November 1 – George Harrison Steps Out

George Harrison – Wonderwall Music

In the world of film scores, some rather clearly need to be heard while watching the film in order to appreciate them.  Some are enjoyable regardless of the context in which they’re being listened to.  One such example for me is the Eurythmics soundtrack to the film 1984.  I also find the soundtracks to Wes Anderson’s films to be eclectic and enjoyable.  But a case where I can see how it could go either way for the listener is George Harrison’s score to the Joe Massot movie Wonderwall, titled Wonderwall Music, released this day 50 years ago.  It was the first solo album by a member of the Beatles, and the first recording released on their Apple label.

Wonderwall_(film).jpg

Harrison viewed Massot’s work, a movie full of psychedelic pop art (with sets created by the Fool) and dream sequences starring Jane Birkin and Jack MacGowran, at Twickenham Studios.  He took notes on the timing of its scenes, and then composed the music to fit accordingly.  That music would include Hindustani classical, psychedelic rock, cowboy western movie theme music, and even Ragtime.  The film itself is a metaphor for the generation gap as experienced in Swinging London, and Harrison saw it as an opportunity to examine through his compositions the gap between the West and the East, between materialism and spirituality.  As described by AllMusic’s Richard S. Ginell, the album was “a minor eruption of the pent-up energies of George Harrison.”

jane_birkin_in_wonderwall.jpg
Jane Birkin   
wonderwall1.jpg
Jack MacGowran

WonderW12.png

Harrison, who along with the other three Beatles was experiencing newfound creative independence after the death of manager Brian Epstein in late August of 1967, was given full artistic control by Massot.  He composed the music on piano and organ, and played guitar on much of the album, though on the original release he was only credited as producer, writer, and arranger.  He also collaborated with top Indian musicians as well as classical pianist and arranger, John Barham, a fellow classical Indian music enthusiast.

Harrison wanted to expand upon the Indian instrumentation that he’d utilized with the Beatles already.  In addition to the sitar and tabla, he now employed the oboe-like shehnai, the sarod, and the hammered dulcimer-like santoor, among others.  The Western tracks utilized tape loops, backward guitar sound, and wah-wah effects in addition to the more straight forward instrumentation.

download.jpg

Some of both the Western and Indian portions were recorded in London at EMI and De Lane Lea Studios from November ’67 to January ’68.  These sessions included Liverpool band the Remo Four, as well as Ringo and Eric Clapton (credited under the pseudonym “Eddie Clayton”).  Peter Tork played banjo on a track which was not included on the soundtrack.

1_NEwYWbP1M-PBGAPWUkVsHw.jpeg
Harrison and Tork, with Remo Four guitarist Colin Manley at left and Mal Evans behind Tork

The rest of the Indian sections were recorded in Bombay at HMV Studios from January 9-13, 1968.  It was in Bombay that the instrumental track to George’s future B-side The Inner Light was recorded.  The majority of the Western music was recorded upon Harrison’s return to London in January.  Final mixing with Ken Scott began on January 31, and two weeks later George returned to India with the Beatles, their wives and significant others for their retreat with the Maharishi in Rishikesh.

Wonderwall-Music.jpg
Harrison in Bombay, January 1968

The album would mark the end of Harrison’s immersion in Indian music as a composer and musician.  After spending time with Ravi Shankar in L.A. a few months later, he decided to concentrate on the guitar and Western music.  This period did inspire him later in his work with Ravi Shankar on the latter’s Music Festival from India and the East/West fusion of Harrison’s 1974 North American Tour, where he worked again with some of the musicians from the January ’68 sessions.

george07.jpg

Contemporary reviews of the score were favorable.  There are sequences in the film with little to no dialogue, and it’s been noted that the music effectively takes the place of speaking parts.  Retrospective reviews also find much merit in Harrison’s efforts on the album.  It’s been described as a stew of music that’s altogether “spacey,” “esoteric,” “rollicking,” and “a beguiling tapestry of sound.”  Of course, there are different strokes for different folks.  Rolling Stone lazily included it in its “20 Terrible Debut Albums by Great Artists” issue.  RS writer Keith Harris:  “The best thing you can say about Wonderwall Music is that it’s probably more historically significant than the LP of experimental twaddle John Lennon released a month later – after all, Oasis never wrote a hit song called ‘Two Virgins.'”  The reality is, there are just many westerners who don’t care for Indian music.  And that’s o.k., because there are many of us who do.  And for many if not most of us, it’s due to George Harrison introducing us to it.

sapcor1_c.jpg
Harrison, Jane Birkin, and Ringo at the debut of Wonderwall in Cannes

19061209273_5f7f93b847_k_d.jpeg

Short and sweet, but great:  Ski-ing, featuring Eddie Clayton, a.k.a., Eric Clapton –

On the Bed:  probably my favorite track from the album –

Left off the original release, but fortunately added later:  In the First Place, featuring the Remo Four –

An alternate take of the instrumental track to The Inner Light, which George produced while in Bombay in January of 1968 –

Tracklist:

Side One:

  1. Microbes
  2. Red Lady Too
  3. Tabla and Pakavaj
  4. In the Park
  5. Drilling a Home
  6. Guru Vandana
  7. Greasy Legs
  8. Ski-ing
  9. Gat Kirwani
  10. Dream Scene

Side Two:

  1. Party Seacombe
  2. Love Scene
  3. Crying
  4. Cowboy Music
  5. Fantasy Sequins
  6. On the Bed
  7. Glass Box
  8. Wonderwall to Be Here
  9. Singing Om

-Stephen

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wonderwall_Music

https://www.allmusic.com/album/wonderwall-music-mw0000676515

http://magnetmagazine.com/2012/01/05/hidden-gems-george-harrisons-wonderwall-music/#more-120818

 

 

October ’68 – Donovan, Paul Horn, and Echoes of India

1968 saw four album releases from attendees of that well-known spiritual retreat which took place in Rishikesh, India at the beginning of the year.  The Beach Boys released their album Friends in June, and in October Donovan released his classic ode to time spent with the Maharishi.  Perhaps lesser known (even though it sold a million copies) but still very significant is the work of jazz flautist Paul Horn, who recorded his album in April while still in India, although the exact release date other than the year 1968 seems to have been lost.  Today I’m celebrating these second two releases.

Donovan – The Hurdy Gurdy Man

Donovan Leitch is a bit of a mysterious figure to me in the world of music.  He isn’t nearly the self-promoter that many of his peers are/were, and it’s never really occurred to me to learn much about him (his autobiography is now on my reading list).  Without looking it up, I have no idea when the last time was he toured the US or what he’s done in recent years.

Is he considered an influential “heavy,” as evidenced by his participation alongside the Beatles at the famed retreat with the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi in India in 1968 where he shared guitar techniques with the Fabs, or is he a “lightweight” Dylan wannabe hanging onto Bob’s coattails as depicted in the D.A. Pennebaker documentary Don’t Look Back?  Fifty-plus years on it doesn’t really matter, if it ever did.  As with any artist, you either like their work or you don’t, and I like Donovan’s music, especially The Hurdy Gurdy Man, released 50 years ago this month.

JS43648350.jpg

Donovan’s record, an interesting mix of folk, pop, eastern influences, and jazz, gave us two singles in Hurdy Gurdy Man and Jennifer Juniper.  The album’s tone is set by Donovan’s tremolo voice in the title track, and by use of the tambura which was given to Donovan by George Harrison while in India.  Harrison also contributed a line which was unfortunately removed to shorten the song for the radio.  It went:

When the truth gets buried deep
Beneath the thousand years asleep
Time demands a turnaround
And once again the truth is found

The Hurdy Gurdy Man is an enlightened teacher – in this case the Maharishi – who helps seekers awaken from their thousand years sleep to find the truth.  The song is a testament to the freewheelin’ and, uh, foggy nature of how recording sessions unfolded back then, as there were session musicians used who went on to become quite famous, though other than John Paul Jones as the arranger and bass player it’s not entirely clear who.  According to Donovan, Jimmy Page and Allan Holdsworth played electric guitar and John Bonham and Clem Cattini played drums.  Page and engineer Eddie Kramer claim Page played, though Kramer says Bonham did not.  Anyhoo…

5c4a775a1d9f79e01983d904d06996d9.jpg

Other than the two singles, favorites for me include the tambura drone-drenched Peregrine and Tangier, the dreamy and brief The Entertaining of a Shy Girl, and the jazz influenced Get Thy BearingsThe Hurdy Gurdy Man is a rather tidy collection of songs which hold up well to my ears.

Tracklist:

Side One:

  1. Hurdy Gurdy Man
  2. Peregrine
  3. The Entertaining of a Shy Girl
  4. As I Recall It
  5. Get Thy Bearings
  6. Hi It’s Been a Long Time
  7. West Indian Lady

Side Two:

  1. Jennifer Juniper
  2. The River Song
  3. Tangier
  4. A Sunny Day
  5. The Sun is a Very Magic Fellow
  6. Teas

Paul Horn – Inside the Taj Mahal

Jazz flautist Paul Horn was a practitioner of Transcendental Meditation who joined the Beatles, Donovan, Mike Love, Mia Farrow and others at the Maharishi’s ashram in Rishikesh in February 1968.  He had previously worked with Chico Hamilton, Duke Ellington, Nat King Cole, and Cal Tjader when he recorded Paul Horn in India and Paul Horn in Kashmir in 1967 (now both available on one disc).  Then, upon leaving Maharishi’s ashram after the retreat, he snuck a tape recorder into the Taj Mahal on April 25, 1968 and began playing his flute.  The guerrilla recording which resulted from it is titled Inside the Taj Mahal, or simply Inside.

MI0002941054.jpg

The album has been described as Horn playing not only his flute, but the building itself with its long sound delay creating a type of etherial echo which couldn’t be created in studios at that time.  A security guard was about to ask him to cease playing, but was so moved by what he was hearing that he allowed Horn to continue.  The haunting vocal on the album was improvised by a complete stranger who happened to be under the massive marble dome at the same time.  Unfortunately, he was uncredited.

 

Horn-Harrison
Paul Horn and George Harrison at Rishikesh

Inside the Taj Mahal is considered a pioneering album in the realm of “world” or “new age” music.  It’s a good choice for drifting into or out of meditation, or for the spiritually uninclined, for sinking back into a comfortable chair late at night with a snifter of brandy.  In my case, it’s both.  Paul Horn was nominated for a Grammy five times during his career.  He passed away at the age of 84 in 2014.

Tracklist:

Side One:

  1. Prologue/Inside
  2. Mantra I/Meditation
  3. Mumtaz Mahal
  4. Unity
  5. Agra

Side Two:

  1. Vibrations
  2. Akasha
  3. Jumna
  4. Shah Jahan
  5. Mantra II/Duality
  6. Ustad Isa/Mantra III

-Stephen

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Hurdy_Gurdy_Man

https://www.allmusic.com/album/the-hurdy-gurdy-man-mw0000203921

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Inside_(Paul_Horn_album)

https://www.theguardian.com/music/musicblog/2013/jul/03/101-strangest-spotify-paul-horn

My Album Rankings – Solo Beatles Top 25

I’ll wrap up my solo Beatles album rankings by putting it together in a tidy and very scientific Top 25 list.  My thoughts on each album can be found in my individual posts for George, Paul, John, and Ringo.  Other than my choice for #1, this is a rather absurd exercise to undertake, but what the hey.  It’s got me thinking of some mighty good albums I haven’t listened to in a while.  Just a reminder:  the only reason choices such as #’s 25 and 22 aren’t rated higher is because John and George, respectively, are featured on only half the album or less.

25.  Double Fantasy

600x600bf.jpg

24.  Ringo

RingoCover.jpg

23.  Wonderwall Music

Wonderwall_Music_(George_Harrison_album_-_cover_art).jpg

22.  Traveling Wilburys Vol. 1

https_%2F%2Fimages.genius.com%2F2fc2f4cede100eb4ca01afcb40e338c4.1000x1000x1.jpg

21.  Brainwashed

51S34QLUpgL._SY355_.jpg

20.  Dark Horse

220px-DarkHorseCover.jpg

19.  Tug of War

download.jpg

18.  Flaming Pie

220px-Flaming_Pie.jpg

17.  Shaved Fish

61GhMn7Q0BL.jpg

16.  Wings Over America

MI0000665194.jpg

15.  Chaos and Creation in the Back Yard

220px-Chaos_and_Creation_in_the_Back_Yard.jpg

14.  Thirty-Three and 1/3

220px-3313Cover.jpg

13.  Imagine

268x0w.jpg

12.  Red Rose Speedway

MI0003609641.jpg

11.  Band on the Run

Paul_McCartney_&_Wings-Band_on_the_Run_album_cover.jpg

10.  George Harrison

GHCover.jpg

9.  Cloud Nine

51UjE9fUigL.jpg

8.  Mind Games

JohnLennon-albums-mindgames.jpg

7.  Back to the Egg

145.jpg45.jpg

6.  McCartney

McCartney1970albumcover.jpg

5.  Plastic Ono Band

51b7FOcNnyL.jpg

4.  Living in the Material World

619vywTWRkL._SY355_.jpg

3.  Walls and Bridges

Walls_And_Bridges.png

2.  Ram

51DH6E2QRML.jpg

1.  All Things Must Pass

download.jpg

Alright, now you can let me have it!

-Stephen

My Album Rankings – George Harrison

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.

220px-GoneTroppo.jpg

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.

51R3TDQXT5L._SY355_ (1).jpg

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.

268x0w.jpg

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.

download (1).jpg

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.

715ePNT0rkL._SY355_.jpg

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.

91RsbQvEKyL._SL1500_.jpg

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.

MI0001786901.jpg

71qB7zIuqAL._SL1300_.jpg

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.

Wonderwall_Music_(George_Harrison_album_-_cover_art).jpg

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.

https_%2F%2Fimages.genius.com%2F2fc2f4cede100eb4ca01afcb40e338c4.1000x1000x1.jpg

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.

51S34QLUpgL._SY355_.jpg

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.

220px-DarkHorseCover.jpg

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.

220px-3313Cover.jpg

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.

GHCover.jpg

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.

51UjE9fUigL.jpg

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.

619vywTWRkL._SY355_.jpg

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.

download.jpg

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.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brainwashed_(George_Harrison_album)

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Living_in_the_Material_World

-Stephen

 

Coltrane, Harrison, Dylan, and God, Pt. 2

This aspect of popular music from years past that has fascinated me more and more in recent years – when an artist or band has confounded their fan base with a relatively major change in artistic direction and whose career survived if not thrived because of it – crosses into rock territory today.  One well-known example of the latter is when a folk singer plugged in an electric guitar at a folk festival in 1965 and nearly instigated WWIII in the process.  Other times, as with the case of John Coltrane, it has involved the intermingling of spirituality or religion with what is “supposed” to be secular music.  This is a more delicate situation for artists.

By the time Bob Dylan, the folkie gone electric, had a vision of Christ in his Tucson hotel room in late 1978, mainstream rock audiences had already been exposed to songs of praise mixed in with their Eagles and Allman Bros. on the radio.  Norman Greenbaum had a major hit with the fuzz box guitar-drenched Spirit in the Sky in 1969, and George Harrison had struck gold with My Sweet Lord in 1970 or ’71, depending on which side of the pond you were on.  While there is always negative criticism on both ends of the spectrum (some evangelically inclined folks complained that Harrison deceptively added the Hari Krishna Mantra to the end of his song to indoctrinate unwitting youths into some foreign religion), these are benign light rock songs with great hooks – a winning formula.

Norman_Greenbaum_-_Spirit_in_the_Sky.jpg

But while a song here and there is one thing, dedicating entire albums and concert tours to the subject is another.  Harrison had begun to antagonize some of his fans by the time of his Living in the Material World album in 1973, which features ten spiritually related songs and one lament about the never-ending saga that was the Beatles divorce.  Then came his 1974 North American tour during which he refused to play any of his Beatles-era songs or otherwise made a mockery of them, and frequently berated his audiences for their evil ways.  Add to this a nasty case of laryngitis and Ravi Shankar’s Indian musicians opening the shows and it was a recipe for disaster.

george-151
Hari on Tour, 1974. John Gellman photo.

By most written accounts from the time it was a bit of a debacle, though some of that criticism has softened over the years.  Other than a brief tour of Japan in late ’91 in which he performed clinical renditions of his hits with Eric Clapton and his band backing him, he never toured again.  And the albums he would release after ’74 were more balanced in their spiritual and secular content.  Forty-four years on, there is at least a small ground swell of fans calling for the Harrison estate to release a set of the better sounding performances from the ’74 tour.  I know this because I’m one of them.  They weren’t all that bad, and anyway it’s now part of the lore.  If only George were still around to chant “Krishna!” at us while struggling through Give Me Love (Give Me Peace on Earth) with a wrecked throat in hockey arenas around the country!

Oh dear, I’ve done it again.  What was supposed to be another part of a brief introduction (which turned into a full post yesterday) has turned into another complete post.  I guess I’ll change the title again.

250px-Harrison_Shankar_1974_tour_programme.jpg

-Stephen