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While My Guitar Gently Weeps

The history of this classic Beatles song

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While My Guitar Gently Weeps

The original US sheet music for "While My Guitar Gently Weeps"

source: rarebeatles.com

While My Guitar Gently Weeps

Written by: George Harrison (100%)
Recorded: September 3 and 5-6, 1968 (Studio 2, Abbey Road Studios, London, England)
Mixed: October 7 and 14, 1968
Length: 4:50
Takes: 25

Musicians:

John Lennon: rhythm guitars (1965 Epiphone E230TD(V) Casino)
Paul McCartney: harmony vocals, bass guitar (1961 Fender Bass VI), piano (1905 Steinway Vertegrand "Mrs. Mills")
George Harrison: lead vocals (double-tracked), rhythm guitar (1968 Gibson J-200), organ (Hammond B-3)
Ringo Starr: drums (Ludwig), tambourine, castanets
Eric Clapton: lead guitar (1957 Gibson Les Paul Standard)

Available on: (CDs in bold)
The Beatles (a/k/a "The White Album"; UK: Apple PMC 7067-8; US: Apple SWBO 101; Parlophone CDP 7 46443 2; CDP 7 46444 2)
The Beatles 1967-1970 (UK: Apple PCSP 718; US: Apple SKBO 3404; Apple CDP 7 97039 2)

History:

  • Yet another song written during the band's spiritual journey to India in the spring of 1968, George's "While My Guitar Gently Weeps" -- arguably his signature Beatles song, and definitely the strongest he'd contributed to that point -- was only finalized after the guitarist, back at his mother's home in Warrington, England and needing lyrical inspiration, decided to literally take a page from the I Ching, the Chinese philosophical "book of changes" that was said to have mystical relevance whenever any random rune was cast. Picking up a book at random, the phrase he immediately found under his finger was "gently weeps." Thus the song was written around it.
  • However, when the song joined its "White Album" brethren in being demo'ed at George's home in Esher, John and Paul seemed less than thrilled with the song, an attitude which did not improve when proper attempts to record the song were first made on July 25, August 16, and September 3. Hard to believe, but then again, the song had undergone several lyrical changes, with seemingly endless permutations like "The problems you serve are the troubles you're reaping" and "I look at the trouble and see that it's raging."
  • Harrison himself was not pleased with the way the song was going, and midway through the session on September 3, began all over again. On September 5, this second version was also found wanting, and George started with a whole new arrangement: George on acoustic, Ringo on drums, Paul on piano, and John on electric rhythm guitar.
  • The next day, Harrison's friend Eric Clapton, also his neighbor in the county of Esher, gave George a lift to Abbey Road studios. Unhappy with the band infighting and his own attempts at a guitar solo for "Weeps," George insisted on the way in that Eric come into the studio and lay down a track. Clapton originally refused, correctly noting that "nobody (famous) ever plays on the Beatle's records!" but George insisted. The invitation had its intended effects: the band were completely professional and Eric's solo sounded great. But listening to the playback, the ex-Yardbird decided the result "wasn't Beatle-y enough," so the solo was run through the Leslie rotating speaker of the Hammond B-3 organ cabinet, an effect the lads had been using at least as far back as "Tomorrow Never Knows." That same day, the remaining vocal and instrumental tracks were laid down.

Trivia:

  • The original EMI demo of "Weeps," which can be heard on Anthology 3, shows the song to be essentially complete. In fact, some think it holds even more emotional power than the original. There's also a third verse left out of the final recording: "I look from the wings at the play you are staging / While my guitar gently weeps / As I'm sitting here doing nothing but aging / Still my guitar gently weeps."
  • The first two attempts at recording the song feature a harmonium, the aforementioned third verse, and a backwards guitar solo by George. The mono mix of "Weeps" differs from the stereo in that the solo is louder in the mix and also "wobblier," while George's vocal track does not include the ending "yeah yeah yeah" from the more famous stereo version.
  • "While My Guitar Gently Weeps" was played live by George on at least two occasions: once with Clapton in Japan in 1992, and once in 1987 at the Prince's Trust Rock Concert in London.
  • George would later write a solo song puckishly titled "This Guitar (Can't Keep From Crying)."

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