George Harrison Said Popular Music Made Him Feel ‘Uptight’

Once George Harrison heard Indian music, popular music, and even some rock ‘n’ roll didn’t impress him. He said Eastern music was the best form of music people have. When he added it to his compositions, though, fans didn’t receive it well. So, George stopped incorporating Eastern influences in his music only in terms of sound. His songs remained spiritual.

However, that didn’t stop George from hoping Indian music would one day capture a bigger audience. Nothing else would’ve pleased him more. Ragas, mantras, chants, and everything else Hindu people used to communicate with God soothed George’s soul. Meanwhile, popular music made him feel “uptight.”

George Harrison with members of the Hare Krishna movement in 1969.
George Harrison | Keystone-France/Gamma-Keystone via Getty Images

In 1975, George told David Herman of WNEW-FM (per George Harrison on George Harrison: Interviews and Encounters) that very few people impressed him musically. The only person who wowed him was the sitar legend Ravi Shankar, his musical and spiritual guru.

“In music, well, it breaks down into … I mean there’s people who have a sort of a more worldly consciousness, and that’s why I’ve always been with Ravi Shankar because he’s bringing, particularly in the west, something obscure and creating an audience. And through his audience then he is giving them something extra which … that’s something which the people who appreciate that can get into,” George said.

Shankar and other Indian musicians created music that made Geoge think of everything in the universe. However, for George, popular music had the opposite effect.

“It’s a whole other train of thought that comes from the music,” George continued. “In simpler terms, there’s people, I like people who just convey in their music some sort of sincerity. I’m a big fan of Smokey Robinson just because musically he is so sweet, he makes you feel nice, he makes me feel good, whereas a lot of music I listen to, which is popular music, just makes me uptight.

“Even if I’m not really listening too close to it, it’s just the sound of it and the whole thing, and the repetition, the boring sort of repetition of how it’s played…”

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George said popular music didn’t give him a buzz

For George, popular music didn’t give him a buzz either.

In 1992, Guitar World asked George if any contemporary bands struck him “as having a bit of the same spark” as his early heroes. George said no.

“I can’t say I’ve really heard anything that gives me a buzz like some of that stuff we did in the Fifties and Sixties,” George said. “The last band I really enjoyed was Dire Straits on the Brothers in Arms album. To me, that was good music played well, without any of the bulls***.”

Tom Petty recalled George didn’t have much interest in rock music past 1957.

“The thing he was proudest of was the Beatles,” Petty said. “He said the Beatles put out such a positive message. He was appalled at the things being said in pop music. Once he got into his Indian music, that rock & roll music to him was in the past. I don’t think he had much interest in rock music past about ’57.”

Another friend of George’s, Elton John, said “there was a little bit of curmudgeonly commentary about bands-saying he hated Oasis and U2, bands today aren’t as good. And they probably aren’t.

“But, again, he was very forthright. There was no holding back. You know, at a time when Oasis were kissing the Beatles’ feet, George Harrison said, ‘Well, they’re rubbish.'”

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What gave the former Beatle a buzz

George loved his friend’s music way more than popular music. In 1979, he told Rolling Stone he only listened to his buddies Eric Clapton, Elton John, Bob Dylan, and “those sort of people.” He couldn’t stand punk rock.

“Elvis Costello is very good – very good melodies, good chord changes,” George said. “I’m pleased about his success, but I never liked those monotone kinds of yelling records. The old rock & roll singers sang fantastically, they had great drummers, great sax players. As far as musicianship goes, the punk bands were just rubbish – no finesse in the drumming, just a lot of noise and nothing.”

Music gave George a buzz. However, there was something else that gave George even better satisfaction. He liked the vibrations he got from chanting and doing yoga.

“I mean communication, just the realisation of human love reciprocated, it’s such a gas, it’s a good vibration which makes you feel good,” George said. “These vibrations that you get through Yoga, Cosmic chants and things like that, I mean it’s such a buzz, it buzzes you out of everywhere.

“It’s nothing to do with pills or anything like that. It’s just in your own head, the realisation, it’s such a buzz, it buzzes you right into the astral plane. The buzz of all buzzes which is the thing that is God—you’ve got to be straight to get it. Be healthy, don’t eat meat, keep away from those Night-Clubs and MEDITATE.”

It was hard to impress George, but that’s because he had high standards for music and life.

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