George Harrison’s solo career had a rather odd trajectory. After bursting out of the gates with All Things Must Pass in 1970 and then scoring a #1 hit with “Give Me Love, Give Me Peace on Earth” in 1973, Harrison began to shun the spotlight. He became a reluctant star, releasing albums only sporadically and doing little to promote them or himself via publicity and touring. Harrison occasionally returned to the charts with singles such as “All Those Years Ago” (1981), “Blow Away” (1979), and “Got My Mind Set on You” (1987), but, as detailed below, many of his album tracks were just as good.
#7 “Beautiful Girl”
This shimmering song originated in 1969 and was briefly considered for All Things Must Pass, but didn’t see the light of day until it was included on Harrison’s 1976 album, 33 1/3. When it came time to finish the tune, Harrison found new inspiration via Olivia Arias whom he married two years later. Many have admired the track’s Beatles-esque qualities, including its pure melody, inventive bridge, and arpeggiated guitar. Yet Harrison’s eloquent slide solo places it firmly in the ranks of his solo catalog, and its simple but moving lyrics constitute one of his best tributes to Arias.
#6 “Pisces Fish”
If rather brooding in tone, this track from the posthumously-released Brainwashed finds Harrison at his candid best. He scornfully observes mundane details from another day spent on earth (old women with dogs, discontented farmers, and goose droppings that decorate the riverside) before turning his thoughts to religion via references to temples and popes. If the lyrics seem a bit contemptuous, they are saved from self-righteousness when Harrison includes a frank assessment of himself as a walking contradiction. While he sought peace via Hinduism, Harrison was never able to fully forego the temptations of the material world. The song’s recurring river imagery reflects the nature of Harrison’s zodiac sign, whose diametrically opposed heads mirror a frank acknowledgment of his personal struggles.
#5 “Learning How to Love You”
This gentle and moving composition from 33 1/3 exemplifies the dual nature of many of Harrison’s love songs. On one level it is another tribute to his budding relationship with Arias, the dark, sweet lady who has saved him, but anyone familiar with Harrison recognizes that the personal pronoun “you” can be applied with equal accuracy to a higher power. Musically, the track is gorgeous. Clever percussion work augments the arrangement, while Tom Scott’s horn work and Gary Wright’s keyboard contributions are appropriately subtle. Harrison’s lovely acoustic guitar solo is reminiscent of some of his best early work with the Beatles, ripe with echoes of his work on “And I Love Her,” and “Till There Was You.”
#4 “That’s the Way It Goes”
Harrison’s 1982 release Gone Troppo was not one of his finest moments, but it is graced by this overlooked gem. The song’s very title implies that dismayed as Harrison might be by our greed and craving for status, he must carry on stoically in order to maintain his peace of mind. During this period, the former Beatle was growing increasingly disillusioned with the music business, and the song is indicative of his own sense of resignation. Joe Brown performed the composition at Harrison’s 2002 memorial concert, and it was included as the B side to the 1988 single, “When We Was Fab.” Bass vocal contributions from Willie Greene anchor the track, whose dreamy musical feel stands in juxtaposition to the lyric’s message.
#3 “This Song”
Inspired by the charge of unintentional plagiarism brought against Harrison for his 1970 hit, “My Sweet Lord,” this high-spirited minor hit from 33 1/3 pairs genuine anger with a dose of fun. In contrast to the disputed piece in question, the lyrics define “this song” as straightforward but also indisputably original, although musicologists have identified several musical jokes in it that do, in fact, echo hits from the past. Driven by Billy Preston’s bouncy piano and accusatory organ, the musical track ripples with good-natured fury. Harrison’s friend Eric Idle of Monty Python fame contributes commentary in typically madcap fashion, and the video created for the song and shown on Saturday Night Live is an amusing piece of art in its own right.
#2 “Any Road”
The opening track to Harrison’s final album serves as a fitting retrospective to Harrison’s life. Though he has traveled to many places (both physically and spiritually) via many means, Harrison has learned that grasping the value of one’s ultimate destination is the key to life. The lines that serve as the song’s chorus (“if you don’t know where you’re going / any road will take you there”) are paraphrased from two sources: a statement made by the Cheshire Cat in Alice in Wonderland, and similar sentiments from various Eastern teachings. Harrison began working on the song in 1988, and its sound recalls his work with The Traveling Wilburys from the same period. Harrison’s powerful and inventive guitar work throughout reflects his advice to the sound engineer that begins the track: “give me plenty of that guitar.”
#1 “Your Love is Forever”
When this track was released as part of Harrison’s self-titled album in 1979, punk was all the rage. The tune’s delicate musical beauty is as timeless as its sentiments, and the piece serves as testimony to the staying power of more traditional musical forms. Originally conceived as an instrumental, Harrison credits producer Russ Titelman with encouraging him to expand the song and add words. Again, the lyrics serve two masters: a physical, and a spiritual love. Harrison’s use of an open tuning allowed him to pay homage to both his Western and Eastern musical inspirations. Perhaps the best adjective to apply to the song is “warm.” Harrison loved the tropics, and the piece allows the listener aural access to a region both temperate and inviting. We bask in the track created by the man who had earlier written one of mankind’s most popular paeans to the power of the sun.
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