Today, George Harrison would have turned 75 years, so this felt like a great occasion to put together a commemorative piece and playlist. Harrison was born on February 25, 1943 in Liverpool, England. His father Harold Hargreaves Harrison was a bus conductor, while his mother Louise (née French) was working as a shop assistant. He had three older siblings, two brothers (Harold and Peter) and one sister (Louise).
While growing up in Liverpool, Harrison developed an early interest in music and guitars. His father had reservations about his son’s plans to pursue a music career but still bought him an acoustic guitar in 1956. One of his dad’s friends taught Harrison a few songs. Not surprisingly soon thereafter, Harrison formed his first band with his brother Peter and a friend – a skiffle group inspired by Lonnie Donegan. In 1957 on the bus to his high school, Harrison had a chance encounter that started a life-changing path: Running into Paul McCartney. With their shared passion for music, the two hit if off pretty quickly.
McCartney, who had started playing with another young fellow called John Lennon in The Quarrymen, brought Harrison into the skiffle band in early 1958. By August 1960, the band had adopted rock & roll and following a few name changes evolved into The Beatles. Apart from Lennon, McCartney and Harrison, the initial lineup included Stuart Sutcliffe (bass) and Pete Best (drums). In August 1962, Ringo Starr joined on drums, after George Martin had complained to Brian Epstein about Best’s poor skills. Sutcliffe had left The Beatles a year earlier, which had prompted McCartney to switch from guitar to the bass. The classic line-up was finally in place!
In the early years, Lennon and McCartney dominated the band’s songwriting. While Harrison got his first credit for Don’t Bother Me on the second studio album With The Beatles from 1963, it wasn’t until Help! (1965) that he started asserting himself more as a writer. Help! featured his two compositions I Need You and You Like Me Too Much. Eventually, he introduced Indian influences and other ideas. The Beatles’ music wouldn’t have evolved the way it did, had it not been for Harrison.
Some of Harrison’s other song contributions during The Beatles period included If Needed Someone (Rubber Soul, 1965), Taxman (Revolver, 1966), Within You Without You (Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band), Blue Jay Way (Magical Mystery Tour, 1967), The Inner Light (non-album single, 1968), While My Guitar Gently Weeps (The Beatles, aka The White Album, 1968), It’s All Too Much (Yellow Submarine), Here Comes The Sun (Abbey Road) and I Me Mine (Let It Be).
Before The Beatles broke up in early 1970, Harrison had already released two solo records, Wonderwall Music and Electronic Sound, both of which were mostly instrumental. In November 1970, his first post-Beatles solo record appeared, the triple LP All Things Must Pass – a powerful statement that Harrison was finally free from all artistic restrictions!
In 1971, responding to a request from his mentor Ravi Shankar, Harrison organized the Concert For Bangladesh to raise money for starving refugees in the war-ravaged country. In addition to him and Shankar, the charity event in New York’s Madison Square Garden on August 1st featured an impressive array of other artists, such as Eric Clapton, Ringo Starr, Leon Russell, Billy Preston and Bob Dylan. It attracted more than 40,000 visitors and raised close to $250,000 (about $1.55 million in today’s money), and essentially introduced the concept for Live Aid and other music charity events.
Between 1973 and 1987, Harrison released eight additional solo albums: Living In The Material World (1973), Dark Horse (1974), Extra Texture (Read All About It) (1975), Thirty Three & 1/3 (1976), George Harrison (1979), Somewhere In England (1981), Gone Troppo (1982) and Cloud Nine (1987). He could not complete his final album Brainwashed due to advanced cancer but left it with a guide for his son Dhani Harrison and his friend and music collaborator Jeff Lynne to complete. The record appeared in November 2002, one year after Harrison’s death.
In 1988, Harrison co-founded The Traveling Wilburys, which also included Bob Dylan, Jeff Lynne, Roy Orbison and Tom Petty. The band released two albums, Traveling Wilburys Vol. 1 (1988) and Traveling Wilburys Vol. 3 (1990). The latter record did not include Orbison who had passed away in December 1988. Harrison’s discography also includes two live records, four compilation albums and four box sets. Time for some music clips!
Wah-Wah appears on All Things Must Pass, which is widely considered to be Harrison’s best solo album. It also became his most successful solo release, topping the charts in the US, UK, Canada, Australia and various other countries.
Here Comes The Sun is one of Harrison’s compositions from The Beatles period and one of my favorite tunes from the Abbey Road album. The following clip captures his live performance during the Concert For Bangladesh, together with Badfinger lead vocalist and guitarist Peter Ham.
The Lord Loves The One (That Loves The Lord) is from Harrison’s forth studio album Living In The Material World, which appeared in May 1973.
Dark Horse is the title track of Harrison’s fifth studio record from December 1974.
Crackerbox Palace appears on Thirty Three & 1/3, Harrison’s seventh studio album from November 1976. The tune, which features a slide guitar sound that had become a Harrison signature, was also released as the record’s second single in January 1977.
Blow Away is included on Harrison’s eponymous 8th studio album, which came out in February 1979. The song also appeared separately as the record’s lead single a few days ahead of its release.
Got My Mind Set On You, composed by American songwriter Rudy Clark, is from Cloud Nine. Released in November 1987 after a five-year hiatus from the music business, Harrison’s 11th studio album became a successful comeback, reaching no. 8 on the U.S. Billboard 200 and climbing to no. 10 on the UK Albums Chart. Got My Mind Set On You was also the record’s lead single and reached the top of the Billboard Hot 100.
Handle With Care is the opening track from Traveling Wilburys Vol. 1. The tune, which like all songs on the 1988 album is simply credited to Traveling Wilburys, features Harrison and Orbison on lead vocals. Here is the official video clip.
If I Needed Someone is one of my favorite Harrison compositions and Beatles tunes. It appears on the band’s sixth studio Rubber Soul, released in December 1965. The following clip is from Harrison’s 1992 Live In Japan album, which features Clapton and a terrific backing band.
I’d like to conclude this post and playlist with Any Road from Brainwashed, released in November 2002. Harrison’s final solo album took about 14 years to complete. After he had started work in 1988, things got delayed due to business problems with his former manager Denis O’Brien, his work with the Traveling Wilburys and Ravi Shankar, and his involvement in The Beatles Anthology albums. In 2001, Harrison underwent surgery for lung cancer and radiotherapy for cancer that had metastasized into his brain. He continued to work on the album as long as he could and left instructions for Dhani and Lynne to complete things. Harrison passed away at a friend’s house in Los Angeles on November 29, 2001. He was 58 years old.
Sources: Wikipedia, YouTube