George Harrison Wrote ‘Old Brown Shoe’ on an Instrument He Didn’t Usually Play, but Played Bass Like ‘a Lunatic’

George Harrison rarely strayed from his guitar, but he did for “Old Brown Shoe” twice. He wrote the song on an instrument he barely knew how to play and then added bass to the track in the recording studio.

George Harrison at a press conference for the release of 'Help!' in 1965.
George Harrison | Donaldson/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

George Harrison wrote ‘Old Brown Shoe’ on the piano

In his 1980 memoir, I Me Mine, George said he wrote “Old Brown Shoe” on the piano, an instrument he wasn’t very familiar with.

“‘Old Brown Shoe.’ I started the chord sequences on the piano (which I don’t really play) and then began writing ideas for the words from various opposites: ‘I want a love that’s right/ But right is only half of what’s wrong.” Again it’s the duality of things–yes-no, up-down, left-right, right-wrong, etc.”

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George played bass on ‘Old Brown Shoe’ like ‘a lunatic’

During an interview with Creem Magazine, George said he liked playing the bass.

He said, “But I do: I think bass is a good instrument because, even without being clever, the part of the bass is real­ly important in the way it holds it all down with the bass drum. I like a bass when it doesn’t get in the way of anything.

“I also like really clever bass, like Willie Weeks, who is very clever and funky and ver­satile, but at the same time is very melodic, too. So I do like that kind of bass playing­ but for my kind of music, bass really just needs to hit the right notes at the right time.”

George added that he didn’t get to play bass on his 1987 album Cloud Nine because producer and friend Jeff Lynne also liked playing the instrument.

George played bass on a couple of Beatles songs, including “Old Brown Shoe,” “Bungalow Bill,” “Back in the U.S.S.R.,” and “She Said She Said.”

On “Old Brown Shoe,” George said, “It’s like a lunatic playing.” Creem’s J. Kordosh pointed out, “It sounds like McCartney was going nuts again.” George replied that it was him going nuts. He added, “I’m doing ex­actly what I do on the guitar.”

Kordosh thought George played bass on his song “For You Blue,” but George confirmed that it was Paul who played the instrument. “I don’t even remember that song,” George said. “No, wait a minute ­’For You Blue’ was Paul, Paul was on that. Unless you’re talking about the live version which nobody’s heard, but that’s Willie Weeks.”

However, there might be some confusion on who really plays bass on “Old Brown Shoe.”

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There’s some debate on if George actually appears on the track

According to Song Facts, fans still debate whether it’s George or Paul playing bass on “Old Brown Shoe.”

“The various editing sessions in the studio muddy the waters quite a bit,” Song Facts writes. During the Let It Be sessions, The Beatles did two recordings, one with George and his piano accompaniment, and one with the whole group plus Billy Preston.

“They rehearsed the song eight more times for these sessions, and there’s some bootlegs of these tapes out there. Then a complicated hail of edits on different tracks ensued when they actually went to record ‘Old Brown Shoe,’ with Harrison replacing two guitar tracks with his own and wiping Lennon’s rhythm guitar in favor of a Hammond organ.”

Meanwhile, Paul added drums to the song, something he rarely did as well. Whoever played bass, George or Paul, “Old Brown Shoe” is one of George’s best Beatles songs.

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