There was a little cedar wardrobe closet upstairs in my house when I was a kid. I put a record player and a couple of posters in there, in an attempt to make it a kind of clubhouse. I had a poster of Band Aid, the British rock super group formed by Bob Geldoff to raise money for Ethiopia in 1985. I remember playing the Band Aid single “Feed the World” in there. I also remember hiding out in that clubhouse, playing a cheap re-issue copy of George Harrison’s 1974 album Dark Horse. I had picked up the album in the bargain bins of a variety store called McCrory in the New Rochelle Mall. I played the hell out of it. I still have the record. It’s all scratched up. I just put it on and I’m listening to it now.
George loving was a pretty solitary endeavor for a kid in the 80’s. I couldn’t really get any of my friends on board with my George Harrison solo albums. George was too old, too mellow and too obscure for them. Still, I couldn’t help preferring his old albums to Duran Duran or whatever my friends were into. I also really liked the persona that came across in interviews with George. I took his memoir I Me Mine out from the library. I read it and stared at all the pictures. I liked imagining George’s mellow mansion millionaire musician life.
Though he was rich and famous, he was decidedly un-glitzy and he was pretty much completely gone from public life when I was growing up. He seemed a bit like my dad: A middle aged guy with a mustache and a family who stayed out of the limelight and enjoyed gardening. I could relate to George too. Like me, he was into music, poetry, comedy and hanging out with his friends. But unlike me, he had a recording studio in his basement and a heliport on his roof. He transcended his physical being through meditation and played slide guitar on records with Willie Weeks on bass…and he had been in the Beatles. So George was my bizarro dad from the spiritual, rock star, magical mystery alternate universe. I felt very safe and looked after, hanging around with those albums spinning in the background. I had an old cassette of All Things Must Pass and a few other George solo lps and I played them all the time while I was doing homework, playing board games, building a fort in the living room or otherwise being a kid. Anytime I’d run across a George record in a bargain bin, I’d buy it for $3.99 and put it in rotation. My friends tolerated my records as background music, even if they never got into it themselves.
Few rock critics had been up for tolerating those Harrison solo albums when they came out in the 70’s. Nearly all of the records that I enjoyed mellowing out with had been critically slammed, often rather severely. George’s only US concert tour met with equally awful reviews. There was one rock critic called Robert Christgau* who just tore every George album to shreds. I was too young to catch all of that when it was happening but when I think about it now I imagine that it must have been pretty painful to be out there playing your first solo gigs and have to read over and over again “This guy sucks. He’s no good without the Beatles.” I don’t know really what to say to all of that criticism. I’m listening to those 70’s records right now and they still sound really good to me. Sure, it ain’t the Beatles, and it’s rather easy listening but so what? I’d much rather write ten pretty little songs that aren’t as good as the greatest pop group in history than write a hundred scathing, wise ass lines about Hare Krishna for a deadline. I’m not saying every moment is brilliant on these George records but the melodies are catchy and often very beautiful. There are many great sets of lyrics and the grooves are always totally solid. The singer sings with a lot of heart, even when his voice doesn’t make it all the way. I can see how these are the kind of songs that are easily taken for granted but that doesn’t mean they should be. I don’t hear all that many narrators full of heart, soul and groove ruling the airwaves these days.
George eventually resurfaced with comeback hits and videos from Cloud 9 and The Traveling Wilburys in the later 80’s. By then, the stakes were lower for the reviewer. The story was no longer the fall of the great hero. George was no longer in contention for a spot as a top pop idol. He was just a mellow old retired rock star, getting together with his rock star palls. Even then, he made catchy records full of heart and soul.
I’m guessing you haven’t heard all that many George records. Or maybe you have. Here’s what I’ll do: I’ll list some of my favorite George songs from the solo years. If you’ve never heard them, maybe you’ll check them out online or even make a playlist. If you have heard them, maybe you’ll tell me I’ve got it all wrong and list all of your favorites in the comments or maybe you’ll just share some George love.
If my count is right, George made two experimental solo albums while still in the Beatles; Wonderwall Music and Electronic Sound. After the band broke up he made nine solo albums, two collaborative concert albums and two albums with the Traveling Wilburys. …Not a bad retirement. There’s also a recently released collection of demos called Early Takes which I really like.
I recommend checking out each album individually and making your own decisions. Just put them on and get back to building your fort. If you’re looking for an album recommendation, most people will tell you to check out All Things Must Pass George’s triple album blockbuster from 1970, produced by Phil Spector. My personal favorite is his light rock gem George Harrison from 1979. Dark Horse, Cloud 9 and Thirty Three & 1/3 are also favorites. I’m skipping the concert records, though I really like The Concert For Bangla Desh. I’m also skipping the first two albums. Wonderwall Music is a psychedelic, Indian music-influenced instrumental soundtrack and Electronic Sounds is two sides of Moog madness so I won’t get into those, though I’m glad they exist.
Here are just over forty of my favorite George songs from the solo years (in chronological order).
1.My Sweet Lord
2.Isn’t it a Pity?
3.What is Life?
4.Behind That Locked Door
5.All Things Must Pass
6.Run of the Mill (dig the demo version on Early Takes)
8. Give Me Love (Give Me Peace on Earth)
9. Don’t Let Me Wait To Long
10. Simply Shady
12. Dark Horse
13. Ding Dong, Ding Dong
14. Far East Man
16.Can’t Stop Thinking About You
17.Tired of Midnight Blue
21.Love Comes to Everyone
22.Here Comes The Moon
24.Dark Sweet Lady
25.All Those Years Ago
26.Save The World
28.That’s the Way it Goes
29.This is Love
32.Set on You
33.End Of The Line (with the Travelling Wilburys)
34.Handle with Care (with the Travelling Wilburys)
35.Heading for the Light (with the Travelling Wilburys)
36.Maxine (with the Travelling Wilburys)
37.New Blue Moon (with the Travelling Wilburys)
39.The Rising Son
40.Lost Inside a Cloud
42.Deep Blue (B Side from 1971)
*Christgau had actually gone to high school and college with my dad as it turns out.