George Harrison said The Beatles’ musical direction in 1967 was a big “joke.” He said the band wasn’t doing anything different, but that was the problem.
George Harrison said he felt stale touring all the time with The Beatles
In 1977, George spoke to Crawdaddy (per George Harrison on George Harrison: Interviews and Encounters) about The Beatles’ musical direction in the first half of the 1960s. He explained that he missed the band’s days of performing in Hamburg, Germany. It was a very experimental and creative time for them. They played night after night, but everything and anything was on the table for their shows.
George missed that once The Beatles began touring the world. He said it was a “drag” touring and playing the same tunes.
“I felt stale, you know because you play the same riffs da-dada-ding-ding-dow, you know, ‘Twist and Shout’ and things,” George said. However, once touring stopped, George felt out of touch with the guitar. He’d repeatedly played the same five tunes for months and had turned to the sitar for a bit of excitement.
Fortunately, George had time to spend as much time in the recording studio once the band put touring to rest. Although, the experimental period that commenced didn’t last too long, according to George.
George said The Beatles’ musical direction in 1967 was a big ‘joke’
By 1967, George began to feel stale again. The Beatles were experimenting, but that doesn’t mean they were changing or putting much effort into anything.
Melody Maker (per George Harrison on George Harrison) asked, “George, can you tell where the Beatles are at musically today? What are you trying to do?”
“Nothing,” George said. “We’re not trying to do anything. This is the big joke. It’s all Cosmic Joke. Everyone gets our records and says ‘wonder how they thought of that?’ or ‘wonder what they’re planning next?’ or whatever they do say.
“But we don’t plan anything. We don’t do anything. All we do is just keep on being ourselves. It just comes out. It’s the Beatles. All any of us are trying to do now is get as much peace and love as possible. Love will never be played out because you can’t play out the truth. Whatever I say can be taken a million different ways depending on how screwed up the reader is.
“But the Beatles is just a hobby really … it’s just doing it on its own. We don’t even have to think about it. The songs write themselves. It just all works out. Everything that we’re taking into our minds and trying to learn or find out—and I feel personally it’s such a lot, there’s so much to get in—and yet the output coming out the back end is still so much smaller than what you’re putting in.
“Everything is relative to everything else. We know that now. So we’ve got to a point where when people say ‘there’s nothing else you can do,’ we know that’s only from where they are. They look up and think we can’t do anymore, but when you’re up there you see you haven’t started.”
According to George, The Beatles could’ve been doing a lot more.
He felt the band wasn’t doing enough
George didn’t think The Beatles were doing enough to change and explore. He looked at his musical guru, legendary sitarist, Ravi Shankar, and saw everything he was doing. It made him feel stuck in a stale rock band.
“Take Ravi Shankar, who is so brilliant,” George said. “With pop music, the more you listen to it, the more you get to know it, the more you see through it and the less satisfaction it gives you whereas Indian music and Ravi Shankar as a person … it’s exactly the opposite because the more you’re able to understand the music, the more you see there is to appreciate. The more you get back out of it.
“You can have just one record of Indian music and play it for the rest of your life and you’d probably still never see all the subtleties in it. It’s the same with Ravi Shankar. He feels as though he hasn’t started and yet he’s doing so much, teaching so many people, writing film music, everything.”
George felt The Beatles had done everything they could do. The music they were releasing was satisfactory but nothing more. George said they’d go on and “make a better LP than Sergeant Pepper. But I don’t know what it’s going to be.”
Who could blame George, though? When The Beatles first began Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, he’d just gotten back from a six-week trip to India, where he read about ancient gurus and listened to Indian music all day at the base of the Himalayan mountains.
When he returned, George didn’t want to be in The Beatles anymore. In Here Comes The Sun: The Spiritual And Musical Journey Of George Harrison, Joshua M. Greene wrote, “The band was his job, and as a responsible member he would continue to play lead guitar and sing harmony, but meditation was revealing to him an inner person with creative energies and original ideas straining to be expressed.”
George was miserable making Sgt. Pepper.
Greene added, “George wanted to know who he was and who God was, and anything unrelated, however innovative, failed to hold his interest. Paul had come up with an innovative idea for their current album. The Beatles would pretend to be someone else, a make-believe group called Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, and every time one of the Beatles sang, he would pretend to be someone in the made-up band.
“The idea left George cold and bored. They had been working on the album since November, and there was still no end in sight.”
To keep from quitting the band altogether, George started experimenting with the band’s music whenever he could. However, nothing would appease George’s soul until he left The Beatles.