“While My Guitar Gently Weeps” is a Beatles’ song on their “White Album”, of course. This is George Harrison at his best – his song together with his guitar playing!
Recorded: 25th July; 16th August; 3rd, 5th, 6th September, 1968
Released: 22nd November, 1968 (UK), 25th November, 1968 (US)
Studio: EMI Studios, London
Genre: Hard rock, blues, rock
Track Duration: 4:46
Record Label: Apple
Songwriter: George Harrison
Producer: George Martin
Engineer: Ken Scott
White Album version
George Harrison: double-tracked vocals, backing vocal, acoustic guitar, also the Hammond organ
John Lennon: electric guitar with tremolo
Paul McCartney: harmony vocal, piano, also the bass guitar
Ringo Starr: drums, tambourine, also the castanets
Eric Clapton: lead guitar
Anthology 3 version
George Harrison: vocals, acoustic guitar, also the harmonium
White Album Anniversary Edition
George Harrison: vocals, also the acoustic guitar
Paul McCartney: organ
George Harrison: vocals, acoustic guitar
Clearly, The Beatles were not seeing eye to eye following their return from studying Transcendental Meditation in India in early 1968. However, the individual band members continued to work together for two more years. This is despite them moving in different directions.
Although the White Album is arguably the best Beatles’ album ever, there was much disharmony within the band. This discord is noticeable in this offering by George Harrison. It is obviously Harrison’s best effort for the famous album. But, there was a loss of interest from the band members for Harrison’s song. The lack of camaraderie shows even further when George Harrison brought in his friend, Eric Clapton, to help with the recording.
“We tried to record it, but John and Paul were so used to just cranking out their tunes that it was very difficult at times to get serious and record one of mine. It wasn’t happening. They weren’t taking it seriously and I don’t think they were even all playing on it, and so I went home that night thinking, ‘Well, that’s a shame,’ because I knew the song was pretty good.
The next day I was driving into London with Eric Clapton, and I said, ‘What are you doing today? Why don’t you come to the studio and play on this song for me?’ He said, ‘Oh, no – I can’t do that. Nobody’s ever played on a Beatles record and the others wouldn’t like it.’ I said, ‘Look, it’s my song and I’d like you to play on it.’
So he came in. I said, ‘Eric’s going to play on this one,’ and it was good because that then made everyone act better. Paul got on the piano and played a nice intro and they all took it more seriously.”
While My Guitar Gently Weeps
As well as wondering why humankind is not embracing universal love, the song vaguely attempts to highlight the divide within The Beatles at the time. However, it was also an act of randomness with inspiration from the Chinese I Ching.
“I wrote While My Guitar Gently Weeps at my mother’s house in Warrington. I was thinking about the Chinese I Ching, the Book of Changes. The Eastern concept is that whatever happens is all meant to be, and that there’s no such thing as coincidence – every little item that’s going down has a purpose.
While My Guitar Gently Weeps was a simple study based on that theory. I decided to write a song based on the first thing I saw upon opening any book – as it would be a relative to that moment, at that time. I picked up a book at random, opened it, saw ‘gently weeps’, then laid the book down again and started the song.”
Since 1965, George Harrison spent a lot of time with the sitar and incorporated the instrument in a number of songs. For example, one of the first Beatles’ songs to feature the sitar was “Norwegian Wood (This Bird Has Flown)“. In short, “While My Guitar Gently Weeps”, gave Harrison a chance to concentrate on the guitar once again.
On the 25th July, 1968, George Harrison recorded a solo effort of the song at the EMI Studios in London. Harrison used his Gibson J-200 acoustic guitar with an harmonium overdub and this version appears on the “Anthology 3” album.
The double Album, simply called “The Beatles”, was going to be epic and deep down they knew it. After all, this was going to be two LP’s brimming with music from the best band ever! So, even though the band members were not getting along as they should they eventually got round to completing this track on the 16th August and made 14 takes.
George Harrison spent his time alone on the recording on the 3rd September adding a backwards guitar solo. You can hear this backmasking technique on “I’m Only Sleeping“, of course.
Not happy with the results of previous recordings, George Harrison decided to abandon them and start again from scratch. At this stage he still believed that other band members were being apathetic towards the song. However, on the 5th of September the band members, including Eric Clapton, recorded another 28 takes of the basic track.
This session also saw Ringo Starr returning to the fold after walking out on the band previously because of the bad atmosphere. Finally, George Harrison was happy at the results and continued by singing the lead vocal and overdubbing on the next day.
As we see, there are also other versions of this song. But what do you think about it?