George Harrison Claimed He Used ‘Naughty Chords’

George Harrison undoubtedly left his mark in the guitar world. His style uniquely blended all his influences, from older guitarists like Carl Perkins and Jimmie Rodgers to legendary sitarist Ravi Shankar. George helped make slide guitar popular and used chords in ways no one had before.

His friend and bandmate, Tom Petty, said George used “naughty chords” to craft his innovative songs.

George Harrison on stage with Carl Perkins in 1985.
George Harrison | Dave Hogan/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

George Harrison used ‘naughty chords’

In 1988, Tom Petty and George became bandmates in The Traveling Wilburys. They worked with Bob Dylan, Jeff Lynne, and Roy Orbison on The Traveling Wilburys Vol. 1 and later (without Orbison, who died in 1988) on Vol. 3.

The pair often jammed for hours when they weren’t working on the supergroup’s work. So, Petty was one of the only people who truly understood George’s guitar playing. In a video about George’s tribute concert, Concert for George, Petty said George used “naughty chords.”

“He had a lot of really interesting chords, you know,” Petty said. “He used augmented and diminished chords a lot; he called them the naughty chords. [Laughs].”

Jeff Lynne and George’s son, Dhani, played George’s “Isn’t It A Pity” as an example of George’s naughty chords. Lynne added, “George was bold enough to do that; change time signatures, change key with ease, but always using his favorite chord, which was the diminished.”

George also used diminished chords on ‘I’d Have You Anytime’

George used his “naughty chords” many times throughout his career, including on “I’d Have You Anytime.” In his 1980 memoir, I Me Mine, George said he wrote the song with Bob Dylan. He just started playing chords until he got the right ones.

He wrote, “I started playing chords, like major sevenths, diminisheds and augmenteds and the song appeared as I played the opening chord (G major seventh) and then moved the chord shape up the guitar neck (B flat major seventh). The first thing I thought was: ‘Let me in here/ I know I’ve been here/ Let me into your heart.'”

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The Beatle said he invented a chord

George began using strange chords in The Beatles. When the band stopped touring in 1966, it opened the door to musical exploration. In 1992, George told Guitar World that Rubber Soul and Revolver saw massive positive changes in the band.

“We just became more conscious of so many things,” he said. “We even listened deeper, somehow. That’s when I really enjoyed getting creative with the music-not just with my guitar playing and songwriting but with everything we did as a band, including the songs that the others wrote. It all deepened and became more meaningful.”

George said he invented a chord during this period. On “I Want To Tell You,” George explained, “That’s an E7th with an F on the top, played on the piano. I’m really proud of that, because I literally invented that chord.

“The song was about the frustration we all feel about trying to communicate certain things with just words. I realized the chords I knew at the time just didn’t capture that feeling. So after I got the guitar riff, I experimented until I came up with this dissonant chord that really echoed that sense of frustration.

“John later borrowed it on Abbey Road. If you listen to ‘I Want You (She’s So Heavy),’ it’s right after John sings ‘it’s driving me mad!’ To my knowledge, there’s only been one other song where somebody copped that chord-‘Back on the Chain Gang’ by the Pretenders.”

George didn’t consider himself an innovative guitar player, but he was in many ways. He pioneered naughty chords, and no one has been able to play or create them as well since.