Paul Simon's Friendship With George Harrison Explained

George Harrison and Paul Simon may be some of history's most revered musicians. Harrison, a former member of the Beatles, and having his own distinguished solo career, was an extremely talented artist who often wrote songs about the nature of the world and took influences from Indian culture and philosophy for his songs (via Britannica). In his solo career, he wrote famous songs like "My Sweet Lord," "What is Life," and "All Things Must Pass," which really emulate the personality of the dubbed "quiet Beatle."

Paul Simon is a well-renowned songwriter in his own right, getting his start in the music world with his childhood friend Art Garfunkel. The two recorded multiple hit songs such as "The Sounds of Silence" "Mrs. Robinson," and "The Boxer." 

According to Far Out, Paul Simon and George Harrison also shared a friendship until Harrison's death back in 2001, and the musicians even shared the stage with each other on Saturday Night Live in the 1970s. Having two legendary careers of their own, their paths did overlap from time to time and helped foster a real friendship between them.

Paul Simon Gets His Start

Paul Simon got his start as a professional musician during grade school when he moved to Queens, New York. Simon met Art Garfunkel and became friends with him due to him being "the most famous singer in the neighborhood" (via Biography). Garfunkel inspired Simon to pursue singing for himself, and when the two attended high school they formed a band called "Tom and Jerry." As this duo, the two recorded a song "Hey Schoolgirl," which became popular and got them on American Bandstand, according to Biography.

The two disbanded this group later on but Simon continued to work in the music industry with producers and other songwriters, which helped him understand the business sides of things as he progressed in his own career, according to Biography. In fact, John Lennon, a former Beatle along with George Harrison, was impressed by Simon's ability to navigate the industry, which Simon credited to being from New York (via Biography).

A Wonderous Career

Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel reunited in 1964 when they recorded "Wednesday Morning, 3 A.M." using their real names instead of "Tom and Jerry" (via Biography). The album had five Simon originals, including "The Sounds of Silence," which later became a hit that propelled the duo into popularity. After the album was recorded Simon traveled to Europe where he tried his hand at busking. He also released a solo album while there in 1965 called "The Paul Simon Songbook." He spent a fair amount of time in London during his travels, but it isn't clear whether he and Harrison crossed paths at that time even though the Beatles had by then moved to London from Liverpool, according to the BBC

Simon became successful in Europe as a gig musician, but he returned to the United States after his song "The Sounds of Silence" was revamped by producer Tom Wilson, who helped record "Wednesday Morning, 3 A.M," and the song became a huge hit. After this, he began working with Garfunkel again and the two continued writing music together until their 1970 breakup. Simon went on to have success releasing solo albums over the next decade and beyond.

In the 1980s he traveled to South Africa where he was influenced by the local music and wrote one of his most popular albums, "Graceland," which exposed the Western world to different cultural and musical expressions, according to Biography. 

Member of The Fab Four

George Harrison on the other hand grew up in Liverpool, England, raised by a bus conductor and a clerk at a grocery store, and was the youngest of four children, according to Britannica. When Harrison was in secondary school he learned how to play the guitar, and was invited by his friend Paul McCartney to join his band the Quarrymen, which John Lennon was also a part of (via Britannica). 

Eventually, the group became known as the Beatles with Harrison playing lead guitar, helping contribute to multiple songs the Beatles produced, and even had some of his own songs come to fruition, according to Britannica. Some of the songs Harrison wrote for the Beatles are "While My Guitar Gently Weeps," "Here Comes the Sun," and "Something." (via Britannica). 

Harrison was greatly influenced by a trip the Beatles took to India in 1968, where they studied meditation with Maharishi Mahesh Yogi (via The Guardian). Lennon and Harrison stayed the longest, but when allegations that Mahesh made inappropriate sexual advances at some female attendees, they both left the retreat, according to The Guardian. However, the experience shaped Harrison's philosophies and outlook on life, and his ongoing interest in Indian spirituality would infuse his music for the rest of his career.

A Life Well-Lived

In 1970, after the Beatles broke up, George Harrison released a solo album called "All Things Must Pass," which included one of his hit songs "My Sweet Lord." In 1971, Harrison held two fundraising concerts to help fight people in Bangladesh who were suffering from starvation, pioneering the idea of benefit concerts.         

A few years later in 1976, the public got to see two of rock's most successful songwriters collaborate when Harrison shared the stage with Paul Simon on Saturday Night Live, according to Far Out. They sang Harrison's "Here Comes the Sun" and Simon's "Homeward Bound." According to Far Out, the performance is regarded to be one of the best performances on SNL. Simon later said, "The roots of my friendship with George Harrison go back to 1976, when we performed together on Saturday Night Live, sitting on stools side by side with acoustic guitars (via Showbiz Cheatsheet).

Both men continued with their solo careers, writing late 80s hits like Harrison's "Got My Mind Set on You" and Simon's "You Can Call Me Al." In 1995, Harrison and the remaining Beatles recorded the Beatles Anthology album, which released new songs like "Free as a Bird" and "Real Life," using recordings of Lennon's voice (via The Paul McCartney Project). 

Sadly, Harrison was diagnosed with throat and lung cancer in 1997 and in 1999 was a victim of a break-in where he was stabbed multiple times. He survived, but in 2001, he developed a brain tumor and died from his illness, according to Britannica.

Opening Up About Their Friendship

After George Harrison's death, Paul Simon reminisced over their friendship on Conan O'Brian's show "Conan" in 2014. Simon talked fondly of Harrison, saying "Amazing person, not just a musician but really brave, very open, kind. Just a certain percentage of him Beatles but the rest, he was just regular. Just interested in life, interested in the world, interested in the mind. A real pleasure to hang out with him" (via YouTube). 

Simon talked about how Harrison was a light-hearted individual who always liked to make jokes. When visiting Harrison's home, called Friar Park, Simon said Harrison would love to play the Ukelele and that "his jukebox was full of all the music he listened to as a kid, which is pretty much what I listened to too, but with a slight English variation on it."

Simon told Rolling Stone playing music with Harrison was "effortless" (via Showbiz Cheatsheet). When Simon was discussing playing with Harrison instead of someone like Art Garfunkel, he said "Nevertheless, it was an effortless collaboration. The mesh of his guitar and voice with my playing and singing gave our duet an ease and musicality that made me realize how intrinsic and subtle his contribution was to the Beatles' brilliant creative weave ... He made musicians sound good without calling attention to himself."