Songs with Earlier Histories Than the Hit Version

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Tagged: George Harrison

If Not For You

Written and first recorded by Bob Dylan (1970 |NETH #30 1971).
First released by George Harrison (1970).
Other hit version by Olivia Newton-John (US #25/MOR #1/CAN #3/ UK #7/AUS #7/NZ #8 1971).
Also recorded by Bob Dylan & George Harrision (1970, released 1991).

From the wiki: “‘If Not for You’ was written by singer-songwriter Bob Dylan for his October 1970 album New Morning. The song was a love song to Dylan’s first wife, Sara Dylan. He recorded it several times in 1970; the session for the released version took place in New York in August. He also recorded the song with George Harrison on May 1, soon after the break-up of the Beatles, a session that attracted much speculation in the music press. The May recording remained unreleased until its inclusion on The Bootleg Series Volumes 1–3 (Rare & Unreleased) in 1991.

“In November 1970, Harrison released his arrangement of ‘If Not for You’ on his triple album All Things Must Pass. The best-known cover version was recorded by Olivia Newton-John in 1971, using Harrison’s arrangement of the song. Newton-John’s single became her first hit song, peaking at #7 on the UK Singles Chart and topping the Billboard Easy Listening chart, as well as the title track to her debut album, If Not for You.

Not Guilty

First recorded (as a demo) by George Harrison (1968).
Also recorded by The Beatles (1968, released 1996).
Hit album version by George Harrison (1978).

In an interview with Billboard editor Timothy White in 1999, Harrison referred to “the grief I was catching” from Lennon and McCartney post-India, and explained the message behind the song: “I said I wasn’t guilty of getting in the way of their career. I said I wasn’t guilty of leading them astray in our going to Rishikesh to see the Maharishi. I was sticking up for myself …”

From the wiki: “According to author Robert Rodriguez, ‘Not Guilty’ was ‘much-fabled’ among Beatles fans by the late 1970s, since the song was known as a White Album outtake but had never been heard publicly.

“Author Nicholas Schaffner paired it with Lennon’s ‘What’s the New Mary Jane’ as completed recordings that were known to have been left off the White Album, while authors Harry Castleman and Walter Podrazik wrote that, as far as collectors were aware, Harrison had taped ‘Not Guilty’ with Eric Clapton in summer 1968 before the Beatles attempted to record the song in March 1969.

Sue Me, Sue You Blues

First recorded (as a demo) by George Harrison (1971).
First commercial release by Jesse Ed Davis (1972).
Hit album version by George Harrison (1973).

From the wiki: “‘Sue Me, Sue You Blues’ was written by George Harrison. Harrison let American guitarist Jesse Ed Davis record it first for release, for the latter’s Ululu album (1972) in gratitude to Davis for his participation in the ‘Concert for Bangladesh’. Harrison had drawn inspiration for the song from the legal issues surrounding the Beatles break-up during the early months of 1971, particularly the lawsuit that Paul McCartney initiated in an effort to dissolve the band’s business partnership, Apple Corps.

“Harrison recorded a brief demo of ‘Sue Me, Sue You Blues’, in the Delta blues style, which became available in the 1990s on bootleg compilations such as Pirate Songs. Harrison biographer Simon Leng describes this 1971 recording as ‘astonishing’ and a ‘must’ for inclusion on any forthcoming George Harrison anthology, with Harrison sounding like ‘a lost bluesman, bootlegged in Chicago.’

Old Brown Shoe

First recorded (as a demo) by The Beatles (January 1969).
Also recorded (as a solo demo) by George Harrison (February 1969).
Hit album version by The Beatles (April 1969).

From the wiki: “‘Old Brown Shoe’ was written by George Harrison and would be released by The Beatles as the B-side to ‘The Ballad of John and Yoko’. The song was recorded during the sessions for the Abbey Road album, first by the group over a three-day period while participating in a Let It Be film session at Apple Studios in January 1969. Harrison then made a multi-tracked solo demo (featuring only piano and electric guitar) at EMI Studios on 25 February 1969. There is some controversy over whether Harrison played bass on the completed album version, recorded in April 1969. In a two-part Creem interview (published in December 1987 and January 1988), Harrison appears to confirm he played bass on the recording:

‘Creem: You also told me you played bass on ‘Old Brown Shoe’.
George: It’s like a lunatic playing.
Creem: It sounds like McCartney was going nuts again.
George: That was me going nuts. I’m doing exactly what I do on the guitar.'”

Try Some, Buy Some

First recorded by Ronnie Spector (US #77 1971).
Hit album version by George Harrison (1973).

From the wiki: “George Harrison wrote ‘Try Some, Buy Some’ during sessions for All Things Must Pass, his successful 1970 triple album, also co-produced by Phil Spector. The song’s austere melody was influenced by Harrison composing on a keyboard instrument rather than guitar. Ronnie Spector recorded this and other Harrison compositions, such as ‘You’ and ‘When Every Song Is Sung’, in London for a planned comeback album on the Beatles’ Apple Records. The project was co-produced by her husband at the time (Phil Spector) whose temporary withdrawal from music-making in 1966 had forced Ronnie to reluctantly abandon her own career.

“Sessions for the proposed Spector album took place at London’s Abbey Road Studios, beginning on 2 February 1971. In addition to his own contribution as guitarist, Harrison enlisted some of the musicians with whom he had recorded All Things Must Pass: Gary Wright, on keyboards; Derek and the Dominos drummer Jim Gordon; Voormann and Carl Radle (the latter another member of the Dominos), alternating on bass; and Badfinger’s Pete Ham on second guitar and percussion. Another participant was Leon Russell, familiar to Phil Spector as a regular member of the Wrecking Crew during the mid 1960s. Recording continued at Abbey Road on 3 February, during which Lennon joined the proceedings, allegedly on piano.


Written and first recorded (as a demo) by George Harrison (1969, released 1996).
First commercial recording by Joe Cocker (1969).
Hit versions by The Beatles (US #1/UK #4 1969), Shirley Bassey (US #55/UK #4 1970), Johnny Rodriguez (C&W #6 1974)
Also recorded by Ray Charles (1971).

From the wiki: “‘Something’ was the first Beatles song written by lead guitarist George Harrison to appear as an A-side single, and the only song written by him to top the US charts while he was in the band. Harrison began working on a song that eventually became known as ‘Something’ during the 1968 recording sessions for The Beatles (aka The White Album). Harrison recorded the demo of ‘Something’ on February 25, 1969, his 26th birthday.

“Producer Glyn Jones, who engineered the Beatles’ Get Back sessions, recalls ‘One morning before the others arrived at the studio, George asked me if I would stay behind at the end of the day to cut a demo with him of a song he had written, as he didn’t want to play it in front of the others. So we waited for everyone to leave and he went out into the empty studio and played ‘Something in the Way She Moves’, which might just be the greatest song he ever wrote. He came into the control room, and after having it played back to him, he asked what I thought of it, as he seemed unsure. I told him it was brilliant and that he must play it to the others. I can only assume that his confidence had been dented as a result of living in the shadow of John and Paul.’ [Source: Sound Man, by Glyn Jones, 2014]

“Harrison’s original intention had been to offer the song to Apple Records signing Jackie Lomax as he had done with a previous composition, ‘Sour Milk Sea’. When this fell through, ‘Something’ was instead given to Joe Cocker to record. Cocker completed his recording at A&M Studios in Los Angeles before The Beatles completed their recording in August 1969 at Abbey Road, but Cocker’s recording was not released (on Joe Cocker!, his second album, on which also appeared another Beatles composition, ‘She Came in Through the Bathroom Window’) until November 1969 – six weeks after the release of The Beatles’ Abbey Road.

While My Guitar Gently Weeps

First recorded (as a demo) by George Harrison (1968).
Hit album version by The Beatles (1968).
Also recorded by Kenny Rankin (1976), Jeff Healey (1990), Jake Shimabukuro (2004), Tom Petty & Jeff Lynne (2004).

From the wiki: “Inspiration for the song came to Geroge Harrison when reading the I Ching, which, as Harrison put it, ‘seemed to me to be based on the Eastern concept that everything is relative to everything else… opposed to the Western view that things are merely coincidental.’ Taking this idea of relativism to his parents’ home in northern England, Harrison committed to write a song based on the first words he saw upon opening a random book. Those words were ‘gently weeps’, and he immediately began writing the song.

My Sweet Lord

First recorded and released by Billy Preston (US #93/R&B #23 1970).
Hit version by George Harrison (US #1/UK #1/FRA #1/GER #1 1971 |UK #1 2002).
Based on “He’s So Fine” recorded by The Chiffons (1963), Jody Miller (1971) & “Oh Happy Day” recorded by The Eddie Hawkins Singers (1969).
Parody recordings by George Harrison (as “The Pirate Song”, 1976), by Jonathan King (a “He’s So Fine/My Sweet Lord”, 1987).

From the wiki: “‘My Sweet Lord’ was written by George Harrison but originally given to fellow Apple Records artist Billy Preston to record. Harrison produced Preston’s recording and it was first released on Preston’s Encouraging Words album in September 1970.

It Don’t Come Easy

First recorded (as a demo) by George Harrison (1970).
Hit version by Ringo Starr (US #4/UK #4/CAN #1 1971).

From the wiki: “‘It Don’t Come Easy’ was first taped on February 18, 1970 during the sessions for Ringo Starr’s first solo album Sentimental Journey. Although Ringo is givens sole composing credit on the recording, he told VH1 Storytellers that ‘It Don’t Come Easy’ was co-written with George Harrison – that he (Ringo) had written just the first two song lines and the chorus; that George composed the remainder. The demo was recorded by George to help Ringo learn the completed lyrics.

“With Beatles producer George Martin initially handling production, George Harrison plays acoustic guitar and sings at the demo session and directed the other musicians – Stephen Stills (keyboards), old Beatles friend Klaus Voormann (bass), and Starr (drums) with backing vocalists, Pete Ham and Tom Evans from Badfinger. After the basic track was completed, George added two electric guitar parts. At this point the song was titled ‘You Gotta Pay Your Dues’.

Got My Mind Set on You

Originally recorded (as “I’ve Got My Mind Set On You”) by James Ray (1962).
Hit version by George Harrison (US #1/UK #2/AUS #1 1988).

From the wiki: “‘I’ve Got My Mind Set on You’ was written by Rudy Clark and originally recorded by James Ray in 1962. Standing just 5′ tall, Ray first recorded as Little Jimmy Ray. He recorded ‘Make Her Mine’ in 1959, but it was unsuccessful and by 1961 Ray was destitute and living on a rooftop, though still performing in clubs.

“Songwriter Rudy Clark befriended him, and persuaded Gerry Granahan of Caprice Records to sign him. Using the name James Ray, his first recording was of Clark’s song, ‘If You Gotta Make a Fool of Somebody’. The record was a hit on both the Pop and R&B charts. The single was issued in the UK in 1962 as well, and the song was performed by The Beatles before being discovered by Freddie and the Dreamers, who took their cover of it into the UK Top 5 the year after.