While My Guitar Gently Weeps

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"While My Guitar Gently Weeps"
Song by the Beatles from the album The Beatles
Published Harrisongs
Released 22 November 1968 (1968-11-22)
Recorded 5 September 1968,[1]
EMI Studios, London
Length 4:46
Label Apple
Writer George Harrison
Producer George Martin
Music sample

"While My Guitar Gently Weeps" is a song written by George Harrison, first recorded by the Beatles in 1968 for their eponymous double album (also known as "the White Album"). The song features lead guitar by Eric Clapton, although he was not formally credited on the album.[4][5]

"While My Guitar Gently Weeps" is ranked at number 136 on Rolling Stone's "The 500 Greatest Songs of All Time", number 7 on the magazine's list of the 100 Greatest Guitar Songs of All Time, and number 10 on its list of The Beatles 100 Greatest Songs.[6][7][8][9] In an online poll held by Guitar World magazine in February 2012, "While My Guitar Gently Weeps" was voted the best of Harrison's Beatle-era songs.[10] In October 2008, Guitar World ranked Clapton's playing at number 42 in its list of the "100 Greatest Guitar Solos".[11]

Composition and recording[edit]

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".[12] 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.[13]

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.

An early acoustic guitar and organ demo of the song featured a slightly different third verse:

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.

This version was released on the 1996 compilation Anthology 3 and was used as the basis of the 2006 Love remix, with a string arrangement by George Martin.[14][15]

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.[16] Sessions on 16 August and 3 and 5 September included a version with a backward (or "backmasked") guitar solo[1] (as Harrison had done for "I'm Only Sleeping" on Revolver[17]), but Harrison was not satisfied.[1] 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; he said, "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.[5] 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."[5] 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 that Paul McCartney experimented with the Fender Jazz Bass (the others being "Glass Onion" and "Yer Blues") instead of his Hofner and Rickenbacker basses.[18] According to Walter Everett's book The Beatles as Musicians, John Lennon's electric guitar is only audible in the coda with the tremolo switched on.

Musical structure[edit]

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.[19] 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."[16] 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." [20]


Personnel per Ian MacDonald[21]

Anthology 3 version

  • George Harrison - vocals, acoustic guitar
  • Paul McCartney - organ


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.[22] 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.[23]

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 featured 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, Jeff Lynne, Steve Winwood, Scott Thurston, Steve Ferrone, Marc Mann, and Dhani Harrison, and concluding with a memorable guitar solo by fellow inductee Prince.

Cover versions[edit]

  • In 1990 Canadian musician Jeff Healey recorded a cover version of this song that was released on his 1990 CD Hell To Pay. Healey's version of this song featured George Harrison and Jeff Lynne on backing vocals and acoustic guitar.


  1. ^ a b c Lewisohn 1988, p. 153.
  2. ^ Henriques, AJ (21 December 1968). "An in-depth Look at the Songs on Side-One". Rolling Stone. The White Album Project. Retrieved 9 January 2014. 
  3. ^ Graeme Thomson (11 October 2013). George Harrison: Behind The Locked Door. Music Sales Group. p. 186. ISBN 978-0-85712-858-4. Retrieved 25 October 2015. 
  4. ^ While My Guitar Gently Weeps by The Beatles Songfacts
  5. ^ a b c Lewisohn 1988, p. 154.
  6. ^ Rolling Stone 2004.
  7. ^ Rolling Stone 2008.
  8. ^ Rolling Stone 2010.
  9. ^ "10. While My Guitar Gently Weeps". 100 Greatest Beatles Songs. Rolling Stone. Retrieved May 21, 2013. 
  10. ^ "Readers Poll Results: George Harrison's 10 Best Beatles Songs", Guitar World (retrieved 26 February 2012).
  11. ^ Guitar World Staff (30 October 2008). "100 Greatest Guitar Solos". guitarworld.com. Retrieved 25 February 2015. 
  12. ^ Harrison 2002, p. 120.
  13. ^ Beatles 2000, p. 306.
  14. ^ While My Guitar Gently Weeps|The Beatles Bible
  15. ^ "Concert for George - Production Credits, Great Performances, PBS". 
  16. ^ a b Walter Everett. The Beatles as Musicians. Revolver Through the Anthology. Oxford University Press. NY. 1999. ISBN 0-19-509553-7. ISBN 0-19-512941-5 p201
  17. ^ Lewisohn 1988, p. 78.
  18. ^ http://www.thecanteen.com/mccartney7.html
  19. ^ Dominic Pedler. The Songwriting Secrets of the Beatles. Music Sales Limited. Omnibus Press. NY. 2003. pp435-437
  20. ^ Walter Everett. The Beatles as Musicians. Revolver Through the Anthology. Oxford University Press. NY. 1999. ISBN 0-19-509553-7. ISBN 0-19-512941-5 p202
  21. ^ MacDonald 2005, pp. 300–301.
  22. ^ The Concert for Bangladesh Revisited with George Harrison and Friends, DVD, 2005.
  23. ^ Madinger, Chip; Mark Easter (2000). Eight Arms To Hold You: The Solo Beatles Compendium. Chesterfield, MO: 44.1 Productions, LP. p. 483. ISBN 0-615-11724-4. 


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