"Something" is a single released by The Beatles in 1969, and featured on the album Abbey Road. "Something" was the first song written by George Harrison to appear on the A-side of a Beatles single. It was one of the first Beatles singles to contain tracks already available on a long playing (LP) album, with both "Something" and "Come Together" having appeared on Abbey Road. "Something" was the only Harrison composition to top the American charts while he was a Beatle.
John Lennon and Paul McCartney—the two principal songwriting members of the band—both praised "Something" as among the best songs Harrison had written. As well as critical acclaim, the single achieved commercial success, topping the Billboard charts in the United States, and entering the top 10 in the United Kingdom. The song's success continued after the breakup of The Beatles, when it was covered by over 150 artists including Elvis Presley, Shirley Bassey, Frank Sinatra, James Brown, Julio Iglesias, Smokey Robinson, Joe Cocker becoming the second-most covered Beatles song after "Yesterday".
Harrison later said that "I had a break while Paul was doing some overdubbing so I went into an empty studio and began to write. That's really all there is to it, except the middle took some time to sort out. It didn't go on the White Album because we'd already finished all the tracks." A demo recording of the song by Harrison from this period appears on the Beatles Anthology 3 collection, released in 1996.
Many believe that Harrison's inspiration for "Something" was his wife at the time, Pattie Boyd. Boyd confirmed that inspiration in her 2007 autobiography, Wonderful Tonight, where she wrote: "He told me, in a matter-of-fact way, that he had written it for me.
Harrison had cited other sources of inspiration. In a 1996 interview he responded to the question of whether the song was about Pattie: "Well no, I didn't [write it about her]. I just wrote it, and then somebody put together a video. And what they did was they went out and got some footage of me and Pattie, Paul and Linda, Ringo and Maureen, it was at that time, and John and Yoko and they just made up a little video to go with it. So then, everybody presumed I wrote it about Pattie, but actually, when I wrote it, I was thinking of Ray Charles.
The original intention had been for Harrison to offer the song to Jackie Lomax, as had been done with the previous Harrison composition, "Sour Milk Sea." When this fell through, the song was given to Joe Cocker (who had previously covered The Beatles' "With a Little Help from My Friends"); his version came out two months before that of The Beatles. During the Get Back recording sessions for what eventually became Let It Be, Harrison considered using "Something," but eventually decided against it due to his fear that insufficient care would be taken in its recording; his earlier suggestion of "Old Brown Shoe" had not gone down well with the band. It was only during the recording sessions for Abbey Road that The Beatles began seriously working on "Something."
"Something" was recorded during the Abbey Road sessions. It took 52 takes in two main periods, the first session involved a demo take on Harrison's 26th birthday, 25 February 1969, followed by 13 backing track takes on 16 April. The second main session took 39 takes and started on 2 May 1969 when the main parts of the song were laid down in 36 takes, finishing on 15 August 1969 after several days of recording overdubs.
The original draft that the Beatles used lasted eight minutes, with John Lennon on the piano towards the end (which was recorded later as Lennon was not present during the first few sessions). The middle also contained a small counter-melody section in the draft. Both the counter-melody and Lennon's piano piece were cut from the final version. Still, Lennon's piano was not erased totally. Some bits can be heard in the middle eight, in particular the line played downwards the C major scale, i.e. the connection passage to George's guitar solo. The erased parts of Lennon's piano section later became the basis for Lennon's song "Remember."
Abbey Road was the only Beatles album mainly recorded on an 8-track tape machine, rather than the 4-track machines that were used for prior Beatle albums. This is noticeable in the better sound separation and mixing of the drum kit. EMI's conservative management had not yet approved the use of their then-new 8-track Studer deck, and that accounts for why this was one of the rare Beatles albums to be recorded at three different studios (Trident, Olympic, and Abbey Road). The album was also the first to be recorded and mixed entirely on a solid state sound board, giving the album's sound a noticeably different "feel" from its predecessors; Harrison later remarked that the new sound was too "harsh" for his liking. Also, the Moog synthesizer is featured on the majority of tracks, not merely as a background effect, but sometimes playing a central role, as in "Because" where it's used for the middle 8. It is also prominent on "Maxwell's Silver Hammer" and "Here Comes the Sun". The instrument was introduced to the band by Harrison after a stay in Los Angeles where he was introduced to the instrument. (The first landmark pop song to employ the Moog was "Daily Nightly" by The Monkees.) Earlier in 1969, Harrison had released Electronic Sound, which featured dissonant sounds entirely made from a Moog, on Apple's short-lived experimental label Zapple.
One of the assistant engineers working on the album was a then-unknown Alan Parsons. He went on to engineer Pink Floyd's landmark album The Dark Side of the Moon and produce many popular albums himself with The Alan Parsons Project. John Kurlander also assisted on many of the sessions, and went on to become a successful engineer and producer, most noteworthy for his success on the scores for The Lord of the Rings film trilogy.
The lead vocalist for "Something" was George Harrison. The song runs at a speed of about sixty-six beats per minute and is in common time throughout. The melody begins in the key of C major. It continues in this key throughout the intro and the first two verses, until the eight-measure-long bridge, which is in the key of A major. After the bridge, the melody returns to C Major for the guitar solo, the third verse, and the outro. Although The Beatles had initially attempted an edgier acoustic version of the song, this was dropped along with the counter-melody. A demo of the acoustic version with the counter-melody included was later released as part of Anthology 3. On the final release, the counter-melody was replaced by an instrumental break, and the song was given a softer tone with the introduction of a string arrangement by George Martin, The Beatles' producer.
The theme of the song is considered to be about doubt and uncertainty. One reviewer described it as "an unabashedly straightforward and sentimental love song" 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".
The Abbey Road album was the first official Beatles release to feature "Something"; it was released on 26 September 1969 in the United Kingdom, with the United States' release following on 1 October, and performed well, topping the charts in both countries.
A few days later on 6 October, "Something" was released as a double A-side single with "Come Together" in the United States, becoming the first Harrison composition to receive top billing on a Beatles single.
Although it began charting a week after its release on 18 October, doubts began to arise over the possibility of "Something" topping the American charts. It was the prevailing practice at the time to count sales and airplay of the A- and B-sides separately, which allowed for separate chart positions. With "Come Together" rivaling "Something" in popularity, it was hardly certain that either side of the single would reach number one. However, on 29 November, Billboard started factoring the combined performance of both A- and B-sides into their calculations, as one single. The result was that "Come Together/Something" topped the American charts for a week, before eventually falling out of the charts about two months later (on the concurrent Cash Box singles chart, which continued to measure the performance on both sides of a single separately, "Something" peaked at number two while "Come Together" spent three weeks at number one). The single was certified Gold just three weeks after its initial release, but was not heard of again in terms of sales until 1999, when it was declared Platinum.
In the United Kingdom, "Something" came out on 31 October. It was the first Beatles single to have a Harrison song on the A-side, and it was also the first single to feature songs already available on an album. "Something" first entered the chart on 8 November, eventually peaking at number four, before falling out of the charts three months after its initial release. In the UK Shirley Bassey's version also reached #4.
Although Harrison himself had been dismissive of the song—he later said that he "put it on ice for about six months because I thought 'that's too easy—Lennon and McCartney both stated that they held "Something" in high regard. Lennon said "I think that's about the best track on the album, actually", while McCartney said "For me I think it's the best he's written. Both had largely ignored Harrison's compositions prior to "Something", with their own songs taking much of the limelight. Lennon later explained:
There was an embarrassing period when George's songs weren't that good and nobody wanted to say anything. He just wasn't in the same league for a long time—that's not putting him down, he just hadn't had the practice as a writer that we'd had.
Despite this, things were not going well for the band. Events happening at the same time as the recording of Abbey Road included the disagreement among the band members regarding using Allan Klein as a manager which would eventually lead to the group splitting up. In addition to this, their last album —Let It Be— comprised abandoned recordings from the Get Back sessions instead of any new work. By the time the promotional video for "Something" was being shot, the individual Beatles had drawn apart; the film consisted of separate clips of each Beatle walking around his home, accompanied by his wife, edited together. Shortly after the release of Let It Be in 1970, The Beatles announced their break-up.
In 2002, after Harrison's death, McCartney and Eric Clapton performed "Something" at the Concert for George. Their performance was nominated for the Grammy Award for Best Pop Collaboration with Vocals. McCartney also performed the song using just a ukulele on his "Back in The US" and "Back in the World" tours. The song was also performed as a tribute to Harrison by McCartney in 2008 at the Liverpool Sound Concert, where he performs the song in a similar fashion to that of the Concert for George, starting off with only a ukulele for accompaniment, then after the bridge, being joined by the full band to conclude the song similarly to that of the original recording. Bob Dylan likewise played the song live as a tribute to Harrison following his death.
Frank Sinatra was particularly impressed with "Something;" calling it "the greatest love song ever written," he sang it hundreds of times at various concerts. However, he once made the comment that "Something" was his all-time favourite Lennon–McCartney song, and frequently introduced it as a Lennon/McCartney composition. Harrison did not appear to mind this, and instead borrowed an alteration to the lyric that Sinatra had made. Where the original song was "You stick around now it may show," Sinatra sang "You stick around, Jack, she might show." This change was adopted by Harrison, who used the same lyrics whenever he performed "Something" as part of his touring repertoire.