The Rolling Stones riff George Harrison said “you can’t beat”

The Beatles were so jam-packed with talent that it’s often easy to forget the talent in the band’s quieter half: George Harrison and Ringo Starr. The pair were credited on a paltry list of Beatles tracks but showed their vocal and musical talents ubiquitously. Although Harrison was limited to the odd album track through the band’s rise to popularity, his strengths began to breach the canopy in the late 1960s, with notable hits like ‘Taxman’, ‘While My Guitar Gently Weeps’, ‘Here Comes the Sun’ and ‘Something’ accumulating under his belt.

Harrison’s passion for skiffle and rock ‘n’ roll endeared him to his schoolmate Paul McCartney in 1957 but winning over John Lennon, who was two years his senior, would be a more difficult task. Before Harrison was accepted to join the Quarrymen in 1958, he first had to audition for Lennon. Oddly enough, the audition took place on the top deck of a double-decker bus, where Harrison sealed the deal by playing the riff from Bill Justis’ instrumental rhythm and blues classic, ‘Raunchy’.

“George looked even younger than Paul – and Paul looked about 10, with his baby face,” Lennon said in The Beatles: Anthology. However, Harrison’s knowledge and instrumental grasp were difficult to overlook. “We asked George to join because he knew more chords,” Lennon continued. “We got a lot from him. Paul had a friend at school who would discover chords, and these would be passed ’round Liverpool. Every time we learnt a new chord, we’d write a song around it.”

As time wore on and the Quarrymen became The Beatles, Harrison remained a crucial quarter of the band, offering skeletal lead riffs and innovative melodies aplenty. Not long after the Fab Four broke through with their first two hit albums in 1963, a talented rhythm and blues group named The Rolling Stones sprouted up in the burgeoning London scene.

Although Brian Jones led the band through their formative period of blues covers, the Stones began to dance to the tune of Keith Richards and Mick Jagger’s songwriting exploits. Despite rumours of a rivalry stoked by the press, the Beatles and Stones were on great terms with one another. The former even gave the latter ‘I Wanna Be Your Man’ for one of their early breakthrough hits.

“You know, really, I think he’s probably one of the best rock ‘n’ roll rhythm guitar players,” Harrison once said of Richards via George Harrison on George Harrison: Interviews and Encounters. “I don’t think he’s very good at lead, but he’s played … this is the thing you see, what I feel about Keith and myself too, it’s not a comparison, but in some ways, what we do is we make records, and the records have some good guitar parts on them, or have some good songs, or good lyrics or whatever, but basically you make records.”

“He’s not, to me, like a guitar player who that’s all he does is go out and play guitar,” Harrison continued. “He writes songs, and he makes records and within that — you know, like, you can’t beat the riff to ‘Satisfaction’, you know what I mean? It’s the simple little things like that, and I think he’s — you know, I like Keith enormously.”

Like Richards, Harrison wouldn’t be classed as one of the most technically gifted guitarists of his time, but as Harrison pointed out, virtuosity didn’t matter much when writing generation-defining hits.

Richards allegedly wrote the catchy riff for ‘(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction’ in his sleep one night. “It was the song that really made The Rolling Stones, changed us from just another band into a huge, monster band,” Jagger said of the track in a 1995 interview with Rolling Stone. “It has a very catchy title. It has a very catchy guitar riff. It has a great guitar sound, which was original at that time. And it captures a spirit of the times, which is very important in those kinds of songs.”

Listen to The Rolling Stones’ ‘(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction’ below.

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