Wednesday, 31 March 2021

George Harrison




George Harrison - the quiet one, the one who first went weird, the one who courted the gurus, the one with the Indian music obsession, with the global conscience and the taste for movie production, motor racing and more beautiful women than many gave him credit for. He was also the Beatle with the coolest music address book - Dylan, Clapton, Petty, Lynne etc. For all that though, he remained something of an enigma - bruised from numerous song rejections while with The Beatles and a series of comparatively unsuccessful solo albums (save All Things Must Pass). It always seemed as if he never quite made it, even while in the Beatles. I can’t help but get a “poor old George” feeling whenever I think of him. I was never a “proper” fan of his, though, but his two big hit singles from the early seventies - My Sweet Lord and Give Me Love (Give Me Peace On Earth) - remain very close to me, part of my early-mid teenage years. However, I have grown to love his albums over the years and they always leave me sad that he was taken to soon. As a musical figure, I really miss him.... 


All Things Must Pass (1971)

George Harrison’s bloated triple album, from late 1970, certainly out-did McCartney or The Plastic Ono Band. It was a huge achievement in many ways, as Harrison managed to blend his increasing spiritual devotion and motivation with some good, accessible rock music. Personally, though, I have always found the album to be a half-good, half-bad frustrating one. I have problems with the sound and production, which I will refer to as the review progresses.

The opener is a laid-back, somewhat sleepy and solemn collaboration between Harrison and Bob Dylan in I'd Have You Anytime. It has beautiful parts, though, and a beguiling vocal from Harrison. Then came My Sweet Lord, known all around the world now. Its iconic acoustic and slide guitar intro is just so nostalgic. It is the dark afternoons of late 1970 again. Lyrically, of course it tapped in to the zeitgeist of religious experimentation and searches for spiritual peace that pervaded the beginning of the seventies. I loved it then and still do, however. So evocative.

Wah-Wah has some excellent guitar, but the mushy drum sound and generally crashing backing spoils it. There is a horn riff in there somewhere, but even on this supposedly remastered version it is difficult to hear properly, which is such a shame. The production has, in my opinion, always been awful on this track. Harrison was searching for a Spector-esque Wall Of Sound, indeed, using Spector himself to help him out on the production, but in many respects it just ended up as a muffled, trebly wall of frustration. For me, anyway. It is nigh on unlistenable. In many respects it is the worst track on the album. Many others are sonically much better.

The next track, though, the impressive and lengthy 
Isn't It A Pity (rejected as a Beatles track as far back as the Revolver sessions, incidentally), restores the quality. It has a rich, warm bassy sound, particularly when the drums kick in. Harrison’s vocal is haunting and plaintive and overall, the track is very atmospheric. Lovely strings merge with Harrison’s guitar half way through. It should have ended at around five minutes though. Oasis surely took bits of this to influence their Be Here Now album.

What Is Life is excellent. Vibrant and lively, with airs of mid-sixties Beatles and a catchy hook. It suffers a little from the Wah-Wah production gremlins, however, (the horns are buried under the wall of sound) but I still enjoy it a lot more than Wah-Wah. It would have made a good single. Great guitar riff on it, particularly in the intro. Dylan’s If Not For You is delivered in a beautiful, steel guitar country rock style. Harrison’s voice suits it down to the ground. He even seems to be trying to imitate Dylan at some points.
The country rock groove continues with the melodious, once again steel guitar dominated country-ish vibe of Behind That Locked Door. There is some good sound quality on this one. No wall of sound = great sound - on this album at least (and I am a sixties Spector fan). 

Let It Down again starts with some cacophonous noise, but settles down into a reasonable track. Harrison sounds almost like Lennon in places and the drums are very Starr-like. It is a track that I enjoy for half of it while the other half irritates me, I’m afraid. It ends raucously. For that reason, so much of this album is, for me, unrealised potential.

The next track, 
Run Of The Mill, sees a great improvement, however. It sounds clear, Beatles-ish and is much more of a pleasure to listen to. Excellent clear drum and guitar sounds on it with a warm, vibrant bass too and a stronger vocal from Harrison. Beware Of Darkness starts the old “side three” and is a nice one. Great sound on it again, a mysterious vocal and a generally beguiling, Dylanesque ambience. Harrison’s strange accent “take curr, bewurr” is odd, though, listening to it now. Scousers don’t talk like that anymore. It is more "take caiiir” now. 
Apple Scruffs is a light but appealing throwaway, with some Lindisfarne-style harmonica. Enjoyable but dispensable. Ballad Of Frankie Crisp (Let It Roll) is interesting. Chugging and powerful in its pounding drum and funky piano sound. Harrison’s vocalists somewhat distant, however. The track never quite gets there, in my opinion. Awaiting You All sees a return to an unclear muffled sound. Somewhere beneath that murk lies a fetching, lively song. Spoilt again, unfortunately.

All Things Must Pass
 (another one rejected for The Beatles) is an improvement. It is a little bit murky in the production, with Harrison’s voice too far down in the mix, though. Maybe it just revealed weaknesses in his voice, thinking about it. The “big’ sound tended to drown him out. 
The extremely Lennonesque I Dig Love is one of my favourites, however. I like the catchy and potent drum and piano “riff” bit that underpins it. It reminds of me of David Bowie's "Heroes" album in places (the piano). Art Of Dying suffers from the sound thing again, but it sort of works on this one. Not quite sure why. At the same time, I still can’t hear those horns properly. Nice bit of guitar work half way through though. The second version of Isn't It A Pity is actually my preferred version, shorter and more nuanced. Hear Me Lord is another good track in a late sixties Beatles slowed-down bluesy rock stye. There are hints of Pink Floyd on here, for me. Maybe they listened to this while writing Dark Side Of The Moon. It certainly sounds like it in places.

** The plaintive bonus track I Live For You is similarly appealing and, again, very, very Beatles in its sound and ambience. Harrison’s slide guitar comes into its own on here. A pity it wasn’t on the original album.

Of course, there are also the Apple Jams which took up the old sides five and six. Did anyone play them much at the time, I wonder? Or indeed, do they now? Actually, Out Of The Blue is quite enjoyable, as are most of them. Certainly the sound quality is much more tolerable on Out Of The Blue - a really clear guitar sound. The piano-guitar bit at six minutes sounds very Rolling Stones on 1974’s Fingerprint File - the link being Billy Preston. Eight minutes in and I’m still enjoying it. Plug Me In is a rocker, and most enjoyable. Big, punchy and bassy. So, in conclusion (my review has been as sprawling as the album itself!) this is an album which contains around four tracks that were, in my view, produced to death and suffer for it. The wonders of digital technology means I can select the others at times. When I do so, I have a more enjoyable album. The sad thing is, due to these production gripes and its bloated size I find I listen to McCartney more than I listen to this, which is a shame. Isn’t it a pity.


Living In The Material World (1973) 


Over two years since his previous gargantuan triple album, some people had sort of forgotten about George Harrison and his return here was something of a surprise (to my fourteen year-old self, anyway, if not to the music media, who were clamouring for it). I already perceived Harrison as a washed-out old hippy. The album sort of confirms that, but it is a sensitive creation all the same. With all that vibrant glam rock around it was not really surprising that I felt that way.

On to this now critically-acclaimed (retrospectively) album. Without the tinny, over-the-top, indulgent Phil Spector production of its predecessor, however, we get a much warmer, more accessible and chunky sound that is far more to my taste. The album has many hippy themes and it shows that Harrison was the one Beatle who really continued burning that White Album candle long after it had extinguished for the others.


Give Me Love (Give Me Peace On Earth) is a nice throwback to the last album, but without the bombast, having a winning, gentle acoustic melody and some of that trademark Harrison guitar sound such as used on My Sweet Lord. I liked it a lot back in 1973 for its understated feel, and I still do. Sue Me, Sue You Blues is a robust, bluesy, late Beatles-style chugger in that Old Brown Shoe style, featuring some fine slide guitar and piano and Harrison's typically cynical lyrics. The Light That Has Lighted The World is a sad and sombre number expressing Harrison's hope for the future, albeit in a most quiet, hangdog way, as he regrets that people can't accept that he has changed. It is most moving song. The tempo raises on the archetypal Harrison gentle rock of Don't Let Me Wait Too Long. There are smatterings of Lennon effect to be found all over this album, especially on this song. Who Can See It is a plaintive piano-driven ballad with a bit of a McCartney feel to it. Harrison's voice has a natural sadness on this song and it grows on me. Living In The Material World is a strong song  - as George tells John and Paul that they are in the material world - with a solid drum sound and an enjoyable mid-song tabla bit of percussion together with some good saxophone. Nice one. Up there with the album's best.


As everyone knows, Harrison was always a spiritual guy and he shows it here on The Lord Loves The One (That Loves The Lord), a track whose piety is hidden slightly by a lively, infectious and most enjoyable melody. The acoustic Be Here Now is extremely maudlin, however, although it has its solemn appeal. Harrison is publicly expunging old ghosts with considerable pathos. Try Some Buy Some had been written a few years earlier for Ronnie Spector and has also been covered by David Bowie on his Reality album. It is a bit of a miserable song, for me, though - not one of my favourites. The Day The World Gets 'Round is probably the most Beatles-esque of the songs, with its bold brass sections and sweeping string backing and That Is All continues in the same vein. Although the album was well-received, critically, Harrison's commercial star fell from here on and he kept a comparative low profile until a brief mid-eighties resurgence. Back to this one though - personally, I lose interest a little as it progresses. It is not a work of genius, but it's ok. There you go. It is one of those albums that benefits from several listens and with each listen I find myself appreciating it more. 


** The two non-album bonus tracks, the acoustic Deep Blue, the more vibrant, country rock-ish fun of Miss O'Dell and the hard-hitting Bangla Desh are good ones. 


Dark Horse (1974)

Recorded during Harrison’s self-named “naughty years” (his drug-taking indulged in at the same time as John Lennon’s “lost weekend”) this was a vibrant, punchy album and one that I really like. It plays out a lot like a Lennon album too, I have to say. For me, it is considerably underrated in the canon of ex-Beatles work. What do I know, eh? It was slated by critics at the time, disappointed, no doubt, that there was not much Beatles-ish about it. So what. Harrison was ploughing his own furrow. Time has mellowed some of that criticism, however, which is pleasing. As I said, I like the album.


Hari’s On Tour (Express) is an excellent, really enjoyable saxophone-driven instrumental to start the album with, that features some great guitar riffs too. It rocks as solidly as Harrison had done for quite a while and was recorded with US group LA Express. Simply Shady is muscular and chunky, although Harrison’s voice is a. It overwhelmed by the strength of the dignified rock backing. It’s a good track, though. So Sad is a typical, mournful Harrison rock ballad while Bye Bye Love is a very Lennon-esque cover of the Everly Brothers’ classic. Maya Love is a rumblingly bassy mid-pace rocker with a bluesy feel to it and a nice bass line near the end. It is my personal favourite from the album.


Ding, Dong, Ding, Dong sounds like a Eurovision entry and it is a saxophone-laden romp of a New Year’s song that I have memories of hearing some time back in my dim, distant past. It was released as a single, I believe. Dark Horse is a beguiling, acoustically-driven shuffler of a track that features some Jethro Tull-style flute. Far East Man was written with soon to be Rolling Stone Ronnie Wood. It, unsurprisingly, has a Ronnie Lane-Faces bucolic sleepiness to about it. Is It ‘He’ (Jai Sri Krishna) will undoubtedly have infuriated the album’s many critics. Again, I don’t mind its gentle rhythmic piety.

** The non-album ‘b’ side, I Don’t Care Anymore has George going all Lennon on his spoken intro and for the rest of the song.


Extra Texture (Read All About It) (1975)

Harrison himself described this as a "grubby album" and it has been on the receiving end, like its predecessor, of much criticism, both contemporary and subsequently. Like Lennon and McCartney solo albums from the same period it got slagged off because it wasn't The Beatles. Of course we will never know, but maybe Beatles albums in that period would have sounded like this, with the Lennon and McCartney solo material on them too. I think the best thing to do is forget he was in The Beatles and treat it in isolation.


You harks back to All Things Must Pass in its relatively muffled sound, although it is an improvement on that album's murk. It is dominated, as much of Harrison's material was at this time, by a vibrant saxophone. It is a good opener, but it is a track that sits incongruously with the generally mournful tone of the rest of the album. The Answer's At The End is a sombre, Lennon-esque piano-powered ballad that is ok, but goes on way too long at nearly six minutes. He could have got the message over in half that time. 


A My Sweet Lord-style strummed acoustic guitar introduces the backwards look at While My Guitar Gently Weeps in This Guitar (Can't Keep From Crying). This retrospective approach attracted much criticism, but it still isn't a bad song, possibly the best on the album, ironically. Ooh Baby (You Know That I Love You) is also very Lennon-inspired in its maudlin loved-up feeling, it is like John singing to Yoko. World Of Stone is a chunky late Beatles-Lennon-sounding slow rock ballad. It could almost be early seventies Elton John in places. 


A Bit More Of You briefly reprises You to open the original side two in a bit of a pointless way, because it soon morphs into another hangdog, lachrymose ballad in Can't Stop Thinking About You. I get the impression that the best of this album is behind us now, and that may be the case, but Tired Of Midnight Blue is attractive enough (although it reminds me of the sort of stuff Ringo Starr put on his own solo albums). The same applies to the somnolent Grey Cloudy Lies. Both of these tracks are growers, though. The fun boogie of His Name Is Legs (Ladies And Gentlemen) finally livens proceedings up a bit but it is nothing to justify repeated plays. Listening to these seventies Harrison albums, I can't help but keep thinking that he was "the third Beatle" for a reason. They don't match the solo work of McCartney or Lennon, for me, however occasionally appealing they may be. The next album of his I paid any proper attention to until recently, surprisingly, was in 1982. Before that, however, let's proceed to a few underrated gems....


Thirty-Three And A Third (1976)


Another album trotted out, then, comparatively unnoticed by a music media obsessed with punk. My, how Harrison's star had fallen. It's not too bad at all, however, albeit in its own totally harmless way but the journalists were no doubt getting out their “poor old George” quotes once more. 


Woman Don't You Cry For Me is a deliciously staccato, shuffling grover of a track, featuring slightly funky drums and lots of Hary guitar. Dear One is slow and acoustic but it possesses an anthemic quality to its organ rises before it surprisingly breaks out into a light reggae beat. Beautiful Girl is a light, breezy, McCartney-esque love song that threatens no-one but no doubt gently pleased many. This Song's rocking piano riff replicates the guitar one from T. Rex's Get It On. Ironic, as it was a song that complained about the plagiarism kerfuffle regarding My Sweet Lord. It is a fine rock track, despite that, catchy and lively, with a good saxophone solo in the middle.


See Yourself is mid-paced and very late-era Beatles-ish with Lennonesque tinges about it. Lyrically, George is in cynical mode once more. It's What You Value is a solid, riffy rocker, featuring a cowbell-driven Stones-style riff. It is my favourite cut on here. The upbeat True Love is a good one too although some may find it a little lyrically underwhelming. Pure Smokey is once more easy-going and romantic. It is, as its title suggests, a tribute to Smokey Robinson. The lively and infectious Crackerbox Palace seems to find George getting a bit weary of gurus and the like. Not before time, some may say. Learning How To Love You is a tender, slow love song to end on, with a lovely mid-song acoustic solo. As with so many of Harrison's albums, they meant nothing at their time of release, really, but, in retrospect, I find them all ok and eminently listenable. There is something laid-back and summery about this, as with many of Harrison's albums.


* Tears Of The World is an excellent, ecologically-aware non-album track that should have been on the album. 


George Harrison (1979)

This was a bright, breezy and highly enjoyable 1979 release that was completely at odds with all the punk and new wave exploding all around. It was largely acoustic-driven "soft rock". There is not too much one can say about it in terms of detailed analysis, other than it is just very nice indeed. It just exudes a warm, comforting feeling. I really like it. Its effect is rather like that of Wings's Back To The Egg from the same year - irrelevant at the time but retrospectively attractive. In that respect it is a bit of an underrated treasure.


Love Comes To Everyone was a great opener - laid-back, melodious and summery - all very late seventies Supertramp-ish. As I said, it was completely different to much contemporary music but George seemed quite happy to plough his own mid-seventies easy-going furrow, albeit without the overt religion. He was in danger of rapidly becoming a cultural anachronism, however, as indeed were all the ex-Beatles, a situation that changed the following year with John Lennon's murder. Not Guilty was a song rejected for inclusion on The White Album. It is a smooth, airy and jazzy number that washes over you most pleasantly, featuring some lovely bass and electric piano. It sounds nothing like it would have sounded on The Beatles' album, I'm sure. Indeed the version on The Beatles Anthology is much more rockier, full of typical fuzzy guitar. To be honest it should have made the cut instead of Rocky bloody Raccoon or Martha My effing Dear. Here Comes The Moon was a musical take-off of Here Comes The Sun, of course, but it stands up competently in its own right, being extremely catchy. Soft Hearted Hana is a late-era Beatles-ish slide guitar-dominated paean to magic mushrooms.


One of the album's highlights is the catchy Blow Away, which, for some reason, reminds me in its chorus of Depeche Mode's See You. The old Harrison guitar features strongly on this one too. The acoustically rocky Faster has Harrison combining his love for motor racing with his music, complete with engine revving noises. It almost has an ABBA-like melodious orchestration to it. It reminds me of ELO as well. Dark Sweet Lady is a cool, gentle love song enhanced by some beautiful acoustic guitar and Your Love Is Forever, with its lovely warm bass line and typical Harrison mid-song guitar solo, continues in the same vein. That summery, beach vibe pervades all over Soft Touch and the album finishes with the later-era ELO pop vibes of If You Believe. It sounds patronising to endow an ex-Beatle's offering with the phrase "nice little album", doesn't it? But that is exactly what it is. 


Somewhere In England (1981)


George served up more of the same in this virtual companion to the previous album.

The first track, the catchy and very enjoyable Blood From A Clone, is lightly reggae-influenced while Unconsciousness Rules rocks in that poppy early eighties ELO style that Harrison used a lot as does the suitably lyrically-lachrymose TeardropsLife Itself sees him expressing religious convictions for the first time in a while with some no matter to which God you pray stuff. It could be written to a lover but it is clear by the end that he is speaking to a deity. All Those Years Ago is a deeply touching tribute to John Lennon, just a few months after his death. Only Ringo and Harrison have written nostalgic, affectionate songs about their time in The Beatles while McCartney and Lennon just sniped at each other. Indicative of their respective characters? Probably.


Baltimore Oriole is a fetching Hoagy Carmichael cover, as indeed was the equally impressive Hong Kong Blues. It is possibly significant that two of the album's best tracks were cover versions, however. We also get some fine country rock on That Which I Have Lost. This is a nice song, but it was far more 1971 than 1981. Writing's On The Wall is very early eighties in its laid-back, keyboard-driven AOR style and the nicely upbeat Save The World has George putting his environmental concerns up front. This was a gently pleasurable album, just like its predecessor although it is not quite as good and you have to say that it was completely out of kilter with what was going on in 1981 as indeed was his mullet and moustache combo.


Gone Troppo (1982)

As we have been discovering, they were funny things,
George Harrison albums. After the mammoth offering that was 1970's All Things Must Pass, he seemed to put out an album every three to five years, and it always seemed to me as if he did it because he thought "I was in a band once, I'm a musician, this is what I do...". In the meantime, he explored his other hobbies away from music - movies producing, car racing, mysticism, womanising. As more and more years went by since Harrison had been in the Beatles, the less I, personally, viewed him as a musician putting out regular work. Many times I found myself almost forgetting about him, even Ringo was more in my consciousness. So, when this album came out, in 1982, it was a virtual irrelevance. Punk had been and gone, post punk, new wave, two tone, new romanticism were all around. Harrison suddenly remembered he was a musician and collected some old friends - Ray Cooper, Dave Mattacks, Billy Preston, Herbie Flowers, Gary Brooker and Syreeta among others and produced a laid-back summery poppy album full of the synthesised backing that so blighted the eighties. It was a sort of contemporary Beach Boys, lazing in the sun sort of thing that attracted a lot of critical opprobrium. 
So, let's see if it was as bad as they all said.
                               
Wake Up My Love is a lively slice of synth-driven pop, with a vague appeal. Harrison's voice sounds remarkably like Traveling Wilburys mate Jeff Lynne on this. It is by far the album's most upbeat and accessible track. 
That's The Way It Goes features some typical Harrison My Sweet Lord high-pitched guitar and a mid seventies Beach Boys vibe about it. Actually it is not a bad track at all, in a light, airy sort of way. I Really Love You is a catchy fifties "doo-wop" pastiche that would have been fine in 1962, as opposed to 1982. Greece is a pretty throwaway, light poppy number. Material like this and the slightly feeble Gone Troppo were really quite unimpressive.

Mystical One
 is a laid-back slightly Lennon-esque easy listening slow rock song. Again, it is very much like the stuff The Beach Boys released in the mid-late seventies. Both they and Harrison had seen better days. 
Unknown Delight also has a Lennon feel to it, a nice bass line and a mournful-sounding vocal from Harrison. Baby Don't Run Away is a bit Beatles-ish but also a bit unmemorable. Oh I guess it's nice enough, I suppose. It just doesn't stick in the mind. 

Dream Away is another very singalong pop number with a few hidden Harrison-esque bits scattered around here and there. Circles is a typically Harrison plaintive, Beatles-style ballad. His voice, while never great, always carried a bit of a sad quality to it. Harrison would not release another album after this for another five years, popular mythology suggests it is this album that put him off, seeing him lose his muse. We'll never know now. It is all pleasant enough, with Harrison playful and relaxed as opposed to serious and mystical, but completely culturally inessential when it was released. This album passed me by in 1982, but I can't imagine it appealing to anyone much back then. Listening to it now, it is not as pointless as it would have seemed then, though. It now stands as a bit of a curio. Thoroughly out of time, but strangely interesting, just in places. Overall, though, it has to go down as "one for completists", but, whenever I come across one of those I feel compelled to give it a chance. To be fair, there are a fair few Paul McCartney albums that were certainly no better than this and, on listening to it again, it is growing on me, in an unthreatening, harmless way.

Cloud Nine (1987)

Finally, one of Harrison's best-selling and most popular albums was this one, from 1987. Produced by Jeff Lynne and including Eric Clapton, Ringo Starr and Elton John among its musicians it is very eighties-sounding, blatantly commercial, tinny and sometimes synthesiser-powered (not too much, though). Lynne made Harrison sound like later-era ELO and it contains no spiritual indulgences, just slick eighties pop. Some archetypal Harrison guitar can still be found here and there, though, and, to be fair, Lynne has skilfully and lovingly brought his mate back from musical oblivion with this highly enjoyable offering. 

George even goes all Ringo and looks back on his Beatles experience at one point too, on When We Was Fab. He also gets wryly cynical on the excellent The Wreck Of The Hesperus, comparing himself, strangely, to an old wrecked ship. Cloud Nine finds George in surprisingly funky mood while Devil's Radio is excellent Lynne-rock that brings the best out of Harrison. I have read some criticisms of Fish On The Sand, but I like it quite a bit. As accessible and appealing as it undoubtedly is, I have to say I perversely prefer Harrison's work from the early-mid seventies. That doesn't mean that they are better, though, and on balance, this is probably George's most complete and cohesive album, standing deservedly on the same level as many McCartney or Lennon solo albums. The album provided him with a number one single in Got My Mind Set On You, too, and that duly brought him back into the public's mind having gone missing for what seemed like ages. He sounded disarmingly as if he was having fun on it as well, for maybe the first real time.

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