I'd Have You Anytime/My Sweet Lord/Wah-Wah/Isn't It A Pity/What Is Life/If Not For You/Behind That Locked Door/Let It Down/Run Of The Mill/Beware Of Darkness/Apple Scruffs/The Ballad Of Frankie Crisp (Let It Roll)/Awaiting You All/All Things Must Pass/I Dig Love/Art Of Dying/Isn't It A Pity (Version Two)/Hear Me Lord/Out Of The Blue/It's Johnny's Birthday/Plug In/I Remember (Jeep)/Thanks For The Pepperoni
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 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.
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.
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.
** 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)
Give Me Love (Give Me Peace On Earth)/Sue Me, Sue You Blues/The Light That Has Lighted The World/Don't Let Me Wait Too Long/Who Can See It/Living In The Material World/The Lord Loves The One (That Loves The Lord)/Be Here Now/Try Some Buy Some/The Day The World Gets 'Round/That Is All
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 seeping 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)
Hari’s On Tour (Express)/Simply Shady/So Sad/Bye Bye Love/Maya Love/Ding, Dong, Ding, Dong/Dark Horse/Far East Man/Is It ‘He’ (Jai Sri Krishna)
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, Ding 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)
You/The Answer's At The End/This Guitar (Can't Keep From Crying)/Ooh Baby (You Know That I Love You)/World Of Stone/A Bit More Of You/Can't Stop Thinking About You/Tired Of Midnight Blue/Grey Cloudy Lies/His Name Is Legs (Ladies And Gentlemen)
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 attention to, surprisingly, was in 1982.
Wake Up My Love/That's The Way It Goes/I Really Love You/Greece/Gone Troppo/Mystical One/Unknown Delight/Baby Don't Run Away/Dream Away/Circles
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. 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, lets listen to it and 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.
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.
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.