From their days in the Cavern to their troubled final weeks as a group at loggerheads, The Beatles have their fair share of stories to tell.
George Harrison is particularly fascinating. He was rock’s ultimate ‘dark horse’, standing in the shadows of the genre’s most celebrated songwriting partnership. As Harrison began to master his craft, the seminal nature of his songs began to jeopardize his bandmates’ status as music’s most seminal duo.
Numerous biographies about the quiet Beatle have surfaced since his death almost twenty years ago. Although they vary in quality, there’s hardly been a shortage.
This guide will feature a comprehensive breakdown on the most famous biographies written about Harrison and cover their pros and cons.
The Beatles’ enduring fame and status has lead to a catalogue of content being published about them. With such a saturated market comes a great responsibility to distinguish quality from mediocre filler.
What Makes a Good George Harrison Biography?
A well-written, comprehensive George Harrison biography includes his whole life, not just his time in The Beatles.
Since Harrison had a local reputation as a guitar-wizard prior to joining the band, it’s vital to tell the story of his musical upbringing. This allows us to chart his development from a young rock enthusiast to the mystical, Eastern-influenced sage he would become in his late 20s.
Harrison was a human being. It’s easy to become entranced with his talents and fame but underneath that, there was a boy from Liverpool who grew up without a whole lot of anything. A good biography, much like the man himself, must be authentic and valid to who he really was.
What Are the Best George Harrison Biographies?
With those things in mind, let’s take a look at some George Harrison biographies on the market and see how they fare in regards to criteria. The following traits must be evident in a George Harrison biography to be worth purchasing:
- Diversity of timeline (e.g. talking about his life both pre and post-Beatles)
- Quality of testimonies (i.e. insights from those who knew Harrison)
George Harrison: Behind the Locked Door (Graeme Thompson, 2013)
Graeme Thompson’s 2013 biography on George Harrison is about as comprehensive as it gets.
Thompson’s book not only examines Harrison’s life but also his workman-like approach to songwriting.
What Makes Graeme Thompson’s Book So Good?
One of the primary reasons why Thompson’s biography is so fascinating is it examines the psychological makeup of his songwriting. George Harrison’s famously quiet personality is somehow of a juxtaposition of his songwriting. Whilst McCartney and Lennon often wrote about characters and places (Eleanor Rigby, Penny Lane), Harrison’s writing was a lot more personal and direct.
It’s an observation that may sound simple but it is often overlooked and not noticed by even hardcore Beatles fans.
As the youngest Beatle, Harrison did not possess the same streetwise qualities as Lennon and Starr. His naive boyishness helped give The Beatles their early charm. Thompson examines George’s early role in the band which was mostly a passenger to the more confident Lennon and McCartney.
Thompson Correctly Portrays Harrison as a Contradiction
George Harrison was a complicated man.
Despite being one of the world’s most famous men, he yearned for peace and solitude.
Despite being famously quiet and reserved, he had a reputation as a womanizer with a nasty temper.
Thompson’s book portrays a realistic account of the real George Harrison. He doesn’t use Harrison’s death as a springboard for slander, nor does he falsely idolize him in death.
Like all human beings, Harrison was a complicated mix of emotions who was capable of both good and bad acts. Thrown into the brightest limelight during his teenage years, it’s no surprise Harrison’s life had its ups and downs.
Thompson Features Harrison’s Song Writing Evolution
During the group’s early years, Harrison was relegated to one or two songs per album.
It was this restriction that stunted his early artistic development and led him to develop a chip on his shoulder during the mid-Beatles period.
His early songs on albums such as With the Beatles and A Hard Day’s Night would be radically different from his output on Revolver and his famous contributions on Abbey Road.
The biting social commentaries and sun-soaked melodies on the later Beatles albums were the work of a man who was finally beginning to master his craft. His bandmates, once dismissive of his talents, began to develop and air of jealousy.
Behind the Locked Door is Harrison’s best Biography Without a Doubt
Perhaps no other George Harrison work captures his existence more accurately.
The book is available on Amazon and is a must-read for any Harrison enthusiast. His relatively short life is expertly chronicled by Graeme Thompson, and the book’s insights will have you coming back for more.
I, Me , Mine – George Harrison (George Harrison)
It would be sinful to mention George Harrison books without talking about the one that he wrote himself.
I, Me, Mine was written in 1980 and is less an autobiography than a window in to his mind.
I, Me, Mine More of a Manifesto than an Autobiography
Whilst this Harrison-penned book makes for interesting reading, it does not come close to the kind of insights and revelations seen in Graeme Thompson’s masterwork.
The book was released in 1980 and met with a lukewarm reaction. Although the audience enjoyed hearing about Harrison’s artistic influences and the breakdowns of his most famous lyrics, the lack of any real insight into his personal life and Beatles-related stories was considered disappointing.
John Lennon himself was famously dismissive of the book, as George seemed to shun him completely and barely mentioned Lennon’s influence on his life and music.
Despite Its Flaws, The Book is Still an Important Read for Harrison Fans
Critisicm of I, Me, Mine is more than justified.
Despite its superficial nature and surface-level analysis of Harrison’s songs, the book still retains the charm that he was famous for.
It may not be a groundbreaking autobiographical account, but it certainly has its merits.
The Book Has Had Several New Editions Since Harrison’s Death
Harrison’s untimely death in November 2001 brought a renewed interest in his work.
His autobiography was no exception. His widow, Olivia, republished the book with new, unseen photographs and handwritten lyrics omitted from the original release. As time has gone by, new editions are being published, each one with new content. It is widely available for purchase on Amazon Prime and is under no threat of going out of print.
Overall, this 1980 book is still the closest thing to a George Harrison biography. It may not be perfect, but neither was he.
All Things Must Pass: The Life of George Harrison (Marc Shapiro, 2002)
Released only three months after Harrison’s death, Marc Shapiro’s biography of the late Beatle swiftly flew off the shelves.
Whilst the book’s convenient timing was seen as distasteful and exploitative, the work competently covers his life his humble beginnings to his status as a household name.
Despite Being Well-Written, Shapiro’s Book Doesn’t Bring Much to the Table
The story of George Harrison being invited into The Quarrymen after his note-for-note rendition of the song Raunchy is one of rock’s most famous fables.
Shaprio recites this story, along with a whole host of others, very well with his entertaining style of writing but there’s not a whole lot of information in the book that isn’t widely known already.
The book has a linear progression spanning from Harrison’s childhood, to his love of Elvis Presley, to his Beatles days, his infatuation with Eastern culture, and his later career. Patti Boyd and Olivia Harrison both feature heavily as well.
All Things Must Pass is Servicable, but Not Extraordinary
If you’re looking for a book that covers the wide landscape of George Harrison’s life and career, and are not interested in in-depth coverage, then this book is for you.
It’s more of a work for casual Beatles fans who may not know the Fab Four beyond their short Beatles careers. All Things Must Pass is for the general reader, those purely seeking more insight in to the group as individuals.
However, hardcore Beatles fans and George Harrison devotees certainly won’t be satisfied and satiated by Shapiro’s book. Intimate personal details and in-depth analysis of George’s artistic agenda are absent from this book, as is any hint of George’s personality and character.
This book is nothing more than an easy cash-grab and the timing of its release is both convenient and a little distasteful. Whilst it does have its moments, it remains an average work at best. If your only experience with The Beatles is hearing She Loves You on the radio, then this book may fulfill your needs. Barely.
The Book Has Been Derided by Several George Harrison Fans
The publication of All Things Must Pass was largely met with scorn and apathy from Beatles fans.
Critics point of the book’s lazy and unimaginative structure and its focus and clear and obvious events in Harrison’s life.
One reviewer stated that the book read like ”a collage of newspaper clippings” and offered ”no insight into the workings of this incredible musician”.
Although the book is still readily available, you should probably consider other George Harrison biographies before buying it.
Working Class Mystic: A Spiritual Biography of George Harrison (For Beginners) – Gary Tillery, 2011.
Gary Tillery’s offering into the spiritual world of George Harrison does exactly what is says on the tin.
The book is advertised as an overview into George’s love for Eastern mysticism and it more than delivers on that promise.
There’s not a whole lot to say about this work as it is only a beginner’s guide featuring what George believed in, why he believed in it, and how his worldview impacted not only his work, but the work of popular music as a whole.
It May Not Be Long, But It’s a Fun Ride
Much like Harrison’s life, this book may not be long – but it is certainly an exciting journey.
This work is a spiritual quest into Harrison’s mind and heart. It is well-written and is not an obvious cash-grab like the previous book featured.
Gary Tillery does not insult the readers’ intelligence by stating trite, obvious facts and stories and instead delivers a terrific little book that George Harrison himself would be proud of.
This book is on Amazon Prime and is definitely worth a purchase.
What is the Best George Harrison Biography?
There is only one runaway product that comes to mind here.
It is, of course, Graeme Thompson’s book George Harrison: Behind the Locked Door.
Why? I hear you ask.
Thompson’s book takes the cake with its quality writing, respect to Harrison’s true character, and the laundry-list of never-before-seen insights into the great man.
Behind the Locked Door is the Gold Standard
With the lazy offerings of All Things Must Pass and even Harrison’s own autobiography, Graeme Thompson was not exactly faced with quality opposition.
If you only read one George Harrison biography in your life, make sure it’s this one. You will finish the book feeling that you knew and understood George. You’ll feel connected to his truimphs and attached to his mistakes. Not a lot of biographies can offer that sort of engagement.
Short on Time? Working Class Mystic is a Great Alternative
Those who are not well-accustomed to long, immersive reads should definitely consider Gary Tillery’s offering instead.
It’s a brilliant alternative that zeroes in on a highly influential presence on George Harrison. Free from the over-saturated Beatles stories we’ve all heard a million times before, Working Class Mystic tells Harrison’s story from a fresh perspective.
The book can easily be finished within a day, and is an ideal read for a short vacation or lazy weekend.
George Harrison accomplished a lot during his 58-year stay on this planet. Almost twenty years after his death, his brilliant, shining career and his complex inner character will continue to inspire, captivate, and puzzle his enormous fanbase.
The Quiet Beatle is still as complex and misunderstood in death as he was in life.