George Harrison - "Wah-Wah"
Best Beatles (Diss) Track?
It’s become increasingly cooler to talk smack about the Beatles. More snobbish (or just plain ignorant) music fans find themselves rebelling against the “Yankees” of popular music, as it’s a natural reaction to rebel against the most popular or ubiquitous band, brand, or thing.
I get it. The days where I like or tolerate the Rolling Stones are vastly outweighed by the days I forget Exile on Main Street exists and roll my eyes at every rock critic or boomer who points to them as the primordial ooze of modern rock n’ roll. It only took me thirty years to like the Grateful Dead, and it’ll probably take me another thirty to not write Captain Beefheart off as unlistenable garbage.
I changed my perspective of the Beatles in my early thirties from “John and Paul were the best because they wrote all the songs” to “George Harrison was the best Beatle by a wide margin and grossly underrated.” This gave a fresh new perspective to a group I was forced to listen to repeatedly as a child, grew to enjoy passively as a twentysomething, and fell back in love with after my dad passed a decade ago. (It’s a bit like reading Jane Eyre again right after reading Wide Sargasso Sea.) Today, if you were to ask me my favorite Beatles album, I would likely tell you “All Things Must Pass [Spotify] [Apple Music] without the jams at the end.”
No one talked more crap about the Beatles than the Beatles themselves. Some pretty decent solo Beatles songs are not-so-subtly pointed at other ex-members of the band, which, given their popularity and post-Beatles hype, ended up selling millions on name and topic alone. “Wah-Wah,” the third track off All Things Must Pass, is Harrison’s time to air grievances against McCartney, Lennon, and Ono (but decidedly not Ringo, who played drums on the song).
Unlike “How Do You Sleep?” or Ringo’s Harrison-ghostwritten screed, “Wah-Wah” is an amazing song even when divorced from (or ignorant of) the subject matter. A highlight on a packed album of hit after hit, its wall-of-sound horn section, multilayered harmonies, and, yes, liberal use of a wah-wah on a guitar track are a nice interruption in the mostly-solemn start to the record. It’s one of my favorite Harrison tracks, which, given my fuzzy logic above, makes it one of the best Beatles songs by proxy.
Here’s my favorite version of the song, played at The Concert for Bangladesh. (It’s a crime this isn’t available on streaming.)