When George Harrison invented a new chord for his frustrated Beatles song

There isn’t much in the music world that The Beatles didn’t accomplish. Whether it was introducing the world to one of the first concept albums, their unique vision of love, integrating Eastern philosophy or making pop songs more personal, John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison, and Ringo Starr can claim to have completed the music game. Harrison, the band’s chief guitarist and spiritual guide, even suggested that he invented a chord during one of his prouder moments for the band.

Of course, it was hard for Harrison to get his ideas onto the records for a long time. The guitarist and songwriter may have struck gold when he joined The Quarrymen with two local lads, John Lennon and Paul McCartney, but he would spend most of his early career playing third fiddle to the pair of songwriting greats. Of course, he would be an integral part of The Beatles, the soulful conscience of the band, providing a moral compass and a new style of songwriting. But it wouldn’t be until their album Revolver that he truly began to find his feet.

While the undoubted contribution of Harrison is most keenly noted by his unique guitar-playing style and beautiful harmonies, the songwriter soon proved himself to not only be a match for the Lennon-McCartney monopoly but be criminally undervalued by the pair, eventually pursuing a solo career that would prove, for the most part, to be more successful than the golden boys of pop. But one song he did write for the band would not only become one of the songs he thought of most fondly but also allow him to claim that he had invented a musical chord.

For Harrison, Revolver, and the album’s predecessor Rubber Soul marked a significant change for the band: “We just became more conscious of so many things,” he said. “We even listened deeper, somehow. That’s when I really enjoyed getting creative with the music-not just with my guitar playing and songwriting but with everything we did as a band, including the songs that the others wrote. It all deepened and became more meaningful.”

These moments of reflection were most keenly observed by Harrison, who was not only recalibrating his own life in the face of his newfound fame but assessing its impact on a larger scale. Throughout Revolver, most notably Harrison’s contributions, the group attempted to realign their wisdom with the modern world, and it created one of the best albums of the decade.

‘I Want To Tell You’ featured on the LP, and while it may not be the most often referenced moment of Harrison’s work, the track is certainly notable. One thing that Harrison often struggled to complete, especially in comparison to his bandmates Lennon-McCartney, was somehow moving his thoughts from conceptual sketches into lyrics and, eventually, into song. Neatly, the guitarists decided to express that frustration through music.

Originally given the title of ‘Laxton Apple’ and then ‘I Don’t Know’ following George Martin asking for the title and getting the latter response, the song is another stepping stone for Harrison. It was his third song on Revolver, and it proved he was moving forward with his sound, conception, and construction. Speaking with Guitar World in 1992, the publication noted that there was an unusual chord at the end of the song, to which Harrison replied: “I’m really pleased that you noticed that. That’s an E7th with an F on the top, played on the piano. I’m really proud of that, because I literally invented that chord.”

For the concept of the song, the invention worked perfectly: “The song was about the frustration we all feel about trying to communicate certain things with just words. I realised the chords I knew at the time just didn’t capture that feeling. So after I got the guitar riff, I experimented until I came up with this dissonant chord that really echoed that sense of frustration.”

The chord wasn’t only left in this song, though, as Harrison notes, the idea was then picked up once more during a later album: “John later borrowed it on Abbey Road. If you listen to ‘I Want You (She’s So Heavy),’ it’s right after John sings ‘it’s driving me mad!’ To my knowledge, there’s only been one other song where somebody copped that chord—’Back on the Chain Gang’ by the Pretenders.”

Listen out for the chord George Harrison invented for The Beatles’ song ‘I Want To Tell You’ in the clip below.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You May Also Like