‘Isn’t It a Pity’: The best song The Beatles ever rejected

George Harrison’s emergence as a songwriting equal in The Beatles largely came at the end of the 1960s. After playing a supporting role throughout most of the band’s history, Harrison began to take charge of his own artistic expression. Following his contribution of two songs to 1965’s Help!, Harrison repeated the feat for that year’s Rubber Soul and managed to land three of his songs onto 1966’s Revolver. Around that time, Harrison began to see some of his best songs rejected by the band, even if their own material wasn’t quite stacking up.

Harrison had written ‘Isn’t It a Pity’ during the Revolver sessions, and depending on who you ask that was there, he pushed for the song to be included either on that album or on Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. When neither came to fruition, Harrison sought to record the song for The Beatles, once again without success. By January 1969, Harrison was feeling like a broken record pitching ‘Isn’t It a Pity’.

Even though heroin addiction and scattered interests had diminished his own songwriting output, John Lennon once again rejected ‘Isn’t It a Pity’ when Harrison presented it for the Get Back sessions. Harrison first brought the song up on January 25th as The Beatles were exploring some of their older songs, with Paul McCartney’s ‘I Lost My Little Girl’ sharing conversation space with Buck Owens’ ‘Act Naturally’ (sung by Ringo Starr on Help!) and The Everly Brothers’ ‘Bye Bye Love’, which Harrison would later cover on 1974’s Dark Horse.

“‘Isn’t It A Pity’ is about whenever a relationship hits a down pint – instead of whatever other people do (like breaking each other’s jaws) I wrote a song,” Harrison wrote in his 1980 autobiography I Me Mine. “It was a chance to realise that if I felt somebody had let me down, then there’s a good chance I was letting someone else down. We all tend to break each other’s hearts, and not giving back – isn’t it a pity.”

“It’s just an observation of how society and myself were or are. We take each other for granted – and forget to give back. That was really all it was about,” Harrison later told Billboard. However, Harrison’s original inspiration came from a far-less noble place. A visit to a major media enterprise clued Harrison into what record executives believed was the perfect formula for a hit song, something that Harrison attempted to channel in ‘Isn’t It a Pity’.

“It’s like ‘love lost and love gained between 16 and 20-year-olds.’ But I must explain: Once, at the time I was at Warner Bros. and I wrote that song ‘Blood From A Clone’, that was when they were having all these surveys out on the street to find out what was a hit record,” Harrison added. “And apparently, as I was told, a hit record is something that is about ‘love gained or lost between 14- and 19-year-olds,’ or something really dumb like that. So that’s why I wrote ‘Isn’t It A Pity’ [laughs]; I thought, ‘Oh, I’ll get in on that!’”

Harrison once again played ‘Isn’t It a Pity’ on January 25th, but this time as a solo acoustic piece without Paul McCartney or John Lennon being present. On audio tapes from these sessions, Harrison can be heard reminding Lennon that he was the one who rejected ‘Isn’t It a Pity’ back in 1966. Harrison also mentions possibly gifting the song to Frank Sinatra – Sinatra would later cite Harrison’s ‘Something’ as his favourite Beatles song, often mistakingly attributing it to Lennon and McCartney.

The constant rejections of ‘Isn’t It a Pity’ might have caused Harrison to labour over the song intensely during the All Things Must Pass sessions. Harrison wound up recording and releasing two versions of the song on the album – a sweeping seven-minute epic piano-driven recording of the track and a slower five-minute country-flavoured version. The seven-minute version of the song was eventually released as the lead single from All Things Must Pass, reaching number one along with its shared A-side, ‘My Sweet Lord’.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Mick Jagger John & Yoko’s Elvis Presley & Priscilla Presley