For reasons that I've explained elsewhere on this blog, I had accidentally become infatuated (for life) with the Beatles a few weeks earlier. With the zeal of the fresh convert, I was eagerly awaiting new music from any (or preferably all) of the Fab Four. One afternoon, I came home from school to listen to Radio 1, the BBC's three-year-old pop channel, and was granted a sneak preview of George's work. As soon as his name was announced, I pushed the 'record' button on my father's ancient reel-to-reel tape recorder, which was connected up to our equally ancient radiogram. So I had plenty of time over the next few months to replay and appreciate the magic of what I heard: 'Run Of The Mill'.
It was the guitars that pulled me in: that gorgeous, tumbling motif that bookended the song - which was, as I would soon discover when I tried to reproduce it myself, very deceptively simple. Then the voice: somewhere on the emotional spectrum between 'beautifully pained' and 'poignantly sympathetic', not the carefree joi de vivre that Paul McCartney would try to maintain, or the naked savagery of John Lennon's Plastic Ono Band roar. And the melody, with that subtle elegance and beauty that would become the hallmark of George's best solo work.
What didn't really touch me for years, though, were the words. That was partly because it wasn't that easy to make them out beneath George's double-tracked Scouse slur, and partly because the tune was so pretty that I didn't bother to listen. It must have been twenty years or so later that I heard the song one day and suddenly clicked: "He's writing about the Beatles!"
At which point the whole thing made sense. In 'Run Of The Mill', George wasn't writing about the Beatles as an institution, but about his relationship with one particular Beatle (or maybe two of them, swapping the role of target in every other line). This wasn't the open sadness of Ringo's 'Early 1970', or the sly sniping of Paul's 'Too Many People', or the outright viciousness of John's 'How Do You Sleep'. Nor was it the shocking dismissal of Lennon's own verdict in late 1970: "I don't believe in Beatles". No, this was one human being very openly confronting the decline in his relationship with another human being who was still very dear to him, but who he feared was destined to slip out of his life altogether.
The most poignant lines in the song are these: "As the days stand up on end, you've got me wondering how I lost your friendship, but I see it in your eyes". What's gone wrong between these two men? The clue is in the early part of the same verse, where George says that tomorrow will bring "another day for you to realise me" (in other words, to realise exactly who I am) "or send me down again" (by ignoring me). Which takes us back to January 1969, when George unveiled a series of new songs for John and Paul, and they did their best to ignore them.
So which of these two old friends was the target of 'Run Of The Mill'. Ultimately, as George sings, "it's you who decides": both Lennon and McCartney had undervalued and squashed Harrison as a creative force in the final years of the Beatles. But my guess is that it's Paul who George had in mind - simply because George put so much faith in the reality of his relationship with John (as his comments in the Beatles' Anthology book proved) that he couldn't bear, at least in 1970, to consider for a second that he might have lost Lennon's friendship. He found it easier, in emotional terms, to blame Paul - the boy who'd been a year older than him at school, who had suggested he should audition for the Beatles, and who had chosen to lecture him about his guitar-playing in front of a camera crew during those January 1969 sessions.
And the title? It was only when I was writing You Never Give Me Your Money that it struck me where it had come from. There is nothing in the song about anything being "run of the mill". But my guess is that one of the other Beatles, at some stage in the 60s, slagged off a new Harrison song by telling him that it wasn't good enough to record, it was only run of the mill. It's the kind of comment that trips out of people's mouths in a second, and which they never consider the consequences of; and which the recipient remembers for the rest of their lives.
In this instance it sparked a remarkable song. Here is a work-in-progress, guide-vocal mix from the All Things Must Pass sessions: not as perfect as the finished record, but still an unpolished gem.