When was it recorded? Apr. 16; May 2 & 5 May; Jul. 11 & 16; and Aug. 15, 1969
When was it first released, and on which album? Sept. 26, 1969 on “Abbey Road”
Who wrote it? Harrison
Have I heard this song before? Yes
What my research dug up:
“Something” is like the song I think of whenever someone says “the 1960s.” That opening guitar riff starts playing in my head. I realize now how off that is since “Something” came out at the close of the decade. Also when we heard this song on the radio last weekend my dad asserted this song was by Wings, so… not nearly as definitive as I imagine. Pretty prolific though.
George began writing “Something” during the 1968 White Album sessions. According to him, “I had a break while Paul was doing some overdubbing so I went into an empty studio and began to write. That’s really all there is to it, except the middle took some time to sort out. It didn’t go on the White Album because we’d already finished all the tracks.”
The opening line is a direct lift from American musician (and Apple label-mate) James Taylor’s 1968 song, “Something In the Way She Moves.”
“I could never think of words for it. And also because there was a James Taylor song called ‘Something In The Way She Moves’ which is the first line of that. And so then I thought of trying to change the words, but they were the words that came when I first wrote it, so in the end I just left it as that, and just called it ‘Something.’” — George Harrison
It’s a classic, so for reference:
George also struggled with the second line of the song. According to Wikipedia, “during early recording sessions for ‘Something,’ Harrison alternated between two placeholder lyrics: ‘Attracts me like a cauliflower’ and ‘Attracts me like a pomegranate.’”
Musically, Alan Pollack noted, “In ‘Something’ the opening drum triplets are a surface level flashback to the drum fills in the [“Abbey Road”] opening track, ‘Come Together.’” This worked great as a tie-in both on the album as a whole and when the two songs were released as a single later that year (I’ll get there below).
George’s then-wife, Pattie Boyd, would seem the obvious inspiration for “Something.” George routinely denied this, clarifying in a 1996 interview, “I just wrote it, and then somebody put together a video. And what they did was they went out and got some footage of me and Pattie, Paul and Linda, Ringo and Maureen… and John and Yoko and they just made up a little video to go with it. So then, everybody presumed I wrote it about Pattie, but actually, when I wrote it, I was thinking of Ray Charles.” I’m thinking he means stylistically, not romantically.
George demoed “Something” on his 26th birthday, Feb. 25, 1969. Quoth engineer Glyn Johns, “He was terribly nice, as if he was imposing on me. And then he plays this song that just completely blows me away.” This “Something” demo surfaced on “Anthology 3.”
According to Rolling Stone, “Harrison initially believed the song was so catchy he must have heard it before: ‘I just put it on ice for six months because I thought, ‘That’s too easy!’’” George then offered the song to Apple mate Jackie Lomax. This deal fell through, and he offered it to Joe Cocker, who recorded “Something” before the Beatles but released it two months after “Abbey Road.”
Someone on the Beatles’ end of the deal must have recognized the song’s potential since the Fab Four decided to record the song for their own. According to the Beatles Bible, “John Lennon and Paul McCartney both rated the song highly. Lennon said, ‘I think that’s about the best track on the album, actually,’ while McCartney said ‘For me I think it’s the best he’s written.’”
The Beatles began recording “Something” Apr. 16, 1969 with 13 takes of the rhythm track (George Martin’s on the piano). According to the Beatles Bible, “Although John Lennon was in the studio on the day, he didn’t play on the recording, which also featured no vocals.” They tried again on May 2, doing 36 rhythm track takes (John on the piano, Billy Preston on the organ). The last take was deemed useful.
At this point “Something” was nearly eight minutes long.
Paul and George overdubbed another bass part and the guitar solo respectively on May 5.
“Paul started playing a bass line that was a little elaborate, and George told him, ‘No, I want it simple.’ Paul complied. There wasn’t any disagreement about it, but I did think that such a thing would never happened in years past. George telling Paul how to play the bass? Unthinkable! But this was George’s baby, and everybody knew it was an instant classic.” — Geoff Emerick (Music Radar)
George taped the lead vocals Jul. 11 and pared the demo from 7:48 down to 5:32. Paul added his backing vocals and handclaps five days later. One month later a string part was added, and “Something” was finally completed Aug. 19 “when the extended instrumental jam was finally edited from the end” (BB).
“Abbey Road” was released in the US Oct. 1; a mere five days later, “Something” was released (along with double A-side “Come Together”) as a single. The way the single was catalogued in America made “Something” the true A-side, thus making “Something” the first Harrison-led single released there. It also became George’s first #1 hit in the US and the Beatles’ 18th #1, beating Elvis Presley’s record of 17.
The “Something” single was released Oct. 31 in the UK. According to the Beatles Bible, “it was the only time that a single was taken from an already-released Beatles album; previously they had either released songs ahead of their albums, or on the same day.” Probably in part due to this, “Something” only peaked at #4 on the British charts.
According to Wikipedia, “The single was certified Gold just three weeks after its initial release, but was not heard of again in terms of sales until 1999, when it was declared Platinum.” The RIAA currently lists “Something” as being Double Platinum.
Neil Aspinall directed the music video mentioned way far above in this article. Quoth Wikipedia, “By this time, the individual Beatles had drawn apart and so the film consisted of separate clips of each Beatle walking around his home, accompanied by his wife, edited together.” Dark days indeed. (Actually, I think it turned out really cute.)
In 1970, “Something” netted George the Ivor Novello Award for Best Song Musically and Lyrically. The BBC called it the 64th-greatest song ever, Rolling Stone ranked it #273 on its list of the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time, and the Beatles’ official website even says the tune “underlined the ascendancy of George Harrison as a major song writing force.”
“Something” is the second-most covered Beatles song, with over 150 noted versions (I initially typed 1150 versions, which, whoa there). Quoth Wikipedia, “It began accumulating cover versions from other artists almost immediately after its release by the Beatles.” Broadcast Music Incorporated (BMI) rated “Something” as the 17th-most performed song of the 20th century, with five million performances in all at the end of 1999 (Wikipedia). As Pollack wrote, “None other than Frank Sinatra included ‘Something’ in his repertoire, referring to it often as one of the ‘best’ (or maybe it was his ‘favorite’) Lennon and McCartney song; as if George hadn’t already suffered enough indignities and lack of individual identity in context of the Beatles.”
As such a feather in his hat, George played “Something” in many of his live solo shows. In 1971 he performed the song with a shit-ton of other famous musicians (I was listing people and it was taking too long, I’m sorry).
George also performed “Something” in 1991 while touring with Eric Clapton. This version (which appeared on “Live in Japan”) varies in that they repeat the third verse after the bridge.
The “Live in Japan” arrangement stuck; Eric performed it that way with Paul at the Concert for George Nov. 29, 2002. Their version was nominated for the Grammy Award for Best Pop Collaboration with Vocals the following year. (Props to Ringo tapping away back there throughout without recognition.)
Speaking of “something,” there’s definitely *something* in my eye right now…