The Truth About Eric Clapton's Solo On While My Guitar Gently Weeps

Collaborations are often a major part of music. Artists from different backgrounds come together to create something new and different. That's how music progresses — by musicians fusing their influences and styles to produce something that has never been seen before. For example, by calling on guitar god Eddie Van Halen to lay down the solo for his hit song "Beat It," Michael Jackson was left with something the likes of which hadn't been seen before in the blistering fusion of rock and pop.

This was the case for the Beatles as well, as each member brought something different to the table that led to classic albums and timeless music. However, for the most part, the Beatles remained somewhat closed off from other artists when it came to collaborating with others on music released under the Beatles banner (via Far Out). While there were exceptions for people who left their mark on their music, even receiving the honorary title of "the Fifth Beatle" — most notably producer George Martin and keyboard player Billy Preston — outside collaborations were infrequent. However, for the George Harrison-penned song "While My Guitar Gently Weeps," which appeared on "The White Album," a doozy of a collaborator was brought in: Eric Clapton, who was tasked with laying down the track's now-iconic solo (via Showbiz CheatSheet).

The Beatles were on the back nine in 1968

While the Beatles were seeing unprecedented success, not all was well within their camp. The stress of being the Beatles had gotten to them — especially while on the road — and the band had decided to abandon touring in 1966 (via Far Out). It paid off because the albums of this time — like 1967's "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band" and 1969's "Abbey Road" — are some of the most highly revered albums ever made.

Still, egos were starting to drive a wedge between the Fab Four. During the songwriting process for "The White Album," Paul McCartney had decided to work mostly on his own instead of forming the legendary Lennon-McCartney partnership with John Lennon. Meanwhile, George Harrison was growing increasingly frustrated by McCartney and Lennon's unwillingness to consider any of his songwriting contributions, per Showbiz CheatSheet. Even producer George Marin rebuked Harrison's songwriting efforts, though, in a 1976 interview with Rolling Stone, Martin stated that wished things between him and Harrison had gone differently.

While My Guitar Gently Weeps reflected the issues within the Beatles

It's well-known that the Beatles — especially George Harrison — were heavily influenced by Eastern philosophy. According to Rolling Stone, in early 1968, all four band members and their significant others arrived in Rishikesh, India, to study transcendental meditation at the ashram run by the movement's leader, Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. While they were meant to spend three months there, they left early after sexual misconduct allegations were leveled against the Maharishi. Lennon later said that while they still believed in the transcendental meditation movement, the trip to the ashram was a mistake.

Still, the trip led them to write nearly 50 songs, many of which appeared on the "White Album." However, George Harrison wrote "While My Guitar Gently Weeps" shortly after returning from the trip. He was visiting his parents and found a copy of the "I Ching," or "The Book of Changes."

"The Eastern concept is that whatever happens is all meant to be ... every little item that's going down has a purpose," Harrison said (per Far Out). "'While My Guitar Gently Weeps' was a simple study based on that theory ... I picked up a book at random, opened it, saw 'gently weeps,' then laid the book down again and started the song." While Eastern philosophy may have been the impetus for the song, it also reflected the increasing turmoil within the Beatles.

Clapton lays down the solo

George Harrison is credited as the only songwriter on "While My Guitar Gently Weeps" (via Far Out), but there's no doubt the song — which went on to become one of the Beatle's most renowned — received a big assist from the iconic solo played by Eric Clapton. Harrison told Guitar Player magazine in 1987 that he had tried to work on the song with his bandmates, but they weren't interested in it. Knowing he had come up with a gem, Harrison decided to invite Clapton to the studio on a whim when the two were driving into London together. It seems as though Harrison also had an ulterior motive in bringing in Clapton: having a guest in the studio would put the other Beatles on their best behavior (via Far Out).

Clapton said that he liked what he had heard that day, and once he had recorded his part, he knew Harrison did as well. "I knew George was happy, because he listened to it over and over in the control room," Clapton said (via Far Out). Both the song and the solo became iconic, and they have been covered many times, perhaps most notably in 2004, when an all-star band — which included Tom Petty, Jeff Lynne, Steve Winwood, and Harrison's son, Dhani — performed the song, with Prince handling the solo at a Rock & Roll Hall of Fame tribute to George Harrison (via Classic Rock).