When was it recorded? Jul. 25 July; Aug. 16; and Sept. 3-6, 1968
When was it first released, and on which album? Nov. 22, 1968 on “The Beatles”
Who wrote it? Harrison
Have I heard this song before? Oh yeah
What my research dug up:
George started writing “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” in India but didn’t come up with the lyrics until he returned to England.
“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 a 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.” — George Harrison (Anthology)
According to Rolling Stone, this quote’s source “might have been Coates Kinney’s much-anthologized 1849 poem ‘Rain on the Roof,’ which includes the lines ‘And the melancholy darkness/Gently weeps in rainy tears.’”
As with most White Album material, George recorded a demo of “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” at his Esher home in May 1968.
On July 25, 1968, George (on acoustic guitar) and Paul (on the organ) recorded one take of “While My Guitar Gently Weeps.” It sounded more like the demo version and later appeared on 1996’s “Anthology 3.”
The Beatles returned to “While My Guitar Gently Weeps”; they recorded 14 takes on Aug. 16. It sat for another month until George added overdubs in an eight-hour session on Sept. 3. He was going for a ‘weepy’ backwards guitar solo but never quite achieved his goal. The next day he added two lead vocal parts and percussion. “However,” quoth the Beatles Bible, “upon hearing a playback of the recording so far, Harrison decided to scrap it and begin afresh.”
The remaking process began the same day, Sept. 4, when the Fab Four recorded 28 takes of the tune. George still wasn’t satisfied with the track’s progress though.
“We tried to record it, but John and Paul were so used to just cranking out their tunes that it was very difficult at times to get serious and record one of mine. It wasn’t happening. They weren’t taking it seriously and I don’t think they were even all playing on it, and so I went home that night thinking, ‘Well, that’s a shame,’ because I knew the song was pretty good. The next day I was driving into London with Eric Clapton, and I said, ‘What are you doing today? Why don’t you come to the studio and play on this song for me?’ He said, ‘Oh, no – I can’t do that. Nobody’s ever played on a Beatles record and the others wouldn’t like it.’ I said, ‘Look, it’s my song and I’d like you to play on it.’ So he came in. I said, ‘Eric’s going to play on this one,’ and it was good because that then made everyone act better. Paul got on the piano and played a nice intro and they all took it more seriously.” — George Harrison (Anthology)
Quoth Rolling Stone, “Clapton’s flickering filigrees and spectacular, lyrical solo brought the whole thing together, and it was finished that night.” His contribution was uncredited on the album.
“While My Guitar Gently Weeps” is probably George’s best-received Beatles-era composition (not as overly narrow a superlative as it may seem). Rolling Stone ranked it #136 on this list of the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time, #10 on this list of the Beatles’ 100 Greatest Songs, and #7 on their list of the 100 Greatest Guitar Songs of All Time. The tune was also voted George’s best Beatles song by the readers of Guitar World. It’s definitely my personal favorite George composition. The original is sublime, but special mention to Eric Clapton’s cover at the Concert for George. 12 years later and I still get goosebumps when I watch it.