Tom Petty Had an Interesting Theory on Why People Called George Harrison the ‘Quiet Beatle’

If you’ve ever seen The Beatles during an interview, you know that they were all witty in their own way. Most of the time, they could also be really loud and hilarious. In the early days, they all had something to prove. John Lennon, Paul McCartney, Ringo Starr, and George Harrison all wanted to be heard. It was an ego thing; they all wanted their little witticisms to have a lasting effect. So, why was George labeled as the “quiet Beatle”? His friend Tom Petty had an interesting theory.

The Beatles drinking tea at a press conference at London Airport, 1964.
The Beatles | Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Tom Petty guessed that people called George Harrison the ‘quiet Beatle’ because the rest of The Beatles were louder

George and Tom Petty met in 1974, four years after George left The Beatles. Petty wasn’t friends with the band during their ten-year run together. Yet, he knew more than most through what George used to tell him. One of the things Petty never understood, though, was how anyone could call George the “quiet Beatle.”

“He never shut up,” Petty told Rolling Stone in 2002, a year after George died. “George had a lot to say. Boy, did he have a lot to say. That’s hysterical to me, you know, that he was known as the quiet one.”

Petty continued to say that he guessed that even though George was loud himself, he likely got his nickname because he just wasn’t as loud as the rest of The Beatles. “I assume he got that name because the other ones were so much louder,” Petty explained.

“I mean, they were very loud people. [laughs] One time he told me, ‘Me and Olivia had Paul and Linda over the other night, and you would have thought there were a hundred people in the house, it was so loud.'”

George also probably got his nickname because he was quiet sometimes, at least compared to John and Paul’s often rambunctiousness during interviews. Plus, reporters seemed to want to talk to the songwriting partners more anyway.

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Petty said George ‘never shut up’ because he said ‘everything that crossed his mind’

It’s easy to be loud when you have an idea a minute, like Petty said was the case with George. He never shut up because he said everything that crossed his mind. However, George didn’t have much of a filter because he had a lot of living to do.

“I’ll tell you, nobody I’ve encountered ever lived his life more every day than George did,” Petty said. “He crammed in a lot of living and didn’t waste his time. And he had an idea a minute. Some nights he would have so many great ideas. George really said everything that crossed his mind. I used to say, ‘You really can’t get a thought to your brain without it slipping out your mouth.’

Petty also said it was what came out of George’s mouth that was more interesting. He was often painfully honest. “It was an endearing trait, but sometimes you hoped that he wouldn’t be quite as honest as he was going to be.”

George’s painful honesty and cynicism didn’t peeve Petty, though. He thought George was his funniest when he was cynical. “Let’s be honest. There was Cranky George, and he could be very cynical at times. He would always be the first to nail himself as being too cynical, but he was quite funny when he was really cynical.”

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Petty said George loved The Beatles deep down

One of the most significant topics that George was painfully honest about was The Beatles. Yet, after hearing everything the ex-Beatle had to say about his old band, Petty recognized that George loved his ex-bandmates deep down.

“I just know what I’ve heard from George as the years went by,” Petty explained. “But he was very funny, like, ‘The Beatles, they weren’t all that they were cracked up to be [laughs].’ He loved the Beatles. He used to b**** sometimes about individual Beatles who got on his nerves. But he really loved them down deep, and I knew this. I think that a lot of George’s personality was formed by George. This is just a guess, but that was the way it appeared to me. He looked up to John so much. He said, ‘Oh, John would be a Wilbury in a second.’ He’d say about Paul, ‘Paul is a year older than me, and he still is.’ But he really loved Paul, too. And he really loved Ringo.”

It might have been hard to admit that he was proud of The Beatles with all his bluntness and cynicism, but George did love the band. However, if given a chance to do it all over again, George always firmly said he wouldn’t.