Here Comes The Sun: The Beatles (George Harrison), Richie Havens, Peter Tosh

Hello there!  In this week’s blog we consider the song Here Comes The Sun.  This is wonderful, uplifting pop song from Abbey Road, the Beatles’ final album.  The song was written by George Harrison.  We will start with the original, and then discuss covers of that song by Richie Havens and by Peter Tosh.

While writing this, I learned that George Martin, the Beatles’ wonderful producer, had passed away at age 90.  I will dedicate this blog post to Martin.  On Here Comes The Sun, George Martin produced the song for the Beatles.  He added an orchestral backing for the song that included two piccolos, two flutes, two alto flutes and two clarinets.

As always, George Martin’s contributions proved to be wonderful additions to the Beatles’ recordings.

George Harrison and Here Comes The Sun:

 We encountered George Harrison earlier through our blog post on his song Something.  Here we will briefly review George Harrison’s contributions to Beatles’ music.

In their early days, the Beatles were playing a mixture of covers and original Lennon-McCartney songs.  For example, their early British album Please Please Me contained eight Lennon-McCartney songs and six covers.

However, fairly quickly their Beatles albums began to consist solely of original tunes.  And after a while, they tended to follow a rather predictable formula.  Every album would contain predominantly Lennon-McCartney songs.  They would provide one song for Ringo.  In addition, once George Harrison began writing songs in earnest, they would include one or two of George’s songs on an album.

Here is a photo of George Harrison performing during a Beatles concert in December, 1963.

Lennon and McCartney were such prolific song-writers that George always felt that he had to exert significant pressure to get his own songs recorded.  He was also convinced that John and Paul considered his songs to be rather weaker than the best Lennon-McCartney tunes.

However, by the time of the final Beatles album, the 1969 Abbey Road, George’s songwriting had dramatically improved.  His contributions to that album – Something and Here Comes the Sun – are quite stunning, and many consider them to be among the finest songs on that album.

In fact, once the Beatles broke up, George had accumulated so many of his own songs that he released them in a three-record album, All Things Must Pass!

The lyrics to Here Comes The Sun, like so many of George Harrison’s best songs, are deceptively simple.  The singer is rejoicing over the appearance of the Sun, following a dark and difficult period of time.

[CHORUS] Here comes the sun, here comes the sun
And I say it’s all right

Little darling, it’s been a long cold lonely winter
Little darling, it feels like years since it’s been here

[CHORUS]
Little darling, the smiles returning to the faces
Little darling, it seems like years since it’s been here

George Harrison wrote Here Comes The Sun in spring 1969.  The preceding months had been extremely difficult for him:
he had quit the band temporarily, he was arrested for marijuana possession, and he had his tonsils removed.

In addition, at that time George’s mother had terminal cancer. Finally, Harrison was depressed that the Beatles’ record company Apple was becoming mired in financial and technical minutiae.  He described the genesis of the song:
it seems as if winter in England goes on forever, by the time spring comes you really deserve it. So one day I decided I was going to sag off Apple and I went over to Eric Clapton’s house. The relief of not having to go see all those dopey accountants was wonderful, and I walked around the garden with one of Eric’s acoustic guitars and wrote “Here Comes the Sun”.

Here is the audio for Here Comes The Sun.

In many cases when a band dissolves, the final record is rather messy — a compilation stitched together from unfinished songs, preliminary takes and abandoned projects.   However, the Beatles’ Abbey Road was very different.

The Beatles had good reason to suspect that this could be their final album, so they worked diligently to ensure that everything would be first-rate.  George Harrison contributed acoustic guitar, electric guitar and Moog synthesizer to this song.

And here is George Harrison performing Here Comes The Sun live at the August 1971 Concert for Bangladesh.  George is accompanied by guitarist Pete Ham of the group Badfinger, with both playing acoustic guitar.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xfMWJi4req4

Isn’t this wonderful?  I find this to be an incredibly uplifting tune.  The audience is suitably appreciative, as soon as they realize the song that is coming.  The line “Sun, Sun, Sun, here she comes” presents an inspiring picture of a change in fortune, with good times arriving at last.

The song Here Comes The Sun has been covered by dozens of artists.  In addition to the two that we highlight in this post, the song was covered by Booker T and the MGs in 1970, by Nina Simone in 1971 and by Sheryl Crow in 2007.

Following the breakup of the Beatles, George Harrison had a long and impressive career.  He issued a number of records as a solo artist.  Because of his deep interest in Eastern mysticism, Harrison incorporated Eastern music and particularly the sitar into many of his songs.

Harrison was not a flashy guitarist, but he produced some quite beautiful solos.  He also introduced the Rickenbacker 360/12 guitar,
a guitar that featured twelve strings, the low eight of which are tuned in pairs, one octave apart; the higher four being pairs tuned in unison … This, and the naturally rich harmonics produced by a twelve-string guitar provided the distinctive overtones found on many of the Beatles’ recordings.

George used the Rickenbacker 360/12 extensively for tunes on the Beatles’ A Hard Day’s Night album.  This produced a signature ‘jangly’ sound to Beatles songs at that time.

In 1988, Harrison joined up with Jeff Lynne, Tom Petty, Roy Orbison and Bob Dylan to form the Traveling Wilburys.  Each of the artists pretended to be one of a group of brothers.  George’s pseudonym on the group’s first album was `Nelson Wilbury,’ while on their second album he became `Spike Wilbury.’

That group issued only two albums and never performed live.  George did not particularly enjoy touring, so his live performances became much less common.  He toured with Eric Clapton in Japan in 1974, and in 1992
held a benefit concert for the Natural Law Party at the Royal Albert Hall, his first London performance since the Beatles’ 1969 rooftop concert. In October 1992 he performed at a Bob Dylan tribute concert at Madison Square Garden in New York City.

In 1997, George Harrison was diagnosed with throat cancer, and at that time he began chemotherapy treatments.  In November 2001, Harrison died from metastatic non-small cell lung cancer, at age 58.

George Harrison was a member of the greatest pop group of all time, and by all accounts was a really terrific guy.  He was quiet and somewhat reclusive, but also a great friend to many musicians and a deeply spiritual man.

Here Comes The Sun is a wonderful living memorial to George Harrison.

Richie Havens and Here Comes The Sun:

We first encountered Richie Havens in our blog post on the Crosby, Stills and Nash song Teach Your Children.  We will briefly review Havens’ life and career here.

Richie Havens was a prominent folk-singer, songwriter and political activist.  He was the oldest of nine children born in Brooklyn to a Native American father and a mother of West Indian descent.

Havens’ paternal grandparents had a fascinating history.  They were both members of the Blackfoot tribe.  They toured the U.S. as members of Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show.  However, they quit the touring company once they reached New York City, and the family eventually settled in Brooklyn.

Here is a photo of Richie Havens performing at the Isle of Wight Festival in 1969, just a few weeks after his performance at Woodstock.

Richie gravitated to the Greenwich Village beatnik scene.  Initially, he participated in poetry readings, but then moved on to folk music.  He attracted a following there and was signed by super-manager Albert Grossman, who also managed artists like Bob Dylan and Peter, Paul and Mary.

In the late 1960s, Richie Havens was not widely known outside East Coast folk music circles.  However, that all changed radically after his performance at Woodstock in 1969.

Havens was the first performer at the Woodstock Festival.  He was scheduled to perform a short set.  But the crowds were so enormous that all roads leading into the festival were blocked.  Later performers were caught in massive traffic jams, and had to be helicoptered in to the festival.  The organizers asked Richie to prolong his set until the next musicians could arrive.  So Richie Havens performed for three hours at Woodstock, and his live performance was one of the highlights of the Woodstock movie.

His electrifying appearance at Woodstock made Havens into an international celebrity.  He enjoyed a long and notable career thereafter.

Richie Havens developed a unique playing style, which led him to be very creative in his music.  Havens taught himself an “open-tuning” guitar-playing style.  By re-tuning the strings on his guitar, he was able to play a number of chords just by strumming the guitar and sliding his thumb up and down the neck of his instrument.

One result was that Havens’ music is almost never a direct copy of another tune.  He brought a thoughtful and intriguing character to virtually every one of his songs.

Publicity flyer for the event "Stonehenge II" in Bloomington, IN, Sept. 1971.

Publicity flyer for the event “Stonehenge II” in Bloomington, IN, Sept. 1971.

In Sept., 1971, I attended a concert in my hometown of Bloomington, Indiana.  Richie Havens was one of the headliners, along with Poco.  At left is a flyer for the event, “Stonehenge II” (note the admission price, $4.00, the graphical style borrowed from R. Crumb, and the admonition “Rain or shine!”).

This was an outdoor afternoon concert, and it was notable mainly because it poured rain on the crowd of 16,000 for virtually the entire day.  There was mud everywhere, with weather conditions that were eerily reminiscent of those at Woodstock a few years earlier.

Richie Havens came on last and worked his way through his playlist.  The final song on his program was Here Comes The Sun.  Amazingly enough, just as he started in on the chords to this song, and sang the line “Sun, Sun, Sun, here she comes,” the rain immediately stopped, the clouds parted, and a gigantic rainbow appeared in the skies.

Needless to say, the audience went bananas.  It must have made an indelible impression on Richie Havens also, because in a later interview I heard him mention that particular incident.

Anyway, here is Richie Havens in a live performance of Here Comes The Sun.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JOotCVMFncE

Havens’ open-tuning guitar chords are extremely effective in this version, as well as the conga drums.  The audience is really into the song as well, as they begin clapping along as soon as he begins.

Note that Havens hits most of the chords by simply sliding his thumb along the bridge of his guitar.  His performance here is almost hypnotic, as he repeats “it’s all right” over and over again.

Havens brings a fresh, new perspective to George Harrison’s beautiful song.  Richie Havens’ version of this song was released as a single in 1971, and made it to #16 on the Billboard pop charts.

In addition to his musical prowess, Richie Havens was also a political activist.  He was energetic in organizing for environmental issues, in fact he founded an oceanographic children’s museum located on City Island in the Bronx.  In addition, Richie performed at Bill Clinton’s inauguration in 1993, and he was a headliner at the Tibetan Freedom Concert in 1999.

In April 2013, Richie Havens died of a heart attack at his home in New Jersey.  He was 72 years old.  He will be remembered as a cerebral and vibrant singer-songwriter.

Peter Tosh and Here Comes The Sun:

Peter Tosh was a Jamaican reggae musician.  He is best known as one of the founding members of The Wailers, Bob Marley’s band and the most famous reggae ensemble of all time.

He was born Winston Hubert McIntosh in Jamaica in 1944, and in his teens he moved to the Trenchtown district of Kingston, Jamaica.  At that time he taught himself to play guitar and keyboards.

In about 1962 Tosh teamed up with Bob Marley and Neville Livingston.  The three took vocal lessons and formed a band.  At this time the band took the name The Wailing Wailers, and McIntosh took the stage name Peter Tosh while Livingston became Bunny Wailer.

Peter Tosh was a critical influence on the newly-formed group, as initially he was the only one who could play a musical instrument.  Tosh then taught the others to play instruments.

In 1978, Peter Tosh toured with the Rolling Stones.  Here he is onstage with Mick Jagger during a performance.

The Wailing Wailers had a brief hiatus in 1966 when Bob Marley joined his mother in Delaware, where he worked for a while at a Chrysler car factory.  The trio re-formed when Marley returned to Jamaica the following year.

At that point, the group re-named themselves The Wailers.  They also became deeply involved with the Rastafari religion.  Their songs began to reflect political and social issues that were important to Rastafarians.

The Wailers released their debut album in 1973.  For many people, this marks the beginning of the reggae music genre.  Reggae was substantially slower than the upbeat ska style from which it originated.

Under Bob Marley’s leadership, The Wailers went on to become a great reggae powerhouse and achieve world recognition.  Unfortunately, Peter Tosh and Bunny Wailer left the group in 1974, shortly before the group achieved super-stardom.

Tosh and Wailer were unhappy with the treatment they were receiving from Chris Blackwell, the president of Island Records.  It is also possible that Peter Tosh’s personality had changed.

In 1973, Tosh and his girlfriend had been struck by a car in a driving accident.  Tosh’s girlfriend was killed and he received a severe skull fracture.  It has been reported that the injuries he suffered resulted in his becoming progressively more difficult to deal with.

So here is the audio of Peter Tosh and his group playing Here Comes The Sun.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RPi9hDhSNKo

Peter Tosh and his bandmates convert Here Comes The Sun into a reggae song.  However, George Harrison’s tune is sufficiently powerful that it works on many different levels, including in this treatment.

The steel drums, bass line and guitar are all recognizably reggae touches, as is Tosh’s vocal styling.  I like this version a lot, and hope you do, too.

After he left The Wailers, Peter Tosh set out on a solo career.  His career got a big boost in 1978 when he was signed by Rolling Stones Records.  His next couple of albums received a fair amount of publicity, and Tosh became a reggae star in his own right.

Like most Rastafarian musicians, Tosh was a political activist.  He was extremely active in anti-apartheid demonstrations against the South African government of the time.  In addition, he campaigned for legalization of marijuana.

Peter Tosh’s story has a truly tragic ending.  In Sept. 1987, three  armed individuals broke into his home and demanded money from him.  When Tosh stated that he had no money in his house, the group tortured him in an attempt to locate the money.

Eventually the gang leader, Dennis Lubban, shot and killed Tosh.  Strangely, Tosh
had previously befriended [Lubban] and tried to help him find work after a long jail sentence.

Lubban was apprehended and convicted, but the other members of the gang were never identified.

In 2015 Peter Tosh was posthumously awarded Jamaica’s Order of Merit.  In reviewing his life and career, I feel that Tosh really missed out on a great deal of hard-earned credit for his inspirational contributions to reggae music in general, and to Bob Marley’s stardom in particular.

Source Material:

Wikipedia, Here Comes The Sun
Wikipedia, George Harrison
Wikipedia, Richie Havens
Wikipedia, Peter Tosh

About Tim Londergan

Tim Londergan is professor emeritus of theoretical physics at Indiana University-Bloomington. He studies the properties of the quarks and gluons that form the internal structure of protons and neutrons. He also writes a blog "Tim's Cover Story" that compares covers of important songs in rock music history. He and his wife share their college-town life with two delightful cats, Lewis and Clark. His hobbies include tennis and ornithology, and he is a life-long fan of the St. Louis Cardinals baseball team.
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