Yay, a discussion of George the guitarist! As some of you know, I have been making this my special field of study lately, to my increasing joy and satisfaction.
As I mentioned in another post, I have become a Simon Leng groupie. His book, While my guitar gently weeps: the music of George Harrison
is just spectacular. He really knows his musical history and the different skills that are required for composing different styles of music. Other music theorists, feel free to join in, but my answer to both Raxo and Alexis would be to read this Q&A by Leng. This is the article that spurred me to buy the book, and I'm very glad I did: http://www.riprense.com/simonlengq&a.htm
Scroll down to the middle, below the "George is flying" picture, and you'll find the two questions most relevant to this discussion.
Additionally, if you believe Rolling Stone
, then Paul playing the lead on Taxman was a compromise. George wanted the band to play his song, so they (Paul, John, and George Martin, who all had veto power over George's compositions) said sure, but Paul wanted to play lead. John liked to play lead as well on occasion, as it made a nice change for him, although he never pretended to be as good a guitar player as George. Paul often liked to play all the parts himself; I think he's the one who most under-valued George's abilities. (His comments regarding "Free As a Bird" indicate that he never did realize that George had any particular talent, even though George for decades had been sought out by other bands to add his unique signature style to their records. "It'll sound like My Sweet Lord," was his self-proclaimed initial reaction, until he heard what George did and realized that people considered the solo one of the strengths of the song.)
I think George's playing was excellent for when the group started; reputedly he was one of the most fluid and adaptable guitar players around. He could play the country & western licks, ballads, rock-n-roll-- anything but blues, basically, which was not in his background. Then the "hero" style of guitar playing came into vogue in the mid-sixties. Paul was eager to jump on this bandwagon, but George was not a virtuoso player, he was a melodist. The current fad did not play to his strengths. He did develop his own completely unique rock-n-roll slide method later on, but he was blind-sided by the new trend because he had a different background. It's not that George was "learning to play" in the Beatles-- he never would have held his place in the ambitious young band if so. It's that the world changed, and his style of playing was (for a few years) not as fashionable. Ironically, his thoughtful melodies stand up well over the decades, whereas people tired of the "hero soloist" fairly quickly.
Also, I think it's a little unfair to criticize George for being "slow". When Paul and/or John wrote a song, they worked on it an average of 3 hours--typically at John's house, in the afternoon, on a completely different day. They then brought that composition into the studio, and George had to develop his parts cold while the band worked out the arrangement. He never had the luxury of hearing the tune before that moment or knowing what the authors wanted until they demoed their already-thought-out work to the band. If he'd heard the tune the night (or week) before, as the authors did, he certainly could have been mulling approaches. As it was, he had to be brilliant off-the-cuff and on tape-- a much harder proposition, if you ask me. So if it took him 8 hours *gasp*
to develop and learn the world's first-ever completely backwards guitar solo (and play it identically twice, because they double tracked it)... well, that just doesn't seem to me to be a horribly long amount of time, considering the classic nature of what he constructed cold upon one hearing.