George Harrison: After the Beatles
“George was the funniest Beatle,” former Monty Python Eric Idle recalled last spring during his visit with the other Pythons for the Tribeca Film Festival.
“Well, all the Beatles were funny, that’s why they were successful in America,” Michael Palin chimed in. “Ringo was the funniest person anybody had ever seen on television with his funny nose, funny hair. Everybody knew his name first. Because they were so funny at the airport, I think the comedy was what got them into America initially.”
“Even when George was asked why he had given us five million pounds, or whatever it was, to finance The Life of Brian, he said, ‘Well, I just want to see it,’” Idle recalled. “We were all the same generation. They went into rock and we went into comedy.
“Put it this way,” Idle said with a laugh, “he was hardly the Quiet One.”
While Harrison’s wit is notable, his work as a solo artist – beginning in earnest with the sprawling masterpiece All Things Must Pass, right up to the posthumous Brainwashed – is peerless, even in the company of ex-Beatles.
“George was a beautiful guy,” Ringo Starr told me last year. “He loved making music, and I loved making music with him.”
The good news is that Harrison’s solo catalog is now available on Tidal. The albums – Wonderwall Music, Electronic Sound, All Things Must Pass, Living In The Material World, Dark Horse, Extra Texture, 33 1/3, George Harrison, Somewhere In England, Gone Troppo, Cloud 9 and Brainwashed – were all recently remastered and sound great.
Harrison’s solo work began with Wonderwall, a fun and fascinating, soundtrack to the film of the same name, featuring all too brief Indian-tinged song snippets that will make you smile at their 1968-ness. Especially good is “In The First Place,” recorded with the Remo Four.
Electronic Sound, which followed soon after when Harrison was still a Beatle, is exactly what the title says it is. Clearly ahead of its time – Harrison’s son Dhani has said you can hear the beginnings of all electronic music in its deep, 1969 grooves – it’s a fascinating experimental side-project that will be new to most listeners.
But really, Harrison’s solo career began with All Things Must Pass, from 1970.
There’s not much I can say here that would be new to any fan of Harrison’s music, as this is the solo Beatles album that – along with Plastic Ono Band, Band On The Run and Ringo – is an acknowledged absolute must-have, but suffice to say that the remaster is warmer and richer sounding than at any time since its earliest vinyl pressings.
Living In The Material World, from 1973, has always been a fan favorite. The “preachy” lyrics that critics (and some fans) railed against upon its release never bothered anyone who followed Harrison seriously, and hardly detract from the fantastic playing and arrangements.
In fact, for more casual fans, who probably know All Things Must Pass inside and out, Material World will probably sound freshest and is probably the one to dive into first (and maybe even most). It’s sharper and crisper sonically than ever before, showcasing Harrison’s exquisite, multi-layered guitar work, and is a nice, manageable length.
It’s also arguably a more cohesive album than its predecessor. The inclusion of the “Bangla Desh” single as a bonus track is a welcome addition and the ground-breaking charity single sounds better than ever.
The mid-1970s were undoubtably a low water mark in Harrison’s life and career.
It was around the time of 1974′s Dark Horse when the well-documented troubles of George’s home life occurred — the matter of a messy love triangle/divorce with his best friend Eric Clapton and his ex-wife Pattie Boyd, and a reported crisis of faith to boot.
The effects of the fallout from the relative failure of Dark Horse and his 1974 tour with Ravi Shankar on Extra Texture, from 1975, are to blame, but those two albums are more uneven than the rest of Harrison’s solo catalog, though they still are great sounding in remastered form.
Both include some sublime moments (“The Answer’s At The End”, anyone?), but are ultimately a step down from the heights of Harrison’s first two (proper) solo releases. Both include bonus tracks (“I Don’t Care Anymore”, “Dark Horse” and a dolled up Platinum Weird version of “This Guitar (Can’t Keep From Crying)”) that are nice to hear, too.
Long overlooked in Harrison’s catalog, it’s great that Dark Horse and Extra Texture have gotten some spit and polish are are now expanded.
Harrison’s next two releases, the superb, if a tad period-sounding, 33 1/3, from 1976, and the sublime, self-titled George Harrison, from 1979, are true gems.
Chock full of superb songs – “Dear One”, “Beautiful Girl” and “Crackerbox Palace”, named for Harrison’s castle-like home in Henley-On-Thames, from 33 1/3, and “Love Comes To Everyone”, “Not Guilty”, “Blow Away”, “Faster” and “Your Love Is Forever” from George Harrison – proved that Harrison could still deliver All Things Must Pass-level songwriting.
For anyone new to Harrison’s catalog, these are a great introduction. And if you’re an old fan, you’ll be pleasantly surprised when reacquainting yourself with these lost treasures.
It was around the time of George Harrison that the financing fell out of the Monty Python troupe’s film The Life of Brian, due to its controversial religious satire. Being a friend and fan, Harrison stepped in as only a former-Beatle could.
“People don’t know how hard it was to get money for The Life of Brian,” Eric Idle recalled. “People think Monty Python was a great success, but there’s one reason we made Brian, and that was George Harrison. EMI had put the money up, and then they took the trouble to read the script.
“Then they withdrew from the project and paid us damages and included a secrecy clause, but not a secrecy clause about the secrecy clause. George stepped in and financed the film himself. He said he just wanted to see the film. I’ve always said that it was the most anyone’s ever paid for a cinema ticket.”
Life of Brian turned out to be on of the highest-grossing films of the year, Harrison subsequently went on to form Handmade Films – which had great success with Time Bandits, by the Pythons’ own Terry Gilliam, and Mona Lisa.
Then John Lennon was shot dead in front of his New York City apartment building.
It wasn’t until 1981 that Harrison released Somewhere In England.
It included more great tunes from Harrison, including “Unconsciousness Rules”, “Teardrops”, “Life Itself”, “Writing’s On The Wall” and “Save The World”, but it was the lead single, “All Those Years Ago”, that captured the public’s attention. The track reunited Harrison with Ringo Starr and Paul McCartney for the first time since the end of the Beatles, and paid tribute to his fallen friend and bandmate.
After 1982′s Gone Troppo – another solid album, which featured stand-out tracks like “That’s The Way It Goes”, “Dream Away”, the Beatles cast-off “Circles” and the title track – which Harrison refused to promote in his increasing frustration with the music business, Harrison took a break from music.
“That was the greatest opportunity of my life, really,” producer and Electric Light Orchestra frontman Jeff Lynne told me of the 1986 call from Harrison that signaled his interest in making a new album.
“It was the greatest opportunity I could have wished for. Because, for a while after ELO ended, I just stayed at home, practicing in my home studio. I was learning how to really use the equipment; really know the studio. I was learning how to engineer and all and I actually got pretty good. I got the hang of the [mixing] desk and everything and I by the time I was ready, as luck would have it, I was having dinner with Dave Edmonds one night and he said, ‘Oh, George asked me to ask you if you’d fancy working with him on his new album.’ ‘Um, yeah. You bet!’
“So I went up to George’s house and we had a meeting and he wanted to make sure we’d be good pals if we were going to work together. So he said, ‘You fancy going with me to Australia to the Grand Prix?’ I said, ‘Ha! Yeah, okay.’ I mean, I’d only just met him a few days before. And he said, ‘Meet me in Hawaii and we’ll go from there.’ So that’s what happened. We went 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.”
The album they made, Cloud 9, stands on par with All Things Must Pass as one of the best solo albums by any former-Beatle. Every song is a gem, from beginning to end, and it yielded the worldwide smash “Got My Mind Set On You” and was the jumping off point for the Traveling Wilburys.
Harrison toured Japan with pal Eric Calpton in 1991 (an album called Live In Japan was released), and made two stellar albums with Lynne, Tom Petty, Roy Orbison and Bob Dylan as the Traveling Wilburys, but he wouldn’t release another solo album in his lifetime.
Following a several-year battle, George passed away from complications from lung cancer November 29, 2001 – though not before he had a final lunch with Paul and Ringo two weeks prior. His ashes were scattered in the Ganges and Yamuna Rivers, according to Hindu tradition.
In 2002, a year after his death, Brainwashed was released.
Harrison had long been working on the songs that made up the album, and left Lynne, who produced the album with Harrison’s son Dahni, detailed notes on how he wanted – and didn’t want – Brainwashed to be completed
“Olivia told me that we both loved each other’s songs,” Lynne said. “I think that was the initial reason why he wanted to work with me because he liked the sound I made and he liked my style of songwriting. But he was very clear about how he wanted the album to be finished. He wanted it to be simple; almost like dressed up demos. We took that very seriously and it turned out alright.”
“I discovered the Casino by looking at the Beatles, around 1966,” musician Paul Weller confessed to me on why he plays an Epiphone Casino guitar. “It’s the same reason I bought an SG, as well. I saw George Harrison playing one around the time of Revolver. It was kind of, ‘Good enough for me!’”
“There was a dream to play whatever my heroes were playing,” Mike Campbell, of Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers told me of what drew him to his first guitars. “When I saw George Harrison with a Rickenbacker or something, I’d always dream about one of those. I loved those guitars. I got to know George, I played his guitars, I sat with him and traded ideas and songs, eventually. It was a huge thrill.”
Harrison’s mark on music is huge, and rock-solid as a member of the most famous band to ever walk the earth. But his mark as a solo artist is equally important.
“George wrote brilliantly original songs,” Lynne said. “He played the greatest slide guitar and had the most amazing sense of humor. Some of the happiest days of my life were spent in the studio with George. The music we made reflects that.”
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Frequent TIDAL contributor Jeff Slate is a New York City-based solo singer-songwriter and music journalist. He has interviewed and written intimate portraits of everyone from Led Zeppelin and The Clash to Monty Python and rock musicals on Broadway. He is an avid collector of rock ‘n’ roll books and bootlegs and has an encyclopedic knowledge of all things Dylan and the Beatles.
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