I’ve been listening a lot to All Things Must Pass and The Concert for Bangladesh recently for a long-form writing project I’m doing, and I’ve really been hit hard by some of the songs on a musical level.
Now, I’m a George Harrison fan, but I’ve not really listened to All Things Must Pass properly in, I don’t know, over 10 years – probably somewhere around 2008 was when I got a copy and dived into it properly – and I’ve never until this week sat down and tried playing any of his songs.* While I could tell from listening that a lot of them had unorthodox chord sequences, this is the first time I’ve sat down and learned them. And well, what a way with chords Harrison had.
I’d Have You Anytime
This Harrison/Dylan cowrite, with a verse by Harrison and a chorus by Dylan, alternates between 4/4 and 3/4, and has some beautiful changes, particularly the Gmaj7/Bbmaj7/Cm7 progression that forms the basis of the verses’ 4/4 sections. Dylan, too, holds his own with the modulations from D to C and back to D via an A major. The melody reinforces the unexpected A major by moving from a C over an F chord to a C# over the A. Really good stuff from both guys.
Isn’t It a Pity
This might actually be the best chord sequence ever. I’ve learned it in a couple of keys**, and it’s just glorious. It’s the little details in the voice leading and, again, the way that the vocal melody acknowledges the extensions and colours in the chords that really makes the whole thing sing; that drop in the melody to acknowledge the flat 3rd in Gdim7 when Harrison sings “how we break each other’s hearts” is goosebump stuff. Isn’t It a Pity is really only one chord sequence repeated again and again for six minutes, but when it’s as strong as this one, it’s hypnotic rather than boring.
Put him in a rock/R&B context, and George still loved a nice chewy chord change. Wah-Wah has a few: the move from F#7 to the parallel minor; the unexpected B7 to D7; and the even more unexpected move from D7 to D9b5. Listen for those unexpected dissonant notes in the backing vocals, the flat fifth especially.
Beware of Darkness
Along with Long, Long, Long, this is my favourite George Harrison song. What a trip the chord progression is. The intro, a held B, gives you no idea that you’re about to drop down to a G7 to begin the verse, or that you’ll then climb a semitone to G#m. Overall, I guess you’d say the song is in B, so the move to G#m makes sense in the overall sequence, but when you first hear the song the shift from B to G7 and the to G#m does feel like Harrison is pulling the rug out from under you on a pretty much bar-by-bar basis. It’s a wonderfully creative and imaginative sequence, and once again, the key to how it all hangs together is the melody; the dominant note of the tune in the first part of the verse is B – the major third of G7 and the minor third of G#m, and the only tone the chords share.
*I’m not really in the habit of learning other people’s songs anymore, but I’ve been playing more guitar since the start of lockdown, and have found myself reaching for a guitar to work stuff out when I hear a riff or chord change or something that grabs my ear.
**Feeling lazy, I got started by going here rather than working out for myself. I’ve varied a couple of chord shapes slightly, but I think it’s pretty accurate.
Melanie Crew and I have recently released our first joint EP! Here it is, if you’d like to have a listen: