covered Beatles song, behind "Yesterday." Charles would in fact sing it, on his 1971 album, Volcanic Action of My Soul. Frank Sinatra would describe it as "the greatest love song of the past 50 years" (although he often introduced it as a Lennon-McCartney composition).
"He was nervous about his songs," Martin said of Harrison, "because he knew that he wasn't the number-one [songwriter] in the group. He always had to try harder." But with "Something," the guitarist proved himself to his peers, and to the world.
Appears On: Abbey Road