George Harrison Did Something Uncharacteristic While Writing ‘When We Was Fab’

George Harrison said he did something uncharacteristic while writing his 1987 song, “When We Was Fab.” He wanted to evoke the spirit of The Beatles in the song.

George Harrison at the airport in 1988.
George Harrison, writer of ‘When We Was Fab’ | Vinnie Zuffante/Getty Images

George Harrison wanted ‘When We Was Fab’ to be a ‘montage’ of The Beatles’ period

Being Beatle George was hard. He wasn’t suited to fame and didn’t enjoy appeasing fans and record companies. People didn’t leave George alone after The Beatles split, either. They constantly wanted a piece of him. He only wanted to jam with friends and garden. It was how he connected to God.

Eventually (and surprisingly), in the 1980s, George came to terms with being a Beatle. When he entered the studio in 1987 to record Cloud Nine, he suddenly wanted to create a song that evoked the spirit of his old band.

George told Timothy White at Goldmine that the song he wanted to write was “reminiscent of that period.” The sounds in “When We Was Fab” come from that time; the cellos, the backward bits, and the sitars. “It was like a whole collection of impressions, a montage of that period,” George said.

George told White (for Musician Magazine) that he got the idea for the chords while he and his co-producer, Jeff Lynne, were in Australia. “I began the song on a little guitar someone loaned me, and I got three or four chords into it when the string broke,” he explained.

“We had to go to dinner but luckily there was a piano at the person’s house where we went, so with people frying stuff in the background, we got on the piano and pursued three chords. They turned into the verse part of ‘When We Was Fab.’

“The first thing I constructed was a tempo announcement, with Ringo going, ‘One, two, da-da-dum, da-da-dum.’ Next we laid the guitar, piano and drum framework, and I wasn’t too sure what it was gonna turn into. But the idea was that it would evoke a Fabs song. It was always intended to be lots of fun.”

George further evoked his band’s spirit by using chords from two of his Beatles songs.

White pointed out, “Maybe it’s this California setting, but the first bygone Beatles track it made me think of was one you wrote for ‘Magical Mystery Tour’ based on your temporary 1967 L.A. address between Beverly Hills and Laurel Canyon.”

George knew the song he spoke of; “Blue Jay Way.” He added, “It’s in there. And also this funny chord, an E and an F at the same time, like one I had on the old Beatle record, ‘I Want To Tell You.’ It also has that chord in John’s ‘She’s So Heavy.'”

George said he did something uncharacteristic on ‘When We Was Fab’

George also admitted to White that he did something uncharacteristic on “When We Was Fab.” He started recording the song before he finished writing the lyrics. It was strange for him.

“Anyway, every so often we took the tape of ‘Fab’ out and overdubbed more, and it developed and took shape to where we wrote words,” George explained. “This was an odd experience for me; I’ve normally finished all of the songs I’ve done–with the exception of maybe a few words here and there-before I ever recorded them. But Jeff doesn’t do that at all. He’s making them up as he goes along.

“That to me is a bit like, ‘Ohh nooo, that’s too mystical. I wanna know where we’re heading.’ But in another way it’s good because you don’t have to finalize your idea ’till the last minute.”

Related

George Harrison Hated Receiving Awards: ‘Get Some Other Monkey’

John Lennon taught George to always finish his songs

George likely always finished his songs because of his former bandmate John Lennon.

In Peter Jackson’s The Beatles: Get Back, George tells John that he went to bed late. He had to finish writing a song.

He explained that he kept hearing John’s voice “from about 10 years ago, saying, ‘finish ’em straight away, as soon as you start ’em, finish ’em.'” John replied, “But I never do it, though. I can’t do it, but I know it’s the best.”

George often took John’s advice and finished his songs for one crucial reason. He’d likely lose his initial inspiration if he didn’t finish them.

Still, George’s “When We Was Fab” turned out great, even if George didn’t listen to John’s voice in his head. It’s a touching tribute to his Beatle days, even more so because he wasn’t always such a fan of them.