People used to like to call George Harrison “The Quiet Beatle.” But I’d say instead that he was The Restless Beatle.
Harrison had no patience for people who wasted his time. He also shared his bandmates intense desire to change and grow — and nobody in rock and roll history changed or grew spiritually quite like George. The fruition of his personal and professional growth is on display in Apple’s new collection of George Harrison’s solo work. People will no doubt grouse that his post-Beatles catalogue doesn’t have the consistency of his Beatles work.
But they’d be missing the point. Like Bob Dylan in the 80s, Harrison has a lot to offer that people have not always paid attention to.
Above all else, he was a skilled musician and a sly songwriter. Maybe he could never be compared with John and Paul, when it came to coming up with gems like I Am The Walrus and Eleanor Rigby — though a body of work including Here Comes The Sun, Something, While My Guitar Gently Weeps, If I Needed Someone, Within You Without You, Old Brown Shoe and It’s All Too Much is a pretty damned good collection.
Where Harrison truly distinguishes himself is on his solo albums, particularly the early ones on Apple, through 1975. All Things Must Pass, Living In The Material World and Dark Horse all contain some terrific songs that you’d probably forgotten about. Songs like I’d Have You Anytime (co-written with Bob Dylan and still my favorite all-time George solo song), My Sweet Love, Awaiting On You All, Give Me Love, Dark Horse, You and All Things Must Pass would have sounded just fine on a 1970s-era Beatles album.
Harrison wrote with a great sense of irony and empathy, hallmarks of an accomplished writer. He was a self-aware songwriter. The pain of his divorce shines through sadly on the Dark Horse album. A combination of ebullience and trepidation comes across on All Things Must Pass, his first commercial effort following the 1970 breakup of The Beatles. He was finally free to do whatever he wanted. But, he seemed to recognize, with freedom comes great responsibility, too.
The other revelation in the new Apple box set is the sonic quality of the music. It sounds GREAT! I am no audiophile and I don’t understand the nuances of production. But these songs now eclipse anything on the original albums. There s a richness and a fullness to the music that even skilled producers couldn’t reach in the historic 1970s. If you love George’s music, get this box set for the improvement alone in the sound quality.
Me? I’ll just continue to discover songs and sounds that George Harrison gave us. And I’m glad he was so restless. He was a true artist.