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What Is Life by George Harrison

Album: All Things Must PassReleased: 1970Charted:
10
  • Originally, Harrison wrote this for Billy Preston with sort of a gospel feel. After it ended up being a fast rocker, he decided it wouldn't be right for Preston and released it himself. Preston was one the early artists on the Beatles' Apple label (he released two albums), and he was present at the sessions that yielded "Get Back." (thanks, larry - Ft. Worth, TX)
  • Harrison was writing many religious songs at the time, but this wasn't one of them. The lyrics are directed to a person, not God.
  • The original song had piccolo, trumpet, and oboe parts that weren't used because Harrison didn't like the feel. They can be heard on the 2000 reissue of the album, where the original backing track is included as an extra song.
  • Phil Spector produced the album. Bobby Whitlock, who played keyboards at the sessions, had this to say about him:
    "The real show in that whole place was Phil Spector - what a funny guy. He's not too funny now, but then, what he was doing in there and the way he was carrying on, I thought, they've got all these mics out here catching us jamming, where they need a mic is on the inside. He was a pretty colorful character to say the least. That was one of the highlights of it - listening to him and watching him and watching how he operated. I learned a lot just from being around him. He's just eccentric, he's real creative. I agree with his work ethic. I concur with him 100% when it comes to being creative in the studio - put 6 guitars on it if you need it. If it wasn't for Phil Spector, forget about The Righteous Brothers. There probably wouldn't be a lot of us here from 'You've Lost That Lovin' Feelin'' - you know how many babies were made to that?"
  • On the album, the "O'Hara-Smith" singers are credited as background vocalists. Whitlock explains: "That's Eric Clapton and me. If you listen, you can hear Eric and me wailing away." (For more on these sessions, check out our Bobby Whitlock interview)
  • This has been covered by Olivia Newton-John and the surf band The Ventures. A version by Shawn Mullins appeared on the Big Daddy soundtrack.
  • In the UK, this was released as the B-side to "My Sweet Lord." In the US, it was released as its own single, with "Apple Scruffs" as the B-side.
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Comments: 29

George Harrison has AMAZING talent! None of the other Beatles (Besides maybe Ringo) recognized that. He was the quiet Beatle but he was such an amazing song writer. He didn't deserve to die what so ever. It is just horrible. He was so pure and loving.Olivia - Philadelphia, Pa
Wonderful song. I miss George.Chloe - St. Louis, Mo
This song is incredible. I love the way it was used in "Goodfellas" during the "May 11, 1980" sequence -- which is one of my favorite scenes in movie history. The way Scorcese incorporates music in his films is absolutely brilliant.Usctrojans - Chicago, Il
the guitar work by george harrison in this tune rivals that of "here comes the sun"...both great riffs in the history of r@r. acoustic vs. electric.Lee - Huntsville, Al
fabulous song, george is a greatly missed by all, a great singer/songwriter in his own right.Gary - Watford, United Kingdom
What is life is my favorite solo song by George Harrison.I love it! RIP George. James..Yucaipa,caJames - Yucaipa, Ca
To offer a correction. Billy Preston was offered this song but turned it down.
As far as talent go, though George was a late song writing bloomer, in the end, I feel he was a more talented musician then John.
Doug - Cambridge, On
Klaus Voorman does a nice job on the bass.Joe - Chicago, Il
George Harrison was a great song writer and a wonderful person. Shine on, George!Hanne - Hoejby, Denmark
In the "electronic press kit" video interview provided for the "All Things Must Pass" 2001 re-release/re-mix, George commented that Phil Spector put "too much echo" on the orginal production of this song.Ken - Louisville, Ky
Badfinger was the backup band on this song.Tom - Alameda, Ca
Peter in Halifax (my old home town) and any other friends: I am with Peter (see above) on this. In fact, there is great encouragement, humour and motivation available from the words of any song where "she" and "he" (and other pronouns) are alternates for the mind states we encounter in the search for the clear consciouness of the Love that bring us happiness and contentment. Try listening to C&W and many other genres with such ears. I have played George's and his Beatley friends music for years and miss his presence greatly. His music is his gift. Love 'ya Georgie!Mike - Thimphu - Currently, Other
George Harrison was a great musician. I totally disagree with Frank from Westminster. John Lennon and Paul McCartney were two different musical visionaries of the Beatles. Their musical talents are legendary. Some of their music is approaching 50 years old. In 50 years with all the advances in computer technology there still hasn't been anybody like them. It's mostly due to the colaberation between Lennon and McCartney. Paul went on to form wings after the Beatles and the most commercial success. John wasn't as into touring and stardom, frequently making personal projects at home with his wife Yoko. He had a different talent. George was a good musician, but if it wasn't for the Beatles he wouldn't have been as big of a star. Poor Ringo, he couldn't compete with the other three. He had a few hit records but hasn't really done much since the Beatles.Steve - Chino Hills, Ca
"What Is Life" and "Layla" written about the same woman Pattie Boyd. Clapton also wrote the song "Wonderful Tonight" about Boyd while he was married to her.Steve - Hamilton, New Zealand
With all due repect to the commentator's personal beliefs in the matter and who comments that "What Is Life" is not one of George's "Religious songs", may I offer an alternative interpretation. First, George was a Spiritual person not a Religious person (George Bush is a self proclaimed "Religious" person - George Harrison was a "Spiritual" person - see the difference?) The song's lyrics never mention a woman, unlike "Something", his penultimate "Love" song directed at a female human personage. It took me many years of practicing Transcendental Meditation (which I started on George's inspiration in 1970) before it finally dawned on me that George had written this devotional song and had put it into the public air waves without being as "in your face" about his spirituality as was the case with "My Sweet Lord". Case in point, one of the principle tenants of the Krisna Consciouness movement (not a path with which I have direct personal experience), which George embraced as part of his personal spiritual journey, is the goal of constant companionship of the experience of the Godhead in life and the fruitlessness or emptiness of life without the integration of this Supreme Love into everyday life experience.
Now, with that idea in mind re-read the lyrics and see if you still think he is talking about his relationship with a woman? If that does still not convince you, close your eyes and listen to the song as if you were meditating and see if his hidden meaning strikes you as it did me.
Just some thoughts....
Peter - Halifax, Canada
George is greatly missed. luckily, we have this song!Stefanie - Rock Hill, Sc
One of my favorite Beatle Solo songs!Julian - Anaheim, Ca
One of Phil Spectot's great production efforts after his success with the girl groups of the sixties. The Wall of Sound is very apparent on this track. One of my favourite Harrison performances.Don - Newmarket, Canada
Great and inspirational song. RIP George.Mike - Carrier Mills, Il
Just heard this on the radio (12/05). Makes me miss George and his music TERRIBLY. :-(Musicfan - New York, Ny
Heha. Love it.Sylvia - London, England
I first heard this song in the movie Goodfellas, which is also where I first heard Layla. Awesome guitar riff.Nathan - Defiance, Oh
It's songs like this that make me think George was the most individually talented one of the Beatles. John and Paul were always better while butting-heads/feeding-off each other in the group, than when they went solo, but George just shined on his own.Frank - Westminster, Sc
This is one of my favorite solo George Harrison song from the 1970 album All Things Must Pass. I love the Price/Keys Brass, and a double tracked vocals from George Harrison.

Melissa Layton Fairborn, Ohio melissaalayton@sbcglobal.net
Melissa - Fairborn, Oh
wow I love this song so much, just the whole feel of it puts you in a good mood, thought there'd be more comments. george will be missed.Adam - Rochester, Ny
A beautiful song of George Harrison and thanks to the great talent of Phil Spector, you can call it a "pearl of a song".Teresa - Mechelen, Belgium
Billy Preston also played keyboards on Let it BeJohn - Melbourne, Austria
This song was used in the movie "Goodfellas".. great scene if you remember, Ray Liotta's character and Lorraine Bracco's character are in the car driving around and are paranoid that they see a police helicopter following them around wherever they go.Brooke - Sedona, Az
Billy Preston wasn't just present at the Get Back sessions. He also played piano on the song.Matthew - New York, Ny