Why George Harrison Tried to Give Away ‘Something’ Before The Beatles Recorded It
When George Harrison recorded “Something” with The Beatles for release on Abbey Road (1969), its success was almost a sure thing. Both John Lennon and Paul McCartney admired George’s work on the track, and for the first time ever a Harrison-penned song went out as the A-side of a Beatles single.
The record-buying public agreed with that decision, and made “Something” a Billboard No. 1 hit following its October ’69 release. But it had been a bit of a winding road leading up to the recording and inclusion of “Something” on the final Beatles studio album.
During the Get Back/Let It Be sessions in early ’69, George struggled to finish his masterpiece. In a recording from the rehearsals, you hear him tell John and Paul he’d gone six months without being able to write lyrics for his music.
When he nailed down the song for a demo in Feb. ’69, he still didn’t know if it would go out on a Beatles record. And so George offered his prize song to at least one more recording artist, who recorded his version around the same time The Beatles completed theirs.
George Harrison offered ‘Something’ to Joe Cocker in 1969
After watching his Beatles bandmates show little interest in multiple new songs during the Get Back/Let It Be sessions, George considered making a solo album. And in late Feb. ’69 he took a step in that direction when he recorded demos for “Something” and two other tracks he’d written.
With the newly formed Apple Records in the mix, George had the option to pass off unused songs to artists he and The Beatles had signed. He did that in ’68 with “Sour Milk Sea,” a track he’d written before the White Album sessions. When it didn’t make the cut, Jackie Lomax recorded it with George’s help.
George apparently considered the same approach with “Something.” In March ’69, he offered the song to Joe Cocker, who accepted it. Cocker eventually used it on his second album, which was released later in the year.
As it turned out, Cocker’s album didn’t hit record stores until Nov. ’69, after Abbey Road appeared. But it’s unclear if George knew it would take that long. For that reason, some people have wondered if George didn’t have confidence in his new songs.
Beatles engineer Ken Scott said George wasn’t sure he could get his songs on Fab 4 albums
In the Martin Scorsese documentary Living in the Material World (2011), Beatles engineer Ken Scott addressed the theory that George didn’t believe in his new material. Scott, who recorded George’s demo of “Something,” said it more likely had to do with finding space on Beatles records.
“I don’t honestly believe that giving ‘Something’ to Joe Cocker […] had anything to do with his confidence as a songwriter,” Scott said. “I think he was totally confident about the songs. The insecurity may have been, ‘If The Beatles kept going, how many songs am I going to be able to get on each album?'”
Considering George had just witnessed his bandmates pass on “All Things Must Pass” and “Isn’t It a Pity” (among others), no one can blame him for that thought process. It became a moot point anyway. Before Cocker’s version (and Sinatra’s famous version) went out, fans got to hear the songwriter himself sing “Something” with The Beatles behind him.