When We Was Fab

Album: Cloud Nine (1987)
Charted: 25 23


  • George Harrison wrote this about the days of Beatlemania, when the group was known as "The Fab 4." With the lyrics, he was just having a goof - he called it "complete joke words."

    The lyrics were written after the track was complete; Harrison gave it the working title "Aussie - Fab" because it was written in Australia and it sounded like a Beatles song. He decided to use "fab" in the title and make it a playfully nostalgic song about The Beatles. Harrison wrote a far more sanguine song about The Beatles - "All Those Years Ago" - in 1981 following John Lennon's death.
  • Jeff Lynne of The Electric Light Orchestra wrote this song with Harrison and also produced it with him, along with the rest of the album. A huge Beatles fan, Jeff also appears briefly in the video for this song (look for the big afro).

    Lynne's influence on this song is apparent in the cello, which was played by a Philharmonia Orchestra member named Bobby Kok.
  • Two of the Fab 4 played on this song: Ringo Starr was the drummer. Knowing he had his former bandmate on board, Harrison started writing the song thinking of a drum pattern Ringo would have played back in the '60s. Harrison came up with a drum part that he thought mimicked the Beatles song "Glass Onion," but he later realized it didn't.
  • Harrison and Jeff Lynne put the song together at end of 1986 when they went to Australia to see the Adelaide Grand Prix. They ended up at someone's house for dinner and there was a grand piano there. They both sat down and started writing the chords, then the verse melody. They recorded their impromptu session on cassette, which they recovered when they started recording the album in England. They stole the bridge from another song they were working on and further refined the track before finally writing the lyrics.
  • Harrison hadn't released an album since Gone Troppo in 1982, which was hitless. When he delivered Cloud Nine in 1987, the title was an apt description for how Warner Bros. Records, the distributor for Harrison's Dark Horse label, felt about it. They gave it a huge promotional push that helped send the first single, "Got My Mind Set On You," to #1 in America and several other countries. "When We Was Fab" was the follow-up and was a solid hit. It was his last new song to chart in the US.
  • Harrison states in this song: "Income tax was all we had." Excessive taxation was a scourge for him - he wrote the Beatles song "Taxman" on the subject.
  • Harrison slipped a Bob Dylan reference into the song with the line, "It's all over now, Baby Blue," which is the title of a 1965 Dylan song. In 1988, Harrison and his collaborator Jeff Lynne joined Dylan, Roy Orbison and Tom Petty in the supergroup The Traveling Wilburys.

    "Baby Blue" happens to be the name of a song by Badfinger from their album Straight Up, which Harrison started producing but bailed on to organize the Concert For Bangladesh.
  • The song ends with a bit of sitar, which George Harrison played as a throwback to Beatles songs like "Norwegian Wood" and "Within You Without You" where he played the instrument.
  • Gary Wright, who had a big hit with "Dream Weaver," played piano on this track.
  • Harrison got a little help from his friends for the music video, which was directed by the team of Godley & Creme. Ringo Starr, Jeff Lynne, Paul Simon, Elton John and Beatles associate Neil Aspinall all appear.

Comments: 41

  • Tracy from Ohio, UsaAs nearly perfect as a throwback to The Beatles sound is ever going to get. Outstanding, music, lyrics, sentiment, cast, it has & says it all. Sort of a coda for the entire Fab Four story.
  • Paul from Cleveland "but it's all over now, baby blue"

    Pays homage to Peter Ham and Badfinger
  • Anthony from SpainReference the line" it's all over now baby blue", I really don't think this refers to the Bob Dylan song. I believe it refers to the suicide death of Pete Ham of Badfinger. Badfinger were signed to the Apple label and Ham was a close friend of Harrison's, duetting with him on "here comes the sun" at Bangladesh concert. The line refers to Hams hit song Baby Blue which is featured in the last scene of the "Breaking bad" series.
  • Vince from Essex MdThis collaboration of Harrison and Lynne has both artists fingerprints all over it. Lynne's string orchestral arrangements are right off any ELO production and George Harrison uses his 7 note melody throughout the song.
    Jeff Lynne has been quoted as saying "the ELO band was a continuation of where the Beatles recording band left off". We thank you Jeff, George and occasionally Ringo for these moments.
  • Gary from UsaI take that back. The person holding the Lennon LP is Beatles friend Neil Aspinall- or so sayeth Wikipedia which originally said it was Phil Collins. Either way, it's definitely not Julian Lennon.
  • Gary from UsaThat is not Julian Lennon carrying the "Imagine" LP. It's Phil Collins.
  • Georgia from Yorkshire, EnglandFor anyone wanting to know who the man is holding the John Lennon record, who looks eerily like him, it's Julian Lennon, his son with Cynthia.
  • Mckenzie from Dahlonega, GaI feel like if this was a Beatles song it would have its place on Magical Mystery Tour.
  • Mark from Magnolia, ArAnother interesting fact about this song is the reference to the song "You've Really Got A Hold On Me". John Lennon loved Smokey Robinson and so the Beatles covered that song. Interestingly, it's one of the very rare Beatles songs that have only George singing harmony with John, in some places.
  • Howard from Sacramento, CaPaul Simon pushing a wheelcart? Looked more like Arthur Fowler from Eastenders.
  • Dave from Cardiff, WalesR.H. - yep noticed the reference to "It's All Over Now, Baby Blue" by Bob Dylan as well. I always took "It's All Over Now, Baby Blue" to be about moving on and leaving things behind - which is why I believe George included that line in "When We Was Fab", as the song is a nostalgic look back at his time as a Beatle; there were good times and bad, all memorable, but he has finally relsised that he can't keep living in that era, time has moved on - hey it was heaven and hell when it was happening to me, it was Fab, but it's all over now (baby blue) - time to put it to bed and move on with my life - that is what I think he was getting at, and the end of the song, as it fades out, I believe to represent the memories slipping away as he moves on with his life... Very good song by the way!
  • Roger from Wyandotte, Miderek, that's pretty crude. Obviously it's one of the eight arms shown throughout the video.
  • Angus from Hartford, CtI think the income tax lyric is also a reference to the song "Taxman". Harrison wrote Taxman because while the Beatles were finally making money, a lot of it was going to the tax collectors.
  • Joe from Miami, Flalso the reference to the time when the Beatles were almost broke because of a 95% income tax in the UK... : ..."back when income tax was all we had"...
  • Thomas from Oklahoma City, OkJeff Lynne's musical influence is also unmistakable, particularly in the string arrangements, slide guitar and background vocals.
  • Eddie from Cr, Iathat was elton johns wallet that was pick pocketed
  • R. H. from Pauls Valley, OkJulia: Loved your comment. I'm a big Beatles fan myself.
  • Ken from Louisville, KyIn a British TV interview to promote Cloud 9, George was asked if that was his orginal Pepper uniform in the video. He said that, indeed, it was. George admitted that after almost 20 years, it was starting to get a little "tight in the middle."
  • Breanna from Henderson, NvThis video's funny. It's kinda weird how he goes into the wall at the end, though. I love this song so much, especaly the ending notes, I love the sound to it.
  • Janet from Boston, Madid anyone notice---the hand picks some guys wallet at 2.45 ?? haha lmao !!
  • Julia from Richland, WaAfter the background singers sing "Fab" and "Gear" they howl like The Beatles did in "I Am The Walrus." I don't know if anyone else has noticed this too, or if I'm just a big, crazy Beatles fan and it's all in my mind like Lucy & in her marmalade Sky with Diamonds and a Yellow Submarine... Anyway, this song is Gear fab, and now I think I'll go back to my Magical Mystery Tour with the Walrus in Pepperland. NOTE: This was meant to make any Beatles fan laugh, and NO, I am NOT on drugs. =)
  • Derek from Shrewsbury, Maalso 3 minutes in he plays the piano wit it
  • Derek from Shrewsbury, Mait looks like hes playing the chelo with his dick about 00:39 incase anyone didnt notice
  • Derek from Shrewsbury, Manot his hardest rockin song but i like it
  • Chloe from St. Louis, Moits very clever the way he slipped in beatles references, even in the music itself. for instance, after the line about the microscopes, you hear some violins that sound very similar to the ones in "i am the walrus". (while in the video a guy in a walrus costume plays a left-handed bass and someone who looks scarily like john lennon walks by holding "imagine") i guess all four of the fabs make an appearance in some sense- the guy in the walrus costume, john's look-a-like, and the real george and ringo.
  • John from Madison, Wi, WiThis song rules! Its about as close as any of the 4 of them ever got to what a reunion song would sound like. If you watch the music video closely, there's a guy who looks a lot like John Lennon wearing a hat and carrying a copy of his Imagine album under his arm walking past George.
  • R.h. from Pauls Valley, OkDid anyone catch the line that refers to the Bob Dylan song "It's All Over Now Baby Blue"? Just wondering what everybody thought he may have meant by throwing that in there. For that matter does anyone have a take on what Dylan meant by the song itself? Guess I should check to see if that song is on this site. Anyway, Cloud Nine is a wonderful album!
  • Jennifer Harris from Grand Blanc, MiI love the song and video to it.
  • Krissy from Boston, MaI love this song. It's one of best after the spilt. Who cares if Paul was or wasn't the walrus. He is not dead. He is stiill very much a live. John only put the walrus is Paul into glass onion to confuse people.
  • Sebastian from Buenos Aires, ArgentinaAnother for clue for you. In the video a man just before the Walrus (Paul) has a cover of John Lennon's "Imagine"
  • Mad from Newcastle, Englandwow this is so good and its nice to know that he didnt just dismiss that he was in a great band and still has good memories and the beatles really were fab. and yeh, A CLUE FOR YOU ALL- THE WALRUS WAS PAUL. Haha Glass Onion <<3
  • Ken from Louisville, KyIn the video, there is a man dressed in a walrus costume playing a left handed bass. Paul Simon also has a brief cameo, pushing a wheelcart.
  • Olle from Stockholm, SwedenI was sure that was Ringo!!!!! I just knew it! Very nice that they still worked a bit together.
  • Tyler from Brantford, CanadaRingo plays drums on this song. You forgot to mention that.
  • Ashley from Yarmouth, CanadaI'm in love with George Harrison. This song makes my heart go pitter patter. <3
  • Ken from Louisville, KyActually, the eight arms could be a send-up of the working title of the Beatles' second movie "Eight Arms To Hold You" (4 Beatles, 2 arms each) which was changed to "Help!".
  • Jo Bob from Mccleary, WaAnybody who hasn't heard this song really should...if that made any sense at all. It's a wonderful song. George really proved the point that being "Fab" was less that fun some times: "The microscopes that magnified the tears..."
  • Steve from St. Louis, MoGeorge Harrison released this album to help bail him out after his production company released the movie flop "Shanghai Surprise" staring Maddona and Sean Penn. The movie lost so much money, George needed a way to get some of it back and made this album.
  • Boob from Jackford, MeOr he has eight arms in reference to "Eight Arms to Hold You," the original title of the Beatles' film "Help!"
  • Brittanie from Liverpool, EnglandI've uh, never seen the video. But it sounds wierd. Hmm, ah oh well. I like this song. I don't know, I'm strange. But I really think it should have done better than 23 and 25 on the charts.
  • Rachel from Glasgow, ScotlandThe video for this is George Harrison busking and features a few knowing asides to Beatles fans. Ringo Starr, Jeff Lynne and Elton John all make cameo appearances in the video. At the end Harrison suddenly has eight arms and hands possibly a reference to his Eastern spiritual beliefs.
see more comments

Editor's Picks

Adam Duritz of Counting Crows

Adam Duritz of Counting CrowsSongwriter Interviews

"Mr. Jones" took on new meaning when the song about a misguided view of fame made Adam famous.

Jethro Tull

Jethro TullFact or Fiction

Stage urinals, flute devices, and the real Aqualung in this Fact or Fiction.

When Rock Belonged To Michelob

When Rock Belonged To MichelobSong Writing

Michelob commercials generated hits for Eric Clapton, Genesis and Steve Winwood in the '80s, even as some of these rockers were fighting alcoholism.

Booker T. Jones

Booker T. JonesSongwriter Interviews

The Stax legend on how he cooked up "Green Onions," the first time he and Otis Redding saw hippies, and if he'll ever play a digital organ.

Is That Song Public Domain?

Is That Song Public Domain?Fact or Fiction

Are classic songs like "Over The Rainbow" and "Take Me Out to the Ballgame" in the public domain?

Penny Ford of Snap!

Penny Ford of Snap!Songwriter Interviews

The original voice of Snap! this story is filled with angry drag queens, video impersonators and Chaka Khan.