While My Guitar Gently Weeps
|"While My Guitar Gently Weeps"|
Cover of the 1969 Australian B-side single
|Song by the Beatles|
|from the album The Beatles|
|Released||22 November 1968|
|Recorded||5–6 September 1968,
EMI Studios, London
"While My Guitar Gently Weeps" is a song by the English rock band the Beatles from their 1968 double album The Beatles (also known as "the White Album"). It was written by George Harrison, partly as an exercise in randomness after he consulted the Chinese I Ching. The song also serves as a comment on the disharmony within the Beatles at the time. The recording includes a lead guitar part played by Eric Clapton, although he was not formally credited for his contribution.
"While My Guitar Gently Weeps" ranks 136th on Rolling Stone's "The 500 Greatest Songs of All Time", seventh on the magazine's list of the "100 Greatest Guitar Songs of All Time", and tenth on its list of "The Beatles 100 Greatest Songs". Guitar World magazine's February 2012 online poll voted "While My Guitar Gently Weeps" the best of George Harrison's Beatles-era songs. Clapton's performance ranked 42nd in Guitar World's October 2008 list of the "100 Greatest Guitar Solos".
Composition and recording
Inspiration for the song came to Harrison when reading the I Ching, which, as Harrison put it, "seemed to me to be based on the Eastern concept that everything is relative to everything else, as opposed to the Western view that things are merely coincidental". Taking this idea of relativism to his parents' home in northern England, Harrison committed to write a song based on the first words he saw upon opening a random book. He later explained the process:
I wrote "While My Guitar Gently Weeps" at my mother's house in Warrington. I was thinking about the Chinese I Ching, 'The Book of Changes". The Eastern concept is that whatever happens is all meant to be, and that there's no such thing as coincidence – every little item that's going down has a purpose.
"While My Guitar Gently Weeps" was a simple study based on that theory. I decided to write a song based on the first thing I saw upon opening any book – as it would be relative to that moment, at that time. I picked up a book at random, opened it, saw "gently weeps", then laid the book down again and started the song.
The initial incarnation was not final, as Harrison said: "Some of the words to the song were changed before I finally recorded it." A demo recorded at George's home in Esher includes an unused verse:
- I look at the trouble and see that it's raging,
- While my guitar gently weeps.
- As I'm sitting here, doing nothing but ageing,
- Still, my guitar gently weeps.
As well as an unused line in the very beginning:
- The problems you sow, are the troubles you're reaping,
- Still, my guitar gently weeps.
This line was eventually omitted in favour of the one appearing on The Beatles.
- I look from the wings at the play you are staging,
- While my guitar gently weeps.
- As I'm sitting here, doing nothing but ageing,
- Still, my guitar gently weeps.
The band recorded the song several times. Take 1 on 25 July 1968 involved Harrison on his Gibson J-200 acoustic guitar and an overdubbed harmonium. Sessions on 16 August and 3 and 5 September included a version with a backward (or "backmasked") guitar solo (as Harrison had done for "I'm Only Sleeping" on Revolver), but Harrison was not satisfied. On 6 September 1968, during a ride from Surrey into London, Harrison asked friend Eric Clapton to contribute lead guitar to the song. Clapton was reluctant, saying later, "Nobody ever plays on the Beatles' records"; but Harrison convinced him, and Clapton's guitar parts, using Harrison's Gibson Les Paul electric guitar "Lucy" (a recent gift from Clapton), were recorded that evening. Harrison later said that in addition to his contribution, Clapton's presence had another effect on the band: "It made them all try a bit harder; they were all on their best behaviour." Clapton wanted a more "Beatley" sound, so the sound was run through an ADT circuit with "varispeed," with engineer Chris Thomas manually 'waggling' the oscillator: "apparently Eric said that he didn't want it to sound like him. So I was just sitting there wobbling the thing, they wanted it really extreme, so that's what I did."
"While My Guitar Gently Weeps" was one of three songs on The Beatles where Paul McCartney experimented with the Fender Jazz Bass (the others being "Glass Onion" and "Yer Blues") instead of his Hofner and Rickenbacker basses. According to Walter Everett's book The Beatles as Musicians, John Lennon's electric guitar is audible only in the coda with the tremolo switched on.
The song is in Am, with a shift to a ♭7 (Am/G) on "all" (bass note G) and a 6 (D9 (major 3rd F♯)) after "love" (bass note F♯) to a ♭6 (Fmaj7) on "sleeping" (bass note F). This 8–♭7–6–♭6 progression has been described as an Aeolian/Dorian hybrid.
Everett notes that the change from the minor mode verse (A–B) to the parallel major for the bridge might express hope that "unrealized potential" described in the lyrics is to be "fulfilled", but that the continued minor triads (III, VI and II) "seem to express a strong dismay that love is not to be unfolded". Clapton's guitar contribution has been described as making this a "monumental" track; particularly notable features include the increasing lengths of thrice-heard first scale degrees (0:17–0:19), the restraint showed by rests in many bars then unexpected appearances (as at 0:28–0:29), commanding turnaround phrases (0:31–0:33), expressive string bends marking modal changes from C to C♯ (0:47–0:53), power retransition (1:21–1:24), emotive vibrato (2:01–2:07), and a solo (1:55–2:31) with a "measured rise in intensity, rhythmic activity, tonal drive and registral climb".
- George Harrison – double-tracked vocal, backing vocal, acoustic guitar, 12-string guitar, Hammond organ
- Paul McCartney – harmony vocal, piano, bass
- John Lennon – electric guitar with tremolo, 6 string bass
- Ringo Starr – drums, tambourine, castanets
- Eric Clapton – lead guitar (uncredited)
Anthology 3 version
- George Harrison – vocals, acoustic guitar
- Paul McCartney – organ
- George Harrison - vocals, acoustic guitar
- Paul McCartney - organ
- George Martin - string arrangement
On The Concert for Bangladesh, Clapton performed the song on a Gibson Byrdland hollow body guitar, and later acknowledged that a solid-body guitar would have been more appropriate. The version in the Prince’s Trust Rock Concert 1987 (released on DVD by Panorama) reunited Harrison, Starr and Clapton, and features an extended coda with the guitars of Harrison and Clapton interweaving. Mark King (of Level 42) played McCartney's bass line. On their 1991 tour of Japan, Harrison and Clapton performed a live version of "While My Guitar Gently Weeps" with additional background vocals. An edit combining parts of the 14 December and 17 December Tokyo performances of the song is included on the album Live in Japan.
On 3 June 2002, within the Golden Jubilee of Elizabeth II concert at Buckingham Palace Garden, Paul McCartney performed the song with Clapton, as a tribute to George Harrison who had died the year before. They were introduced by George Martin. The performance appears on the DVD release Party at the Palace. On 29 November the same year, McCartney, Starr, Dhani Harrison, Jeff Lynne, Marc Mann, and Clapton performed "While My Guitar Gently Weeps" at the Concert for George in memory of Harrison. This version showcased Clapton singing the lead vocal and playing his original guitar solo while McCartney provided background vocals and piano; Mann played Clapton's original fills during the verses.
In 2004, Harrison was inducted posthumously into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as a solo artist. "While My Guitar Gently Weeps" was played in tribute by Tom Petty vocals/guitar, Jeff Lynne vocals/guitar, Steve Winwood Hammond organ, Billy Preston keyboards, Scott Thurston Bass Guitar, Steve Ferrone Drums, Jim Capaldi percussion and tambourine, Marc Mann lead guitar, Dhani Harrison vocals/guitar, concluding with the guitar solo by fellow inductee Prince.
Canadian guitarist Jeff Healey covered "While My Guitar Gently Weeps" on his 1990 album Hell to Pay. Harrison participated in the recording, contributing on acoustic guitar and backing vocals. Also issued as a single, Healey's version peaked at number 27 in Canada, number 85 in the UK and number 25 in New Zealand.
American musician Todd Rundgren covered "While My Guitar Gently Weeps" for the 2003 album Songs from the Material World: A Tribute to George Harrison. Rundgren said of his contribution to the multi-artist tribute: "[Before the Beatles], I'd never heard the term 'lead guitarist.' George created the job description for my first paying gig, the vocation that I'm still lucky enough to practice today …" Johnny Loftus of AllMusic views the recording as one of the collection's highlights, saying that Rundgren "effortlessly replicates the grandeur" of the Beatles' track. As his personal tribute to Harrison, Peter Frampton released a version of the song on his 2003 album Now.
Among other cover versions, the song has also been recorded by guitarists such as Marc Ribot, Phish and Charlie Byrd, and on ukulele by Jake Shimabukuro. Toto (band) did a cover version for their album Through the Looking Glass and in a live performance in Live in Amsterdam. Santana did a cover for his twentieth album Guitar Heaven: The Greatest Guitar Classics of All Time, in 2010, featuring singer India Arie and cellist Yo-Yo Ma. Released as a single, it charted on Billboard's Adult Contemporary. In 2016, Regina Spektor performed the song for the soundtrack to the film Kubo and the Two Strings, accompanied by Kevin Kmetz on a shamisen.
2016 music video
In 2016 a music video was created by Apple Corps Ltd. and Cirque du Soleil. The video is based on a 10th anniversary re-staging of the song for LOVE, Cirque du Soleil's theatrical production. The video was directed by Dandypunk, André Kasten and Leah Moyer. Ryan reed, describing the clip in rollingstone.com, wrote that "Dandypunk's hand-drawn illustrations depict Harrison's lyrics falling off the page into the air, transporting LOVE performer Eira Glover into a series of fantastical locations. Projection mapping – and no CGI – was used to create the clip."
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