Monday, 6 June 2011

12:33 Something: Origins And Descendants (pt.1)

What can you say about the best song that George Harrison ever wrote and arguably the best track on Abbey Road? The answer is a lot. But let's start by looking at the history and story behind Something.

Though very much a band piece it was written on the piano, Harrison carving it out during The White Album sessions. The song is in C but the demo (on Anthology 3) is in A (and possibly capoed). Joe Cocker was supposed to record it (but Abbey Road hit the stores first) and perhaps the demo (and lower key) were aimed at him or was that the key it was written in?

It's also said that Harrison struggled with the bridge until he hit on the idea of a key change. Does that mean he had the bridge already but was playing it in the same key as the verse? We may never know, but it's an interesting experiment to try.

A popular fact was that Harrison wrote it for/about his wife Patti. She certainly says so. But he says it was written with Ray Charles in mind (though presumably not in the same way as Patti!)

...she moves!...get it?...oh, never mind...

Harrison struggled with lyrics and blatantly stole the first line from Apple recording artist James Taylor's breakthrough song Something In The Way She Moves

Though using other peoples lyrics as a kick start to create is a totally legitimate songwriting tool taking such a recognisable bit and leaving it in is a bit naughty to say the least. Factor in that it was the biggest band in the world 'borrowing' from a little known singer/songwriter on their label and it seems a bit of a shoddy way to conduct yourself.

If Harrison struggled with the first line the next one was even more painful. He had “attracts me like...” and then nothing. John Lennon, who added the final brilliant piece in more than one McCartney jigsaw suggested

Something in the way she moves
Attracts me like a cauliflower

Top marks for scanning Lennon, but if you wanted evidence that John was going downhill rapidly, there it is. Harrison rejected the very British working class vegetable for the more exotic pomegranate, but thankfully that soon went the way of Paul's scrambled eggs.

It's rumoured that Harrison hated McCartney's bass playing on the track, having gone on record as saying he'd rather have Willie Weeks play bass for him than Paul McCartney (Revolution In The Head p.349). Engineer Geoff Emerick says

Paul started playing a bass line that was a little elaborate, and George told him, 'No, I want it simple.' Paul complied. There wasn't any disagreement about it

Though there may not have been any Let It Be style hissy fits it's hard to believe that the bass line we have on Abbey Road was a satisfactory response to “I want it simple”. What was he doing before – playing 64th note polyrhythms above the 12th fret?

Lennon & McCartney always wanted to write a song for Frank Sinatra. Paul even submitted one called Suicide which Frank dismissed as some kind of sick joke. But George succeeded where they had failed (even though Sinatra initially credited Lennon & McCartney as composers) and Sinatra proclaimed Something “the greatest love song of past 50 years” (Revolution p.348) and proceeded to murder it in concerts for the next 30 years.

"Stick around Jack???" Harrison's favourite cover was by the equally understated James Brown.

Something was the last Beatles single and they were soon to shuffle off the world stage and make was for the new breed of stadium rock dinosaurs. There's definitely a passing of the torch to Led Zeppelin on this song – as well as the mellotron part recalling Abbey Road's lush strings like a lofi bootleg listen to the first 3 chords of Rain Song...

Something – C Cmaj7 C7
Rain Song – G Gmaj7 G7*

(*The first two chords have no third but it's implied by the overall major tonality of the song).

Next time we'll start chipping off little bits of songwriting awesomeness. Stay tuned!

Sources: Paul Du Noyer's excellent article at, the fabulous Beatles Bible and of course the highly recommended Revolution In The Head



  1. That is fascinating as always. Here is another version of the song, and Louise's favourite -

  2. It's definitely better than Sinatra's, though the female horror film BVs creep me out!!!