Tom Petty Said George Harrison ‘Never Really Pursued a Solo Career’
When George Harrison left The Beatles, he had to do something. He’d been overlooked by his bandmates for years, even though he’d become an excellent songwriter. In fact, George had become such a great songwriter that tunes constantly flowed out of him until he had so many that he had to start stockpiling them.
So, when he left the biggest band in the world, he had to do something with all his songs. He told his friend Tom Petty that he only released his debut solo album, All Things Must Pass, as a reaction to leaving The Beatles. There was no other reason. He wanted to prove to the world that he was just as great as Lennon/McCartney.
However, George found himself in a pickle when critics and fans loved the triple album. If All Things Must Pass was a success, well, then he might as well continue to release music if everyone loved his songs so much. But starting a solo career wasn’t his priority in 1970.
Tom Petty said George Harrison ‘never really pursued a solo career’
George’s good friend, Tom Petty, told Rolling Stone that George didn’t ever pursue a solo career. It just sort of fell in his lap once his solo debut started dominating the charts.
“He told me something once like, ‘I never really pursued a solo career. All Things Must Pass was a reaction to leaving the Beatles. I had to do something.’ And when that went so well, he made another one,” Petty explained. “But he never really had a manager or anybody to report to, and I don’t think he had any interest in touring. He told me many times he was very uncomfortable being the guy up front having to sing all the songs. It was just not his idea of fun.”
With everything George was going through while making All Things Must Pass, we understand why he didn’t initially think about a solo career.
During an interview with Esquire, George’s son, Dhani, said that he wanted fans to feel what George was experiencing in 1970 when they heard the album’s reissue.
“I’m really trying to draw everyone into the feeling of what it must have been like for him to start off at 27, renovating a house that took him the rest of his life, and at the same time, his band had broken up, he had Hare Krishnas living here, he was separating from his wife, his mother passed away during the making the record—it was a lot of really spiritual moments for my dad with this record,” Dhani explained.
“You know it’s his make-or-break record, being his first solo album, and not a lot of people have the confidence, or are even allowed, to go for a triple-vinyl first album. It was a big swing, and he hit a home run,” Dhani continued.
However, George likely wouldn’t have pursued a solo career after The Beatles because he didn’t want to be famous anymore.
George was sick of fame
If there’s one thing George hated most, it was fame. He once told Rolling Stone, “The Beatles exist apart from myself. I am not really Beatle George. Beatle George is like a suit or shirt that I once wore on occasion, and until the end of my life people may see that shirt and mistake it for me. I play a little guitar, write a few tunes, make a few movies, but none of that’s really me. The real me is something else.”
After leaving The Beatles, George’s priority was fixing up Friar Park (mainly its gardens) and doing what he loved, which was jamming well into the night, with or without friends.
“The pressure, you know, of the people expecting you to do something,” George told Entertainment Tonight. George hated being “put in a little box and looked at through microscopes.” It made him feel paranoid, “afraid to go anywhere and to play guitars with other people.”
“Try to be just an ordinary person and play a few tunes but they won’t let you do that,” George said. “They want you to come out there with flames coming out of your fingers, singing all these things that don’t really exist. It’s just all in their concept of what it was. Then is then, and now is now.”
George was indifferent to making new music
The ex-Beatle might have had tons of songs stockpiled, but that doesn’t mean he wanted a solo career. George constantly wrote songs whether he was going to release them or not. As Petty said, Geoge was never far from music.
However, he made tunes on his own terms. No one was going to make him do anything. If he didn’t want to make music, he didn’t. In fact, throughout 1977, George didn’t even write a single song because he was so sick of the music industry.
“I’d just turned off from the music business altogether,” George told Rolling Stone in 1979. “Just sick of the whole thing. Really, it comes down to ego. You have to have a big ego in order to keep plodding on being in the public eye. If you want to be popular and famous, you can do it; it’s dead easy if you have that ego desire. But most of my ego desires as far as being famous and successful were fulfilled a long time ago.”
“I still enjoy writing a tune and enjoy in a way making a record,” George continued. “But I hate that whole thing of when you put it out, you become a part of the overall framework of the business. And I was a bit bored with that. If I write a tune and people think it’s nice then that’s fine by me; but I hate having to compete and promote the thing.”
In 1992, George uncomfortably accepted the Billboard Century Award. Knowing George’s thoughts on fame, it’s surprising he even showed up. His wife Olivia once said that he often told her to get some other monkey to get his awards, that he didn’t want them.
Still, George showed, and in his acceptance speech, he said he didn’t know how to deal with all the flattery. He said if he had anyone to thank for his career (“if a career is what you’d call it because I haven’t really dealt with it as some people deal with their careers”), it would be his friends. George only needed friends and music. Not a solo career.