George Harrison - When We Was Fab [Album Version]Details

"[Before I wrote the song [When We Was Fab], or when I sat down to write it, I thought, 'This one’s gonna start with Ringo going, One, two, DUHtabumb, DUHtabumb.' That was the intro in my head; that was the tempo it was always going to be. No [I didn't consider adding laughter at the end of the song], but we had the little thing from the radio and the sitars [laughs]. Isn’t that enough? [...] And [Gary Wright] also plays on When We Was Fab."
George Harrison (December 1987 - Creem)

"[Cloud Nine is] peppered with... some pretty funny lyrics (When We Was Fab recalls a time 'when income tax was all we had' as voices in the background chant 'fab!' and 'hear!'). In general, it’s not the kind of thing you might expect from George Harrison. "
John Kordosh (December 1987 - Creem)

"Jeff co-produces, co-writes 3 tracks [on Cloud Nine]: That's What It Takes, This Is Love and When We Was Fab (the latter of which will be the new single), and plays guitars, bass and keyboards on the LP."
Andrew Whiteside (1987 - Face The Music fanzine #3)

"Well, [When We Was Fab] was written as a little joke, a little bit of fun. I wanted to write something that sounded like it came from that period [of The Beatles] when we was fab. So to write the lyrics, it's just a matter of finding when it came how to get that 'fab' in and it got to 'when we were fab', being a dramatic way of saying it. And then, our mutual friend, Derek Taylor, I mentioned it to him and he said, 'when we was fab.' You know, and I see what he means. I made it 'was' to make it past tense and also make it sort of a joke. [...] You couldn't make an ex-Beatle record without having Ringo, could you? It's like a built-in thing. If I play a song for Ringo, I don't have to day to him, you know, 'I want it to go like this.' I just play it and he joins in."
George Harrison (circa 1987 - from bonus DVD for 2004 The Dark Horse Years 1976 - 1992 remaster)

"The delightful Sixties goof[,] When We Was Fab-- Harrison routinely refers to the Beatles as 'the Fabs'-- was conceived even before Harrison and Lynne went into the studio to start working on Cloud Nine. Harrison and Lynne were vacationing in Australia-- earning the song its working title of Ozzy Fab-- where Harrison, who is an auto-racing afficianado, wanted the catch the Adelaide Grand Prix. 'I had this guitar that somebody loaned me,' he says, 'and, I don't know why, I thought I'd like to write a song like that period. And I could hear Ringo in my head, going, One, two... da-ka-thump, da-ka-thump.' When Harrison and Lynne returned to England, they continued adding bits to the song, until it resembled the loonily textured I Am The Walrus more than any other Beatles track. Starr contributed his patented drum sound-- 'Those little fills are just pure Ringo,' Harrison says-- and Harrison even played sitar at the song's close. 'It's got complete joke words,' Harrison says about the song's lyrics, which include such parodic gems as 'Caresses fleeced you in the morning light.' But there's enough nostalgic affection in the trippy grooves of When We Was Fab to tickle the brain cells and bring a smile to the face of any Sixties survivors."
Anthony DeCurtis (October 22, 1987 - Rolling Stone #511)

"Last winter [George Harrison] notched up his first hits in six years with Got My Mind Set On You, and the Beatles tribute When We Was Fab..."
Robin Denselow (November 5 1988 - The Guardian)

"No [I couldn't have written When We Was Fab in 1974]. I would have been too hung on the past, you know, The Beatles. But now it's like it's good. You can look back at it and just think of the funny stuff. We just knocked it out on the piano one night and somebody just put a cassette on so we just taped all the... whatever we were doing. We got a bit legless and this... kept giving us bottles of champagne in this person's house. And, uh, yeah, we went back to England and finished it off. And Ringo plays drums, as you can hear him on the beginning, 'One, Two...' that. In fact, that's how I conceived the song. I was just thinking of Ringo just doing that: One! Two! [imitates opening drums of When We Was Fab]."
George Harrison (circa 1988 - In The Studio with Redbeard: Cloud Nine 25th anniversary)

"The second single from Cloud 9, the 60's pastiche When We Was Fab didn't scale the chart heights of its predecessor unfortunately, only making No.23, despite a 3-inch CD single, and a limited edition box set with Sgt Pepper style cutouts and a free poster. Jeff makes a brief (5 seconds) appearance in the video, playing an unnaturally long violin. Incidentally, the video (directed by Godley & Creme) won awards for creativity recently."
Andrew Whiteside (1988 - Face The Music fanzine #4)

"When We Was Fab shows that he can send up his past as well as the Rutles did - spot the 'Walrus' cellos, sitar coda, and titles borrowed from Dylan and the Miracles (It's all over now baby blue, You really got a hold on me) in the lyrics."
John Van Der Kiste (1988 - Face The Music fanzine #4)

"The LP's biggest mistake fallows next in When We Was Fab. A jokey attempt at satirising George's Beatle past, it features (supposedly) tongue in cheek references to his Taxman song, 'Fab, gear' (a favourite Beatle phrase), It's All Over Now, 'grass (what can they mean?), and of course features all the token sitars, cellos, backward running tapes and I Am The Walrus type weird noises that one would expect in such an obvious parody. And 'obvious' is the operative word. The end result is as if the Monkees had recorded a 'spoof' Sgt Pepper; George doesn't have the sense of humour to carry a song like this. It would have been interesting to see what Roy Wood would have made of it. I suspect Jeff put George up to this. If so, it was a mistake, pure and simple. Having said all that, I can't get the bloody tune out of my head, and it was an obvious second single."
Nigel Ferrit-Evons (1988 - Face The Music fanzine #4)

"We wrote that in Australia when we went to go to see the Grand Prix, y'know, in-- Grand Prix-- in, um, Adelaide. And we wrote it on this piano, like one on each end of the piano. I was playing the high bit; George was playing the low bit. And we never sort of got 'round to finishing it, um, 'til about halfway through the sessions. And once we did, it was like this license to do... to do sort of Beatle music, which was a fabulous thrill for me. That was great... really enjoyed that. And we... All those silly bits that, y'know, I like to do, um, suddenly you can do 'em without anybody saying, 'Oh, you're nicking off the Beatles.' 'Cause it supposed to be like the Beatles anyway. It was great. It was lovely."
Jeff Lynne (circa early 1989 - Saturday Sequence BBC Radio 1 interview by Roger Scott)

"Cheer Down, the latest collaboration between George Harrison and Jeff Lynne, also appears on a new George Harrison compilation album, The Best Of Dark Horse (Dark Horse 925 726-1 (LP), 925 726-4 (cass), 925 726-2 (CD)). This compilation also features Got My Mind Set On You, When We Was Fab and Cloud Nine itself, from the album of the same name, as well as other tracks from George's solo albums on his Dark Horse label."
Andrew Whiteside (1989 - Face The Music fanzine #6)

"We wrote that in Australia when we went to going to see the Grand Prix, y'know, in-- Grand Prix-- in, um, Adelaide. And we wrote it on this piano, like one on each end of the piano. I was playing the high bit; George was playing the low bit. And we never sort of got 'round to finishing it, um, 'til about halfway through the sessions. And once we did, it was like this license to do... to do sort of Beatle music, which was a fabulous thrill for me. That was great... really enjoyed that. And we... All those silly bits that, y'know, I like to do, um, suddenly you can do 'em without anybody saying, 'Oh, you're nicking off the Beatles.' 'Cause it supposed to be like the Beatles anyway. It was great. It was lovely."
Jeff Lynne (February 10, 1990 - Classic Albums radio interview by Roger Scott)

"Jeff: 'When We Was Fab was written in Australia, when we were going to see the Grand Prix in Adelaide. We wrote it on this piano-- like one on each end of the piano. I was playing the high bit and George played the low bit and we never sort of got around to finishing it until halfway through the music which was a fabulous thrill for me... really enjoyed that. All those silly bits that I love to do, suddenly I can do them without somebody saying Oh, you're nicking The Beatles! [Because] it was supposed to be like The Beatles anyway and it's great.' George (1989): 'Well it was written as a little joke, a little bit of fun. I wanted to write something that sounded as if it came from that period 'when we was fab'. And it always had a working title Aussie Fab, because Jeff Lynne and I started to write it when we were in Australia and it was written to be like a fab song, so it was called Aussie Fab so we could remember which song we were talking about.'"
Patrik Guttenbacher, Marc Haines, & Alexander von Petersdorff (1996 Unexpected Messages)

"George's first true nod to his Beatle's past in a musical sense began life as Aussie Fab. The composition of what was to eventually become When We Was Fab was started in Queensland, Australia while George and Jeff Lynne were attending the Australian Grand Prix in November 1986. While working on the tracks for Cloud Nine, he and Jeff would take out the tape of Fab [sic] every so often and overdub more instruments and other musical ideas, such as the piano riff on the chorus, which was a Lynne concept. It gradually developed and took shape, and as the words were composed, it metamorphised from 'Aussie' to 'When We Were,' with Derek Taylor fine-tuning the title to 'When We Was.' To cement the 'Fab' concept, Ringo made his first drumming contribution to a George record since All Those Years Ago. The track was topped off by a production nod to I Am The Walrus, including the voice of a female radio broadcaster which mentions the frequency of France Inter, the French Government's radio station. This was the obvious second single off the LP, and it did quite well, becoming a top US 25 hit. There was the usual multiple formats for the track in the UK. The CD single and 12-inch [contains] the bonus tracks When We Was Fab (Unextended Version) (which is the same as the LP version), and the equally 'hilarious' When We Was Fab (Reverse End)... The promotional CD, 12-inch and 7-inch singles all contain the LP version. A brilliant promo film directed by Kevin Godley and Lol Creme featured many of the people on the album, including Jeff, Ringo and Elton John, and at one point, a Walrus playing left-handed bass. It was often suggested this was indeed Macca, but both have denied it since. The soundtrack to the video is the same as the LP mix, but has been layered with foley. Filming of the promo took place that December in London, wrapping up on the 18th. Production of the video was completed on February 3, 1988."
Chip Madinger and Mark Easter (October 2000 - Eight Arms To Hold You - The Solo Beatles Compendium)

"There was even a fun-loving, albeit biting satire on George's roots in When We Was Fab."
Marc Shapiro (May, 2002 - Behind Sad Eyes: The Life Of George Harrison)

"In When We Was Fab, co-written with Jeff Lynne, Harrison cheerfully recreated the paisley-carnival air of 1967, with tongue firmly in cheek."
David Fricke (November, 2003 - liner notes for The Dark Horse Years 1976 - 1992 box set)

"18 December [1987]: A promotional video of George's When We Was Fab, directed by Kevin Godley, is filmed at Greenford Studios, Greenwich, London with George, Ringo Starr and Elton John. [...] 24 January [1988]: MTV premieres George's promo of When We Was Fab. [...] 25 January [1988]: When We Was Fab c/w Zig Zag is released simultaneously in Britian and America. [...] 11 February [1988]: Via satellite, George appears on an eight-minute spot on BBC1's Wogan, at the end of which the promo [video] for When We Was Fab is screened. [...] 27 February [1988]: George is presented with an award of 'Video Of The Year' for When We Was Fab at the San Remo Music Festival in Italy. The Italian station RAI UNO also interviews him. [...] Got My Mind Set On You c/w When We Was Fab was issued in America on WB Back-to-Back Hits on 1 July 1989. [...] Ringo Starr appears on When We Was Fab. [...] When We Was Fab c/w Zig Zag was issued in Britain on Dark Horse W 8131 on 25 January 1988 and in America on Dark Horse 7-28131 on 26 January 1988. [...] When We Was Fab c/w Zig Zag (a limited edition box set) was issued in Britain on Dark Horse W 8131B on 25 January 1988 on 1 February 1988. [...] [That's The Way It Goes] was remixed by George and Jeff Lynne and included as a bonus track on the CD and 12-inch version of When We Was Fab, which was released in Britain in January 1988. [...] [When We Was Fab was] the second single to be released from the Cloud Nine album. The number Zig Zag was on the flipside. It was issued in Britain on 25 January 1988 in 7-inch and 12-inch formats. The 7-inch was on Dark Horse W8131 with just the two tracks. The 12-inch, on Dark Horse W8131T had an extended version of When We Was Fab, Zig Zag, That's The Way It Goes (Remix) and When We Was Fab (Reverse End). The CD and 12-inch with bonus tracks was issued only in Britain. The promo [video] was shot in Britain in December 1987 and Ringo and Elton John appeared alongside George. Paul McCartney refused to be in the video."
Bill Harry (2003 - The George Harrison Encyclopedia)
Editor's Note: The author mentions an extended version of When We Was Fab here. He is mistaken and there was no such thing produced.

"We ended up going on holiday to Australia to watch Formula 1. We wrote When We Was Fab together while we were there in some rich bloke's house in some wonderful resort. We did so much together... "
Jeff Lynne (2006 February - Q magazine)

"We actually wrote the first song off the album Cloud Nine in somebody's house in Australia, actually in Queensland. And we wrote When We Was Fab on this gentleman's piano. And that was, like, a good start, you know. It really was."
Jeff Lynne (October 29, 2012 - Deep Tracks SiriusXM radio show)

"[George Harrison and I] went [to Australia] and we had a great time and it was fantastic and that's where we wrote When We Was Fab, in Australia. So that was the start of ten wonderful years of making records with George."
Jeff Lynne (2013 February 15 - Examiner.com)

"While they were in Australia they had already begun working on their first song together, When We Was Fab. [...] The second single (and first song they had worked on together), When We Was Fab, had evolved into a neat send-up in which George poked fun at his Beatles past, with a cello prominent in the backing."
John Van der Kiste (August 2015 - Jeff Lynne: Electric Light Orchestra - Before and After)

"When We Was Fab (1987): I decided to pack it in in 1986. About six months later, George Harrison got in touch with me to ask me to work on his new album. A few days after he met me, he said, 'Let's go on holiday. I'm going to Australia for a while.' He took me to the Grand Prix in Adelaide, which was amazing. It felt like an adventure, since I used to just bang out tunes in my little studio. It was now on an international scale. George came up with the words for When I Was Fab. It was magical for me, since it was supposed to sound like a Beatles song, even though we didn't exactly use Beatles sounds. The album was a tremendous success and sold about 5 million copies. I was just so touched he wanted to work with me. [Meanwhile, the other members of ELO started doing shows as ELO 2.] It's water under the bridge now, but what happened was the promoters would change the name to ELO and I'd have to sue every time."
Jeff Lynne (January 21, 2016 - Rolling Stone article entitled: 'ELO's Jeff Lynne: My Life in 15 Songs')

"The lavish collection [George Harrison's The Vinyl Collection] also includes picture discs for two of Harrison’s nostalgia-fueled hit singles from 1987: Got My Mind Set On You and When We Were Fab, the latter being his typically sardonic look back at his Beatle days. ('Back when income tax was all we had.')"
Joe Blevins (January 17, 2017 - The A.V. Club website)

"One highlight among the videos [posted to YouTube in November 2016 on GeorgeHarrisonVEVO] is When We Was Fab, Harrison’s 1988 tribute to that little band he was in during his youth. It begins with Harrison standing alone in front of a brick wall, strumming a black-and-white Fender while miming the words. At about the half-minute mark, a fellow wearing sunglasses and a neatly trimmed beard delivers a cello to George and—well, what do you know?—it’s Ringo! As disembodied hands emerge from unlikely parts of Harrison’s body, the scene gets more surreal, with various individuals arriving and disappearing just as quickly, among them Jeff Lynne and Elton John—and a lot more Ringo."
Unknown (February 2017 - Best Classic Bands website)

"The charttopping Got My Mind Set On You, for example, effortlessly captured a simplistic Merseybeat feeling. Even more striking, When We Was Fab so eerily recreates a Beatlesque mélange of sounds that you’d be forgiven upon hearing it for the first time for thinking it was a Magical Mystery Tour outtake. When Harrison decided upon pursuing the track, it helped that he had a kindred spirit in the producer’s chair in Jeff Lynne. 'I just had the thought, I’d like to write a song that’s reminiscent of that period of ’67,' Harrison recalled in an interview from that time. 'In my head, I could hear Ringo (Starr) counting it in, Onetwo duhduhdum, duhduhdumdum. And I just started right there writing that song, and then Jeff was around and we got out this piano and we came up with all these little bits like the catchy little piano part that plays the melody on the chorus. And, of course, the start of the song and the original intention was that we should have that kind of sound.' In addition to Starr’s inimitable drum fills, Harrison’s familiar slide and the icy piano part recalling While My Guitar Gently Weeps, When We Was Fab also contains quizzical strings and crazed backing vocals a la I Am The Walrus and a sitar coda worthy of Love You To. That it all holds together without sounding like some Stars On 45 concoction is testament to Lynne’s estimable production skills and Harrison’s charming lyrics, which look back with clear eyes, tongue partially in cheek, and warm heart. Harrison doesn’t get caught up in a blowbyblow history of The Beatles, instead settling on a more impressionistic take, like memories flashing before his eyes in random order. He quotes Bob Dylan ('But it’s all over now, Baby Blue') and Smokey Robinson ('And you really got a hold on me') but only indirectly hints at Beatles’ lyrics: The 'take you away' interlude recalls Magical Mystery Tour, and his insistence that 'Still the life flows on and on' references his own Within You Without You. He also gets one more shot in at the taxman for old time sake. Harrison balances out halcyon days of pullovers and green grass with some darker remembrances. 'Caresses fleeced you in the morning light/ Casualties at dawn' is not the kind of feelgood couplet you would associate with Beatlemania. And his assertion that 'The microscopes have magnified the tears/ Studied warts and all' seems to be a dig at journalists looking to dig up the underbelly of the Fab phenomenon instead of just enjoying the gleaming surface. Ultimately though, the sweet far outweighs the bitter. When Harrison sings 'And we did it all,' wonder and gratitude are evident in his voice. The accompanying video added to the feeling with a trove of winks and nods to the Beatle mythos. Maybe When We Was Fab isn’t grammatically correct, but it was right on the money for those who were missing the magic of The Beatles and the wisdom of the 'quiet' one."
Jim Beviglia (April 24, 2017 - American Songwriter)

"Worldwide hits from the [Cloud Nine] album include the catchy Got My Mind Set On You and the homage to The Beatles, When We Was Fab."
Gabe Echazabal (November 2, 2017 - Creative Loafing: Tampa Bay)


  • Running Time: 3:57
  • Record Date: January to August 1987
  • Record Location: Friar Park Studios, Henley-On-Thames, Oxfordshire, UK (George Harrison's home studio)
  • Written By: George Harrison and Jeff Lynne
  • Produced By: Jeff Lynne & George Harrison
  • Engineered By: Richard Dodd
  • Performed By: George Harrison (vocals, guitar, keyboards), Jeff Lynne (guitar, bass, keyboards), Gary Wright (piano), Ringo Starr* (drums), Jim Keltner* (drums), Ray Cooper* (percussion and drums), Bobby Kok (cello), Unknown (sitar) --*unconfirmed

  • Released On:
    • Cloud Nine LP album (1987 October 24 — USA — Dark Horse 25643-1)
    • Cloud Nine CD album (1987 October 24 — USA — Dark Horse 9 25643-2)
    • Cloud Nine LP album (1987 November 2 — UK — Dark Horse WX 123)
    • Cloud Nine CD album (1987 November 2 — UK — Dark Horse 9 25643-2)
    • When We Was Fab 7" single (1988 January 25 — UK — Dark Horse W 8131)
    • When We Was Fab 12" single (1988 January 25 — UK — Dark Horse W 8131 T)
    • When We Was Fab 7" single boxed set (1988 February 1 — UK — Dark Horse W 8131B)
    • When We Was Fab 12" picture disc single (1988 February 1 — UK — Dark Horse W 8131 TP)
    • When We Was Fab 7" single (1988 February 1 — USA — Dark Horse 7-28131)
    • When We Was Fab 12" promo single (1988 February 1 — USA — Dark Horse PRO-A-2885 )
    • When We Was Fab cassette single (1988 February 1 — USA — Dark Horse 4-28131)
    • When We Was Fab 3" CD single (1988 February 8 — UK — Dark Horse W 8131 CD)
    • Got My Mind Set On You/When We Was Fab 7" single (1989 July 1 — USA — Warner Brothers 7-21891)
    • Got My Mind Set On You/When We Was Fab cassette single (1989 July 1 — USA — Warner Brothers 9 21891-4)
    • Best Of Dark Horse 1976-1989 LP album (1989 October 17 — USA — Dark Horse 9 25726-1)
    • Best Of Dark Horse 1976-1989 CD album (1989 October 17 — USA — Dark Horse 9 25726-2)
    • Best Of Dark Horse 1976-1989 LP album (1989 October 23 — UK — Dark Horse WX 312)
    • Best Of Dark Horse 1976-1989 CD album (1989 October 23 — UK — Dark Horse 9 25726-2)
    • Cloud Nine Remaster CD album (2004 February 24 — USA — Capitol 7243 5 94090 2)
    • The Dark Horse Years 1976 - 1992 CD album (2004 February 24 — USA — Capitol 7243 5 97051 0)
    • Cloud Nine Remaster CD album (2004 March 1 — UK — Dark Horse/Parlophone 594 0902)
    • The Dark Horse Years 1976 - 1992 CD album (2004 March 1 — UK — Dark Horse/Parlophone GHBOX1/594 0852)
    • Cloud Nine digital album (2007 October 9 — Worldwide — Dark Horse/Parlophone 724359409054)
    • Let It Roll: Songs By George Harrison CD album (2009 June 15 — UK — Capitol 50999 965019 24) [fade-out is mixed with audience cheering on the next song, a live version of Something]
    • Let It Roll: Songs By George Harrison CD album (2009 June 16 — USA — Capitol 50999 965019 24) [fade-out is mixed with audience cheering on the next song, a live version of Something]
    • George Harrison – The Vinyl Collection LP box set (2017 February 24 — Worldwide — Capitol 602557090277) [Cloud Nine LP]
    • George Harrison – The Vinyl Collection LP box set (2017 February 24 — Worldwide — Capitol 602557090277) [When We Was Fab 12" picture disc single]
    • Cloud Nine LP album (2017 February 24 — Worldwide — Capitol 0602557136586)

  • Top UK Chart Position: 25
  • Top US Chart Position: 23
  • Cover Versions:
    • Andy Dimes on an album of unknown origin (19??)
    • Shigeru Suzuki Band on the Gentle Guitar Dreams album (2002)
    • Wendy Ip on the He Was Fab: A Loving Tribute To George Harrison album (2002)