Criteria for this list and all my rankings going forward include but are not limited to:
- May include “Best Of” compilations
- May include albums produced by the artist, even if their playing or singing on the album is minimal
- May include live albums
- May include box sets
- Number of albums listed may vary depending on catalog
- I reserve the right to change my mind about the order down the line
- In short, my silly subjective rankings, my silly subjective rules, so let’s get to it…
My inaugural album ranking covers my favorite member of my favorite band, George Harrison, a.k.a. The Quiet One, a.k.a. Hari Georgeson, a.k.a. Carl Harrison, a.k.a. Nelson Wilbury. While the OCD in me prefers lists such as these in multiples of five, I simply can’t bring myself to leave any of these out. Not even #16…
16. Gone Troppo (1982)
This album is probably at or near the bottom of most Harrison album lists, including George’s. Tired of the music biz game on the heels of Somewhere in England, his heart really wasn’t into making this album. However, I now look at this record like Dylan’s Shot of Love and Saved – much maligned albums that are actually pretty good if not for the production. If this album had been recorded prior to 1980 or after ’87, it might be looked at differently. Not great, but possibly better. That’s the Way it Goes, Wake Up My Love, Mystical One, and Circles are keepers for me.
15. Best of Dark Horse: 1976-1989 (1989)
This is a good compilation of album tracks, but its inclusion here is due to the addition of three strong songs previously unreleased on Harrison albums: Cheer Down (from the Lethal Weapon 2 soundtrack), Poor Little Girl, and Cockamamie Business.
14. Live in Japan (1992)
This is the document of George’s brief 1991 concert tour of Japan when he was backed by Eric Clapton and his band. It was his only solo tour other than his North American tour of 1974. Whereas the ’74 tour was marred by George’s laryngitis and lively but uneven performances (among other issues), the negative elements of the ’91 tour were on the opposite end of the spectrum: The performances were sterile and George seemed like he didn’t really want to be there. His backing vocalists with their shoo-wop shoo-wop nonsense were an unfortunate addition to classics like While My Guitar Gently Weeps and Something. But despite all that it’s not a bad album, and because it’s the only official live release we have of Harrison, it’s worth owning despite its imperfections which nerds like me might nitpick about.
13. Extra Texture (Read All About It) (1975)
Recorded during Harrison’s “naughty period,” this album is uneven to say the least. The tracks I dislike I skip or run the vacuum during if I’m cleaning house, whereas the tracks I like, I really like. The like column: You, The Answer’s At the End, This Guitar (Can’t Keep from Crying), and Tired of Midnight Blue.
12. The Concert for Bangladesh (1971)
I tend to listen to this music more when watching the film as opposed to playing the album. It’s a historic album for numerous reasons which perhaps I’ll delve into at a later time, but just knowing what Harrison undertook by himself and what it meant for him as the featured performer among some great musicians makes it an enjoyable listen. This was not easy for him to pull off. There are some what if’s and if only’s attached to the concert (two concerts, actually), but what’s here is greatness.
11. Collaborations (w/ Ravi Shankar) (2010)
This set includes three Ravi Shankar albums produced by George: Shankar Family and Friends (which George plays guitars and autoharp on – 1974), Ravi Shankar’s Music Festival from India (’76), Chants of India (which George also plays on – 1997), plus a Shankar concert DVD, Ravi Shankar’s Music Festival from India (1974 – the album by the same name is a studio recording done two years later). It also includes a beautiful hard cover book, and in true Shankar style, an illustrated glossary of Indian instruments. Simply stated, I love this music and cherish this box set. And I, like so many others, have George Harrison to thank for it.
This is a limited edition set given to me by my wife. Mine is numbered 08668, and it’s possibly my favorite birthday gift I’ve ever received.
10. Somewhere in England (1981)
Harrison’s disenchantment with the music business and his 1980’s swoon began with this release. His initial submission was rejected by Warner Bros. for being not commercial enough. Warner Bros. also declined his original album cover with his profile next to a map of Great Britain in favor of the one of Harrison in front of the Tate Gallery in London (the original was reinstated with the 2004 remaster).
He then dropped four songs – three of which turned out to be fan favorites – and added four others including All Those Years Ago, which of course turned out to be the anchor song. That track originally had different lyrics and was written for Ringo to use on his album, but it was too high an octave for him to sing. As the well-known story goes, Harrison re-wrote it with lyrics paying tribute to John Lennon, who was murdered during the album’s recording. The album would be best, in my opinion, as originally intended plus All Those Years Ago.
9. Wonderwall Music (1968)
This funky collection of music is the soundtrack to an even funkier Swingin’ London movie, Wonderwall. It is the first solo album by a member of the Beatles, and the first album to be released on their Apple label. In addition to Indian music, there’s psychedelic, country, and even ragtime music in these grooves. Harrison produced the record and played on many of the tracks, most of which are instrumentals. Eric Clapton and Ringo made guest appearances. I can’t explain why I like it so much. I just do. Watch the movie if you haven’t seen it for perspective.
8. The Traveling Wilburys Vol. 1 (1988)
George, a.k.a. Nelson Wilbury, co-produced this fantastic album. As with Cloud Nine the year before, this release seemed as spontaneous as it was. It was as if a herd of dinosaurs had appeared to announce that rumors of their extinction had been greatly exaggerated. Handle With Care, Heading for the Light, and End of the Line are George’s featured songs, and I love them all as I do the rest of the album. Had there been more George-centric songs (not that there should’ve been) this record would probably be in my top five or six.
7. Brainwashed (2002)
George’s final album and first studio release in 15 years is a strong rounding out of his catalog. Some of its tracks go back as far as 1988, with Harrison focusing more on the album in 2000 after recovering from the attack in his home in December of 1999. As his health subsequently deteriorated from cancer, he left specific instructions for his son Dhani and friend Jeff Lynne on how he wanted the album completed after his passing, which came on November 29, 2001. There are some very good moments on this recording, with the moving instrumental Marwa Blues leading the way (all the way to a posthumous Grammy). His lyric in Pisces Fish, “I’m living proof of all life’s contradictions, one half’s going where the other half’s just been,” strikes a nerve with a Pisces like myself. And the title track which closes the album, with its inclusion of the Namah Parvati chant done in unison by George and Dhani, is a perfect ending to his swan song.
6. Dark Horse (1974)
Yep, I’ve got Dark Horse at number six. I like it for pretty much all the reasons others dislike it. It shows George being vulnerable and susceptible to the evils of the ego which he made such an effort to overcome in his lifetime. He’d been steeped in his work with his label Dark Horse Records, which included producing albums by Ravi Shankar and the group Splinter. The stress of the business surrounding the Beatles’ divorce was perhaps topped only by the demise of his marriage to Pattie at the same time. His voice gave way to laryngitis while scrambling to finish the album by its deadline, and rehearsing for his highly anticipated North American tour. And with his “naughty period” in full swing, booze and cocaine exacerbated the whole thing. And it’s all here in this biographical album, like Peyton Place as George described it. Simply Shady, Dark Horse, and Far East Man are a few of my favorites.
5. Thirty Three & 1/3 (1976)
By the mid-70’s George’s music was taking on a contemporary feel, and with this album (as opposed to Extra Texture the year before) it worked all the way through. While its best known song is probably the humorous ode to his estate at Friar Park, Crackerbox Palace, it’s not even in the top five for me. Woman Don’t You Cry for Me, Dear One (dedicated to Paramahansa Yogananda), Beautiful Girl, See Yourself, and Pure Smokey (dedicated to Smokey Robinson) are my favorites. I’m going to find a pair of shades like the ones he’s wearing on the album cover, and by God I will wear them.
4. George Harrison (1979)
To my ears, this self-titled album shows Harrison at his most relaxed. He and Olivia had married the year before and had their first and only child, Dhani. Most of the Beatles business was behind him, the four of them mostly settled in their own domestic corners. It was his first album in three years, and along with his new family he had the freedom to indulge his passions for gardening, Formula One racing, and producing a Monty Python film, The Life of Brian. There isn’t a poor track here to me; a couple of favorites are his updated version of Not Guilty (which coulda-shoulda-woulda been on the White Album), and Here Comes the Moon, a song I played nightly 20 years ago as a lullaby for my first-born child.
3. Cloud Nine (1987)
At a time when the pop scene was dominated by the likes of Madonna, George Michael, and Janet Jackson, George reappeared seemingly out of nowhere to show that he could still record hits – when he felt the urge. The cool thing about this record to me is that, along with co-producer Jeff Lynne, he still managed to do it on his own terms. I like all 11 of the songs originally released on this album, though if I never hear his version of Rudy Clark’s Got My Mind Set on You again, I’d be o.k. with it. Standouts include Just for Today, When We Was Fab (which I remember hearing for the first time as a junior in high school on the radio while eating a bag of Tato Skins in the school cafeteria), Devil’s Radio, Someplace Else, and the title track.
2. Living in the Material World (1973)
I imagine it’s tough for most artists in any genre to follow-up a previous work that was (and continues to be) received as well as George Harrison’s post-Beatles debut, but he managed to create something very good with 1973’s Living in the Material World. Some of the recording took place in Apple Studios in London, while most of the album was done at George’s home studio, FPSHOT (Friar Park Studios, Henley-on-Thames). The album’s hit is of course Give Me Love (Give Me Peace on Earth) – a timeless classic that still gives me chills whenever I hear it – but there’s plenty to chew on with the rest of the tracks, from a jab at his old band mates (Sue Me, Sue You Blues), to an empathetic reference to those same guys in the title track. A song that has emerged as one of my favorites on the record is Be Here Now, a very quiet meditation inspired by the Ram Dass-authored book of the same title. Some folks are put off by George’s spiritual beliefs which he often sang about, but I’m pretty much in alignment with his views so to me he’s just preaching to the choir.
1. All Things Must Pass (1970)
George’s triple album masterpiece, and quite possibly my favorite album of all time by anyone. George stated during the 30th anniversary of its release that he didn’t like Phil Spector’s production of the album at first, but that he grew to like it. And produced it is, heavily. While I tend to favor more stripped down production, the big sound works here and I wouldn’t change any of it, including the third album of jam sessions. This album is an emotional roller coaster, and I can’t pick one song over all the others. I will say that the subtle-but-loaded reference to Hey Jude at the end of Isn’t It a Pity, which I hadn’t noticed until it was accentuated when performed during the Concert for George, has choked me up more than once. And for those who would prefer to hear these songs sans Spector’s production, they do exist in the Friar Park vault (and on boots). Maybe the estate will get around to releasing them some day.
Whew! I didn’t set out to write as much as I did about these albums, but there you go. Album ranking installment #1 is in the books. Or on the blog. Or whatever.