Why George Harrison’s Breathtaking ‘Sour Milk Sea’ Didn’t Make ‘The White Album’
Though fans and rock critics went wild for George Harrison’s work on Abbey Road, he didn’t feel like he’d had an epiphany while working on the final Beatles studio album. For him, it was more of the same quality material he’d been producing — just a little more radio-friendly.
“I thought ‘Something’ and ‘Here Comes The Sun’ [were] ok,” he told David Wigg in 1969. “Maybe a bit more commercial but as songs not much better than my songs on [The White Album]. So, in my own mind, I don’t see what the fuss is.”
Considering George had “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” and “Long, Long, Long” on the White Album, he had a point. In fact, George had more where that came from when the Fab Four recorded its only double album.
On top of “Not Guilty,” which the Beatles started recording but abandoned, George had a gorgeous song called “Sour Milk Sea” he thought would work for The White Album. But it didn’t make it on the record for a few reasons.
George gave the song to Jackie Lomax, who’d signed on at Apple.
While “Not Guilty” might have been too tricky for the Beatles to play, “Sour Milk Sea” didn’t make The White Album for a simpler reason: George gave it away. Jackie Lomax, a friend of his who’d been among Apple’s first signings, was preparing to make an album.
George wanted Lomax to get off on the right foot and offered him the song. (Lomax gladly took the track as his debut single on Apple). But George didn’t just give Lomax a quality song; he also produced it and played on the record, too.
If that weren’t enough, George brought in Paul McCartney, Ringo, and his pal Eric Clapton to play on the June ’68 sessions with him. (Nicky Hopkins plays piano.) In short, George supplied Lomax with an all-star band at his first Apple record date.
And Lomax didn’t disappoint. However, his “Sour Milk Sea” definitely ended up more muddled — especially the vocals — than the demo George recorded after his return from India in early ’68.
George had never given away a song before ‘Sour Milk Sea.’
For years, George seemed to have the problem of not having enough material. On Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, he only managed to get one of his songs on the record. That track, “Within Without You,” had Indian instrumentation behind him.
By The White Album, he had an abundance of rock material — so much so that he gave away one of his songs without recording it. (That was a first for him.) It was no throwaway, either.
On his stripped-down demo with Paul and Ringo, “Sour Milk Sea” features George Harrison vocals at their finest. It’s interesting to think of how the band would have tackled the song (and where they might have placed it) on The White Album.
As for Lomax’s single, it wasn’t the success everyone hoped it would be. Even with Clapton and three Beatles behind him, the track didn’t make the UK charts at all (and failed to crack the top 100 in the U.S., too). Maybe George should have been selfish with his song.