George Harrison began writing "Something" in September 1968, during a session for the Beatles' self-titled double album, commonly known as "the White Album". In his autobiography, I, Me Mine, he recalls working on the melody on a piano, while Paul McCartney carried out overdubs in a neighbouring studio at London's Abbey Road Studios. Harrison put the composition "on ice" at first, believing that with the tune having come to him so easily, it might have been the melody from another song. In I, Me, Mine, he adds that the middle eight for "Something" "took some time to sort out".
The song's opening lyric was taken from the title of "Something in the Way She Moves", a track by Harrison's fellow Apple Records artist James Taylor. While musically Harrison imagined the composition in the style of Ray Charles, his inspiration for "Something" was his wife, Pattie Boyd. In her 2007 autobiography, Wonderful Today, Boyd recalls: "He told me, in a matter-of-fact way, that he had written it for me. I thought it was beautiful ..." Boyd discusses the song's subsequent popularity among other recording artists and concludes: "My favourite [version] was the one by George Harrison, which he played to me in the kitchen at Kinfauns."
Having begun to write love songs that were directed at both God and a woman, with his White Album track "Long, Long, Long", Harrison later cited alternative sources for his inspiration for "Something". In early 1969, according to author Joshua Greene, Harrison told his friends from the Hare Krishna Movement that the song was about the Hindu deity Krishna; in an interview with Rolling Stone magazine in 1976, he said of his approach to writing love songs: "all love is part of a universal love. When you love a woman, it's the God in her that you see." By 1996, Harrison had denied writing "Something" for Boyd, adding that "everybody presumed I wrote it about Pattie" because of the promotional film accompanying the release of the Beatles' recording, which showed each member of the band with his respective wife.
In the version issued on the Beatles' 1969 album Abbey Road, which was the first release for the song, "Something" runs at a speed of around 66 beats per minute and is in common time throughout. It begins with a five-note guitar figure, which functions as the song's chorus, since it is repeated before each of the verses and also closes the track. The melody is in the key of C major until the eight-measure-long bridge, or middle eight, which is in the key of A major. Harrison biographer Simon Leng identifies "harmonic interest ... [in] almost every line" of the song, as the melody follows a series of descending half-steps from the tonic over the verses, a structure that is then mirrored in the new key, through the middle eight. The melody returns to C major for the guitar solo, the third verse, and the outro.
While Leng considers that, lyrically and musically, "Something" reflects "doubt and striving to attain an uncertain goal", author Ian Inglis writes of the confident statements that Harrison makes throughout regarding his feelings for Boyd. Referring to lines in the song's verses, Inglis writes: "there is a clear and mutual confidence in the reciprocal nature of their love; he muses that [Boyd] 'attracts me like no other lover' and 'all I have to do is think of her,' but he is equally aware that she feels the same, that 'somewhere in her smile, she knows.'" Similarly, when Harrison sings in the middle eight that "You're asking me will my love grow / I don't know, I don't know", Inglis interprets the words as "not an indication of uncertainty, but a wry reflection that his love is already so complete that it may simply be impossible for it to become any greater". Richie Unterberger of AllMusic describes "Something" as "an unabashedly straightforward and sentimental love song" written at a time "when most of the Beatles' songs were dealing with non-romantic topics or presenting cryptic and allusive lyrics even when they were writing about love".
Harrison first introduced "Something" at a Beatles session on 19 September 1968, when he played it to George Martin's stand-in as producer of The Beatles, Chris Thomas, while the latter was working out the harpsichord part for Harrison's track "Piggies". Despite Thomas's enthusiasm for the new composition, Harrison chose to focus on "Piggies". He told Thomas that he intended to offer "Something" to singer Jackie Lomax, whose debut album Harrison was producing for Apple Records. "Something" was not among the tracks released on Lomax's album, however, much of which was recorded in Los Angeles following the completion of the White Album.
After Harrison rejoined the Beatles in January 1969 for their Get Back film project (later released as Let It Be), "Something" was one of many recent compositions that he offered to the group. Leng describes this period as a prolific one for Harrison as a songwriter, comparing it with John Lennon's peak of creativity over 1963–64, yet Harrison's songs received little interest from Lennon and McCartney amid the tense, uncooperative atmosphere within the band. Martin was also unimpressed by "Something" at first, considering it "too weak and derivative", according to music journalist Mikal Gilmore.
The Beatles rehearsed the song at Apple Studio on 28 January. With the proceedings being recorded by director Michael Lindsay-Hogg for the planned documentary film, tapes reveal Harrison discussing his unfinished lyrics for "Something" with Lennon and McCartney, since he had been unable to complete the song's second line, which begins "Attracts me ..." To serve as a temporary filler, Lennon suggested "like a cauliflower", which Harrison then altered to "like a pomegranate". In their study of the available tapes, Doug Sulpy and Ray Schweighardt write that the Beatles gave the song two run-throughs that day, which was the only occasion that they attempted it during the Get Back/Let It Be project.
Following the Beatles' brief efforts with "Something" on 28 January, Harrison talked with Lennon and Yoko Ono about recording a solo album of his unused songs, since he had already stockpiled enough compositions "for the next ten years", given his usual allocation of two tracks per album, and in order to "preserve this, the Beatle bit, more". Lennon offered his support for the idea, similarly keen that his and Ono's recording projects outside the Beatles could continue without jeopardising the band's future. On 25 February 1969 – his 26th birthday – Harrison entered Abbey Road Studios and taped solo demos of "Something", "Old Brown Shoe" and "All Things Must Pass", the last two of which had also been rejected recently by Lennon and McCartney.
With Ken Scott serving as his engineer, he recorded a live take of "Something", featuring just electric guitar and vocal. By this point, Harrison had completed the lyrics, although he included an extra verse, sung to a counter-melody, over the section that would comprise his guitar solo on the Beatles' subsequent official recording. This demo version of "Something" remained unreleased until its inclusion on the Beatles' outtake collection Anthology 3 in 1996.
In March 1969, Harrison gave "Something" to Joe Cocker to record, having decided that it was more likely to become a hit with Cocker than with Lomax. Referring to this and similar examples where Harrison placed his overlooked songs with other recording artists, Ken Scott has refuted the idea that he lacked confidence as a songwriter in the Beatles, saying: "I think he was totally confident about the songs. The insecurity may have been, if the Beatles kept going, 'How many songs am I going to be able to get on each album?', and with the backlog sort of mounting up ... [to] get it out there, and get something from it."
Assisted by Harrison, Cocker recorded a demo of the song at Apple. While musicologist Walter Everett suggests that this was the same recording of "Something" that appeared on the Joe Cocker! album in November 1969, Beatles historian Mark Lewisohn writes that Cocker subsequently remade the track.
The Beatles undertook the recording of Abbey Road with a sense of discipline and cooperation that had largely been absent while making the White Album and Let It Be. Having temporarily left the group in January 1969 partly as a result of McCartney's criticism of his musicianship, Harrison exhibited a greater level of assertiveness regarding his place in the band, particularly while they worked on his compositions "Something" and "Here Comes the Sun". In addition, like Lennon and McCartney, Martin had come to fully appreciate Harrison as a songwriter, later saying: "I first recognised that he really had a great talent when we did 'Here Comes the Sun.' But when he brought in 'Something,' it was something else ... It was a tremendous work – and so simple."
The group recorded "Something" on 16 April before Harrison decided to redo the song, a new basic track for which was then completed at Abbey Road on 2 May. The line-up was Harrison on Leslie-effected rhythm guitar, Lennon on piano, McCartney on bass, Ringo Starr on drums, and guest musician Billy Preston playing Hammond organ. On 5 May, at Olympic Sound Studios, McCartney re-recorded his bass part and Harrison added lead guitar. At this point, the song ran to eight minutes, due to the inclusion of an extended coda led by Lennon's piano.
After taking a break from recording, the band returned to "Something" on 11 July, when Harrison overdubbed what would turn out to be a temporary vocal. With the resulting reduction mix, much of the coda, along with almost all of Lennon's playing on the main part of the song, was cut from the recording. The piano can be heard only in the middle eight, specifically during the descending run that follows each pair of "I don't know" vocal lines. Lennon later reprised the piano chords from the discarded coda in his 1970 song "Remember". On 16 July, Harrison recorded a new vocal, with McCartney overdubbing his harmony vocal over the middle eight and Starr adding both a second hi-hat part and a cymbal.
Following another reduction mix, at which point the remainder of the coda was excised from the track, Martin-arranged string orchestration was overdubbed on 15 August, as Harrison, working in the adjacent studio at Abbey Road, re-recorded his lead guitar part live. Writing for Rolling Stone in 2002, David Fricke described the Beatles' version of "Something" as "actually two moods in one: the pillowy yearning of the verses ... and the golden thunder of the bridge, the latter driven by Ringo Starr's military flourish on a high-hat cymbal". Leng highlights Harrison's guitar solo on the recording as "a performance that is widely regarded as one of the great guitar solos", and one in which Harrison incorporates the gamaks associated with Indian classical music, following his study of the sitar in 1965–68, while also foreshadowing the expressive style he would adopt on slide guitar as a solo artist.
Apple Records issued Abbey Road on 26 September 1969, with "Something" sequenced as the second track, following Lennon's "Come Together". Lennon considered "Something" to be the best song on the album; having ensured that "Old Brown Shoe" was chosen as the B-side for the Beatles' single "The Ballad of John and Yoko", according to his later recollection, Lennon now pushed Allen Klein to release "Something" as a single from Abbey Road. Coupled with "Come Together", the single was issued on 6 October in America (as Apple 2654) and 31 October in Britain (as Apple R5814).
The release marked the first time that a Harrison composition had been afforded A-side treatment on a Beatles single, as well as the only time during their career that a single was issued in the UK featuring tracks already available on an album. In a 1990 letter to Mark Lewisohn, Klein refuted a claim made by Lewisohn in his book The Complete Beatles Recording Sessions, that the single was intended as a money-making exercise; Klein said it was purely a mark of Lennon's regard for "Something" and "to point out George as a writer, and give him courage to go in and do his own LP. Which he did." Following the Beatles' break-up in April 1970, Harrison's ascendancy as a songwriter would continue with his triple album All Things Must Pass, building on the promise of White Album tracks such as "While My Guitar Gently Weeps" and his two contributions to Abbey Road.
Although its commercial impact was lessened by the ongoing success of the parent album, "Something"/"Come Together" was certified Gold by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) on 27 October. During the single's chart run on Billboard in the US, "Something" peaked at number 3 until the magazine changed its practice of counting sales and airplay separately for each song; following this change on 29 November, the single topped the Billboard Hot 100, for one week. "Come Together"/"Something" became the Beatles' eighteenth number one single in Billboard, surpassing Elvis Presley's record of 17. In the other US national charts, Record World listed "Come Together"/"Something" at number 1, while in Cash Box magazine, which continued to rank each song separately, "Something" peaked at number 2 and "Come Together" spent three weeks at number 1.
As the preferred side, "Something" was number 1 in Canada (for five weeks), Australia (five weeks), West Germany (two weeks), New Zealand and Singapore. The combined sides reached number 4 in Britain. There, the release was highly unusual, given the traditional preference for non-album singles; in addition, according to former Mojo editor Paul Du Noyer, "so enormous were sales of Abbey Road that demand for the single was inevitably dampened."
On 17 February 1999, "Something" was certified double Platinum by the RIAA. In its 2014 list titled "The Beatles' 50 Biggest Billboard Hits", Billboard places the double A-side single in sixth place, immediately after "Let It Be" and ahead of "Hello, Goodbye". Additionally, "Something" is placed again at number 30, representing the song's performance before the November 1969 Hot 100 rule change.
The promotional video for "Something" was shot shortly after Lennon had privately announced that he was leaving the band. 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. The film was directed by Neil Aspinall.
The promo film is included in the Beatles' 2015 video compilation 1.
Among contemporary reviews, Time magazine declared "Something" to be the best track on Abbey Road, while John Mendelsohn wrote in Rolling Stone: "George's vocal, containing less adenoids and more grainy Paul tunefulness than ever before, is one of many highlights on his 'Something,' some of the others being more excellent drum work, a dead catchy guitar line, perfectly subdued strings, and an unusually nice melody. Both his and Joe Cocker's version will suffice nicely until Ray Charles gets around to it." Writing in Saturday Review magazine, Ellen Sander described "Something" as "certainly one of the most beautiful songs George Harrison has ever written" and added: "He feels his way through the song, instinctively cutting through its body and into the core, emoting so clearly and so gracefully that at the moment he peals 'I don't know, I don't know,' it is shown that even what is not known can be understood." In his review of the single, Derek Johnson of the NME lauded the track as "a real quality hunk of pop" with a "strident lead guitar which exudes a mean and moody quality". Johnson stated his regret that Harrison "isn't featured more regularly as a singer", and concluded of "Something": "It's a song that grows on you, and mark my words, it will – in a big way!"
Writing in his book Revolution in the Head, critic and author Ian MacDonald described "Something" as "the acme of Harrison's achievement as a writer". MacDonald highlighted the song's "key-structure of classical grace and panoramic effect", and cited the lyrics to verse two as "its author's finest lines – at once deeper and more elegant than almost anything his colleagues ever wrote".
Like Lennon, both McCartney and Starr held the song in high regard. In the 2000 book The Beatles Anthology, Starr paired "Something" with "While My Guitar Gently Weeps" as "Two of the finest love songs ever written", adding, "they're really on a par with what John and Paul or anyone else of that time wrote"; McCartney said it was "George's greatest track – with 'Here Comes the Sun' and 'While My Guitar Gently Weeps'". Among Harrison's other peers, Paul Simon described "Something" as a "masterpiece" and Elton John said: "'Something' is probably one of the best love songs ever, ever, ever written ... It's better than 'Yesterday,' much better ... It's like the song I've been chasing for the last thirty-five years."
In a 2002 article for The Morning News, Kenneth Womack included Harrison's guitar solo on the track among his "Ten Great Beatles Moments". Describing the instrumental break as "the song's greatest lyrical feature – even more lyrical, interestingly enough, than the lyrics themselves", Womack concluded: "A masterpiece in simplicity, Harrison's solo reaches toward the sublime, wrestles with it in a bouquet of downward syncopation, and hoists it yet again in a moment of supreme grace." Guitar World included the performance as the magazine's featured solo in June 2011. Later that year, "Something" was one of the two "key tracks" highlighted by Rolling Stone when the magazine placed Harrison at number 11 on its list of the "100 Greatest Guitarists".
In July 1970, "Something" received the Ivor Novello Award for "Best Song Musically and Lyrically" of 1969. In 2005, the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) named it as the 64th-greatest song ever. According to the BBC, the song "shows more clearly than any other song in The Beatles' canon that there were three great songwriters in the band rather than just two". The Beatles' official website states that "Something" "underlined the ascendance of George Harrison as a major songwriting force".
With more than 150 versions, "Something" is the second most covered Beatles song after "Yesterday". In 1999, Broadcast Music Incorporated (BMI) named "Something" as the 17th-most performed song of the twentieth century, with 5 million performances. In 2004, the track was ranked at number 278 on Rolling Stone's list of "The 500 Greatest Songs of All Time". In 2010, "Something" appeared at number 6 on the magazine's "100 Greatest Beatles Songs" list. Four years before this, Mojo placed it 7th in a similar list of the Beatles' best songs.
Among the song's many cover versions, Welsh singer Shirley Bassey recorded a successful version of "Something". It was released in 1970 as the title track to her album of the same name. Also issued as a single, it became Bassey's first top-ten hit in the UK since "I (Who Have Nothing)" in 1963, peaking at number 4 and spending 22 weeks on the chart. The single also reached the top twenty in other European countries and peaked at number 6 on Billboard's Easy Listening (later Adult Contemporary) chart.
Although she had been unaware of the song's origins when recording "Something", Bassey later suggested that she and Harrison could become a singer-and-songwriter pairing on the scale of Dionne Warwick and Burt Bacharach. After reading these comments in 1970, Harrison wrote "When Every Song Is Sung" with Bassey in mind, although it was not a composition that she ever recorded.
Frank Sinatra was particularly impressed with "Something", calling it "the greatest love song of the past 50 years". According to Du Noyer, he "especially admired the way the lyric evokes a girl who isn't even present". Aside from performing "Something" numerous times in concert, Sinatra recorded the song twice: in October 1970 as a single for Reprise Records (a version that later appeared on Frank Sinatra's Greatest Hits, Vol. 2), and for his 1980 triple album Trilogy: Past Present Future. With the sides flipped to favour the B-side, "Bein' Green", the 1970 single peaked at number 22 on Billboard's Easy Listening chart.
During his live performances, Sinatra was known to mistakenly introduce "Something" as a Lennon–McCartney composition. By 1978, however, he had begun correctly citing Harrison as its author. Harrison went on to adopt Sinatra's minor lyrical change (in the song's middle eight, singing "You stick around, Jack ...") in his live performances over 1991–92. In The Beatles Anthology, Harrison says he viewed Sinatra as being part of "the generation before me" and so only later came to appreciate the American singer's adoption of the song.
Harrison's composition began accumulating cover versions almost immediately after the release of Abbey Road. In addition to Joe Cocker, Peggy Lee and Tony Bennett each issued recordings of the song at the end of 1969. Lena Horne recorded "Something" in the jazz style for her 1970 album with guitarist Gabor Szabo, titled Lena & Gabor. An instrumental version by Booker T. & the M.G.'s, from their Abbey Road tribute album McLemore Avenue, peaked at number 76 on the Billboard Hot 100 in August 1970. Other artists who released covers of the song that year include Della Reese, Perry Como, Duane Eddy, the Ray Conniff Singers, Jerry Butler, Johnny Mathis, Engelbert Humperdinck, Isaac Hayes, King Curtis, Martha Reeves & the Vandellas and the Shadows. Ray Charles issued his version on the album Volcanic Action of My Soul in 1971, the same year that recordings appeared by Andy Williams and Junior Walker & the All Stars, while Buddy Rich, Blue Mink and Ike & Tina Turner were among the acts who covered it in 1972. Referring to the song's popularity among easy-listening artists, Harrison later said: "When even Liberace covered it [in 1970], you know that it's one of them that ends up in an elevator ..."
"Something" was one of the rare Beatles songs that Elvis Presley chose to play, when he introduced it into the setlist for his third season at the International Hotel in Las Vegas, in August 1970. He also performed it on his 1973 Aloha from Hawaii TV special, the recording from which appeared on the accompanying bestselling album. A live version from the 1970 Las Vegas concerts subsequently appeared on the Presley box sets Walk a Mile in My Shoes: The Essential '70s Masters (1995) and Live in Las Vegas (2001). In 1974, a recording by Johnny Rodriguez reached number 6 on Billboard's Hot Country Singles chart and number 85 on the Hot 100. In Canada, the song peaked at number 11 on the RPM country chart.
Other versions of "Something" include recordings by James Brown, Peggy Lee, Willie Nelson, Smokey Robinson, Julio Iglesias and Musiq Soulchild. Harrison referred to James Brown's recording as his favourite cover of the song, saying: "It was one of his B sides. I have it on my jukebox at home. It's absolutely brilliant."
Bruce Springsteen opened his first show after Harrison's death on 29 November 2001 by playing an acoustic version of "Something" with violinist Soozie Tyrell, followed by a rendition of Harrison's solo hit "My Sweet Lord". Elton John gave a solo performance of the song at New York's Carnegie Hall in April 2002, as part of a one-hour Harrison tribute during the eleventh annual Rainforest Foundation concert.
In honour of Harrison's fondness for the instrument, Paul McCartney played a ukulele rendition of "Something" throughout his 2002–03 world tour and included the track on his Back in the U.S. live album. At the Concert for George, held at London's Royal Albert Hall on 29 November 2002, he and Eric Clapton performed a version that begins with McCartney alone, on ukulele, and then reverts to the familiar, rock arrangement, with Clapton taking over as lead singer and backing from Starr, Preston and others. Following its appearance in David Leland's film Concert for George (2003) and on the accompanying live album, this performance of "Something" was nominated for the Grammy Award for Best Pop Collaboration with Vocals. Bob Dylan also played the song live during his November 2002 concerts, as a tribute to Harrison. McCartney has continued to perform "Something", adopting the Concert for George mix of ukulele and rock backing; a version with this musical arrangement was included on his 2009 album Good Evening New York City.
Harrison played "Something" at the two Concert for Bangladesh shows, held at Madison Square Garden in New York on 1 August 1971. His first live performance as a solo artist, he was backed by a large band that included Starr, Preston, Clapton and Leon Russell. The version used on the live album and in the 1972 concert film was taken from the evening show that day, when Harrison played it as the final song before returning to perform "Bangla Desh" as an encore.
Harrison included "Something" in all of his subsequent, and rare, full-length concert appearances. For his 1974 North American tour with Ravi Shankar, he had been reluctant to feature any material from the Beatles' catalogue, but at the urging of Shankar and Preston during rehearsals, he added "Something" to the setlist. To the disappointment of many fans, however, he chose to alter some of the song's lyrics (such as changing the first line to "If there's something in the way, remove it"). Further distancing himself from the Beatles' legacy, Harrison told journalists at the start of the tour that he would join a group with Lennon "any day" but rejected the idea of working again with McCartney, since he preferred Willie Weeks as a bassist. MacDonald comments that this statement was likely in reference to McCartney's "too fussily extemporised" bass part on the Beatles' 1969 recording. With Boyd having left Harrison for Clapton earlier in 1974, Larry Sloman of Rolling Stone described the reworked "Something" as "a moving diary of his love life".
A version from Harrison's December 1991 tour of Japan with Clapton – Harrison's only other tour as a solo artist – appears on the Live in Japan double album (1992). Inglis writes of the track having "extra poignancy" by this time, "in that the woman for whom it was written had been married to, and divorced from, Harrison and Clapton in turn". Inglis adds: "It is not a new interpretation of the song, but it does suggest a new perspective, in which words and music are used by two close friends to reflect on the lives they have led."
Personnel per Walter Everett.
The BeatlesGeorge Harrison – lead vocal, lead guitar, rhythm guitar
Paul McCartney – bass guitar, backing vocal
John Lennon – piano
Ringo Starr – drums
Additional personnelBilly Preston – Hammond organ
George Martin – string arrangement