George Harrison initially wrote “Cheer Down” for Eric Clapton’s 1989 album, Journeyman. However, director Dick Donner heard the song and snatched it for his 1989 film Lethal Weapon 2.
George Harrison wrote ‘Cheer Down’ with Tom Petty and based the song on something his wife used to say to him
In 1988, George and Tom Petty became bandmates in The Traveling Wilburys. They also became close friends. George asked Petty to help him write “Cheer Down.”
In a special edition of Rolling Stone, “Remembering George,” Petty explained that he and George based “Cheer Down” on something George’s wife, Olivia, used to say to him when he got overexcited.
“Olivia would say that to George when he got a little too happy,” Petty explained. “He would get a burst of enthusiasm, and she’d say, ‘OK, cheer down, big fellow.'”
George’s initial plan for “Cheer Down” was to give it to his long-time friend and collaborator, Eric Clapton.
George planned to give ‘Cheer Down’ to Clapton
During a 1992 interview with Timothy White for Goldmine, George explained that he initially planned to give “Cheer Down” to Clapton.
“Film director Dick Donner asked me if I’d give him a song, because I’m friendly with the guy who does the music, Michael Kamen,” George explained. “And I’d met Dick Donner a number of times. I think Eric was supposed to do it.
“I’d written that song to give to Eric for his ‘Journeyman’ album: I wrote the tune and then Tom Petty helped me write the lyrics. Eric has asked me for some songs for the ‘Journeyman’ album. So I wrote about four tunes that I took to him, and that was one of them.
“He did one of the songs on ‘Journeyman,’ it’s called ‘Run So Far,’ and there was another one which was an outtake but we got to use it on the (Nobody’s Child) Romanian Angel (Appeal) album, a song called ‘That Kind of Woman.’
“Dick Donner heard ‘Cheer Down’ and asked if he could have it for the film. It’s on the end credits of ‘Lethal Weapon 2.'”
However, according to George Harrison on George Harrison: Interviews and Encounters, George said in a 1989 interview that he saw the action film before writing the song.
George feared the song would disappear
“Cheer Down” appeared on the soundtrack to Lethal Weapon 2. George later added it to his 1989 album Best of Dark Horse 1976-1989. Eight years after George died, his estate added the song to 2009’s Let It Roll: Songs by George Harrison.
George was happy to have performed the song live during his and Clapton’s tour of Japan in 1991. He feared the song would’ve disappeared had he not performed it on the tour. Warner Bros. films and records didn’t do right by it.
He told White, “Then something funny happened between Warner Films and Warner Records. And instead of it coming out with the video and the bits of the movie, and the soundtrack album, and all that, they kinda screwed that all up.
“‘Cause I thought that was a good single, so I’m glad to have done it in the concert, because I didn’t want that song to disappear. A lot of people heard it in the movie but probably didn’t relate to it as you would if it’s on an album.”
Touring Japan allowed George to perform some of his songs he hadn’t before. He got to freshen them up with a new live performance and remind his fans of them, and “Cheer Down” was one of them. However, it’s curious to think what would’ve happened to the song had Donner not snatched it.