While My Guitar Gently Weeps - Reviews

Reviewed by Ian MacDonald, in Revolution in the Head:

In its final version, WHILE MY GUITAR GENTLY WEEPS is another venture in the heavy idiom; yet, like the majority of the songs on The Beatles, it was largely written in India on acoustic guitar and, when first recorded at Abbey Road on 25th July, was played this way with no other accompaniment.[1] Speaking of the Rishikesh interlude, Donovan has recalled how he taught Lennon a finger-picking style which the latter used in DEAR PRUDENCE and JULIA - a technique borrowed from the Edinburgh folk guitarists with whom Donovan learned his craft. While there is no trace of a finger-picking style in the recorded versions of WHILE MY GUITAR GENTLY WEEPS, there may well have been to begin with, since Harrison is bound to have noticed Lennon learning a new style. (If Donovan showed him the technique used in his friend Davey Graham's famous folk instrurnental 'Anji', Harrison may have evolved WHILE MY GUITAR GENTLY WEEPS from it. Both are in A minor and both feature stepped descending bass-lines - though Harrison's is chromatic, changing the sequence, and the 'Anji' picking technique is not reproduced.[2]

Unhappy with his first attempt at recording the song - probably because he felt it overexposed his voice - Harrison took about thirty-seven hours, including two re-makes, to get what he wanted. During this, The Beatles obtained one of the first eight-track machines used in Britain and devoted two sessions to a version they thereupon scrapped.[3] Harrison, who had spent eight hours vainly striving to get a 'weeping' effect from a backwards guitar track, found no solution till the fifth day of work on the song when, driving into London with his old friend Eric Clapton,[4] he invited him to play the guitar solo. Clapton was then with Cream, the heaviest blues-rock group in the UK, yet his style suited the final version of WHILE MY GUITAR GENTLY WEEPS, which by then had become ponderously weighty. Using his cherry red Gibson Les Paul for its plangent sustained tone, Clapton had it 'wobbIed' with ADT to make the sound less bluesy.[5]

The characteristically accusatory lyric, written after returning from India, originated in one of the many random impulses The Beatles resorted to around this time, Harrison finding the phrase 'gently weeps' by chance in a book. While meaningful, the quadruple internal rhymes of his middle sixteens are pedantically contrived and, as a whole, the track exudes a browbeating self-importance which quickly becomes tiresome. Later popular at concerts, WHILE MY GUITAR GENTLY WEEPS enshrines, in its plodding sequence, rock's typical rhythmic overstatement and slow rate of harmonic change. The energetic topicality of pop is here supplanted by a dull grandiosity predictive of the simplified stadium music of the Seventies and Eighties.


  1. Issued on Anthology 3, this version includes an extra verse.
  2. The out-take version is in G minor. Whether it was written as such or lowered by Harrison to make it easier to sing is unclear. (THINK FOR YOURSELF is in G minor- major.)
  3. The Beach Boys' Pet Sounds was reeorded on an eight-track, while Motown had been using eight- track since 1964. The first commercially successful eight-track recordings were made in 1958 by The Coasters ('Charlie Brown', 'Yakety Vak'), engineered by Tom Dowd at Atlantic Studios in New Vork.
  4. They met in 1964 when Clapton, then with The Yardbirds, shared some bills with The Beatles.
  5. After the session, Clapton gave Harrison this guitar (called Lucy in homage to Albert Collins' Telecaster of the same name). The latter subsequently used it on SEXY SADIE, CRY BABY CRY, SOMETHING, and much of Abbey Road (including his Claptonesque breaks on THE END).

Posted: 16 July 2018