George Harrison – Well, what can you say about the wonderful George? Overshadowed by the song-writing genius of Lennon and McCartney, he came into his own on the last 3 albums, writing some of the best Beatles tunes ever. But he was always there, his lead guitar licks embellishing the earlier tracks. But in 1970 the Beatles split up, or confirmed that they were going their own separate ways, although in fact they often guested on each other’s records. He had actually released 2 albums of electronic noodling, which I have never bought, but in the very year the boys called it a day he recorded and released what at the time was the first triple album entitled All things Must Pass. In reality it could have been a double, but there were a couple of alternate versions and a couple of jams best forgotten. Still, it was and remains one of the best ex-Beatle albums ever. Strange that all three (and even Ringo) released great albums in the first couple of years after going solo. Anyway, the album is a cracker. Of course, the big hit single ‘My Sweet Lord’ but also ‘Wah Wah’ and ‘Beware of Darkness’ and even a Dylan cover ‘If Not For You’. And some great session players too. A triumph, which in fact not only established him, but defined him to the point that he never quite produced anything again as brilliant; I think it was, as usual, the quality of the songs themselves – and of course Georges gentle voice and soft note-bending slide guitar. Almost as soon as the album was released George was shocked by the war between Pakistan and the break-away former East Pakistan, known as Bangla-Desh. His immediate response was to put on a concert, which was filmed and another triple album released in 1971 The Concert For Bangla-Desh. The album was mostly George, but with an opening Indian music section with Ravi Shankar, and Dylan himself closing the concert with a very rare appearance. But also Billy Preston sang ‘That’s The Way God Planned It’, and Ringo singing ‘It Don’t Come Easy’ – Badfinger were on stage and a huge army of players including Eric Clapton and Leon Russell, who duetted on ‘Beware of Darkness’. A great album really and for a great cause – it may well have been the inspiration for Live Aid itself 13 years later. Dylan, slowly coming out of a self-imposed seclusion appeared nervous and unsure and safely stuck to songs from his first great period. George resumed his solo career in 1973 with Living In The Material World. In a way the title of this album summed up George’s whole philosophy. He was dedicated to the spiritual world and possible life to come, but meanwhile he had to live here in this life with all its imperfections, and George had many. The album is in many ways a more mature reflection on life than All Things Must Pass; the production is far more acoustic, less bombastic, less ’rock-star’ and more ‘elder statesman’. It was like its predecessor a huge hit with another number one single ‘Give Me Love (Give me Peace On Earth)’, there was a bitter reflection of the breakup of the Fab Four – ‘Sue me, Sue You Blues’ and a few heavily religious songs – but not joyful as in ‘My Sweet Lord’ but more worshipful and serene. Along with that there are a couple of gorgeous ballads, my favourite being closer ‘That Is All’ a gorgeous song later covered splendidly by Harry Nillson (see N). Another lovely song is ‘Don’t Let Me Wait Too Long’, which could have come off a Beatles album. A gentle record but which pointed to Georges slow withdrawal from the role of ‘Pop Star’ and his further involvement in Eastern Spiritualism. The following year George released Dark Horse; a less successful album with some disappointing songs. It all sounds a bit rushed and uninspired. George had just finished a huge world tour and was probably tired and wanting to escape the same frenzy he had rebelled against as a Beatle. Anyway, the album is really quite poor, with song lyrics often about his break-up with Patti Boyd, and almost all the spirituality of Material World out the window, replaced by a pointless and unrewarding hedonism coupled with drug taking. I quite liked George’s Christmas single ‘Ding Dong’ and the track ‘Far East Man’, co-written with Ronnie Wood is quite good too – but overall maybe his worst album – or one of them. He followed this with another under-par disc Extra Texture (Read All About It) in 1975. This was slightly better and had no songs about Eastern Religion. It felt very much like he was desperate to just release something to keep the record company (his last for Apple) happy. Although like his earlier albums it had a stellar cast of players it just sounds flat, the songs poor and even the singing sounds raw and forced. A couple of half decent songs ‘The Answer’s At The End’ and ‘Tired Of Midnight Blue’. 1976 saw George on his own record label, Dark Horse, release his 7th album – Thirty-Three and a Third – both his age and the speed it played at. George had been ill prior to recording and was indulging in alcohol and cocaine. He seems though to have got it together for this record; his best since Material World. A more upbeat feel and a together band and a good collection of songs. Singles in America did well, less so in England which was in the middle of Punk and the music press considered the Beatles as well past it. Best songs ‘Crackerbox Palace’, ‘This Song’ and Cole Porter cover ‘True Love’, and ‘You’. 1979 saw the release of a self-titled album ; George Harrison. This far into a career this begins to look a touch desperate, however the album is almost his best so far. After all the turmoil of the Seventies, when he needed to establish himself in his own light, and the touring and drug abuse, George seemed in a safer place. His new wife Olivia (Patti Boyd had departed with Eric) and a child Dhani and George was leading a more settled life. Money worries seemed to have eased too. He was pursuing other interest; gardening – he was re-landscaping Friar Park; Formula 1 racing and of course his involvement with Monty Python and his rescuing the film ‘Life Of Brian’. The songs, after almost three years, seem more mature and less hurried. The singing is perfect and the production seems light and lets the music breathe. Almost every song is a winner, hard to pick favourites though I especially like ‘Here Comes The Moon’ (almost a pair with the song on Abbey Road), ‘Faster’ about motor racing and opener ‘Love Comes To Everyone’. At last George seemed happy, no longer anything to prove and in his mid-thirties a more mature man. George was being pushed by Warner Brothers for new product and the slightly rushed Somewhere In England appeared in 1981. Initially rejected he reworked some of the songs and discarded a couple. George had been shocked by the murder of John Lennon the previous year and re-wrote the words to ‘All Those Years Ago’ – he also invited Paul and Linda to sing on it while Ringo played drums. It is a fine tribute to John and became a hit single. Other notable tracks – ‘Blood From A Clone’ (about record companies), ‘Teardrops’ and ‘Writing’s On The Wall’. But a bit of a disappointment after the last album. Then in 1982 and his last album for Warner Brothers Gone Troppo. And this has all the hallmarks of the ‘Contractual Obligation’ album. It was his least successful record – and I don’t think George could care less – at this point he had had it with the music business. Nothing of real significance and my least favourite of George’s efforts. George retreated into his film company Handmade Films….and now comes a curiosity. In a moment of madness or sheer naivety George agreed to make a film, Shanghai Surprise, with Madonna and Sean Penn. It was apparently a disaster from day one, despite George recording several songs for, and actually appearing (in the background) singing one of them. The film bombed and NO soundtrack was released, but occasionally tracks have slipped out in strange place. My son-in-law manged to collect 2 rare pressings of Cloud 9 which had these as extra tracks – and I copied them onto my own recording. The quality, both of the songs and the production is poor – but, hey this was a Beatle. Anyway, it counts as one of my records. But it was 2 years later that George had a renaissance. He got friendly with Jeff Lynne of ELO (see E) fame who was now a record producer. Jeff had always revered and loved The Beatles and persuaded George that they could make a great record together. Which they did – Cloud 9 came out in 1987 and it was possibly the best album George had ever made. George had some good songs and now an excellent and sympathetic producer, along with his usual stellar cast of musicians. His voice was mellower and silky but it was the upbeat numbers that were subtle and deftly played. Almost impossible to highlight best songs but the single ‘Got My Mind Set On You’ is a classic and was a huge hit worldwide. At times the production seems almost too Beatle-esque (if such a thing is possible), but that is as much a complement as a criticism. This is music for grown-ups – new tunes on old shoulders. Specially love ‘Fish On The Sand’, ‘Devils Radio’ and ‘Wreck of The Hesperus’. Eric invited George for a short tour of Japan with his band. George rehearsed and played songs from his entire career – some like ‘Old Brown Shoe’ and ‘Taxman’ almost better than the originals, some not so great – but a lovely double album appeared in 1992 Live In Japan. Well, George had just made 2 albums with the Wilburys and no-one knew if he would record solo again, so it was a welcome release – at least for me, but maybe through poor promotion it didn’t sell that well. Never mind, this was a Beatle and I loved it. Best track is possibly ‘While My Guitar Gently Weeps’. Great to just hear George sounding relaxed and happy playing live again.
This late career success did not prompt George back into a full time return to music – but it maybe became the spur for his two albums with The Travelling Wilburys (see T). Sadly, though he was working on a new album as he knew he was dying from cancer, his last album was released posthumously – Brainwashed (2002). Actually, quite a good, if slightly subdued sounding, album. The songs are pretty good and Jeff Lynne and son Dhani did the production. Best songs ‘Any Road’, ‘Pisces Fish’ and ‘the Devil and The Deep Blue Sea.’. A nice, if sadly posthumous, record. Of course, in the nature of things this wasn’t quite the end. Various Greatest hits, of which I have Let It Roll, a nice collection, reminding us of the large number of great songs he released – two slight rarities – ‘Cheer Down’ (a Tom Petty co-write from film Lethal Weapon 2) and a (as far as I know) never recorded song by Dylan ‘I Don’t Want To Do It’ (from Porky’s Revenge Soundtrack). Also 3 live Beatles songs from Bangla Desh concert, but strangely no Bangla Desh itself. I would probably have included half a dozen songs not on this, but there you go. George also contributed and was a driving force behind a charity album for his wife Olivia’s Romanian Angel Appeal. The resulting album was Nobody’s Child released in 1990. The title track was credited to the Wilbury’s but was mostly George and Jeff Lynne; George included a live version of ‘Homeward Bound’ a duet with Paul Simon; he also played guitar on 2 tracks, one by Eric Clapton of an unreleased George song ‘That Kind Of Woman’. The album is actually quite good in itself and ends with Ringo singing ‘Little Help From My Friends’ live. After his death his son curated and released Early Takes Volume 1 in 2012 (sadly volume 2 has never arrived) consisting of demo’s George made mostly for All Things Must Pass. But a couple of real rarities – singing Dylan’s ‘Mama You’ve been On My Mind’ and ‘Let It Be Me’ another Dylan favourite. Very lovely versions, stripped down and acoustic; a great coda to his music. A couple of years after his death The Concert For George was released. A truly stellar cast assembled at the Royal Albert Hall to play Georges music. Some lovely versions and a whole disc of Indian Music just as George would have wanted. Featuring Jeff lynne, Eric, Joe Brown, Tom Petty, Billy Preston, Paul and Ringo – a star studded cast sung his songs: a beautiful tribute to one of my heroes.