The Mystery of Who Played Bass on The White Album’s “While My Guitar Gently Weeps”

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George Harrison, the quiet Beatle, was the first to break out on his own in 1970 with his glorious triple album All Things Must Pass. “Garbo talks! — Harrison is free!” wrote Melody Maker’s Richard Williams in a review, a reference to the reclusive silent film star who, like the Beatles’ guitarist, kept her mystique and star power even after fans first heard her voice. Harrison’s revelation couldn’t have been as dramatic as all that.

Surely, no fan of “Taxman,” “Within You Without You,” “Here Comes the Sun,” “Something” — and especially The White Album’s stunning “While My Guitar Gently Sleeps” — doubted that George had it in him all along. But the other Beatles would only humor him during The White Album sessions. That is, until he brought Eric Clapton into the studio. “That then made everyone act better,” Harrison remembers in Anthology. “Paul got on the piano and played a nice intro and they all took it more seriously.”

The question in the You Can’t Unhear This video above is whether Paul played bass on the final studio recording and, if not, who did?  It’s an integral part of the song’s feel — the gritty, restrained growl, slowly growing in intensity until it sounds like it might give Harrison’s guitar something else to weep about. The mystery of the aggressive-yet-muted part “has perplexed scholars and Beatles fans for decades.” If you’ve remained unperplexed, you might find yourself questioning assumptions about this most beloved of Beatles’ tunes.

Sessions for the song began in late July of 1968, then picked up again in August, but Harrison decided to scrap everything and start over in September once Ringo returned from a “self-imposed exile” in the Mediterranean. The band seemed refreshed: “the quality of the performances on the new September version seemed to reflect that renewed spirit.” Sessions for the track wrapped on September 24. “For many years it was believed that this was the recording session in which Eric Clapton overdubbed his lead guitar solo,” writes the Beatles Bible. Not so — Clapton sat in on all of the live takes recorded with the band. Ah, but who played bass? See the mystery take shape above and post your theories below.

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

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