Why George Harrison Said He Felt ‘Constipated’ Being in The Beatles
On most levels, being in The Beatles was the wildest dream of any musician. However, by 1968, it didn’t feel that way to everyone in the Fab Four. You only need to look at the walkout staged by Ringo (of all people) that summer to get a hint of the tensions in the Beatle universe.
Ringo had been feeling isolated and he resented Paul McCartney suggesting how he should play drums. So he rounded up his family and flew to Italy. That’s how Paul ended up on drums on several White Album songs.
In the case of George Harrison, the Beatles’ lead guitarist had grown tired of playing runner-up to Paul and John Lennon. After dealing with Paul’s endless run-throughs on tracks like “Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da,” George began wondering why his excellent new material was getting ignored.
Though he did end up with a song on each of the White Album’s four sides, he was still in many ways a junior partner in the band. (Paul and John each had 13 songs on the record.) That wouldn’t change until he went solo, and George compared the limitations of his Beatles days to being constipated.
George watched 1 song after another get passed over for Beatles albums.
If you read Beatles engineer Geoff Emerick’s Here, There and Everywhere, you get a feel for the group’s dynamic from the point of view of a record-label employee. Emerick described how the clock would start ticking faster whenever the band took up a song by George.
That’s how Paul ended up taking the guitar solo on “Taxman,” George’s track that opened the album. George Martin, the head of Parlophone and the Beatles’ producer, didn’t want to waste time while George tried to get the solo right. So Paul took over.
Looking back on his time with the Fab Four in 1977, George described his frustrations and how he ended up “pigeon-holed” late in the band’s run. After such a sustained run of brilliant songs, no one wanted to mess with the Lennon-McCartney formula.
“I’d always have to wait through 10 of [John and Paul’s] songs before they’d even listen to one of mine,” George said. “That was why All Things Must Pass had so many songs, because it was like I’d been constipated.”
George had to go solo to get all his songs onto a record.
In some ways, you can’t blame George Martin for thinking he’d stick with the proven commodity that was Lennon and McCartney. However, with all the space on The White Album, it seems odd the band passed on “Not Guilty,” a solid track by George that stands up to, say, “Everybody’s Got Something to Hide Except for Me and My Monkey.”
Likewise, under other circumstances, “Sour Milk Sea” would have been a better choice than “Wild Honey Pie” and the brief “Can You Take Me Back.” But that’s not how Beatles albums worked in those days.
Things might have changed had the band recorded a record after Abbey Road. In a newly discovered tape of George talking with John and Paul in 1969, John can be heard advocating for George to get an equal number of songs the next time around.
But The Beatles broke up before that could happen. And, once George released his hit solo record in late 1970, there would be no turning back.