The seventh track on the eponymous “White Album” and the b-side release of "Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da," George Harrison’s “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” marked his emergence as an elite songwriter and has been hailed by fans and critics alike as among the best Beatles songs of all time. In addition to the celebrated hard rock version, an acoustic outtake was released on the 1996 Anthology with Paul McCartney playing harmonium, and later on the Love compilation with George Martin’s final string arrangement for the group.
Harrison wrote the song following the period of time when the Beatles studied Transcendental Meditation with Maharishi Mahesh Yogi in Rishikesh, India. Although perhaps a source of strife and contention among the group, many timeless songs were written by the group during their stay. According to the New York Times’ music writer Allan Korzinn, “Whatever shortcomings the Beatles’ interaction with the maharishi may have had, the experience—which lasted only eight months, from August 1967 to April 1968—seems to have opened a floodgate of creativity and got them out of what threatened to be a creative rut.” Shortly before the recording sessions for The White Album, the group convened at Harrison’s home in Esher, England, and put together a tape of 27 songs they’d written in Rishikesh. Many would find their way onto the official studio recording.
The composition’s inspiration might best be summed up by Harrison himself:
“I wrote While My Guitar Gently Weeps at my mother's house in Warrington. I was thinking about the Chinese I Ching, the Book of Changes... The Eastern concept is that whatever happens is all meant to be, and that there's no such thing as coincidence – every little item that's going down has a purpose. While My Guitar Gently Weeps was a simple study based on that theory. I decided to write a song based on the first thing I saw upon opening any book – as it would be a relative to that moment, at that time. I picked up a book at random, opened it, saw 'gently weeps', then laid the book down again and started the song.”
The lead guitar was performed by Harrison’s close friend Eric Clapton. While contributing to a Beatles recording was rare for a musician not in the band, Harrison reassured a skeptical Clapton it would be okay. Clapton’s presence and performance had a great impact on both the band’s studio experience and the song’s success.