During the early days of The Beatles, George Harrison felt uncomfortable with his songwriting capabilities, and the guitarist was less than impressed with his first experimentation with the pen, an effort that he later said “wasn’t particularly good”.
Harrison felt like a spare part during this period, and he wanted to contribute more to the band’s albums. Still in the shadow of John Lennon and Paul McCartney, Harrison didn’t even write a single track for their debut, Please, Please Me, despite supplying lead vocals on two efforts.
The guitarist had been encouraged by friends to start writing songs, but he was initially reluctant to do so, possibly down to a fear of failure. Initially, he felt like this was perhaps an attribute in his wheelhouse, but he wouldn’t know for certain until he tried. Eventually, Harrison finally felt compelled to push himself and figure out whether there were the seeds of a competent songwriter inside of him.
However, during The Beatles’ residency in Bournemouth in 1963, Harrison decided to finally flex his songwriting muscles while he was bed-bound with flu and tested himself as an “exercise”.
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The result was ‘Don’t Bother Me’, which appeared on their sophomore album, With The Beatles, and marked a step forward for Harrison’s prominence within the group. Admittedly, the material isn’t a remarkably pioneering effort or the album’s highlight. Still, it would shift the dynamic of the group, and the song proved to him that if he kept working, he might “eventually” be able to write after all.
“I don’t think it’s a particularly good song; it mightn’t be a song at all,” Harrison later admitted in his autobiography. “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.”
In The Beatles Anthology, McCartney revealed that following ‘Don’t Bother Me’, he and Lennon discussed integrating Harrison into their songwriting team. He recalled: “I remember walking up past Woolton Church with John one morning and going over the question: ‘Without wanting to be too mean to George, should three of us write or would it be better to keep it simple?’ We decided we’d just keep to two of us.”
Although it’s not one of their best efforts, ‘Don’t Bother Me’ gave Harrison a sense of self-belief, and he made it his mission to become a more critical voice on their albums going forward.
His evolution as a lyricist was far from an overnight process, and it wasn’t until Help! in 1965 that Harrison once again chipped into the writing process. However, towards the end of the Fab Four’s reign, he had more than proved his worth after providing stonewall classics such as ‘Something’, and his songwriting simply couldn’t be overlooked any longer by his bandmates.