Friday, 6 January 2012

While My Guitar Gently Weeps


Every now and then I’m drawn back to listening to The Beatles’ ‘White Album’.  Owing to its sprawling all-styles-and-quality nature, it is an album that invites debate – that is its weakness and its strength – but for me personally, there are three songs that always stand out.  Neatly, but quite by chance, the trio comprises one effort each from John, Paul and George.  Even more intriguingly from an album where many of the songs are acoustic guitar based, they all have a piano introduction.  Spooky or what?

The first is McCartney’s ‘Martha My Dear’.  Most commentators dismiss this as a typical piece of McCartney whimsy but I like it.  It just drips with melodic invention where the same idea is barely used twice.  The main theme is curiously phrased across bars so that it has a slightly wonky rhythm which extends and then contracts like an elastic band.  Love the jaunty piano and orchestral flourishes as well.

The second is John’s ‘Sexy Sadie’, his scathing sideswipe at the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi.  Who’d have thought that Lennon, an instinctive writer rather than a grafter, could come up with such a McCartney-esque melody?  It too has a slightly strange melodic progression which tends to be linear rather than cyclical.  In this respect it is a natural bedfellow for ‘Martha My Dear’ but where MMD is jaunty, SS has a classic Ringo backbeat that just nails it to the floor making it tougher and more Lennon-like.

But I’ve saved the best till last.  The third is probably my favourite song from the whole album and it is George’s ‘While My Guitar Gently Weeps’.  This is where Harrison comes of age, baring his soul in the most emotional way and underpinned by the uncredited Eric Clapton’s mesmerising guitar.  Up to that point The Beatles didn’t entertain guests on their albums but the addition of El Clappo adds a new dimension to their sound.  George noted later that when Eric arrived to do his stuff the whole band upped its game.  That’s peer pressure for you.  Interestingly, Jethro Tull guitarist Martin Barre tells a similar story about the recording of ‘Aqualung’ when Jimmy Page paid a visit to their studio.  Martin’s solo on that track is probably his finest ever!

Hundreds of years before, the likes of Bach and Mozart knew all about the power of a descending harmonic progression and George hammers this home in a stately yet frankly over-the-top way during the verse and then glides weightlessly over the chorus cum middle section.  It is a powerful combination which lends itself to a massive guitar solo.  It is the kind of trick that Pink Floyd used frequently some years later but here Eric Clapton shows remarkable restraint and taste.  Perhaps he was frightened of showing up the most famous band on the planet?  Either way, it works beautifully.

There are several versions on YouTube but this is one of my favourites from the Concert For George in 2002.  Eric gets to sing as well as play and he is backed by a bewildering array of drummers, guitarists and keyboardists – including Ringo and Paul and Dahni Harrison who looks so like his Dad, it makes your heart bleed.


11 comments:

Charlie said...

I agree with you on The White Album. Some of it is brilliant and some of it is a mess but everyone has a difference of opinion on what the bad tracks are (except for "Revolution #9"). That said, overall it's still one of my very favorite Beatles albums due to the huge variety, originality, and care put into the songs. I know this was the beginning of the group coming apart but I think that is why so much effort went into each song. The three main writers were all trying to top the other two. Each one went to extreme lengths to achieve that goal and no one accomplished that better than George Harrison when he came up with one of The Beatles 10 greatest songs, "While My Guitar Gently Weeps." It's perfect.

music obsessive said...

Absolutely agree with you here, Charlie. One of the best Beatles songs ever!

nat said...

Four of my top 5 Beatles tunes are George songs! He should have had more. :-)

music obsessive said...

Hi Nat! Let me see, what are the other three? Er..Here Comes the Sun, Something and Taxman?

Dan said...

what a great video! i agree with your assessment of the white album. if listened to in its entirety it does flow for the most part of course until Rev#9 Or maybe it was my flow that made it sound good. i could never get enuff of the Beatles back in the day except of course rev#9 LOL. Best Beatles albums IMHO was Revolver, then Rubber Soul, then Abbey Road...er side 2, and then Sgt Peppers. Hows that?

nat said...

WMGGW, Something, Here Comes the Sun, If I Needed Someone. My favorite song (of all time from anyone) is In My Life.

music obsessive said...

Dan - Apart from the White Album, I would add in 'Hard Days Night' as an early example of how to pack an LP with class songs and no filler.

Nat - Two out of three - not bad! I would've struggled to guess 'If I Needed Someone' but it's a good song nonetheless.

van_Awesome said...

I agree that George's songs are among the best to come from the Beatles, and with Clapton's influence it just reaches new heights. Its amazing.

music obsessive said...

Hi Awesome, thanks for dropping by. Seems everybody agrees that George contributed some of the Fab's best songs.

Zee said...

Oooh the White Album really is one of the best Beatles' albums. I agree with you, "While my Guitar Gently Weeps" is one of the best songs. George always was my favourite Beatle, though I did have the fortune to see Paul McCartney last year.

music obsessive said...

Hi Zee - glad to see you are back in circulation. I never really had a favourite Beatle, even at the time, but since I followed Paul's solo career more closely than the rest, I suppose it's him!