1970 side one LP face label
|Song by George Harrison from the album All Things Must Pass|
|Released||27 November 1970 (US)
30 November 1970 (UK)
|Producer||George Harrison, Phil Spector|
|All Things Must Pass track listing|
"Wah-Wah" is a song by English musician George Harrison, released on his 1970 triple album All Things Must Pass. Harrison wrote the song in January 1969 following his temporary departure from the Beatles, during the troubled Get Back sessions that resulted in their Let It Be album and film. The lyrics were a response to the musical criticism he had been receiving from bandmates Paul McCartney and John Lennon, and were partly inspired by Harrison's frustration at Yoko Ono's involvement in the band's activities. Music critics and biographers recognise the song as Harrison's statement of personal and artistic freedom from the Beatles, following his more-satisfying collaborations with Eric Clapton, Bob Dylan and the Band in the months leading up to the Get Back project.
Recorded shortly after the Beatles broke up in 1970, "Wah-Wah" was the first track taped for All Things Must Pass. The recording features a dense production treatment from Phil Spector and backing from a large cast of musicians including Clapton, Billy Preston, Bobby Keys and Ringo Starr. On release, Rolling Stone magazine described it as "a grand cacophony of sound in which horns sound like guitars and vice versa". Despite the praise that the song received from critics, Harrison considered it was overproduced and the sound too cluttered.
"Wah-Wah" was the first song Harrison played live as a solo artist when he performed it as his opener for the Western-music portion of the Concert for Bangladesh in August 1971. At the Concert for George in November 2002, a year after Harrison's death, "Wah-Wah" was performed by an all-star band that included Clapton, Jeff Lynne, Starr and McCartney. Ocean Colour Scene and Mickey Thomas have also covered the song.
When discussing "Wah-Wah" and George Harrison's walkout from the Beatles' rehearsals at Twickenham Film Studios in January 1969, a number of authors and music journalists note the relevance of his two-month visit to America at the end of 1968, following the completion of the band's White Album. In Los Angeles, while producing Jackie Lomax's Is This What You Want? album, Harrison directed top session musicians such as Hal Blaine and Larry Knechtel, and met future collaborators Delaney Bramlett and Leon Russell; later, in upstate New York, he established a musical bond with Bob Dylan and thrived among the "group ethic and camaraderie" of the Band. Harrison later recalled this period as "such a good time" musically, yet "the moment I got back with the Beatles [for the Get Back film project], it was just too difficult". These difficulties included having to endure Paul McCartney's habit of dictating how the others should play their instruments and John Lennon's increasing withdrawal from the band and emotional dependence on his ever-present partner, Yoko Ono. The couple had recently descended into heroin addiction, leaving Lennon, in author Peter Doggett's words, "emotionally removed and artistically bankrupt".
On 6 January, day three of filming at Twickenham, in south-west London, an argument was captured on film where McCartney criticised Harrison's guitar playing on the song "Two of Us". A resigned Harrison told him: "I'll play what you want me to play, or I won't play at all if you don't want me to play." With the sessions being recorded by film director Michael Lindsay-Hogg, bootleg tapes reveal Beatles insiders Neil Aspinall and George Martin sympathising with Harrison's position, recognising that McCartney and Lennon "don't offer him enough freedom within their compositions".
Harrison himself had bloomed as a songwriter over the previous six months, having recently co-written Cream's single "Badge" with Eric Clapton, as well as collaborating with Dylan in Bearsville. During the first three days at Twickenham, Harrison presented new compositions such as "All Things Must Pass", "Let It Down" and "Hear Me Lord" for consideration, yet they received little enthusiasm from Lennon and McCartney, or outright rejection in some cases. In their study of the Get Back project, Doug Sulpy and Ray Schweighardt write that this was a routine whereby the band's principal songwriters regularly overlooked Harrison's songs, even when some were "far better than their own".[nb 1]
On 8 January, Harrison presented "I Me Mine", a song inspired by the bickering and negativity over the previous few days. It was met with derision by Lennon and an argument ensued between the two during which Lennon dismissed Harrison's abilities as a songwriter.[nb 2] At lunchtime on Friday, 10 January, following a "fierce" argument between him and Lennon, during which Harrison berated his fellow Beatle for contributing nothing positive to the rehearsals, Harrison walked out of the band, with a suggestion that the others advertise in the NME for his replacement.
Harrison's diary records that Lennon and Ono "diverted" him at home over breakfast the following morning, but even after a subsequent band meeting at Starr's house, their "feud" remained "intractable", apparently because Lennon once more chose to have Ono speak on his behalf. Harrison went to his parents' home in Warrington for a few days before imposing terms for his return to the band – namely, that McCartney's plans for a live concert be abandoned and the project be relocated to the Beatles' basement studio at Savile Row. Commentators have remarked on a change in Harrison's standing within the band as a result of his walkout, and by the end of 1969 Lennon and McCartney would be speaking admiringly of Harrison's growth as a songwriter,[nb 3] with Lennon rating him as a "real guitarist" on a par with Eric Clapton. In an article for Mojo magazine's July 2001 "Solo Beatles Special", John Harris has written that although Harrison "nominally" remained a Beatle, he was "serving out his notice" after 10 January 1969.
Harrison wrote "Wah-Wah" as soon as he arrived home at Kinfauns that afternoon. In his autobiography, he explains that the song title was a reference to "a 'headache' as well as a footpedal", the wah-wah pedal being a guitar effect that Harrison favoured for much of the early Get Back sessions. The message of the song, in its author's own words, was: "you're giving me a bloody headache." Musical biographer Simon Leng identifies "Wah-Wah" as being directed at the "artifice" and "pretense" surrounding the Beatles.
Like "Run of the Mill", a song written by Harrison later in 1969, the lyrics touch on the failure of friendships within the band, which in the case of McCartney and Lennon dated back to school years:
You've given me a wah-wah
And I'm thinking of you
All the things that we used to do ...
The second verse reflects Harrison's frustration at being viewed by Lennon and McCartney as subservient to their ambitions, just as his 1968 song "Not Guilty" had found Harrison defending himself for supposedly leading his fellow Beatles "astray" to the Maharishi's meditation retreat in India. In "Wah-Wah", he states sarcastically:
You've made me such a big star
Being there at the right time
Cheaper than a dime ...
Harrison then complains that his bandmates never take the time to notice his sorrow – to "see me crying" or "hear me sighing".
Religious academic Joshua Greene has written of Harrison being "too sure of his life's higher purpose" by January 1969, through his dedication to Hindu spirituality, to continue wasting time on the band's "petty squabbles". This point is borne out in the song's final verse, which has been identified as both a "simple, spiritual sentiment" and Harrison's statement of independence from the Beatles:
Now I don't need no wah-wah
And I know how sweet life can be
If I keep myself free
Wah-wah, I don't need no wah-wah.
Musically, while mainly in the key of E major, the tune incorporates chord changes that Wilfrid Mellers once described as "audacious" – a reflection, Harrison biographer Elliot Huntley suggests, of the "intense atmosphere" of the Twickenham sessions. Unsurprisingly, "Wah-Wah" was never offered to the Beatles once Harrison joined the proceedings at Apple Studio; although, the choice of Harrison songs that would end up on the Let It Be album in May 1970 – "I Me Mine" and "For You Blue" – has led some authors to speculate that he deliberately withdrew his higher-quality compositions rather than risk having them played without the attention they deserved.
Leng lists "Wah-Wah" among a number of solo Beatles songs that are "self-referential" in their lyrical theme and provide "further instalments of 'the Beatles soap opera'". In this case, "Wah-Wah" "trashes the roseate memory" of the band.[nb 4] Harrison's bitterness at being what he termed "pigeon-holed" during the Beatles years resurfaced explicitly in "Who Can See It", a song written in 1972.
McCartney's objection to having the release of his eponymous first solo album delayed until after Let It Be led to him announcing his departure from the band on 9 April 1970, and to Harrison finally deciding to make an album of his many unused songs from the Beatles' later years. He subsequently described the process of recording his songs with outside musicians as "a breath of fresh air". Shortly before starting work on the album, Harrison gave a radio interview to Village Voice reporter Howard Smith, and explained that, although he had some ideological differences with Lennon, his objection to any possible Beatles reunion was based solely on his musical differences with McCartney.[nb 5]
In the same 1970 radio interview, Harrison announced that he would be co-producing the album with Phil Spector, whose work on the Let It Be album had recently enraged McCartney. "Wah-Wah" was the first song taped for All Things Must Pass, recording for which began at Abbey Road Studios in late May that year. True to Spector's signature production style, a large group of musicians took part in the session, including Harrison and Eric Clapton on electric guitars, three members of Badfinger on acoustic rhythm guitars, Billy Preston and Gary Wright on keyboards, a horn section comprising Jim Price and Bobby Keys, and Ringo Starr on drums. Speaking in 2000 about this first session, Harrison recalled that the music sounded "great" in the room, "with all the acoustic guitars and the piano", but he was shocked during the playback when he heard how the track had been recorded by Spector – the latter having, in Leng's words, "[unleashed] his full armory of reverb-flooded production values". Harrison dismissed the result as "horrible", and recalled that when Clapton said he liked the way it sounded, he replied, "Well, you have it, then." Although Harrison "came to like it", he soon reverted to his original opinion that the song, like much of the album, was overproduced.
The recording begins with Harrison's circular guitar riff, described variously as "snarling", "bluesy" and "menacing", soon joined by Clapton's guitar, played through a wah-wah pedal. Leng suggests that the riff and the overall musical arrangement were influenced by the Delaney & Bonnie song "Comin' Home", following Clapton and Harrison's guest roles on the band's brief European tour in December 1969. "Wah-Wah" also features prominent percussion, including uncredited maracas and congas, and a "rollicking horn chart" from Price (another former Delaney & Bonnie sideman), particularly over the two "You don't see me crying / You don't hear me sighing" middle eights. Adding to the musical tension, Bill Janovitz of Allmusic notes, Harrison sings high in his range throughout, "almost drowned out" by Spector's Wall of Sound, which sees keyboards, horns and the many guitar parts "all fighting for attention" in the mix. At the three-minute mark, an instrumental break features soloing from Harrison's slide guitar and Keys' tenor sax – both parts, like the "George O'Hara-Smith" backing vocals, most likely overdubbed at Trident Studios in August or September 1970. The song ends on the single-chord main riff, following the release provided by the final "I don't need no wah-wah" lyric – thus "[reaching] a virtual musical orgasm", as Huntley puts it – and fades out with the repeated "Wah-wah" falsetto refrain, along with low, tumbling notes from Gary Wright's piano, flourishes of slide guitar, and the sound of an engine changing gear.
Release and reception
In November 1970, "Wah-Wah" was released as the third track on All Things Must Pass, the song's anger and defiance contrasting with the "elegiac, plaintive song of reconciliation", "Isn't It a Pity", which followed. Like "Isn't It a Pity", the album's title track, and Barry Feinstein's cover photo of Harrison surrounded by four comical-looking garden gnomes, "Wah-Wah" was soon recognised as a comment by Harrison on his Beatle past. In February 1971, he, Lennon and Starr united in the British high court to challenge McCartney's suit to dissolve the band's legal partnership, all three of them submitting affidavits that mentioned their difficult experiences of working with him, particularly during the Get Back sessions. As a result of this post-breakup unity, "Wah-Wah" was widely assumed to be directed at McCartney only, just as Harrison's walkout two years before was thought to have been due solely to McCartney.
In his album review for Rolling Stone magazine, Ben Gerson described "Wah-Wah" as a "vintage Beatle song" and "a grand cacophony of sound in which horns sound like guitars and vice versa". Allmusic's Bill Janovitz sums up the track as "a glorious rocker ... [that's] as edgy as anything Harrison ever sang while in the Beatles, if not more so", and "a driving, majestic song on the edge of being out of control". Writing for PopMatters, John Bergstrom opines that the best moments on All Things Must Pass "involve Harrison addressing his former band"; of these, the "raucous, killer jam" of "Wah-Wah" dismisses the Beatles’ strife-filled final years as "so much white noise". While the song is "cutting", Bergstrom adds, "the sense of liberation is almost palpable."
Among Harrison's biographers, Ian Inglis writes of "Wah-Wah": "Spector's powerful production may cloak Harrison's words behind the conventions of a hard rock song and conceal the ferocity of his attack, but its forceful rhythm also reflects the momentum of his anger." Leng concludes his discussion of this "unusually heavy chunk of rock" with the observation: "It's a song of anger and alienation, redolent of betrayal and hostility. To that extent, it's a good-time number to rival Delaney & Bonnie, with a heart of pure stone." Noting the production's "layer upon layer of sonic bombast", Huntley opines that "Spector fans must have been in seventh heaven" when they first heard "Wah-Wah". Huntley refers to it as "one of the outstanding tracks" of Harrison's career, a "definite to-be-played-at-maximum-volume" song, and a welcome though rare "flat-out, kick-ass rocker" in the Harrison canon.
Still dissatisfied with Spector's "Cinemascope"-like production on "Wah-Wah", when All Things Must Pass was reissued in January 2001, Harrison admitted that he had been tempted to remix many of the tracks rather than simply remaster the album's original mixes. In an interview with Guitar World magazine to promote the reissue, he also revealed that McCartney had "long since" apologised for his behaviour towards him during the Beatles years.
On 1 August 1971, Harrison performed "Wah-Wah" as the opening song for the rock-music portion of the two Concert for Bangladesh shows, held at Madison Square Garden in New York City. It was therefore the first song he ever played live as a solo artist and, given the humanitarian cause behind the event, Alan Clayson writes, the New York audience "loved him ... before he'd even plucked a string". Of the reordered setlist for the second show that day (reflected in the running order on the Concert for Bangladesh live album), Joshua Greene has remarked on the "logical chronology" in Harrison's three-song opening segment: "Wah-Wah" "declared his independence from the Beatles, followed by 'My Sweet Lord,' which declared his internal discovery of God and spirit, and then 'Awaiting on You All,' which projected his message to the world." The recording of "Wah-Wah" that appeared on the live album was a composite of the audio from both the afternoon and evening shows – one of the few examples of studio manipulation on an otherwise faithful record of the concert. Due to technical problems with the film footage, the "Wah-Wah" segment in Saul Swimmer's concert documentary was created through a series of edits and cuts between visuals from the first and second shows.
In his glowing review of the Concert for Bangladesh album, Jon Landau of Rolling Stone described this live version as "a simple statement by a musician who knows who he is and what he wants to play". Author Robert Rodriguez opines that "Wah-Wah" "truly [came] into its own" that day, the performance representing "one of rock's transcendental moments". With a powerful vocal from Harrison, backed by a 24-piece band that again included Clapton, Starr, Preston, Klaus Voormann and the whole of Badfinger, as in 1970, this live reading "teeters even closer to destruction" than the All Things Must Pass original, writes Bill Janovitz.
On 29 November 2002, a year to the day after his death from cancer, "Wah-Wah" was the last Harrison composition performed at the Concert for George, held at London's Royal Albert Hall. Jeff Lynne, Eric Clapton and Andy Fairweather-Low shared lead vocals on the song. The band also featured Dhani Harrison and many other close musical friends of George Harrison's – Starr, Voormann, Jim Keltner, Jim Horn, Ray Cooper, Gary Brooker and Tom Petty among them – as well as Paul McCartney. This performance was released on the album of the concert; although left off the theatrical release of David Leland's Concert for George documentary film, it was subsequently included on the DVD release.
Ocean Colour Scene covered "Wah-Wah" on their 2005 album A Hyperactive Workout for the Flying Squad. Mickey Thomas recorded the song for his 2011 album Marauder. The Tedeschi Trucks Band covers "Wah-Wah" regularly in their live performances.
- George Harrison – vocals, electric guitar, slide guitar, backing vocals
- Eric Clapton – electric guitar
- Billy Preston – electric piano
- Gary Wright – piano
- Pete Ham – acoustic guitar
- Tom Evans – acoustic guitar
- Joey Molland – acoustic guitar
- Klaus Voormann – bass
- Ringo Starr – drums
- Bobby Keys – saxophones
- Jim Price – trumpet, horn arrangement
- Mike Gibbins – tambourine
- uncredited/players not known – maracas, congas
- Later in January 1969, Harrison compositions "Something", "Old Brown Shoe" and "Isn't It a Pity" were met with more indifference from Lennon and McCartney. The previous year, they had similarly shown no interest in recording Harrison's "While My Guitar Gently Weeps", a track that author Mark Hertsgaard has described as "perhaps the single most impressive song on the White Album".
- Music journalist John Harris observes that in light of Lennon having offered only a "half-finished" "Don't Let Me Down" and the "pretty execrable" "Dig a Pony", Harrison must have been "enraged ... all the more".
- McCartney allegedly told Lennon: "Until this year, our songs have been better than George's. Now this year his songs are at least as good as ours ..." In late 1969, Lennon named Harrison's "Something" as his favourite track on the Beatles' recently released Abbey Road album.
- Doggett similarly recognises the self-referential nature of Harrison songs such as "Wah-Wah", "Run of the Mill" and "Isn't It a Pity", all of which offered Beatles fans "a teasing glimpse into an intimate world that had previously been off-limits to the public". Later examples include Lennon's "God" and Harrison's "Sue Me, Sue You Blues", and various tracks on McCartney's Ram album and Lennon's Imagine, most notably "Too Many People" and "How Do You Sleep?"
- This situation would remain unchanged during a period in the mid 1970s when the other Beatles all began intimating that they would not be opposed to playing together again, and Harrison's aversion to working with McCartney was still apparent before and after the band's Anthology project two decades later.
- Ben Gerson, "Reviews: George Harrison All Things Must Pass", Rolling Stone, 21 January 1971 (retrieved 25 September 2012).
- Harris, p. 68.
- Leng, pp. 39–40, 55.
- O'Gorman, p. 73.
- Clayson, pp. 259–60.
- Miles, p. 313.
- Leng, pp. 51, 62–63.
- Huntley, p. 18.
- MacDonald, pp. 288–89.
- Clayson, p. 261.
- MacDonald, p. 301.
- Hertsgaard, pp. 250–51, 267.
- O'Gorman, p. 70.
- MacDonald, p. 246.
- Sulpy & Schweighardt, pp. 1–2.
- Hertsgaard, pp 251, 257.
- Peter Doggett, "Fight to the Finish", Mojo: The Beatles' Final Years Special Edition, February 2003, p. 138.
- Miles, pp. 327–28.
- Sulpy & Schweighardt, p. 51.
- Miles, p. 328.
- Hertsgaard, p. 267.
- O'Gorman, pp. 70–71.
- Huntley, p. 22.
- Sulpy & Schweighardt, p. 173.
- Mark Lewisohn, "Something Else", Mojo: The Beatles' Final Years Special Edition, February 2003, p. 118.
- The Editors of Rolling Stone, p. 176.
- Leng, pp. 37–39, 51–54.
- Spizer, pp. 212, 220, 223.
- Huntley, pp. 23, 25.
- Sulpy & Schweighardt, p. 1.
- The Editors of Rolling Stone, pp. 38, 39.
- Huntley, pp. 18–19.
- The Editors of Rolling Stone, p. 38.
- Clayson, pp. 251–52.
- Hertsgaard, p. 252.
- Greene, p. 115.
- Huntley, p. 21.
- Sulpy & Schweighardt, pp. 167, 169–70.
- Doggett, p. 62.
- Dhani Harrison interview, in George Harrison: Living in the Material World.
- Olivia Harrison, pp. 192–93.
- Miles, p. 329.
- Jim Irvin, "Close to the Edge", Mojo, December 2003, p. 82.
- Rodriguez, p. 381.
- Miles, pp. 330, 331.
- Clayson, pp. 254, 262.
- Greene, pp. 116–17.
- Fawcett, p. 96.
- MacDonald, p. 306.
- Clayson, p. 244.
- George Harrison, p. 194.
- Clayson, p. 262.
- Sulpy & Schweighardt, pp. 63–64, 77.
- Huntley, p. 55.
- Leng, p. 86.
- Doggett, p. 141.
- Leng, p. 94.
- George Harrison – In His Own Words, superseventies.com (retrieved 3 October 2012).
- Huntley, p. 165.
- Leng, pp. 33, 38.
- Inglis, p. 25.
- Greene, p. 116.
- Bill Janovitz, "George Harrison 'Wah-Wah'", Allmusic (retrieved 25 September 2012).
- Spizer, p. 222.
- John Bergstrom, "George Harrison: All Things Must Pass", PopMatters, 14 January 2011 (retrieved 4 October 2012).
- Mellers, p. 147.
- Huntley, p. 54.
- Sulpy & Schweighardt, pp. 331–32.
- Huntley, p. 27.
- Leng, p. 85.
- Leng, pp. 85–86.
- Doggett, pp. 141–42.
- Doggett, p. 142.
- MacDonald, p. 326.
- Leng, pp. 129–30.
- Rodriguez, p. 156.
- Hertsgaard, p. 285.
- Doggett, pp. 121–26.
- O'Dell, pp. 155–56.
- Spizer, p. 220.
- Badman, p. 6.
- "It's Really a Pity", Contra Band Music, 15 March 2012 (retrieved 4 October 2012).
- Hertsgaard, p. 311.
- Clayson, pp. 351–52.
- The Editors of Rolling Stone, p. 48.
- Peter Doggett, "You Never Give Me Your Money", BBC Radio 4 Today, 9 September 2009 (retrieved 13 October 2012).
- Rodriguez, pp. 24, 195–96.
- Schaffner, p. 138.
- Doggett, pp. 130–31.
- Madinger & Easter, p. 428.
- George Harrison: Wah-Wah, The Beatles Bible (retrieved 25 September 2012).
- Badman, p. 10.
- Schaffner, p. 142.
- George Harrison: Living in the Material World.
- The Editors of Rolling Stone, p. 180.
- Madinger & Easter, pp. 427, 428.
- George Harrison: All Things Must Pass (album), The Beatles Bible (retrieved 4 October 2012).
- Clayson, p. 292.
- Anthony DeCurtis, "Album Review: George Harrison All Things Must Pass". Archived from the original on 14 August 2006. Rolling Stone, 12 October 2000 (retrieved 4 October 2012).
- Harris, p. 73.
- Album review by Andrew Gilbert, in Robert Dimery, 1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die, Universe (New York, NY, 2005); quoted in The Super Seventies "Classic 500", George Harrison – All Things Must Pass (retrieved 4 October 2012).
- The Editors of Rolling Stone, p. 40.
- Huntley, pp. 65–66.
- Badman, pp. 27–28, 31.
- Neal Alpert, "George Harrison's Concert for Bangladesh", Gadfly Online, December 2001 (retrieved 5 October 2012).
- Huntley, p. 25.
- Huntley, pp. 305–06.
- Huntley, pp. 12, 23–24.
- Madinger & Easter, pp. 436–37.
- Schaffner, p. 147.
- Clayson, p. 312.
- Richard S. Ginell, "George Harrison The Concert for Bangladesh", Allmusic (retrieved 25 September 2012).
- Greene, p. 190.
- Spizer, p. 242.
- Madinger & Easter, pp. 436, 438.
- George Harrison, pp. 60–61.
- Jon Landau, "George Harrison, Concert for Bangla Desh", Rolling Stone, 3 February 1972 (retrieved 6 October 2012).
- Inglis, p. 34.
- Inglis, p. 127.
- Stephen Thomas Erlewine, "Original Soundtrack Concert for George", Allmusic (retrieved 8 October 2012).
- Concert for George DVD, 2003 (directed by David Leland; produced by Ray Cooper, Olivia Harrison, Jon Kamen & Brian Roylance).
- Leng, pp. 310–11.
- William Ruhlmann, "Various Artists Concert for George (Video)", Allmusic (retrieved 8 October 2012).
- Stephen Thomas Erlewine, "Ocean Colour Scene A Hyperactive Workout for the Flying Squad", Allmusic (retrieved 8 October 2012).
- A Hyperactive Workout for the Flying Squad – Ocean Colour Scene, Second Hand Songs (retrieved 6 October 2012).
- William Ruhlmann, "Mickey Thomas Marauder", Allmusic (retrieved 25 September 2012).
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