George Harrison

TrackAlbum
Marwa BluesBrainwashed
Soft-Hearted HanaGeorge Harrison
Horse To The WaterSmall World Big Band
Beware Of DarknessThe Concert For Bangladesh
Crackerbox PalaceThirty Three & ⅓
What Is LifeAll Things Must Pass
Handle With CareTraveling Wilburys
Give Me Love (Give Me Peace On Earth)Living In The Material World
My Sweet LordAll Things Must Pass
Between The Devil And The Deep Blue SeaBrainwashed

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Contributor: Glenn Smith

It’s all about the slide guitar. He gets out of the best little beat combo around, sits down with Delaney in late 1969 and learns how to play slide guitar. And it is a different kind of slide playing too; it swoops and soars in a way no other player has quite achieved. The moment you hear it you know it is George. When you consider that almost none of his Beatles work features slide (I know there are some minor exceptions and that’s John playing lap slide on For You Blue) it is extraordinary that the majority of his post Beatles solo career is defined by his slide guitar work. And his song writing. We now know that he had not only been rapidly developing as a songwriter through the sixties but that so many of the tunes that featured in his solo work had been stockpiled during the latter stages of the Beatles recording career. By 1970 he was ready to make his own sound with a whole lot of great tunes and his new found slide playing ability in addition to his already exceptional guitar playing and musicianship.

This Toppermost does not include any tracks from either Wonderwall Music (1968) or Electronic Sound (1969) but it does recommend a close listen to Wonderwall Music which has many fine moments. Meanwhile Electronic Sound is hidden somewhere along with Metal Machine Music.

 

Marwa Blues (Brainwashed 2002)
We start with an instrumental track from his posthumously released Brainwashed. This has the feel of a Hawaiian farewell song; it is an astonishingly melancholic piece. His slide work here is the culmination of many years of work, and as the slide slips us away from this mortal coil, we hear the faint recall of a Strawberry Fields like figure playing out in the background.

Soft-Hearted Hana (George Harrison 1979)
This track is taken from his great self-titled album of 1979. Soft-Hearted Hana, with sounds from his local pub filtering through, pumps along with barroom piano, a pumping tuba and some soft shuffle brushes on the drums. Coupled with a clever backing vocal arrangements and some bottle neck slide this is a rollicking good time tune.

 

Horse To The Water (Jools Holland – Small World Big Band 2001)
One of the many highlights of the “Concert for George” was Sam Brown’s brilliant performance of Horse To The Water, written by George with his son Dhani. Released on Jools Holland’s 2001 album of collaborations, it is George’s last performance on record. This record swings with menace, thumping horns and piano and some great words (including a great play on Dorothy Parker’s pun on horticulture) from a man knowing the end is nigh.

Beware Of Darkness (The Concert For Bangladesh 1971)
One of many stunning tracks on the All Things Must Pass album, this live version has a grit and feel absent from that album’s wall of sound production. The Bangladesh album has as many fine moments as bad and here the stellar band gets it right with Leon Russell supplying a perfect supporting vocal to George’s tired and emotive singing.

 

Crackerbox Palace (Thirty Three & ⅓ 1976)
Crackerbox comes from a cracker of an album, weird and wonderful it has many fine moments including his riposte to the He’s So Fine plagiarism case, This Song, and a great cover of True Love. And this pop classic, complete with baritone saxes and a very hip slap pop bass line, is a fine example of his love of the offbeat in the world. And, as always, some very nice slide guitar work.

What Is Life (All Things Must Pass 1970)
George could write great riffs and What Is Life is built around one of his best. Written while still a Beatle, this track best represents the wall of sound production on All Things Must Pass. Massed guitars, massed vocals, massed drums, massed tambourines, well pretty much massed everything, with the slide guitar this time hiding in the background. The horn arrangements are clever, sometimes verging on Mexican trumpets in their feel. They nicely drive the melody along assisted by a James Jamerson style bass line, the song fades beautifully as the strings introduce a counterpoint to the main melody.

 

Handle With Care (Traveling Wilburys 1988)
How much fun is this? The whole Wilburys thing could only happen in rock and roll, not many other art forms can bring together the masters in this way, it is unique among modern art forms. All of it a shout out to the past, more a headbutt than a nod, this song produces as only rock and roll can, a whole lot of fun from a bunch of old guys. And it took a Fab to kick the whole thing off with this brilliant descending chord rock out. The lyrics say it all, “reputations changeable, situations tolerable”, the tale they can all tell of their life on the road in rock and roll. One of his best vocal performances (well supported by the other luminaries) it also has, yep, a great slide guitar figure.

Give Me Love … (Living In The Material World 1973)
God in all her many guises features heavily in George’s solo work and Give Me Love (Give Me Peace On Earth) is pretty much a love letter to his deity. A lovely melody, it starts as a strummed guitar piece which is then sustained by a piano part which introduces the chorus. The slide guitar that runs through this song, especially the solo, is one of the finest examples of his slide work.

 

My Sweet Lord (All Things Must Pass 1970)
What can you say about this song? The genius is in the repetition of the verse/chorus, the chanting of the mantra, it is multi faith and multicultural decades before we became conscious of celebrating our identity in such a way. The guitar figure lays out the platform as the vocal chorus, the strings and the drumming build and build. You get a sense of an army of Ringos hitting the snare in unison. Just at the right time he rips out the slide guitar, which takes us even higher in the true gospel tradition, and then, just a little bit quieter now, the chorus moves down a notch as we fade out. Spector has a lot to answer for in his later period work, but here he knows exactly what to do with what George wanted, pretty close to perfect.

Between The Devil And The Deep Blue Sea (Brainwashed 2002)
George loved to cover Tin Pan Alley tunes and made a fine fist of some of the greats including Cole Porter and Hoagy Carmichael. Here he takes on a Harold Arlen tune made famous by Cab Calloway. He keeps the feel and vocal very much in an Al Bowlly/George Formby style, with some ukulele, tuba basslines, hothouse guitar solo and tinkling piano. Sing along happy, this is a great candidate for one of the last songs to be played before the world comes to end. Thanks for seeing us out George.

 

George Harrison Official Website

George Harrison biography (iTunes)

Glenn Smith lives in Sydney and teaches high school English, plays very bad guitar with his bass playing son and spends far too much time thinking about The Beatles …

TopperPost #404

8 Comments

  1. David Lewis
    Jan 25, 2015

    George invents slide guitar for pop. While Eric, Keith, Rory, Brian Jones, Jimi and others had had hit records, they were playing blues. George’s gorgeous and tasteful playing made it a pop device. This leads to later players like Brian May and Richie Sambora being able to play slide. (Yes, Brian would credit Rory, I suspect, and Richie – Hendrix, but they wouldn’t be able to use it without George). My only quibble is that My Sweet Lord was plagiarism, as found by the courts…

  2. Peter Viney
    Jan 25, 2015

    I think Glenn has given us a great selection, best of all because of its wide cover of George’s solo work. My Sweet Lord was unconscious plagiarism, I’m sure, which doesn’t detract from the great feel it has – I also love He’s So Fine. OK, it’s the same basic tune, but the treatment is so different. I find it OK to enjoy both and love the wash of acoustic guitar (and the electric guitar) . With two albums and a couple of extra tracks, don’t The Travelin’ Wilburys deserve their own Toppermost too? I’d want something from “Cloud Nine” which generated three hit singles, possibly When We Was Fab though Jeff Lynne’s production makes it sound more like ELO than The Beatles. I Got My Mind Set On You was his second biggest UK hit (#2). Cloud Nine feastures Ringo, Eric Clapton, Jeff Lynne, Gary Wright and Elton John. I like the title track too.

  3. Jerry Tenenbaum
    Jan 25, 2015

    Glenn: It is an impossible task to choose 10 only. “Isn’t It A Pity” and “I’d Have You Anytime” make my list. George Harrison reached into me like few artists have been able to do. Some of his songs have had the same impact as a great movie like “The Heart Is A Lonely Hunter”. His written Beatles output foreshadowed this brilliant solo career. Thank you.

  4. Glenn Smith
    Jan 25, 2015

    Jerry, what to do about so many of the All Things Must Pass songs? Another one that lurked on the fringe of top ten inclusion was Run of the Mill. And I completely agree with you about his capacity to move you through his music, All Things, his self titled album, Brainwashed and 33 1/3 are some of my favourite all time records. With My Sweet Lord it is worth having a listen to the demo on Early Takes Vol.1 as you get a sense of both the song writing and arrangement process. You can hear him thinking through the vocals for example. Written on guitar, it is a long way from a straight lift, but yeah with a head full of early rock n roll and r&b that two chord movement must have lodged in there via a thousand other songs.
    As for the Wilburys, how did that happen again!! Those five guys? And those tunes! I take your point Peter on Cloud Nine, I love the songs but the production has dated badly making it hard to keep them as favourites for this list.

    • Peter Viney
      Jan 26, 2015

      I know what you mean about Jeff Lynne’s 80s production, but I was working yesterday and inspired generally by your article on George, I let Cloud Nine play right through three times. The pulsing rhythm on Fish On The Sand does sound very 80s, but Back To The 80s might be the next fad. This Is Love exemplifies the slide guitar you mention, and Got My Mind Set On You still sounds terrific. Though the winner was Devil’s Radio, with that odd Glam Rock chorus. So that’s going to be my “Wot no?”.

  5. Rob Millis
    Jan 31, 2015

    It is indeed all about the slide guitar, which was indeed totally unique in its sound and phrasing, so delicate and melodic and none of your “heads down, it’s an Elmore James song” thrashing. What is amazing additionally is how quickly the style came together. For, as you say, this wasn’t a Beatles era skill developed, this was something that came later, almost as a post-Fabs trademark. And well it served as such, ironically most notably on Lennon’s “How Do You Sleep” and “Gimme Some Truth” for my money. The mid-late seventies GH catalogue is hard to love but worth the effort of doing so. I’ll take Dark Horse’s “Simply Shady” as my Wot No. Only George could rhyme ‘stir’ and ‘there’….

  6. Andrew Shields
    Jun 8, 2015

    For some reason,I have only come to this piece late – don’t know how I missed it… Like Glenn, GH and 33 1/3 are particular favourites of mine – from the latter I would probably have to have ‘Pure Smokey’ or ‘Learning How to Love You’ (not to mention ‘Beautiful Girl’ which is such a fine song) and from the former ‘My Dark Sweet Lady’ or ‘Soft Touch’ – which has such a brilliant arrangement… And I would also put in a word for ‘Behind that Locked Door’ from ‘All Things’… George is one of my favourite artists and a hugely underrated one.

  7. Ian Ashleigh
    Jun 14, 2015

    I dusted off ‘Cloud Nine’ this morning and reminded myself what a fine album it is, particularly ‘Wreck of the Hesperus’ great tune and Harrison wordplay.

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