"John was annoyed because I didn’t say that he had written one line of this song, Taxman… I also didn’t say how I wrote two lines to Come Together or three lines to Eleanor Rigby”: George Harrison and the questions around his Beatles credits

George Harrison of The Beatles pop group pictured at the Apple Headquarters in London, 2nd January 1969
(Image credit: Steel/Mirrorpix/Getty Images)

George Harrison is sitting in a vast soundstage at Twickenham Film Studios, explaining to Ringo Starr and film director Michael Lindsay-Hogg how a BBC2 sci-fi series called Out Of The Unknown, that he watched the previous evening, has inspired a new song. Harrison is sporting the same black fur coat he wears on the iconic rooftop concert and perched on his knee is John Lennon’s 1965 Epiphone Casino.

It’s mid-morning on Tuesday 7 January, 1969 and the next Beatle to arrive is Paul McCartney. “Good morning,” says the bearded bassman chirpily as he strides across the floor. “Do you wanna hear a song I wrote last night?” Harrison asks him. “It’s just a very short one, called I Me Mine”.

What follows is a beautifully plaintive and sparse rendition with Harrison’s voice sounding particularly pure. “Lovely” exclaims Lyndsey Hogg. McCartney, with hands in pockets, stands beside Harrison and stares down at his fingers on the fretboard, but says nothing. Then John Lennon arrives. Harrison, now standing, runs through the song again but speeds it up. “Run along son, see you later,” jokes Lennon. “We’re a rock and roll band you know”. 

If one incident highlights the tortuous position that George Harrison found himself in as part of The Beatles then this is it. It’s just one of a number of incidents captured in Peter Jackson’s three-part 2021 documentary Get Back, in which Harrison employs impressive levels of tenacity and tact to push his own songs forward to Lennon and McCartney. Their songwriting partnership was a source of both inspiration and frustration for George. They are ostensibly the gatekeepers, two strong personalities locked into an even stronger autonomous partnership.

Until this year our songs have been better than George’s

Paul McCartney

Only in the months leading up to The Beatles’ break-up was Harrison’s contribution and his songwriting abilities finally acknowledged by its two principal songwriters. “Until this year our songs have been better than George’s,” said McCartney bluntly in the Get Back film. “Now, this year, his songs are at least as good as ours."

In the years and decades following the break-up of The Beatles, George Harrison’s contribution to the band would be completely reassessed and his songs, such as Something and While My Guitar Gently Weeps, would be recognised as some of The Beatles’ greatest works. 

As Frank Sinatra said of Something in his introduction to the song during a performance in 1982: “It’s one of the best love songs I believe to be written in 50 or 100 years… it really is one of the finest.” 

Despite such accolades, Harrison possibly felt undervalued within The Beatles at times. Subsequent comments also suggest that he may have contributed to more Beatles songs than he is given credit for. 

In a 1987 interview for the TV series W. 57th Street, the whole issue of songwriting credits came up when broadcaster Selina Scott asked Harrison for his reaction to a comment from John Lennon

“In an interview before his death, John Lennon said he was really hurt by you, that you’d never mentioned in your autobiography any of the influences that he had on you,” said Scott. 

“He was annoyed because I didn’t say that he had written one line of this song, Taxman,” replied Harrison. “Did you tell him that?” asked Scott. “Well I didn’t because he was already dead after that” replied Harrison, “but the point to that was that I also didn’t say how I wrote two lines to Come Together or three lines to Eleanor Rigby, you know, I wasn’t getting into any of that. I think in the balance I would have had more things to be niggled with him about than he would have with me.”

They were so busy being John and Paul, they failed to realise who else was around at the time

Scott then cited Lennon mentioning that Harrison had idolised him as a young boy. “Well that’s what he thought,” laughed Harrison. “I liked him very much, he was a groove, he was a good lad, but at the same time he misread me. He didn’t realise who I was and this was one of the main faults of John and Paul. They were so busy being John and Paul, they failed to realise who else was around at the time.”

In the same interview Harrison touched on the legacy of being a Beatle. “It just annoyed me that people got so into The Beatles. It’s not that I don’t like talking about them, I’ve never stopped talking about them… in the end it’s like ‘Oh sod off with The Beatles’ you know?’'” 

The Beatles: Two Of Us rehearsal and George leaving the band (from the "Get Back" movie) - YouTube The Beatles: Two Of Us rehearsal and George leaving the band (from the
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By 1969, Harrison was feeling smothered by his existence as a Beatle. Things famously came to a head when Harrison said to McCartney: “I’ll play whatever you want me to play. Or I won’t play at all if you don’t want me to play. Whatever it is that will please you, I’ll do it.” 

We didn’t underestimate George

Paul McCartney

It took Harrison leaving the band on 10 January 1969, with the witty, parting riposte of “See you ‘round the clubs”, for McCartney and Lennon to really take stock of his contribution. Although as Paul McCartney says in Martin Scorcese’s documentary Living In The Material World, he and John were well aware of George’s talents.

“We didn’t underestimate George. We knew that he was peaking as we got to those records. He’d not been really interested in the beginning I don’t think. And because John and I did so much of the writing he could just leave it to us. But I think he realised you know that there was something in this, [that] artistically and financially it was a good thing to get into. At that time we realised that he was really coming up with the goods.” 

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Few issues will drive a wedge within a band faster than the subject of who wrote what on which song. And when that band is The Beatles, the creative and commercial stakes couldn’t be higher.

After the Beatles’ break-up, Lennon took a number of verbal swipes at his former band members, and uncredited songwriting contributions were a theme. In a 1980 interview with Playboy magazine, Lennon talks about the writing of Eleanor Rigby but refers only to McCartney. George’s own alleged contribution to that song is not mentioned. 

"It's his first verse,” said Lennon about McCartney, “and the rest of the verses are basically mine. But the way he did it was... he knew he'd got the song, so rather than ask me, 'John, do these lyrics' because, by that period, he didn't want to say that to me, okay..."

But this is not how Paul McCartney remembers it. “John helped me on a few words but I'd put it down 80–20 to me,” McCartney said in Barry Miles’s 1997 biography Many Years From Now. “So what he said was, ‘Hey, you guys, finish up the lyrics', while he was fiddling around with the tracks or arranging it, at the other part of the giant studio and EMI.”

A number of accounts cite Harrison coming up with the intro/bridge line for Eleanor Rigby. In David Scheff’s book All We Are Saying, Lennon is quoted as saying: “I do know that George Harrison was there when we came up with ‘Ah, look at all the lonely people’. [Paul] and George were settling on that as I left the studio to go to the toilet, and I heard the lyric and turned around and said, ‘That’s it!’”

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(Image credit: Roger Viollet Collection/Getty Images)

"We were getting more talented and George began to write lots of songs… he was lucky to get a track on an album":  The lost 1971 John Lennon and Yoko Ono interview on the Beatles' split 

There is no firm evidence that George came up with the line, only that he was there when it was written. But it’s one of the Beatles songs on which all the band had an input. All were present when McCartney presented the first verse and melody, as was Lennon’s childhood friend Pete Shotton, who in Kenneth Womack’s 2014 book All We Are Saying, remembers Lennon’s contribution amounting to “virtually nil”. 

In Peter Jackson’s Get Back documentary, George talks about writing credits for Lennon/McCartney songs and he uses Eleanor Rigby as an example of a track on which his name is not credited, despite having made the contribution.

Of course, ideas and suggestions often occur spontaneously and quickly. No-one is sitting there logging who has contributed exactly what and it’s often difficult to remember in retrospect who came up with a particular phrase, motif or chord. It’s clear from Peter Jackson’s film that The Beatles helped each other out with ideas, as is the case when George Harrison works with Ringo on Octopus’s Garden.  

The Beatles - Octopus Garden George & Ringo (Get Back 1969) #getback - YouTube The Beatles - Octopus Garden George & Ringo (Get Back 1969) #getback - YouTube
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Similarly, it seems quite possible that Harrison could have contributed a line or two of lyrics to Come Together although there is no documented evidence to suggest that he did. When he mentioned in the 1987 interview that he contributed lines to Come Together, he may simply have been using a random song to demonstrate a broader point. 

One song that George certainly did have a hand in though was She Said, She Said, the final track recorded for the Revolver album, inspired by an LSD-influenced conversation between John Lennon and actor Peter Fonda.

In The Beatles Anthology, Harrison recalled helping Lennon construct the song from "maybe three" separate segments that Lennon had. Harrison described the process as “a real weld”. In his 2017 book Who Wrote the Beatle Songs?, author Todd Compton credits Lennon and Harrison as being the song's true composers.

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It’s been claimed that Harrison didn’t want a co-write credit. It’s also been claimed he became thoroughly disillusioned when he didn’t receive one. Whatever the truth, it demonstrates that on at least one occasion, George Harrison had a hand in co-writing a song for which he received no songwriting credit.

For George, the break-up of The Beatles signified creative emancipation. He was soon revelling in his post-Beatles life and the solo opportunities it brought him. He topped the UK and US charts with the hugely acclaimed All Things Must Pass triple album (1970) and his 1973 album Living In The Material World was a critical and commercial triumph. 

George Harrison on John Lennon, Yoko Ono, and the Beatles' Breakup | The Dick Cavett Show - YouTube George Harrison on John Lennon, Yoko Ono, and the Beatles' Breakup | The Dick Cavett Show - YouTube
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Speaking on The Dick Cavett Show in 1971, Harrison said he was overcome with relief when The Beatles’ broke up and compared it to leaving the family home. 

“Some people can’t understand that, you know, because The Beatles were such a big deal. They can’t understand why we should actually enjoy splitting up, but there’s a time. People grow up and leave home or whatever they do. They go for a change, and it was really time for a change.”

It was a view echoed by Harrison in an interview with Musician magazine in 1987. “I just got so fed up with the bad vibes,” he said. “I didn’t care if it was The Beatles. I was getting out.”

Neil Crossley

Neil Crossley is a freelance writer and editor whose work has appeared in publications such as The Guardian, The Times, The Independent and the FT. Neil is also a singer-songwriter, fronts the band Furlined and was a member of International Blue, a ‘pop croon collaboration’ produced by Tony Visconti.