George Harrison, Guitar Hero

I defer to Scott on all matters musical, but this essay in the London Times makes sense to me: “George Harrison: the ultimate guitar hero.”

The one thing that never gets said about Harrison, however, is this: he was the greatest rock guitarist of all time.

It’s a contentious view, I know. I don’t suppose Harrison has topped a poll of guitarists in the past 40 years. When Rolling Stone listed the 100 Greatest Guitarists of All Time a few years back, he wasn’t even in the top 20. Predictably, and inevitably, Jimi Hendrix came first, with the likes of Eric Clapton, Jimmy Page, Stevie Ray Vaughan and Duane Allman not far behind. …

Harrison wasn’t particularly loud, wasn’t particularly fast and was never knowingly flashy. While he was clearly a virtuoso on the instrument, he never did anything to draw attention to the fact. Harrison had a different talent, an extraordinary talent. Harrison never played a wrong note, and never played a note that wasn’t necessary. Every single note he ever played made the song better. …

Here’s the proof. Ask yourself: have you ever heard a cover version of a Beatles song that is better than the original? You can’t think of one, can you? And that’s extraordinary. …

So why can’t you think of a Beatles cover that tops the original? Yes, they were the best songwriters around, but we’re not talking about the songs here, we’re talking about the performance. The reason is this: to do a better version of a Beatles song than the band themselves, you have to come up with a different — and better — guitar part than Harrison played on the original. And that just can’t be done. He always made exactly the right decisions.

Scott, over to you.

SCOTT adds: I enjoy and admire George Harrison’s guitar work and think he made a significant contribution to the Beatles’ success. Take a listen, for example, to Harrison’s guitar part (with Paul McCartney) on John Lennon’s “And Your Bird Can Sing” from the “Revolver” album as well as Harrison’s parts on a few of the the Beatles’ hits Mark Edwards points to in the linked London Times review. But I think Edwards’s judgment is eccentric. My own judgment is that what accounts for the Beatles’ incomparable versions of the songs in the Lennon/McCartney catalogue is what Lennon and McCartney contributed to them.

UPDATE: There is a lively discussion going on in the comments. Remember to supply your first and last name if you want to comment.

Responses

Books to read from Power Line