George Harrison died on November 29, 2001 at 1:30 am of the cancer that he had been fighting for years. Ironically, the first photograph of George in the commemorative issue of People magazine shows him with cigarette in hand, the drug that ultimately caused his cancer.
Harrison’s last days seemed peppered with bad news. Remember the maniac who attacked him with a knife on New Year’s Eve of 1999? But for his wife beating the attacker senseless with a lamp we would have lost George then. This led to several public court appearances, but before that he was last seen at Linda McCartney’s funeral, herself a victim of cancer.
            Cynically, George got more publicity after he died than before. Even if he released an album, I doubt he’d have made the cover of TV Guide or People. George only appeared on the cover of Rolling Stone magazine three times before his death. To their credit, Rolling Stone magazine put out a special commemorative issue for him — something they have never done for anyone, even Lennon. It is a great issue — pick it up if you can find it. Rolling Stone releasing a high quality issue instead of following the flavor of the week (as they have done for several decades now) should be encouraged.
            Some would know George as much for his movies as his music. When the Monty Python troop lost their funding for “Life of Brian”, George stepped in. After its success, George decided to form a production company (the fact that his musical career was not doing well also helped the decision). He formed British Handmade Films, and changed it to Handmade Films after the British government said he couldn’t use their name. He produced “Time Bandits” and Michael Palin movies “The Missionary” and “Water”. For a time he had cameo appearances in all his films, ala Hitchcock. I have yet to find him in the Madonna folly “Shanghai Surprise”.
            George’s sister Louise, now in her seventies, lived about twenty-five miles from me. She moved to Macedonia in the 1950s and George came to America in 1963 to visit. He had plenty of Beatle singles in tow, but no radio station in St. Louis or in local Benton would play. The broadcast booth in which he sat while visiting the station is still intact and sitting in the Franklin County museum’s George Harrison room. His sister’s house (in which he stayed in 1963) is now a bed and breakfast.
            While in southern Illinois George listened to and (supposedly) sat in with some dance bands at the American Legion Hall in West Frankfort. He promised that when the Beatles came to America they would play there. It was the Beatles first American booking. Naturally by the time they came to America the idea was nixed.
            I’ve never met his sister, although in college I met a man whose older sister was friends with Louise. They went up to Chicago in 1964 to meet with Louise’s younger brother. I was enthralled to be even this close to someone who knew someone who met a Beatle. “What did she tell you about it?” I asked him. “Well, she remembered that John Lennon had tight brown hair and George had really bad teeth.” Well, he was British after all.
                                    GEORGE HARRISON DISCOGRAPHY (Beatle Years)
            John Lennon (life’s little ironies — beginning a George Harrison discography with a quote from Lennon…) would always say it was the music that mattered — that’s what told the story. I agree — all of the Beatles, even as solo artists, told their stories through their music. Listening to the songs reveals where the artists were and what they felt at a particular time,
            George Harrison is no exception. His songs as a Beatle reflect his attitude (and eventual resentment) toward being a supposed second-tiered member, his frustration of supposed success and his eagerness to leave the Fab Four. His solo outings showed his eagerness to spread his religious beliefs, his anger over his Beatle past, his frustration over the “My Sweet Lord” lawsuit,   and finally his pleas for tolerance and understanding.
When George was eulogized, his friends were frequently asked how he would like to be remembered. Almost all of them said, “Musician.” Not Beatle, not ex-Beatle, not Wilbury, just musician.
            I’d like to take some time to remember George the musician throughout his musical career:
BEATLE GEORGE: The Beatles would release singles and EP (singles with four songs) that would not normally appear on subsequent albums. This was normal for the time. I have listed the Beatles albums in order and only mention singles on which George sang (or wrote) that did not appear on a Beatle album.
            “Cry for a Shadow” performed by the Beatles on Tony Sheridan’s album, now famous for its role in Beatle lore, as opposed to the musicianship. The only tune cited to “Lennon-Harrison” ever, it is a rollicking instrumental typical at the time — jangly guitars with lots of energy and a memorable tune. The sheer joy of recording it comes through.
            Please Please Me album (1963): George and Ringo were typically “allowed” to sing a few songs on each album. George’s contributions on the first Beatle album were “Chains”, originally performed by the Cookies and written by Goffin & King (Lennon’s writing style compares very favorably to Carol King — consciously or subconsciously, she was a great influence on him). The song basically enforces the band’s one-time belief that they are a girl group with guitars.
            “Do You Want to Know a Secret” was written by Lennon and inspired by the wishing well scene from Disney’s “Snow White” movie. The song gets a lot of airplay and fits George’s voice well — and it’s not a simple song to sing. The main verse/chorus is based on an upward scale and the middle twelve is a growling rock counterpoint to the light poppiness of the song.
            With the Beatles album (1963): “Don’t Bother Me” is George’s first composition to appear on a Beatle (or any) album. It was written while he was in the hospital and the nurses wouldn’t leave him alone! It’s an excellent first effort: the music flows and connects to the words effortlessly. Here the vocal range is fairly simple. I have always enjoyed this song and say it is why I admire George Harrison so.  Only he would have a debut song with the lyric “Just go away, leave me alone, don’t bother me…”
            “Roll Over Beethoven”, a song George would sing for the next thirty years, is a Chuck Berry staple. Originally John sang the song in their live shows. Why did they have George sing on the album? Why not? He did an excellent job.
            “Devil in Her Heart” is another pseudo-girl-group song, and a bit of a throwaway. As is typical of even the Beatles’ second-string songs, it has a masterful hook and wonderful musical arrangements. If a girl group or teen idol crooner took it, the song would have been a big hit in the early 60’s. Probably given to George to sing because Lennon and McCartney didn’t want to.
            Hard Day’s Night album (1964): “I’m Happy Just to Dance With You” is another often-played song on the radio. Good thing too: it’s a great, catchy song. The lyrics -fit the music snugly and you can dance to it (the latter being much more important in those days). George sings the song prettily, giving Lennon and McCartney the harder job of singing the high-noted back up.
            Beatles for Sale album (1964): “Everybody’s Trying to Be My Baby”. One of three Carl Perkins song the Beatles sang in their career. A good solid, canny version.
            Helpalbum (1965): “I Need You”, George’s second song he wrote to be on a Beatle album is a lovely song. The musicianship and the background chorus make it a pleasant sounding song – despite its very sad lyrics.  “Please remember how I feel about you, I could never really live without you.”
            “You Like Me Too Much”, also written by George, is awkward and rushed to fill in some songs on side two. Despite experimenting with the electric organ, the song never takes off (Paul does much better with his electric organ attempt in “The Night Before”, but it’s unfair to compare anyone’s writing talents to McCartney in late 1965.). Although the verses are interesting lyrically, the middle eight (“I really do…”) sounds tacked on. George should have tinkered with it some more.
            Rubber Soul album (1965): “Norwegian Wood”, although written and sung by John, deserves a mention as it features George’s first attempts to play the sitar on record. Indeed, it is the first sitar played on any serious commercial record (the soundtrack to “Road to Morocco” aside…)
            “If I Needed Someone” is flawless. The lyrics, background vocals and musicianship raise this song to the equal of any on the album (which is saying much), The Hollies took this song and raised the harmonies to the stratosphere. George’s gimmick on this song would serve him well for years to come — lyrics and main guitar licks on the upbeat rather than the downbeat (“Here Comes the Sun” and “Love Comes to Everyone” immediately spring to mind). If this represents George’s writing talent, he deserves more than one song per album!
            Revolveralbum (1966): the other Beatles and George Martin must have agreed with that: George has three songs on the album, all self-penned. One of his songs leads off the album, a great compliment and honor to Beatle #3 (in those days artists were concerned about the order and propriety of songs — there were as yet no CDs to scramble the order randomly).
            “Taxman” starts off the album; reflecting George’s supposed skinflint attitude.
So if he’s one of the most popular rockers of all time, where is his money? A fun rocking tune, with a good guitar solo. George would play this live in Japan in 1992,
            “Love You To” is George’s first foray into Indian music. He is the only Beatle to play an instrument on the track, the rest of the instruments played by professional easterners. The lyrics have a strong pop structure (unlike his later attempts), and the song moves along forcefully. Likeable and listenable.
            “I Want to Tell You” is another of George’s best songs. It almost reflects what must have been his attitude toward his song writing ability (“… my head is filled with things to say…”) and perhaps his discontent as a Beatle is showing through as well (-…I don’t mind, all those words they seem to slip away…). Great guitar riff, perfect background vocals.
            Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Heart’s Club Band  album (1967): “Within You Without You”. Some people despise this song (it is frequently voted among the Beatle’s worst). It’s not as bad as all that — the instrumental middle is actually quite good, in fact. The song ebbs and flows like the mantra it aspires to be. The lyrics are Hindu-tinged hippie, and it is one of the few Beatles tracks on which none of the four play instruments (oddly, Paul’s “She’s Leaving Home”, also from Sgt. Pepper, is another).
            Magical Mystery Tour album/EP (1967); “Blue Jay Way”. This is almost a rewrite of “Within You…” — odd lyrics backed by some fine Hindu music, but after the first minute we get the point. The Beatles were known for not going into formula — when they have mastered one type of song (girl group, folkie, etc.) they move forward into something else. George proved with      “Love To You” he can mix pop structure with eastern influence. But can we move on now?
            “Lady Madonna” single (1968): Nope. George’s first appearance on a Beatle single was the “B” side to Paul’s “Lady Madonna”, “The Inner Light” is George’s last attempt as a Beatle to eastern music. It has no pop structure (verse, chorus) and supposedly the lyrics are taken straight from the Gita. Paul calls it one of the most lovely songs he had ever heard. One then supposes that the acid wore off.
            The song finally appeared on an album — “Beatles Rarities” — in 1979.
            Was George’s first single evidence of the other’s confidence in his ability? Likely, not, Lennon hated “Lady Madonna” so much he wanted nothing to do with the single. By this point he was accusing McCartney of stifling his creativity.
            The Beatles (the White Album) album (1968): “While My Guitar Gently Weeps”, with Eric Clapton on guitar, sides with “Something” as George’s masterwork. After putting down the sitar and picking up the guitar, George writes a powerful rock song about the condition of the world, The lyrics boil down to basically, “J’Accuse”, but the musicianship throughout is masterful.
            “Piggies” — what pissed George off during this album? In a theme later adopted by Pink Floyd in “Animals”, George this time points at the elite upper crust of the world (… in their mind is something lacking, what they need’s a damn good whacking …). This from the vanguard of the love generation? Good song though, George Martin’s arrangements throughout the album is impeccable. Unfortunately the song will be forever linked with Charles Manson and his killing spree.
            “Long Long Long” a very quiet and pretty acoustic tune. It’s been a long long long time since we’ve heard this kind of song from George.
            “Savoy Truffle” is a great fun tune, with a rollicking beat of guitar and horns – (George Martin’s maestro hand shows again). Written when George and Eric Clapton ate an entire box of chocolates, (enough to make Clapton sick) the lyrics were a word-for-word description of the candy found in the box.
            Yellow Submarine (album) 1968: “Only a Northern Song” is good album filler. George is once again angry — this time at the Beatles own song distributing company. The lyrics and notes are not quite right, but it’s intentional. Interesting listening.
            “It’s All Too Much” is better, a good mid-tempo rocking song. The horns at the end add a nice touch. A decade later, Journey would do an excellent cover of the song.
            “The Ballad of John & Yoko” (single) 1969: George’s second Original “B”-side was “Old Brown Shoe”, a good fast-moving rock song. Ringo is featured strongly on the backing vocals and John’s thundering backup on the middle eight is just stunning in its force and effect. Unfortunately, the mix is very thick and sometimes it is hard to make out the lyrics.  The song is found on the American “Hey Jude” album and the Beatles (“Blue”) 1967-1970 album.
            Abbey Road album 1969: Well, here we are. George would never top the two pop classics on these albums.
            Frank Sinatra called “Something” the most beautiful song ever written. Quite a compliment from someone who hated rock music so much he retired (for a short time). And it is a beautiful song — the organ makes for a “smoky” sound — very wispy and not easy to access, (much like the qualities George is trying to describe in song). Excellent combination of words and music — there is definitely a tone and a feel to the song.
            George’s guitar (which excels throughout the album) now has the slide work that would be his signature for the rest of his career.
            “Something” also became George’s first (and only) “A”-side single as a Beatle.
            “Here Comes the Sun” is my personal favorite. Once again the lyrics and music fold perfectly into one another. During the musical break, you can feel the sun rising and warming your face, The catchy-ness of the tune is supernatural. This song was written while sitting in Eric Clapton’s garden. Considering how much inspiration Clapton has had on George’s music lately, I’m surprised George didn’t have Clapton surgically joined to his hip!
N’ do N’ do-do.
            Let It Be album 1970: “I Me Mine” harkens back to “Northern Song”, “Taxman”, etc. in reflecting George’s materialistic side. Played in ‘A time, it’s an interesting sounding song about love fading away. The fact that is was written about his band mates makes the lyrics add to the pain he feels. George is tired of Beatling and wants to move on.
            “For You Blue” is a great song. Catchy and with fine lyrics and great musicianship. Why didn’t the Beatles do more blues? Oddly, despite George’s master musicianship, it is John who plays the slide guitar on the song. Can you blame George for handing the solo to John? Lennon plays perfectly! Although the blues were not part of their background (being more the bailiwick of the Stones and the Who), based on their performances here and on the White Album one shudders at the thought of a strong blues album from the Fabs.
Next: Solo Work
Copyright 2013 Michael G. Curry


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