Arts/Literature

George Harrison’s Don’t Bother Me…and then there were three….

And so The Beatles acquired a third great songwriter…

“‘Don’t Bother Me’ I wrote in a hotel in Bournemouth, where we were playing a summer season in 1963, as an exercise to see if I could write a song. I was sick in bed.” – George Harrison

George Harrison, 'A Hard Day's Night' period (image courtesy imdb.com)

George Harrison, ‘A Hard Day’s Night’ period (image courtesy imdb.com)

John Lennon and Paul McCartney have long been ranked among the premiere songwriters of the 20th century. That the pair both wrote for the same band is certainly a central element of the The Beatles’ standing in rock history.  Any band with two great songwriters is certainly very, very lucky.

As we all know, the Fabs didn’t have two great songwriters – they had three. The emergence of George Harrison’s songwriting talent only serves to reiterate that, as in so much of their lives and career,  The Beatles were winners of whatever history’s equivalent of the Powerball is.

George, who was given the moniker “the quiet Beatle,” might better have been denominated “the independent Beatle.” Because he was younger (and remember, Paul, and George got together when they were very young and Paul had to sell John on allowing George to join the band that eventually became THE band), his status was predicated on 1) his guitar playing (which was better than anyone’s, not excluding John or Paul) and 2) his absolute commitment to the cause (which equaled John’s and Paul’s). That he might be a creative contributor was a matter of little importance to the creative power center that was Lennon/McCartney. George, however, was a force to be reckoned with….

George was dismissive of his first songwriting effort:

I don’t think it’s a particularly good song; it mightn’t be a song at all. But at least it showed me that all I needed to do was keep on writing and maybe eventually I would write something good. I still feel now: I wish I could write something good. It’s relativity. It did, however, provide me with an occupation.

As we know, George did write “something good.” The second most covered Beatles song is “Something,” and the rest of George’s catalogue is as impressive as those of his “big brothers” John and Paul.

But like many a great artist, George had to begin somewhere. He began with “Don’t Bother Me”:

The lyrics are atypical for Beatles’ songs of what has been called their “Edenic” period; while ostensibly a love song, “Don’t Bother Me’s” lyrics express the alienation that George felt, much of it caused by the relentless crush of Beatlemania on a reflective, contemplative soul as Harrison was:

“Don’t Bother Me”

Since she’s been gone
I want no one
To talk to me
It’s not the same
But I’m to blame
It’s plain to seeSo go away and leave me alone
Don’t bother meI can’t believe
That she would leave
Me on my own
It’s just not right
Where every night
I’m all aloneI’ve got no time for you right now
Don’t bother meI know I’ll never be the same
If I don’t get her back again
Because I know she’ll always be
The only girl for me

But till she’s here
Please don’t come near
just stay away
I’ll let you know
When she’s come home
Untill that the day

Don’t come around leave me alone
Don’t bother me

I’ve got no time for you right now
Don’t bother me

I know I’ll never be the same
If I don’t get her back again
Because I know she’ll always be
The only girl for me

But till she’s here
Please don’t come near
Just stay away
I’ll let you know
When she’s come home
Until that the day

Don’t come around leave me alone
Don’t bother me
Don’t bother me
Don’t bother me

While “Don’t Bother Me” appeared on the first American Beatles album to gain traction in the market, it wasn’t until a year later that George’s second song. “I Need You,” a much more conventional love song, appeared. Part of the reason for that delay lies in this explanation George offered to an interviewer near the end of the band’s career:

“I used to have a hang-up about telling John, Paul and Ringo I had a song for an album,” George admitted in 1969, “because I felt mentally, at that time, as if I was trying to compete.  And in a way, the standard of the songs had to be good, because (John and Paul’s) were very good.  I don’t want The Beatles to be recording rubbish for my sake…just because I wrote it.”

He needn’t have worried. “Don’t Bother Me” stands up very well, both as an admirable first effort and as a harbinger of the songwriter who would give us classics such as “Think for Yourself,” “Taxman,” “Within You, Without You,” and “Here Comes the Sun.”

And so The Beatles acquired a third great songwriter. To put it another way, the rich got richer.

7 replies »

  1. Don’t Bother Me was not on the Beatles first album. It was on the second. Also, I Need You appeared two years later, in 1965, on the Help LP. Check your facts before you start typing.

    • Yes, “Don’t Bother Me” appeared on the 2nd British album. But it appeared on “Meet the Beatles,” the first Beatles album with wide distribution in the US. And yes, “I Need You” appeared on “Help.” I owned both albums in their American formats. As for the cheap shot, check your own facts. The VeeJay album, released a few days before “MTB,” didn’t get any traction in the US until after “Meet the Beatles.” But this feels like a picayune argument at best, the only kind the internet seems to foster. BTW, a year after “Meet the Beatles” appeared in early ’64 would be 1965 – when “Help” appeared. I mean, really, dude…. Still, I’ll update to avoid more snark.

  2. The British releases are the official record…period. The American counterparts were replaced by the British albums back in the mid-80’s with the arrival of the compact disc, so one has to assume that most of today’s music-buying public are familiar with the British albums and not the various Vee-Jay, Tollie, Swan and Capitol releases. Up until Sgt. Pepper, that is. Am I just being picky (snarky)? Probably.

    • I’d say less snarky than – scholarly, perhaps? And we can argue this, of course, with me citing Capitol’s re-release of the American versions of the albums on cd as evidence that for a big chunk of the Beatles’ original audience the aesthetic experience of those American versions gives them a gravitas that deserves respect (I realize I’m ignoring EMI’s greed as a part – maybe the largest part – of their decision). I own both versions – and, as a listener, I find I prefer the American releases aesthetically (it still jars me to hear “I’ve Just Seen a Face” on “Help” and “Drive My Car” and “What Goes On?” on “Rubber Soul.” In fact, at some point I’ll make the argument that the American release of “RS” is superior to the British – more cohesive and coherent in tone and mood). That said, it seems important that if we’re being scholarly that we allow ALL the versions and releases of both singles and albums in any discussion. While that may be a bit confusing to younger Beatles’ fans and students, it also should inspire them to dig deeper into the history of the band – a worthwhile and rewarding experience.

      And I think we can agree that George’s emergence as a songwriter – whenever we say it occurred – was one of those (both at the time and historically) sublime moments of which the Fabs gave us so many.

  3. sheesh. this is real thread picking mark. my best friend is a beatles worshipper and I get how into you folks get, but come on. back in the day, he was banned from the trivia contests on Atlanta radio shows because he was often righter than they were.

    But the point of the article is George is an underappreciated songwriting talent and it’s rare for a band to have three accomplished writers. for us non-worshipers, that’s an interesting insight i hadnt thought of. who gives a flip what was on the b side of the Japanese 45 released in 1967?

  4. btw, I dropped your thesis into conversation last night at a dinner gathering and it was a huge hit. lots of “I never thought of that!” sparked a long conversation as we tried to think of other bands that had three really good songwriters. couldn’t do it. good one, jim

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