Prince’s Rendition of ‘While My Guitar Gently Weeps’ Still Gives Us Goosebumps

Videos by Rare

Videos by Rare

From The Beatles to Prince, “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” has a special history of touching hearts of both the musicians who play it and listeners alike. The passion and meaning behind the song’s composition and initial recording are hard to measure up to, although artists have never stopped covering it. But if there is one cover — and guitar solo — that undeniably do the song justice, it’s Prince’s.

The Origin of “While My Guitar Gently Weeps”

George Harrison was inspired to write the song upon his return from India, where he and his Beatles bandmates had studied Transcendental Meditation under Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. He’d convinced the band to go with him to India, which allegedly created a rift between he and the other Beatles. They resented him for taking them away from their careers, while Harrison saw the move as more important.

After returning to the UK, Harrison was visiting his parents and started reading the I Ching (or, The Book of Changes). He was intrigued by the concept of Relativism and, upon opening a book, decided to write a song based on the first words he saw. He saw “gently weeps,” which was the catalyzing phrase for the song.

The song, at its essence, is supposed to be about the transcendental sadness at humankind’s failure to realize its full potential to love. Harrison initially included some lyrics which were later discarded:

“I look at the trouble and hate that is raging / While my guitar gently weeps / As I’m sitting here, doing nothing but aging.”

And

“The problems you sow / are the troubles you’re reaping.”

The lyrics in the final published version are as follows:

I look at you all
See the love there that’s sleeping
While my guitar gently weeps
I look at the floor
And I see it needs sweeping
Still my guitar gently weeps

I don’t know why nobody told you
How to unfold your love
I don’t know how someone controlled you
They bought and sold you

I look at the world
And I notice it’s turning
While my guitar gently weeps
With every mistake
We must surely be learning
Still my guitar gently weeps

I don’t know how you were diverted
You were perverted too
I don’t know how you were inverted
No one alerted you

I look at you all
See the love there that’s sleeping
While my guitar gently weeps
(Look) look at you all

Still my guitar gently weeps.

“While My Guitar Gently Weeps” lyrics by George Harrison

Harrison Enlisted Eric Clapton to Play Guitar

After Harrison introduced his new song to the rest of The Beatles, it took the band numerous takes between July 25 and September 5 of 1968 to get the track right. Eventually, Harrison invited Eric Clapton to play lead guitar on the track. Although Clapton refused at first, he was eventually convinced, and on September 6, he came into the EMI studio. Using Harrison’s Gibson Les Paul, Clapton overdubbed the lead guitar. The song was subsequently released on The Beatles’ The White Album, which was released on November 22.

Rolling Stone lists “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” as 7th on the list of 100 Greatest Guitar Songs of All Time and 10th on the list of The Beatles 100 Greatest Songs. It’s been covered by Jeff Healey, Mark Ribot, Phish, Charlie Byrd, Santana, Todd Rundgren, Peter Frampton, and so many more artists over the years. Paul McCartney and Eric Clapton played a cover as a tribute to Harrison in 2002 while at Elizabeth II’s Golden Jubilee in Buckingham Palace.

And then there was Prince.

Prince’s Unforgettable Cover of “While My Guitar Gently Weeps”

George Harrison passed away on November 29, 2001 and was posthumously inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2004. Also inducted into the Hall of Fame that year was Prince. So, it made sense that, if one were to get a bunch of legendary artists on stage together to play a cover of Harrison’s beloved song, that Prince would be a part of that. After all, Prince can pretty much play anything, and he can play it superbly.

Prince, Tom Petty, Steve Winwood, Jeff Lynne, Dhani Harrison (George Harrison’s son), Steve Ferrone, Marc Mann, and others got on stage together for the performance. It took place on March 15, 2004, at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel in New York. About half of the 6 minute and 20-second-long cover features Prince playing an extended guitar solo.

The performance blew everyone away, of course, upon its initial reception. Prince’s hands are flying across his fretboard as he casually looks up at the stage full of his legendary comrades, looking slick as ever. He’s wearing a black pinstripe suit, red collared shirt, and matching hat. The solo was basically unrehearsed as well, according to an account of the brief time the artists had together prior to the performance.

What Happened to Prince’s Guitar?

And just to make the moment even more magical, at the very end, Prince seems to toss his guitar up into the air and it totally disappears.

Steve Ferrone of The Heartbreakers was on stage when Prince tossed the guitar up, and he, too, did not know what happened to the instrument. Per the New York Times, Ferrone said:

“It was a hell of a guitar solo, and a hell of a show he actually put on for the band. When he fell back into the audience, everybody in the band freaked out, like, “Oh my God, he’s falling off the stage!” And then that whole thing with the guitar going up in the air. I didn’t even see who caught it. I just saw it go up, and I was astonished that it didn’t come back down again. Everybody wonders where that guitar went, and I gotta tell you, I was on the stage, and I wonder where it went, too.”

Steve Ferrone, via The New York Times

AV Club did some sleuthing, however, and noted that the guitar trick came with explicit instructions. It’s allegedly being taken care of by Oprah, per this Facebook post story.

Notably, after Prince’s death in 2016, the viral video of Prince et al.’s rendition of “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” was re-edited by its director Joel Gallen. Gallen’s “Director’s Cut” omitted dissolves, replacing them with cuts, and added more close-ups of Prince. It was released in April of 2021 and has since rendered over 3.6 million views.

Listen to the song below. It still gives us goosebumps to this day.

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