January 6, 2015

Ah yes, George Harrison. The “quiet Beatle”. The “mystical Beatle”. When it came to The Beatles, I was always a sort of John guy. Most of his stuff had a heavy edge to it, whereas all too often Paul’s stuff was too light and fluffy for my tastes. And George? Well, there really wasn’t enough of his stuff on their records to really know anything else but that it was usually good. After the group split, for several years I dutifully collected each of their solo records, although Ringo’s and Paul’s solo recordings were gradually dropped as my tastes changed and I moved on to other interests. But not John’s. And for a good many years, not George’s.

A couple of summers ago, while back in New England for Goodboys Invitational weekend, I was listening to one of those “deep tracks” channels on Sirius XM radio and heard the title track to George’s third solo album, Living In The Material World, and it brought back fond memories from the early and mid-’70s when it was a favorite album of mine. George’s first real solo album, All Things Must Pass was, of course, great (even before I knew or cared that Phil Spector had produced it!), and I remember dragging my parents and brothers along to the Wamesit Drive-in one Saturday night in 1972 to see George’s “Concert for Bangla Desh” on what was for us kids then “the big screen”. His fifth release, Extra Texture (Read All About It) (released in 1975) was one of my then-girlfriend’s favorites, and many a late Saturday night featured the 8-track of Extra Texture playing quietly in the background while we did the backseat thing by the Andover water treatment plant.

Ahh, youth.

Nothing, of course, lasts forever, and by the time 1975 came I was doing the Top Priority thing with my brother Mark and we were losing our collective heads over The Beach Boys, so, beyond hearing the occasional song on oldies radio or his fine work with the Traveling Wilburys that was pretty much that as far as me and George’s music was concerned. Until, that is, when I heard that great track, upon which I soon picked up the Material World and Extra Texture CDs along with his fourth release, Dark Horse (which I’d never heard from start to finish). I was hooked once again. Knowing he had released quite a few albums after Extra Texture, I knew George’s work would make an interesting music collection. It took a while to get around to it – and there has been a lot of music to listen to – but I finally have my George Harrison music collection finished.

So what of George Harrison’s work? I know there are books out there about his life and his music – not to mention Martin Scorcese’s fine film – but that’s far beyond the scope of this post. My collection is about his music so that’s where I’ll begin and end, from 1970’s All Things Must Pass to 2002’s Brainwashed, completed by his son Dhani and Jeff Lynne, and released several months following his death the previous November.

While I’m gonna break Harrison’s music down into three phases: the Phil Spector period (All Things Must Pass through Living In the Material World and the “Bangla Desh” single), the “very George” period between 1974’s Dark Horse and 1982’s Gone Troppo, and his Jeff Lynne period featuring the albums Cloud Nine and Brainwashed, all of his recordings feature similar traits that he, Spector, and Lynne would feature in different ways: wit, cynicism, joy, spirituality, sadness, recollection, and optimism, all of which in a characteristic style featuring highly textured layers of guitars (most especially his signature slide work) and piano, bass, and drums.

If there is an overall quality to Harrison’s work that I find so attractive, it is its genuine honesty and, for lack of a better term (and excluding many of the Spector productions), its “down to earthiness”. Once George and Phil went their separate ways, while each album might feature a handful of songs (or less) that would stand apart from the others, Harrison’s work often meandered within the frame of mind he brought to each album. If Extra Texture and 1976’s Thirty Three and 1/3 had bitter undertones reflecting his use of cocaine and the legal battles involving “My Sweet Lord”‘s copyright infringement with The Chiffons’ “He’s So Fine”), 1979’s George Harrison and 1981’s Somewhere in England reflect a more relaxed and positive approach.

In my view, Harrison’s talents were never more effectively presented than it was by Phil Spector on All Things Must Pass, the “Bangla Desh” single, and, to a lesser extent, on Living In The Material World. All Things Must Pass had a lot going for it in terms of song quality: all those years living in the shadow of Lennon/McCartney left Harrison with a trove of material he would never have at his disposal ever again. But more than that, Spector knew good material and how to present it. It wasn’t all “Wall of Sound” like “What Is Life” or “Awaiting On You All”; listen to the soft textures of “I’d Have You Anytime”, “Behind That Locked Door”, or “My Sweet Lord”. The “Bangla Desh” single throbs with earnestness and punch; you can really feel Spector’s hand at work in the sound of the drums and the horns. Living In The Material World‘s “The Day The World Gets Round” and “The Light That Has Lighted The World” are just two examples of lovely tunes brought to life by Spector’s sparkling production, and “Give Me Love (Give Me Peace on Earth)” has just the right low-key arrangement to keep its message from being too preachy.

By the time Jeff Lynne hooks up with Harrison, it’s as if the two had been working together for years: Lynne and Harrison create a modern pop sound that seems perfect for the kind of life Harrison was living by the late ’80s – he seems comfortable in his own skin and not afraid to let it show. “Handle With Care” and “Heading For The Light”, from the Wilbury’s first album are full of sardonic wit and optimism, qualities shared by Brainwashed‘s title tune and “Any Road”.

Of course, what attracted me to Harrison’s music to begin with was the duality he lived his life with, that of the material and the spiritual. And there’s little doubt that, his spiritual yearnings and interests aside, Harrison lived in the material world and measured his own faults and weaknesses against the attractions of the world he found himself in, as do I. Living In The Material World and Dark Horse would be as “mystical” as he would get; even though you can still find it underlying much of his work after those releases, Harrison’s focus seemed more on creating sound textures and relating stories about the world around him and less of his struggles with it.

In the end, it’s a fine collection. With the exception, that is, of 1982’sGone Troppo, released prior to a five-year absence from the music business and his re-emergence with Jeff Lynne. I actually had to remove a few of Gone Troppo‘s tunes because they’re, well, awful. But when you’re talking thirty years of making music there’s bound to be a stinker in the bunch. But other than that, my George Harrison collection makes for an interesting and enjoyable listen. Harrison became quite the guitarist virtuoso over time, and the way his guitar work works in and out of his songs reveals himself to be one the all-time greats. Maybe the songs themselves aren’t always memorable, but they always have a story to tell.

Filed in: Uncategorized by The Great White Shank at 22:50 | Comments (3)
  1. Interesting post, liked George’s music a lot. Not sure I understand the wallofsound comment about what is life? That’s a great song

    Comment by Candy — January 7, 2015 @ 3:48 pm

  2. Thanks for the comment, Candy – glad you liked (or at least I think you did!) the post. Regarding the wall of sound comment about “What Is Life” – I suppose you’re right. It’s not really that wall-of-soundish, certainly not like “Awaiting On You All”.

    It just so happens my brother Dave is a big fan of the wall of sound, so it’s my mistake I didn’t think of putting in the song from “All Things Must Pass” that might even surpass “Awaiting On You All”.

    Folks, a word of advise. Before you click on this YouTube link to “Wah Wah”, be sure to turn the sound up VERY LOUD to appreciate it in all of it’s wall of sound greatness. I fell in love with it the first time I heard it:


    Thank you, Phil Spector!

    Comment by The Great White Shank — January 7, 2015 @ 9:07 pm

  3. …a few notes on “Wah Wah” that I find pretty interesting:

    I’ve always been amazed that with all the sound and echo that the bass and horns sound very clear and “dry”. Not sure how Phil did it, but it’s pretty cool. Maybe they were tracked afterwards?

    All that percussion you hear shaking in the background is from Sandie Shaw and Dusty Springfield shaking snow chains they had stolen from a truck near Abbey Road Studio. Snow chains! But that was Phil – you don’t get “wall of sound” without having a kitchen sink nearby.

    The “Wah Wah” mentioned by George actually refers to The Beatles. Harrison wrote the song after a fight with John and Yoko.

    Comment by The Great White Shank — January 7, 2015 @ 9:17 pm

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