George Harrison's 10 Greatest Guitar Moments After the Beatles

Sometime between 1969 and 1970, the former Beatle came up with a distinctive, often-imitated slide guitar style.
Publish date:
Social count:
Sometime between 1969 and 1970, the former Beatle came up with a distinctive, often-imitated slide guitar style.
George Harrison performs at the Concert for Bangladesh, August 1, 1971.

George Harrison performs at the Concert for Bangladesh, August 1, 1971.

Musicologists and verbose rock fans have dedicated thousands of words to the merits and behind-the-music details of "important" albums such as the Rolling Stones' Exile on Main StBut how many books have you read about Mick Jagger's solo debut, She's the Boss? How about Bill Wyman's 1974 solo outing, Monkey Grip? Should we even bother asking about the Charlie Watts Quintet's Long Ago and Far Away?

Let's face it, regardless of how great (or, in these three cases, decent-ish) they might be, solo albums by members of legendary rock bands—from the Stones to the Beatles to Led Zeppelin—rarely (if ever) attain the same legendary status as the music released by the bands themselves.

For instance, let's take this George Harrison fellow.

Guitar-centric magazines and websites (like this one) have slathered decades worth o' praise on Harrison's 1962-to-1970 guitar work with the Beatles. We've broken down his solos from "Something," "I'm Only Sleeping," "Let It Be" and "Old Brown Shoe." We've applauded his introduction of sitars and 12-string electric guitars into pop music. We've even dedicated Guitar World lessons to his late-Beatles-era acoustic work.

But what about his guitar playing after the Beatles?

Harrison started playing slide in 1969 while on tour with Delaney & Bonnie, suddenly inventing an entirely new "guitar persona" for himself. What he came up with was a distinctive, often-imitated, non-blues-based slide style that incorporated hints of Indian music and a few offbeat things he picked up while learning sitar—all of which he meshed with other Beatles-esque odds and ends.

He debuted his new slide sound on his first solo album, 1970's All Things Must Pass (check out "My Sweet Lord"), and refined it over the years on his own albums and as a highly sought-after session player, if you can call a former Beatle a session player.

Below, we revisit 10 of the finest examples of Harrison's post-Beatles guitar work. Enjoy!

John Lennon | Imagine | 1971
In mid-1971, more than a year after the Beatles officially split, John Lennon started recording what would become his second proper solo album, Imagine. The album, which was released later that year, was a critical and commercial success. 

It also marks one of the only times Lennon recorded with Harrison, his former Beatles bandmate, after the dissolution of the Fab Four (As every little schoolboy knows, they both took part in the sessions for Ringo Starr's "I'm the Greatest" in March 1973). Harrison's fretwork can be heard on several Imagine tracks, including "I Don't Wanna Be a Soldier" and "Oh My Love." He even plays a mean dobro on "Crippled Inside."

However, there's just something special, and a bit chilling, about Harrison's slide work on "How Do You Sleep?" and "Gimme Some Truth," the latter of which we've included below. Harrison wasn't a speed demon; his talent lay in his note choices, phrasing and emotional delivery (a trait he shared with Pink Floyd's David Gilmour and, to a lesser extent, B.B. King); in this song, he uses the slide to achieve a chilling, sustained, singing tone. Harrison's solo starts at :49.

George Harrison | Living in the Material World | 1973
Everything came together for Harrison on this track, the lead-off single from his highly anticipated 1973 followup to All Things Must Pass. First there’s the quality of the song’s message and melody, both of which stay in your skull long after the final notes have faded. But more importantly (as far as we’re concerned), there’s Harrison’s slide playing, which shows some maturation since All Things Must Pass.

Harrison’s mid-song solo (1:51), which features twin slide parts, is simply one of the most intricate and melodic things the former Beatle ever played on slide. The brief solo at the end of the song starts at 3:14. “Give Me Love (Give Me Peace on Earth)” spent several weeks at the top of the U.S. charts in 1973. In fact, 1973 was pretty huge for all four former Beatles.

George Harrison | Cloud Nine | 1987
We're not gonna rehash the old stories about how Eric Clapton played guitar on Harrison's "While My Guitar Gently Weeps" on the Beatles' White Album ... or how Harrison co-wrote and played guitar on Cream's "Badge," both of which took place in the late Sixties. We will, however, remind you that these guys continued to record together long after that mythic time, especially during the "far less important" Eighties. They even toured Japan together in December 1991.

Harrison's "comeback" album, 1987's Cloud Nine, features a hefty serving of Clapton's guitar playing (not to mention Ringo Starr's drumming). On the title track, Clapton and Harrison trade bluesy solos in G minor, Harrison on slide, Clapton not. Below, we present a live version of "Cloud 9" from their 1991 tour. The official document of the tour, Live in Japan, was released in 1992.

George Harrison | Let It Roll: Songs of George Harrison | 1989
Here's another one from Harrison and Clapton's 1991 Japan tour. It's a rousing live performance of "Cheer Down," a Harrison/Tom Petty composition that was released as a single and as part of the Lethal Weapon 2 soundtrack in 1989. 

In marked contrast to his prior tour—which took place in 1974 (yes, he took a 17-year break between tours)—Harrison played all the guitar solos (including all the slide stuff) in 1991. In 1974, guitarist Robben Ford did all the heavy lifting while George basically sang and strummed. He was never all that interested in showing off—until 1991, it seems. By the way, the studio version of "Cheer Down" sports an especially warm, overdriven guitar sound, which distinguishes it from pretty much every other Harrison recording.

Ringo Starr | Photograph: The Very Best of Ringo Starr | 1972
Harrison's slide guitar is all over this Richard Starkey (Ringo Starr) composition, the followup to Ringo's first hit single, 1971's "It Don't Come Easy," which also features a unique guitar solo by Harrison (Random factoid: There's a demo of "It Don't Come Easy" that features Harrison on vocals). 

The song, which Harrison also produced, features Starr on drums and vocals, Beatle buddy Klaus Voormann on bass and Gary Wright ("Dream Weaver") on keyboards. But the main event is clearly Harrison's slightly wild, wacky—and very bouncy—slide guitar solo, which includes an alternate melody line that's even catchier than the melody Ringo is singing.

Harrison played several tasteful solos on Ringo's songs throughout the years, including "Early 1970," "You and Me (Babe)," "I'm the Greatest," "Down and Out," "Wrack My Brain," "You Belong to Me" and "King of Broken Hearts."

George Harrison | Brainwashed | 2002
This instrumental track from Harrison's last studio album, Brainwashed, shows off his deft touch on slide guitar, not to mention his subtle mastery of melody. Brainwashed features a healthy serving of quality guitar playing by Harrison. Be sure to check out "Any Road," which even starts off with the spoken line, "Give me, uh, plenty of that guitar."

A friend once characterized "Marwah Blues" as "something akin to Indian blues." Well, not quite, but if it helps you, go with it!

George Harrison | Somewhere in England | 1981
This mini-masterpiece of a guitar solo is very "early Eighties" in its approach, much like contemporary solos by Neil Giraldo (Rick Springfield's "Jessie's Girl"), Squeeze's Glenn Tilbrook and the Kinks' Dave Davies.

The solo starts at 2:37; Harrison makes his point quickly, throws in a clever run or two and gets the hell out of there. He even incorporates a nice little pedal steel guitar impression at 2:54. This song is also notable for its weighty mouthful of a lyric, "Your mirrors of understanding, they need cleansing / polish away the dust of desire before pure light will reflect in them." Um, OK!

George Harrison | Thirty Three & 1/3 | 1976
Here's a love song from Harrison's stellar (and fun) Dark Horse Records debut, Thirty Three & 1/3. George's beautiful steel-string solo starts at 2:24.

I often (mentally) pair this song with "Dark Sweet Lady," a track from George's 1979 album, George Harrison. It features his best nylon-string guitar solo—hands down—since the Beatles' "And I Love Her." Knowing Harrison, he probably used the same Spanish guitar on both recordings.

Alvin Lee | Nineteen Ninety-Four (also released as I Hear You Rockin') | 1994
At some point, Harrison and Ten Years After frontman Alvin Lee became neighbors in (or near) Henley-on-Thames, England. So it was inevitable that they'd record together, which they did in the early Nineties (and in the early Seventies, when Harrison recorded "Ding Dong, Ding Dong").

Lee's Nineteen Ninety-Four album features Harrison on three tracks, including a cover of the Beatles' "I Want You (She's So Heavy)." The highlight of the bunch, however, is a slow, bluesy burner called "The Bluest Blues." It's a little crazy to hear Harrison playing blues slide guitar, but there it is. In his solo, which starts at 2:15, George plays several throaty passages that recall his chilling playing on John Lennon's "How Do You Sleep?" and "Gimme Some Truth."

Belinda Carlisle
| Runaway Horses | 1989
In the January 2003 issue of Guitar World, there's a story called "Do You Want to Know a Secret: Confessions of the Quiet Beatle," which is basically a then-previously-unpublished Harrison interview from 1992. At one point, reporter Vic Garbarini asks Harrison to choose his best slide solo.

"The best slide solo I ever played was on...what's her name? That girl singer who used to be with that all-girl band?...Belinda Carlisle of the Go-Go's! That's who it was," Harrison said. "I played on one of her albums. One of the slide solos had its own little tune which related to the tune Belinda was singing, but it's also a little composition in its own right, which I was really pleased with."

Harrison played guitar on two Runaway Horses tracks—"Leave a Light On" and "Deep Deep Ocean" (although it's pretty obvious he was talking about "Leave a Light On"). His solo starts at 3:01.

George Harrison | Thirty Three & 1/3 | 1976
"True Love," Harrison's shiny, happy 1976 cover of a 1956 Cole Porter tune, is a perfect snapshot of his mid-Seventies slide playing and glassy Strat tone. I mean, just check out his perfect intonation! His mini solos start at 1:18 and 1:33.

The official "True Love" promotional video, below, spotlights Harrison's ridiculous (in a good way) sense of humor. He gets my vote for funniest Beatle—despite his Beatles-era reputation as "the quiet one."

Dave Mason | It's Like You Never Left | 1973
If a visitor from another planet asked me to name a song that best represents the sound, feel, signature chord changes and indefinable je ne sais quoi of "post-Beatles George Harrison," I might actually point him/her/it in the direction of this late-1973 Dave Mason tune—which Harrison didn't even write (Mason did). You'll know what I mean instantly; just check out the intro and guitar fills during the verses. Of course, Mason—another great guitarist—also plays on the track. Harrison would go on to use this slightly overdriven tone on his next solo album, 1974's Dark Horse

Another candidate would be "Mo," which Harrison wrote and recorded—as a 50th-birthday present, if you can imagine that—for record executive Mo Ostin in 1978.

The Beatles | Anthology 2 | 1996
A little over 20 years ago, Paul, George and Ringo got together with Jeff Lynne to "finish up" two late-Seventies John Lennon demos—"Free As a Bird" and "Real Love," both of which automatically became Beatles tunes and are part of the band's official catalog. Although both songs have their merits, "Real Love" gave George (and Ringo, for that matter) some room to stretch out and have some fun. It's cool to hear (and see, in the music video below) George playing without a slide—as he did in his Beatles days.

And yes, this story is called "George Harrison's 10 Greatest Guitar Moments After the Beatles," but, for the purposes of this story, "after the Beatles" started in April 1970. So, even though "Real Love" is a Beatles song, it was recorded in 1996, as in 26 years "after the Beatles." 

George Harrison | Living in the Material World | 1973
Well, that was 15 songs (and we promised you a measly 10). In terms of additional six-string-Harrison listening, be sure to investigate Harrison's "My Sweet Lord" and "Any Road," John Lennon's "How Do You Sleep?," ELO's "A Long Time Gone," Jim Capaldi's "Anna Julia," Badfinger's "Day After Day" and "The Light That Has Lighted the World," an often-overlooked track from Harrison's Living in the Material World album.

Like a lot of Harrison's slower slide solos, this selection (which starts at 1:42) is all about intelligent note choices and raw emotion. In the closing bars of the solo, Harrison's guitar is almost sobbing. As Simon Leng once put it, George finally made his guitar gently weep. Every note, phrase and piece of timing is immaculately presented with such feeling and emotion. It's a guitar solo from the heart and soul. We'll leave you with that. 

Damian Fanelli is the managing editor at Guitar World. His New York-based bands, the Blue Meanies and the Whiskey Wranglers, have toured the world and elsewhere. Fanelli, a former member of Brooklyn's Gas House Gorillas and NYC instrumental surf-rock band Mister Neutron, also composes and records film soundtracks. He writes's The Next Bend column, which is dedicated to B-benders. His latest liner notes can be found in Sony/Legacy's Stevie Ray Vaughan: The Complete Epic Recordings Collection. Follow him on Facebook,Twitter and/or Instagram.