George Harrison Said It Was ‘Nerve-Wracking, as Usual’ Working on Tracks for John Lennon’s ‘Imagine’
The bandmates had a tense relationship when The Beatles broke up
The bandmates didn’t exactly have the best relationship in the early days of The Beatles.
In Martin Scorsese’s documentary, George Harrison: Living in the Material World, George explained that he thought John was initially embarrassed having him in The Beatles (then the Quarrymen) because he was so young.
John was three years older than George, who was 15. However, George wowed John with his guitar playing skills. Meanwhile, George looked up to John but knew how to deal with him when he got snarky.
In Here Comes the Sun: The Spiritual and Musical Journey of George Harrison, Joshua M. Greene wrote that George initially admired John’s “worldliness, his apparent sexual prowess and aggressive self-assurance, but he never let John’s sarcasm get the better of him. George would simply talk back and ‘give him a taste of his own.'”
George and John’s relationship got better with time. The pair bonded on spiritual matters. They once chanted to Krishna for hours sailing through the Greek Islands. Throughout George’s spiritual journey, John watched, amazed. They were the only Beatles who took meditation and chanting seriously at Maharishi Mahesh Yogi’s retreat in 1968.
Their relationship entered rocky waters again during the filming of Let It Be. After Paul McCartney pushed him over the edge during a recording session, George abruptly but briefly quit the band. John bluntly suggested they replace him with Eric Clapton. However, during a private conversation with Paul, John sympathized with George.
The Beatles didn’t have the best relationship with each other after that. Then, they couldn’t ignore the chasms that had formed between them any longer and officially broke up in 1970.
With tensions not quite settled, George was surprised when John invited him to play a couple of songs on Imagine a year later.
George Harrison said it was ‘nerve-wracking, as usual’ working on John Lennon’s ‘Imagine’
During a 1987 interview with Timothy White for Musician Magazine, George spoke about what it was like helping out on John’s 1971 album, Imagine. George contributed slide guitar to “Gimme Some Truth,” “I Don’t Want To Be A Soldier,” and “How Do You Sleep?” electric guitar on “Oh My Love,” and dobro to “Crippled Inside.”
George said it was “nerve-wracking, as usual” working with John because it was still awkward between them following The Beatles’ split.
“It was nerve-wracking, as usual,” George said. “Previously I’d worked on ‘Instant Karma.’ At that time very strange, intense feelings were going on. Sometimes people don’t talk to each other, thinking they’re not going to be the one to phone you up and risk rejection.
“With John, I knew Klaus Voorman, the bass player, so I could at least ask what was going on over at his little eight-track studio in his house at Tittenhurst Park, and how Klaus was doing. John said, ‘Oh, you know, you should come over,’ so I just put me guitar and amplifier in the car. I turned up and he was openly pleased I came.”
John inviting George to work on Imagine proves a point George made during a 1989 interview with Mark Rowland (per George Harrison on George Harrison: Interviews and Encounters). George explained he and John were never upset with each other for very long because John always offered an olive branch for his negative behavior.
“But John, you know, he was a good lad, he was—there was a part of him that was saintly, that aspired to the truth and great things,” George said. “And there was a part of him that was just, you know… a looney! [Lauaghter.]
“Just like the rest of us! And he had his mood swings and that, but he was basically very honest. If he was a bastard one day, he’d say, ‘Ah well, f*** that, you know, I’m sorry, I was wrong.’ And he’d just deflate any feeling you had against him, any negative feeling. Not like some other people I know who sit on walls … and don’t come clean.”
George was glad to do ‘How Do You Sleep?’ on John’s ‘Imagine’
John wrote “How Do You Sleep?” as an angry and scathing letter to Paul. They hadn’t resolved their relationship with a collaboration like John and George. John thought Paul was singing personal slights at him on Ram.
Whatever was happening with John and Paul, George was glad not to be on the receiving end of the song and certainly agreed with John’s sentiments about Paul.
“I enjoyed ‘How Do You Sleep?'” George told White. “I liked being on that side of it with Paul [chuckles] rather than on the receiving end.”
Eventually, Paul repaired his relationships with George and John as best he could. However, George maintained that he’d never join a band with his bandmate again, unlike John. George said he would’ve been bandmates with John again in a heartbeat. For a moment, he and John were during the Imagine sessions.