Album Spotlight: George Harrison—George Harrison

Of all of George Harrison’s solo albums, I think this eponymous one from 1979 is perhaps his best. His first solo record, All Things Must Pass, is broader in scope but is encumbered by Phil Spector’s everything-and-the-kitchen-sink production and a few dull spots (not including the entire “Apple Jam” record). George Harrison, however, is beautiful from beginning to end, with acoustic and slide guitars predominating a relaxing, warm, and mellow record.

Released on Valentine’s Day, 1979, George Harrison found the ex-Beatle in a celebratory mood, having married and fathered a son during its recording. The songs were written while on vacation in Hawaii and other locations and also at the Formula 1 race track, and recorded at George’s home studio in Friar Park, Henley-on-Themes. George worked with a number of renowned session musicians such as Andy Newmark, Willie Weeks, Neil Larson and Ray Cooper, with Russ Titelman co-producing. The result is a marvelous folk-rock sound, with a laid-back feel.

Track by track:

Love Comes To Everyone–George’s close friend Eric Clapton played the opening guitar solo on this number, despite having fallen in love with Harrison’s ex-wife. (Paul, George and Ringo would jam at the Claptons’ wedding reception two years later.) George sounds truly happy, singing about the joy of love, with a melody which sticks in the head and slide guitar riffs which articulate his ecstasy. This got a lot of airplay until it was released as a single, at which point it dropped from the face of the earth. If you’re one of the lucky few to have grabbed a picture sleeve of this single, treasure it; it’s the most valuable of the Beatles solo 45s. Steve Winwood also contributes his trademark keyboards in a mini-Blind Faith reunion.

Not Guilty–An acoustic rendition of an unreleased (at that time) Beatles number, with pointed lyrics such as “I won’t upset the Apple cart” and “Not guilty of looking like a freak/Making friends with every Sikh”. For those such as myself who were unaware of the Beatle connection at the time, it made for a lovely quiet meditation. For those who had heard the Beatle rendition, it made for a sharp contrast to their hard rock take and somewhat teetering version. Either way, an outstanding song.

Here Comes The Moon–Written as a sequel to Here Comes The Sun, after George saw a Hawaiian sunset with the full moon rising. “Too much,” as he wrote later in his autobiography I Me Mine. A gorgeous sequel, slower paced than the original, with keyboards bubbling up like ocean waves in the moonlight.

Soft-Hearted Hana–Inspired by a trip George took on magic mushrooms while on the island of Maui. The mushrooms are immortalized in the final verse.1The lyrics are trippy psychedelia, with dobro riffs which are some of the finest playing George ever did on a song. The original inspiration for the melody was his B-side Deep Blue, but as he stated in I Me Mine, “[T]his is more ‘up’. Deep Blue was ‘down’.” The title was a play on a 1920’s ragtime song entitled Hard Hearted Hannah, and the town Hana is a remote town on Maui. The party sounds at the beginning and end were recorded at the Row Barge pub just down the street from Friar Park.2 Steve Winwood joins in on harmonies on the middle-eights. The end of the song was treated to varispeed recording, causing it to go faster and slower and making me wonder when I heard it on the B-side of Blow Away if the single was defective. My favorite song on the entire album.

Blow Away–An upbeat tune which counsels persistence and a bright outlook in the face of depression. George stated that he wanted to write a song that “Niki-Jody-Emerson and the gang” (from Formula One racing) could enjoy. It had been raining, and he’d been in a bad mood, when he reminded himself that “I don’t have to feel this! I do love everybody.” (I Me Mine) The slide guitar riffs are catchy and gorgeous, and the tune optimistic and bright. It was a Top Twenty hit in the U.S., his biggest since 1973’s Give Me Love (Give Me Peace On Earth).

Side Two: Faster–Another tune written for the Formula One gang, but George broadened the lyrics so that anyone could feel included in this treatise to the pursuit of perfection in the face of adversity. The race car sounds were recorded at the 1978 British Grand Prix. It’s the fastest song on the album (appropriately), although it’s not a true rocker. The third single, released in the UK only, with the proceeds going to the Gunnar Nilsson Cancer Fund, named after the racer who died of cancer.

Dark Sweet Lady–For his new wife Olivia, who requested George write a Spanish type of song (she is Mexican). Beautiful guitar work, and a lovely ballad.

Your Love Is Forever–George had been playing around with open tuning on his guitar, and Russ Titelman kept after him about it until he wrote lyrics. The guitars used a Roland effect to get a gorgeous chiming sound. George stated that because the tune was so lovely, that he worked extra hard to get the lyrics to live up to it. I think he succeeded.

Soft Touch–Like Soft-Hearted Hana, this was inspired by another song: Run of the Mill. George had been playing the horn line at the end of that song on his guitar and wrote Soft Touch in the Virgin Islands. Although he didn’t say so in I Me Mine, I think it was inspired by Dhani: “As a warm son rises/Into joy I’m sailing/To your soft touch baby”.

If You Believe–Co-written with Gary Wright, who also played keyboards. Begun on New Year’s Day, 1978. Another positive inspiration song. George was very good at giving himself (and his listeners) pep talks.

Reviews of George Harrison were mostly positive, although some critics grumbled that the record was too laid-back. Personally, I think it works quite well and is one of my go-to albums when I want some mellow music which isn’t insipid. George didn’t have the classic highs of John and Paul at their best, but neither did he have their embarrassing lows. His records were the most consistent of any ex-Beatles, and George Harrison is one of his best. The digital release on iTunes, by the way, contains two bonus tracks: demos of Here Comes The Moon and Blow Away, well worth hearing.