An appreciation of George Harrison

Tony Phyrillas

“Everybody dreams of being rich and famous. Once you get rich and famous, you realize this isn’t it. There’s still something missing. It doesn’t matter how much money or property or whatever you’ve got, unless you’re happy in your heart. Unfortunately you can never gain perfect happiness unless you’ve got that state of consciousness that enables that. In the end, you’re trying to find God.”

— George Harrison

Everyone has a favorite Beatle. Mine is George Harrison. Odd choice I know. Hardly anyone noticed Harrison while the Beatles ruled the musical world for eight years. Turns out George was a late bloomer.

Harrison was only 26 when the Beatles broke up in 1970. If you were asked to predict the member of the Beatles who would enjoy the biggest success as a solo artist after the band broke up, hardly anyone would have chosen George Harrison.

Harrison, the “quiet Beatle,” was always in the shadow of the Paul McCartney, the cute one and the best singer, or John Lennon, the smart one, and even lovable Ringo Starr.

Relegated to one or two songs on Beatles albums dominated by Lennon-McCartney tunes, Harrison’s compositions were nothing more than album fillers for much of the Beatles run through the 1960s.

Harrison was credited with writing just 22 of the more than 200 songs recorded and officially released by The Beatles during their eight-year reign. Harrison came up with an occasional gem (“Taxman,” “While My Guitar Gently Weeps,” “Here Comes The Sun”) but of the Beatles’ 27 No. 1 hits, Harrison’s only contribution was “Something” from the “Abbey Road” album.

Harrison built up a stockpile of excellent songs in the late 1960s and finally got to share them with the world when the Beatles self-destructed as the decade came to a close.

His 1970 triple-album “All Things Must Pass” went platinum and spawned several hit singles. It was No. 1 for seven weeks. To this day, it is still regarded by critics as the best solo effort by a Beatle and is included on most lists of the best albums of all time.

His first post-Beatles single, “My Sweet Lord” was the No. 1 single for four weeks in the winter of 1970. It was followed by two other Top 10 hits from the album — “Isn’t It A Pity” and “What Is Life.” And there are a dozen other great songs on the album.

Enlisting the aid of Ringo Starr and longtime friend Eric Clapton as well as Billy Preston and Dave Mason, Harrison surprised everyone with the depth of his first solo release, which contained 16 original songs along with alternate versions of songs and extended jam sessions.

In addition to the title track, “My Sweet Lord” and “What Is Life,” stand-out songs include “Awaiting On You All,” “Art of Dying” and “Hear Me Lord.” Pop gems like “Wah-Wah” and “Apple Scruffs” rival anything the Beatles released.

Although he dabbled with eastern mysticism from the days of “Sgt. Pepper,” Harrison expressed a much deeper level of spirituality in “All Things Must Pass.” While Harrison’s lyrics can sometimes sound sanctimonious on their own, legendary “Wall of Sound” producer Phil Spector was brought in to create a sophisticated sound that often covers the awkwardness of the words.

Harrison’s voice, never his strong suit during his Beatles days, matured during the recording “All Things Must Pass” and a confident Harrison offered strong vocals on all of the album’s songs.

For a solo career that started with such promise, Harrison would never again duplicate the success of “All Things Must Pass” either commercially or artistically.

Harrison hit No. 1 again in 1973 with the single “Give Me Love (Give Me Peace On Earth)” from the album “Living In The Material World” but the record didn’t sell anywhere near the copies of its predecessor and critical praise waned.

The best song Harrison wrote in 1973 was “Photograph,” which he gave to Ringo Starr for his self-titled album. With Harrison on guitar and backup vocals, “Photograph” became a No. 1 hit for Ringo in October 1973 and still holds up today as one of the catchiest pop songs ever.

Harrison would release eight more albums in the 1970s and early 1980s to mixed commercial and critical success, occasionally cracking the Top 20. He would not have another major hit until “All Those Years Ago,” his tribute to slain bandmate John Lennon, which peaked at No. 2 in 1981.

His last appearance on the pop music chart was “Got My Mind Set On You,” a Jeff Lynn-produced remake of an early 1960s hit that the Beatles performed in their early days. Harrison’s bouncy cover version went to No. 1 in the United States.

Harrison returned to the spotlight one more time as a member of the super-group the Traveling Wilburys, joining Bob Dylan, Tom Petty, Roy Orbison and Jeff Lynne to release two excellent albums. The group disbanded after Roy Orbison died.

George Harrison lost his battle with cancer in late 2001. He was 58. Unlike John Lennon’s untimely death at the hands of an assassin, hardly anyone thinks about George Harrison anymore.

Five years after his death, we should recall the immense contributions George Harrison made to the world as a musician and a humanitarian.

Life is one long enigma, my friend. Live on, live on, the answer’s at the end. Don’t be so hard on the ones that you love. It’s the ones that you love we think so little of.

— From the song “The Answer’s at the End” by George Harrison

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: