George Harrison Left the Material World 20 Years Ago Today
Looking back on five of his most underrated solo albums
The first time I ever openly wept over the passing of a musician was the day George Harrison died on November 29, 2001.
The Beatles have been a part of my life since birth. As the son of the biggest Beatlemaniac in Nassau County, their music has been hardwired into my DNA in a way that cannot really be explained with words. I feel their songs like blood coursing through my arteries, if that makes any sense. Their music is also a direct pipeline to the memories I have of my mom, who had died two years prior to George in June of 1999.
Now my mom was most definitely a Paul Girl, but George was a close second. Just as she was there at JFK when the Fabs landed and at Shea Stadium when they returned in ’65. I also remember her going to at least two Wings concerts, as she bought tour posters that she would hang up in my room in lieu of little kid stuff. But she also went to the Concert for Bangladesh, as well. And, while I never confirmed it with her, I am pretty certain she made her way down the street from where we lived to Nassau Coliseum when Harrison toured in 1974.
My first proper music collection, I suppose, was my mom’s collection of 8-Track tapes, which mostly included Beatles and Wings albums. And while she never owned a copy of All Things Must Pass to my memory, she had a couple of George’s solo works in the mix. When I began collecting cassettes myself in middle school, I got Cloud Nine the weekend after it was released in late 1987–I can still remember that weird smell from the original clear cassettes hitting me when I cracked open the cellophane and opened up the tape for the first time. To this day, that scent is still etched in my memory when I hear Cloud Nine. I have my grandpa, who passed away 25 years ago this past November, to thank for kicking me down the corn that 8th grade Saturday night at the Hudson Valley Mall in Kingston after a ravioli dinner in the Papa Gino’s across from the tape shop. High school, meanwhile, was as defined by the Traveling Wilburys as it was Sonic Youth and Public Enemy.
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So when that horrible post-Thanksgiving news hit the Internet that George Harrison had lost his battle with cancer, which spread from his lungs to his brain like my grandmother, it was a mighty blow to my soul. It was like I wasn’t just mourning the loss of our beloved George, but also this repressed sorrow I had bottled up about dealing with the deaths of my mom and grandpa as well. Not to mention the lingering impact of 9/11 still very thick in the New York skyline.
Amidst all of this hoopla on my socials about the new Peter Jackson documentary series, the most annoying remarks regarding Get Back is in reference to George and his attitude during these sessions. Words like “bitchy” and “petulant” have been bandied about on Facebook posts, and I’m reading it like, “Really, dudes?” Wouldn’t you be a little annoyed if you were writing songs as good as “All Things Must Pass” and they were getting snubbed for “Maxwell’s Silver Hammer.” I mean, come on kids.
In honor of this somber anniversary, I wrote about five George Harrison solo albums I feel deserve more love than they get.
May God continue to keep George Harrison in His warm embrace.
Electronic Sound (1969)
Paul McCartney may have been the one who first started messing around with analog adventurism during the Revolver era, but with his second solo project it was Harrison who dove deep into the chasm of these studio explorations when he acquired his first Moog synthesizer.Electronic Sound was issued on the Fabs’ incredibly shortlived avant-garde offshoot of Apple Records—cheekily dubbed Zapple—and entails two lengthy compositions of amorphous sonic experiments on the Moog IIIc modular synth, which he had purchased directly from its inventor, the late Robert Moog, and is still owned by his family to this very day.
Despite being hit with a lawsuit from renowned synthesizer player Bernie Krause, who claimed that the track “No Time or Space” was actually a recording of him teaching Harrison how to play the Moog and released without his consent, both this 25-minute soup of Silver Apples-angling burps and delays and its overdubbed 18-minute counterpart on the flip (“Under the Mersey Wall”) serve as an indulgent and oddly visionary testament to the Zapple label and its unsung promise to bring the avant-garde to the pop crowd.
Extra Texture (1975)
Coming off the heels of a highly problematic 1974 North American tour with friend and mentor Ravi Shankar coupled with the poor critical reception of his underrated fifth LP Dark Horse, with Rolling Stone’s Jim Miller blasting the album as “disastrous,” Harrison was eager to reboot and cut a new album as soon as possible, partially as a means to get out of his recording contract with Capitol/EMI.
Dark Horse was born out of his split from first wife Patti Boyd—who left him for his best friend Eric Clapton—and compounded by a growing dependency on alcohol and cocaine.
With Extra Texture, he chose to expound upon his sorrows by utilizing his old band’s love for Motown to deliver a searching, soulful dispatch that replaces theology with vulnerability as he employs an incredibly adept session group to help see through his crisis of faith, including such studio heavyweights as longtime Beatles associate Klaus Voormann on bass, drummers Jim Keltner and Jim Gordon, keyboardists David Foster, Gary Wright, Nicky Hopkins, Billy Preston and Leon Russell and unsung guitar hero Jesse Ed Davis to name but a select few.
Even Ronnie Spector turns up to sing backgrounds on the album’s luminous opening track “You.” Extra Texture was the victim of bad timing upon its release in 1975, but it’s a wonderful white R&B LP perfectly preserved for you to dig into 42 years later.
Thirty-Three & 1/3 (1976)
Originally released in November of ’76, Harrison’s seventh solo album also marked the debut title for the guitarist’s new record label, Dark Horse, slyly named after his least popular album of the time. Harrison enlisted jazz saxophonist Tom Scott, who was also featured on Extra Texture, to produce and a tighter, funkier studio band to punctuate the groove on this new chapter of his recording career.
The songs are lighter and brighter than its immediate predecessors, with “This Song” poking self-deprecating fun at his own legal woes and falling deeper into his creative relationship with Monty Python, particularly Eric Idle who directed to the album’s pair of music videos. It was also during this time when Harrison made his SNL debut appearing alongside Paul Simon to perform those indelible acoustic duets of “Here Comes the Sun” and the Simon & Garfunkel favorite “Homeward Bound” that remains one of the benchmark music performances in the show’s history.
In horse racing, the idea of the dark horse is the stallion that nobody bets on but wins the race. By making Thirty-Three & 1/3 the first missive from his new record label, he would prove his critics wrong about underestimating him ever again.
Gone Troppo (1982)
Named for the Australian slang term for going crazy, Gone Troppo was released in November of 1982 to absolute minimal fanfare. It was almost as if the album didn’t even exist.
To rediscover it 35 years later with fresh ears is a delightful surprise. While by no means gold star George, Troppo nevertheless was a fun, frivolous swim through the waters of new wave as Harrison exhibits a sense of playfulness not present on a GH record in years and hiding beneath the cheese pop synths exist some of his strongest songwriting of the Dark Horse era. Listen close to songs like “Mystical One” and “Unknown Delight” and you might even discover the secret ingredient to Wilco’s Summerteeth.
Live in Japan (1992)
George Harrison’s short tour of Japan in December of 1991 with Clapton and his band marked the Quiet One’s first stab at touring since that troubled run in ’74. Delivered to stores in July of ’92, this double live chronicle of the trek—even in its 25th anniversary year—remains arguably the best concert album by a solo Beatle on the market.
Taking comfort in the crack professionalism of Clapton’s band, which included the likes of current Rolling Stones keyboardist Chuck Leavell, bassist Nathan East and guitarist Andy Fairweather Low among others, Harrison delivers a Greatest Hits set for the ages offering a well hued balance of choice solo material and his most beloved contributions to The Beatles, where “Something” segues into “What Is Life” and “Cloud 9” parts the sky for “Here Comes the Sun.”
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4 thoughts on “George Harrison Left the Material World 20 Years Ago Today”
Yes, I too feel their songs like blood coursing through my arteries. Beautiful memories Ron, of your mom, grandpa, and of course George. Like your mom, my older sister was one of the biggest Beatlemaniacs in Queens. We went to Shea Stadium together in 1965 (although at 9 years of age, I had my fingers in my ears the whole time because of the nonstop screaming). I listened daily to their songs for years until my sister got married. Of all the post Beatles music that each one wrote and recorded, there was something about George’s style that resonated with me the most. It was his albums that I bought. Your mom and grandpa would be so proud today to read your touching tribute.
And your grandmother. Sorry.
Thank you, Carol <3
Is 33 1/3 underrated? It has 2 of his bigger solo hits and was generally greeted as a return to form following 3 albums that were decidedly not appreciated at the time.