Reviewed on this page:
Wonderwall Music - Electronic Sound - All Things Must Pass - Living In The Material World - Dark Horse - Thirty-Three & 1/3 - George Harrison - Somewhere In England - Cloud 9 - Traveling Wilburys Vol. 1 - Dark Horse Live In Japan
George Harrison died in Los Angeles on 29 November after a long battle with cancer. His wife and child were with him. No public service is planned at this time.
George Harrison's solo career was a disappointment to a lot of people. The few songs he got onto the Beatles records - "Tax Man," "While My Guitar Gently Weeps," "Something" - hinted at a genuine songwriting talent. And his debut solo album was a landmark, fusing Harrison's spacey Eastern mysticism with a roaring big-band British rock sound that's rarely been matched since. But a series of albums throughout the 70s suffered from creaking vocals, preachy lyrics, and an occasionally slipshod approach to production, despite top-notch session players and continuing support from 60s superstars like Eric Clapton and the other Beatles. By the 80s he had pretty much lost interest in music, shifting instead to a new career as a movie producer.
Indeed, after 1987's Cloud 9 he stopped making studio albums completely, despite one live record and a couple of collaborations with Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr on small side-projects, such as the Anthology series.
Our advice is to get your hands on All Things Must Pass; if you're wild about it, tread cautiously through the rest of George's catalogue.
I've written a review of the only George Harrison biography I know of, Geoffrey Giuliano's Dark Horse. (JA)
I'll just point out that a lot more people were pleasantly surprised by George's solo career than were disappointed: a lot of folks considered him a navel-gazer who had nothing like John and Paul's talent. But his first two solo albums soared to the top of the charts, handily outselling Maclen's contemporaneous efforts, and creating a distinctive post-Beatles sound. Then troubles came, including a court which found that his hit single "My Sweet Lord" was copied from the Chiffons' "He's So Fine." Whoops. (DBW)
Wonderwall Music (1968)
This is an underrated record, a film score composed and recorded in January of 1968 by George and friends. About half was recorded in Bombay and is essentially Indian classical music, the rest late 60s rock and sound collage recorded in London. I don't know how well the music works in the film -- as an album it's often bizarre but usually entertaining, which is more than you can say for most experimental works of this period. Almost entirely instrumental, by the way; I think the only word that appears on the record (aside from backwards tape loops) is "Om." (DBW)
Eric Clapton shows up on "Ski-ing," the first of many times that EC cut sessions for Harrison. (JA)
Electronic Sound (1969)
The Zapple label was created to release "electronic newspapers,"
experimental music for immediate consumption, with a shorter shelf life
than milk. This was George fooling around with his brand-new synthesizer,
and there's absolutely no reason to listen to it today. (Life With The
Lions was the other Zapple release.) (DBW)
All Things Must Pass (1970)
- Harrison dug into his backlog of songs composed during his Beatle
days, brought in Phil Spector to produce in his epic style,
and they wound up with a brilliant double album (the third disc,
a collection of tepid jams, is disposable). Full of classic cuts,
somber ("Isn't It A Pity"; the dramatic title track), playful (the acoustic "Apple
Scruffs"; "I Dig Love") or both ("What Is Life"; "Ballad of Sir
Frankie Crisp") - Harrison rarely misses his mark. But don't answer yet: you also get "My Sweet Lord," George's biggest solo hit. (DBW)
- Good but loooong. The extra third disc (actually a good chunk of disc 2 in the CD release) is tedious despite fine performances by Ringo, Eric Clapton, etc. The rest is solid but slightly monotonous, with Harrison adopting a mega-produced sound - huge choruses, booming drums, zillions of rhythm guitar tracks, and countless guest artists, including Clapton's 1970-era backing band; the Keys/Price horn section; and even Bob Dylan. (JA)
Concert For Bangladesh (1972)
A triple-album benefit featuring Bob Dylan, Eric Clapton (who joins in on a few of Harrison's tunes), Ringo, Ravi Shankar, and a cast of millions. Some of it's quite good, and it certainly has a lot of historical interest, but I haven't heard it in a while and don't currently have a copy. (JA)
Living In The Material World (1973)
This is much mellower than All Things Must Pass, with track after track in the ballad mold of "Long Long Long" ("Be Here Now"). It's a concept album, focusing on Krishna Consciousness ("The Light That Has Lighted The World"), being an ex-Beatle ("Sue Me Sue You Blues") or both (title track -- which also combines good-time rock and roll with Indian influences). Most of it is pleasant to listen to (the #1 single "Give Me Love (Give Me Peace On Earth)," "Try Some Buy Some") though there's nothing really distinctive about it. (DBW)
The fans greeted the record by sending it to the top of the charts, the second and last time that George accomplished this (All Things Must Pass was his other #1 effort). (JA)
Dark Horse (1974)
It's hard to tell what George was aiming for here. Many of the tracks seems unrehearsed ("Simply Shady"), his vocals are often out of tune (title track), and at least one track sounds deliberately sloppy ("Bye Bye Love," a cover which he turns into a comment on Eric Clapton's affair with George's ex-wife Patti; Eric guests on the track but the mixing makes him almost inaudible), so maybe he was going for Dylan-esque spontaneity. There are no remarkable melodies here, and the lyrics are often extremely weak ("So Sad," apparently an outtake from Material World). The song you may know from the radio is "Ding Dong, Ding Dong," which goes for the anthemic "Awaiting On You All" type of sound (it also sounds very much like Lennon's "Happy Xmas").
The album leads off with a pointless instrumental ("Hari's On Tour") which wastes the talents of the LA Express; other guest stars include Alvin Lee of Ten Years After, Ron Wood, who co-writes one of the album's high points, the white-man's-burden anthem "Far East Man," and Billy Preston, whose electric piano drives the album's most rocking tune, "Maya Love." The closer is another Krishna-consciousness number, "It Is 'He' (Jai Sri Krishna)," which is passable although quite repetitive. (DBW)
Extra Texture (1975)
This sold solidly like almost all of George's records, but... (JA)
It was panned big-time by critics. (DBW)
Thirty-Three & 1/3 (1976)
The title refers to Harrison's age at the time the disc was recorded.
Despite driving slap bass from Willie Weeks on the opening "Woman Don't
You Cry For Me," this is mostly a retreat to mellow textures, unassuming
lyrics ("Beautiful Girl"), and spare, retro arrangements ("This
Song"). It's a small record - the musical equivalent of weeding his
garden. Which is not to say it's not pleasant, but am I the only one who
likes a little artistic ambition with my rock and roll? There is one
more anti-materialist diatribe ("See Yourself"), a couple of Dear God
letters ("Learning How To Love You," "Dear One"), a tribute to Smokey Robinson, and even a Cole Porter tune
("True Love"), but all rendered in the same laid-back style they end up
running together. Harrison's enjoyable slide work and a fine band
(Preston, Wright, Scott, Richard Tee, David Foster) make it worth picking
up if you see it real cheap, but don't expect too much. The first release on George's own Dark Horse Records. (DBW)
George Harrison (1979)
An inoffensive but thoroughly unsurprising, uninspired album -- the
high point is his remake of his Beatle-era composition "Not
Eric Clapton guests once again, this time on a track called "Love Comes To Everyone." Steve Winwood also apparently appears somewhere on the record. (JA)
Somewhere In England (1981)
George's Lennon tribute "All Those Years Ago" is here, and some
off-beat Hoagy Carmichael covers. His preachiness and self-
righteousness finally overcome his musical sense on "Blood From A
Clone," and there's plenty of second- and third-rate material.
Gone Troppo (1982)
One of Harrison's least commercially successful efforts ever. (JA)
It didn't sell in large part
because it was totally unpromoted and had no single; I've read before
that it was released "almost in secret." (DBW)
Cloud 9 (1987)
- After years out of the limelight, George decided he wanted to be a star again. So he got some reflective sunglasses, rounded up his most famous friends (Eric Clapton, Elton John and Ringo all guest), and brought in Jeff Lynne to co-produce. He was rewarded with a big hit single, "Got My Mind Set On You," with a heavy, annoying Phil Collins-style snare beat and amazingly repetitive lyrics, prompting the parody version "This Song Is Just Six Words Long."
The rest of the album isn't quite that bad: Eric plays some nice licks on the title track, and "Wreck of the Hesperus" is an excellent, snappy rocker. But on most of the tunes, the clichéd songwriting is a perfect match for the by-the-numbers production. The other single, "When We Was Fab" is either amusing nostalgia or an appalling cash-in, depending on how you look at it. (DBW)
- The endless musical references to the Beatles on "When We Was Fab" are a jolting reminder of how uninteresting modern pop music has become. Alas... "Devil's Radio" is also good clean fun, "Someplace Else" recreates Harrison's signature ballad formula, and there are plenty of other high points. Plus Clapton is good throughout. Harrison fans can't go wrong with this despite the annoyance of "Got My Mind." (JA)
Traveling Wilburys Vol. 1 (Harrison et al.: 1988)
A tongue-in-cheek supergroup consisting of rock legends Harrison, Bob Dylan, and Roy Orbison, plus a couple of less legendary figures: Tom Petty and ELO prime mover Jeff Lynne. Lynne and Harrison produced, continuing the Cloud 9 partnership. But if you hated ELO's pseudoclassical, synth-heavy 70s productions, don't worry: the sound here is basically country rock (or roots rock, or whatever you want to call it).
The relaxed, fun atmosphere here is refreshing compared to the ultraheaviness Dylan and Harrison are particularly known to dish out: it's rare to hear Bob let down his hair the way he does on the playfully raunchy "Dirty World." Also, having so many lead singers in the band keeps things varied: most songs feature at least two vocalists, and sometimes more. And George supplies not only ace slide guitar throughout, but snappy rockabilly licks on the Jerry Lee Lewis sendup "Rattled." There are no writers credits, but "Heading For The Light" is clearly a Harrisong, and one of the most rollicking spiritual numbers I've ever heard; Dylan throws in yet another fine story song ("Tweeter And The Monkey Man," unfortunately saddled with a repetitive "And the walls came down" chorus) and yet another chronicle of love gone wrong ("Congratulations"). Petty and Lynne stay in the background (fortunately, from my perspective), although Tom is featured on the hit single "Last Night."
I've tried my best, but I'm still not bowled over by the leadoff single, "Handle With Care," although Orbison's patented quavery delivery works extremely well. Anyway, this project was so successful that the "band" cut another disc later, though Orbison had died in the meantime. (DBW)
Traveling Wilburys Vol. 3 (Harrison et al.: 1991)
This is actually the immediate followup to Vol. 1; the boys were playing a joke here by sending fans running around looking for a non-existent "Vol. 2." (JA)
Dark Horse Live In Japan (1992)
This is a double-CD set featuring an all-star band borrowed from Eric Clapton: Andy Fairweather-Low, Nathan East, Ray Cooper, Steve Ferrone, two female singers, and both Chuck Leavell and Greg Phillinganes, who accurately ape all of the string and horn parts on keyboards. The track listing is entirely predictable - half are George's Beatles-era spotlights ("Something"), a quarter are his early-period hits ("My Sweet Lord"; "Dark Horse"), there's an encore of "Roll Over Beethoven," and the rest are his more recent standards ("All Those Years Ago"; three Cloud 9 tunes). All of this is delivered with the same plodding, generic competence, usually four minutes per song except for workouts on "Isn't It A Pity" and "While My Guitar Gently Weeps."
But George's voice holds up decently and Eric is in great form, and the production is shrewd: despite all of their talent the players are given no room to defile the Beatles' sacred arrangements, which pumps the nostalgia dial to the max.
There are some trite backup vocals ("While My Guitar"), but normally Clapton's solos are all that deviate from the plan, and being a distinctive rock legend his improvisations seem entirely natural.
Although it's not much of a consolation for fans who waiting in vain for a new studio album, once you put this on nobody is going to complain. (JA)
Harrison released a 2001 single, "Horse To The Water." (DBW)
Jeff Lynne and George's son Dhani finished up this posthumous release. (DBW)
Be here now.