How George Harrison’s Wife Olivia Helped Him in the Songwriting Process
Many women helped George Harrison throughout his career. His mother Louise supported him when he was a boy with a dream of becoming the next Carl Perkins. Then, his first wife, Pattie Boyd, inspired him to write The Beatles’ “Something,” one of the best love songs ever. But only one woman helped him the most and continues to help him years after his death, his wife, Olivia. It’s only fitting that Olivia gets to look over her husband’s legacy when she helped write some of his songs.
Olivia wasn’t just an inspiration and a muse for George. She helped him in the song process whenever she could, and she’s still helping by spending hours remastering George’s albums and finding lost lyrics in the seat cushions of their couches years later.
George Harrison would scribble things down and stash them away in odd places
George had an interesting way of writing things down. Olivia told Billboard that George would be “walking around and take a piece of paper out of his pocket and it would end up somewhere. Maybe he would stick it in a book or in a drawer or somewhere.”
Sometimes they weren’t even lyrics. George would often think of something, usually a strange, nonsensical sentence, and Olivia would find it later, confused.
“George wrote a lot of his thoughts down himself,” Olivia explained. “Sometimes it was just one sentence that you just thought, ‘What does this mean? ‘Goats on my roof’ what does that mean?’ Or ‘When you strip it all away, there is only love.’ Which is a very beautiful line he just wrote on a piece notepad from a hotel.”
It was Olivia’s job to keep a hold of these strange notes. They were the precious musings of her husband. Now she probably wishes she could find more hanging about the place.
Olivia Harrison was George Harrison’s ‘amanuensis’
During her interview with Billboard, Olivia confirmed that she would help George write down lyrics in the songwriting process. George would tell Olivia the lyrics as they came to him, and she’d write them down as he was trying to figure out the chords. Essentially, she was his “amanuensis.”
“Sometimes if he was working on playing the guitar he’d say some lyrics and if he didn’t have a tape cassette I would try take the role of the amanuensis [laughs], you know, just copy down what he was saying so he wouldn’t forget. Most of the time he’d say go and grab the cassette recorder,” Olivia explained.
However, Oliva said George didn’t really enter a “trance-like state” while writing songs. He would just get excellent ideas and get lost in them. “It wasn’t a trance,” she said. “He was just like, ‘Oh, I just had an idea’ and a light bulb would go off and then off he’d go. I’m not a songwriter so I can’t really explain it, but I’m sure anyone that with an idea like you as a writer, I’m sure you go, ‘Ahhhhhh, I got to get that down.’ It’s the same in every creative process.”
Olivia Harrison would help George Harrison with melodies
Olivia wasn’t just George’s amanuensis. She actually helped build the songs, at least melody-wise. He would play her music, asking if it was good or not, and she’d give her advice.
“Sometimes he would play a couple of chords and he would go ‘Is that anything? Is that something.’ I’d go, ‘Nah, I don’t think so.’ I know a lot of songs going back to the 1950s. Sometimes I’d say that’s something and he’d just give me a look [laughs].”
Clearly, Olivia was a big help to George in his overall songwriting process during their marriage. She made sure he didn’t forget essential lyrics and gave her opinions on melodies. Those are crucial things, after all. George trusted Olivia, and she’s continued to honor that trust by safeguarding his legacy.