“Don’t Bother Me” is the first song written by George Harrison to appear on an album by English rock group the Beatles. The upbeat rock and roll song originally appeared on the group’s With the Beatles album in the United Kingdom, released in 1963, and on their Meet the Beatles! album in the United States, released in 1964.
Harrison wrote the song while ill in bed at a hotel room in Bournemouth, England, where the Beatles were playing some shows during the summer of 1963. He considered it an exercise in whether he could write a song, later saying, “at least it showed me that all I needed to do was keep on writing, and then maybe eventually I would write something good.” Harrison received a writing credit for two earlier songs, “In Spite of All the Danger” (McCartney/Harrison) and “Cry for a Shadow” (Harrison/Lennon). Both were recorded by The Beatles but neither was released officially by the band until 1995’s Anthology 1 compilation. Because the former was largely a McCartney composition (Harrison received a credit simply for playing the guitar solo) and the latter was an instrumental pastiche of the Shadows, “Don’t Bother Me” is considered Harrison’s first song by most (including the composer himself). Harrison did not think highly of the song, not mentioning it in an otherwise comprehensive overview of his Beatles compositions in his autobiography I Me Mine. The Beatles never performed it live or at any of their BBC sessions.
After “Don’t Bother Me”, it was not until 1965’s Help! album that any more Harrison-penned songs (“I Need You” and “You Like Me Too Much”) would appear on record. “You Know What to Do” was recorded in 1964, but was not released at the time.
The sullen mood and desolate lyrics—”So go away, leave me alone, don’t bother me”—were unusual for the Beatles at the time but would become characteristic for Harrison. The song mostly stays in a minor key (Em), with a i-IV-i Dorian alternation during the chorus: the Em of “since she’s gone” shifting to a v (Bm chord) on “gone” then an iv (A chord) on “no-one” makes the verse an Aeolian (or natural minor) mode. The chords of the chorus (Em-A-Em) also create the Dorian progression i-IV-i. The song achieves a thick sound through its double-tracked vocal, reverbed guitars, and busy drumming. The elaborate percussion lends the song a Latin rhythm accentuated by its stop-time structure.
On some late-1970’s Canadian stereo pressings of Meet the Beatles!, an alternate version of the song with an extra ‘don’t’ sung at 2:08 is included in place of the standard stereo version.
They recorded the song on 11 and 12 September 1963. They were not satisfied with the version recorded on the eleventh which was recorded in seven takes and did a remake on the twelfth in nine takes from 10-19. Just a few days after the recording was completed, Harrison became the first member of the Beatles to travel to the US when he visited his sister in Benton, Illinois.
“Don’t Bother Me” is one of several songs featured in A Hard Day’s Night, during a scene where the Beatles dance at a nightclub while McCartney’s grandfather gambles elsewhere. At the end of the film, it is erroneously noted as a Lennon–McCartney composition rather than a Harrison composition.
The song is performed in the 1979 biopic motion picture Birth of the Beatles, showing it was performed in Hamburg but this was not the case.
British singer Gregory Phillips released a version of “Don’t Bother Me” as his third single. Though unsuccessful, this was the first cover version of a Harrison composition.
George Harrison – double-tracked vocals, lead guitar
John Lennon – rhythm guitar, tambourine
Paul McCartney – bass guitar, claves
Ringo Starr – drums, bongos
George Martin – producer
Norman Smith – engineer