George Harrison’s solo stuff seems to have been under-appreciated, despite the widespread affection for his personality. The music has great chord progressions and spiritual lyrics, the man seemed honest, irreverent and always aware of the bigger picture.
When Harrison struck out on his own as a solo act proper with ‘All Things Must Pass’ (1970), ‘Concert For Bangladesh’ (1972) and ‘Living in the Material World’ (1973) he came across as confident and full of inspiration. His affiliation with the subcontinent and also with rock royalty helped to set him up commercially. The pan-spiritual ‘My Sweet Lord’ (combining the refrains ‘Hallelujah’ with ‘Hare Krishna’) has moved many an atheist. But there’s still room for the sly music and sarcastic lyrics of ‘Sue Me, Sue You Blues’.
During what George himself called ‘the naughty period’, when he was indulging in his own lost weekend, he nonetheless produced a succession of well-produced, satisfying records: ‘Dark Horse’ (1974), ‘Extra Texture’ (1975) and ‘Thirty Three and 1/3’ (1976). The first of the three is not well regarded by many but I think it has the right kind of energy. The second utilizes strings and brass (hence the ‘extra texture’) effectively and is consequently a great sonic treatment of some really soulful material. The third effort comes a close second to ‘All Things Must Pass’ as Harrison’s best work from where I’m sitting.
There’s devotion in ‘Dear One’, prettiness in ‘BeautifuI Girl’ and a couple of classics closing sides one and two respectively. ‘See Yourself’ is a penetrating insight into our tendency to distract ourselves with material things and negative actions instead of facing reality. ‘It’s What You Value’ was apparently inspired by a conversation Harrison had with drummer Jim Keltner before the 1974 tour in which Keltner said he doesn’t want paying for the tour but he would appreciate a Mercedes 450SL to drive around the USA between gigs. This conversation and the reaction of other band members to its outcome inspired the lyrics, which goes to show you can write a song about almost anything.
If Harrison’s style was in sync with the music industry in the early 1970s, it was just as much out of sync at the end of that decade. His second marriage and the birth of his son Dhani provided a background of contentment to his eponymous album of 1979 which, despite including the uplifting ‘If You Believe’, seems soft in places, like an overripe fruit. 1981’s ‘Somewhere in England’ was initially rejected by Warner Bros so Harrison retaliated with a track attacking the music industry and the commercial but slight ‘All Those Years Ago’ which nevertheless has some great non-rhyming lyrics about God.
Apparently 1982’s ‘Gone Troppo’ was recorded just to fulfil contractual obligations but seems to me the freshest effort from this period when, unlike previously, Harrison was not committed to being an artist, had become alienated by the music industry and was more interested in Formula One, gardening and film production with Handmade Films.
In addition to the globally successful Traveling Wilburys and Beatles reunion projects of the late 80s to mid 90s Harrison produced 2 more albums, 1987’s ‘Cloud Nine’ and the posthumous ‘Brainwashed’ (2002). I’m an admirer of ELO and Jeff Lynne but it seems that Lynne and Harrison are just so similar musically that when Lynne produces Harrison, as he does on all the projects from this time, the music doesn’t have the richness it had in the 70s when Harrison was working with people like Herbie Flowers and Billy Preston.
We still have the great chord progressions and spiritual lyrics but the late Harrison stuff seems to represent a man certainly enjoying making good music but also a man who finds other things, like Hinduism, travelling, socialising and gardening, just as worthwhile and who can argue with that?
‘I Me Mine’ (Harrison, Genesis Publications, 1980)
‘George Harrison: Living in the Material World’ (dir. Scorcese, 2011)
George Harrison’s Wikipedia page