Being the third most successful songwriter in The Beatles must at times have seemed to George Harrison like being the runner up in a boxing match just points ahead of the referee – especially when the fourth most successful was Ringo Starr (who John Lennon famously quipped wasn’t even the best drummer in the band).
But within and without the rest of The Beatles, when it came to songs aimed at the singles market, Harrison generally concentrated on quality rather than quantity. Then again Something wasn’t necessarily designed to be a standalone. It originated on the band’s1969 album Abbey Road and as a single, almost like an insurance policy against it not being strong enough to survive on its own, it was coupled with Come Together, making it the first Harrison composition to feature as a Beatles A-side. It was also the first time in the UK that The Beatles issued a single containing tracks that were already available on an album.
It topped the Billboard Hot 100 in the United States as well as charts in Australia, Canada, New Zealand and West Germany, and peaked at number 4 in the UK.
He actually began writing Something in September 1968, during a session for The Beatles’ White Album. In his autobiography, I, Me Mine, he recalls working on the melody on a piano, at the same time as Paul McCartney recorded overdubs in a neighbouring studio at London’s Abbey Road Studios. Harrison suspended work on the song, believing that with the tune having come to him so easily, it might have been a melody from another song. It wasn’t something which seemed to occur to him when writing the later My Sweet Lord which became the only song by a Beatles member to top the charts twice and sounds ever so much like the Chiffons big hit He’s So Fine.
Lyrically Something is nothing special – very simplistic and naive in fact.
But it makes its stand as a major love song – without actually ever directly mentioning the word/emotion “love”.
Instead it opens with: “Something in the way she moves
Attracts me like no other lover
Something in the way she woos me
I don’t want to leave her now
You know I believe and how” – taking its first line from Something in the Way She Moves, a track by Harrison’s fellow Apple Records artist James Taylor.
Subsequent verses are similarly simple but more his own: “Somewhere in her smile she knows
That I don’t need no other lover
Something in her style that shows me
I don’t want to leave her now
You know I believe and how”
Doubts set in with the bridge: “You’re asking me will my love grow,
I don’t know, I don’t know
You stick around and it may show
I don’t know, I don’t know”
But the emotions are back on track after an impressive guitar solo: “Something in the way she knows
And all I have to do is think of her
Something in the things she shows me
I don’t want to leave her now
You know I believe and how.”
The song is widely viewed as marking Harrison’s ascendancy as a composer to the level of The Beatles’ principal songwriters, John Lennon and Paul McCartney. It is generally described as a love song to Pattie Boyd, his first wife, although Harrison offered alternative sources of inspiration in later interviews.
Harrison’s finest playing
Due to the difficulty he faced in getting more than two of his compositions onto each Beatles album, Harrison allegedly first offered Something to Joe Cocker. As recorded by The Beatles, the track features a guitar solo that several music critics identify among Harrison’s finest playing. The song also drew praise from the other Beatles and their producer, George Martin, with Lennon stating that it was the best song on Abbey Road (well it’s certainly better than Maxwell’s Silver Hammer, Octopus’s Garden and Mean Mr Mustard).
The promotional film for the single combined footage of each of The Beatles with their respective wife, reflecting the estrangement in the band during the months preceding the official announcement of their break-up in April 1970.
In her 2007 autobiography, Wonderful Today, Pattie Boyd recalls: “He told me, in a matter-of-fact way, that he had written it for me. I thought it was beautiful …”
But Harrison later cited alternative sources for his inspiration. In early 1969, according to author Joshua Greene, Harrison told his friends from the Hare Krishna Movement that the song was about the Hindu deity Krishna.
In an interview with Rolling Stone in 1976, he said of his approach to writing love songs: “All love is part of a universal love. When you love a woman, it’s the God in her that you see.”
By 1996, Harrison had denied writing Something for Boyd. That year, he told music journalist Paul Cashmere that “everybody presumed I wrote it about Pattie” (because of the promotional film accompanying the release of the single which showed the couple together). Poor Pattie.
Whatever or whoever was the inspiration behind the song it has certainly made is mark.
Ivor Novello Award
Something received the Ivor Novello Award for the Best Song Musically and Lyrically (!!!) of 1969. Harrison subsequently performed the song at his Concert for Bangladesh shows in 1971 and throughout the two tours he made as a solo artist. Up to the late 1970s, it had been covered by over 150 artists, making it the second-most covered Beatles composition after Yesterday. Shirley Bassey had a top-five UK hit (echoing its original chart placing) with her memorably dramatic1970 recording, while Frank Sinatra regularly performed the song.
Other artists who have covered it include Elvis Presley, Ray Charles, Peggy Lee, James Brown, Tony Bennett, Andy Williams, Smokey Robinson and Ike & Tina Turner. In 1999, Broadcast Music Incorporated named Something as the 17th-most performed song of the twentieth century, with five million performances.
In 2004, it was ranked at number 278 on Rolling Stone’s list of “The 500 Greatest Songs of All Time”, while two years later, Mojo placed it at number seven in the magazine’s list of The Beatles’ best songs. A year after Harrison’s death in November 2001, McCartney and Eric Clapton performed it at the Concert for George tribute at London’s Royal Albert Hall.
Richie Unterberger of AllMusic describes Something as “an unabashedly straightforward and sentimental love song” written at a time “when most of the Beatles’ songs were dealing with non-romantic topics or presenting cryptic and allusive lyrics even when they were writing about love.”
All that without ever mentioning the word?
|6 October 1969
|Shirley Bassey, Frank Sinatra