George Harrison Early Takes Volume 1(Universal) Buy it from Insound
After his death in 2001, George Harrison’s wife Olivia granted Martin Scorsese the honor of directing a documentary about Harrison; George Harrison: Living in the Material World. To belatedly coincide with, and adorn that release is a most personal and intimate collection of demos and early takes from George’s personal archive of recordings which he left behind – this is: George Harrison: Early Takes Volume 1.
He once said: “The Beatles, for me, is a bit like a suit or shirt I once wore, and unfortunately, people look at that suit and think it’s me.” This was in 1997, over 25 years after The Beatles disbanded and it’s interesting to discover that actually, despite the obvious furore that surrounds the band and wishing in no way to undermine their influence, for George Harrison, they didn’t define him.
In respect of his writing input, The Beatles could actually be considered his least creative period – at least in terms of the released material. During his tenure of over a decade and twelve LP releases, Harrison received writing credits for just twenty tracks, of which he wrote eighteen, an astonishingly slight input from someone we would later see to be prolific. In November 1970, following their break-up in the spring, Harrison released his acclaimed Triple-album All Things Must Pass which became a No.1 in UK, and went 6x Platinum in the US. The first single from that album, My Sweet Lord, exploded to become an international No.1 and best-selling single of any of The ex-Beatles throughout the ‘70’s. He would go on to release twelve LP’s of his own throughout his solo career, not to mention his involvement with The Traveling Wilburys.
The released version of My Sweet Lord from late 1970 in the US consisted of multi-tracked backing vocals, slide guitars and the infamous Phil Spector ‘wall of sound’. His demo version of the song here, however, is simply soft percussion, subtle bass, acoustic guitar and rasping, flawless vocal. The arrangement accentuates the delicate intricacies of the melody within the parameters of a perfect pop song that also allows him to express a religious message that is perhaps understated. That subtlety is unwound on the early take of Awaiting On You All, where he deplores organised religion and questions its relevance to spirituality: you don’t need no church house, you don’t need no temple, as well as an off-hand dig at his former band-mate: you don’t need a love-in, you don’t need a bedpan. This track in particular demonstrates both the frustrations and restrictions of being Harrison in a band with Lennon and McCartney dominating the song-writing. Where The Beatles descended into turmoil, George Harrison created a palpable sense of freedom and happiness within his music, often, speaking of his own personal relationship with god, something which would never have been possible with The Beatles, not so overtly anyway.
Of the ten tracks there are two covers; one of Bob Dylan’s Another Side of Bob Dylan reject Mama You’ve Been On My Mind, an intimate serenade he connects with and conveys with effortless charm; and, Gilbert Bécaud’s 1955 composition, Let It Be Me, which the Everly Brothers originally took to fame. This is an adaptation of that version which allows him to re-connect with ideas of heaven and love which coincide with ease among his own writing. Additional to his seven songs is one which was co-written with Dylan called I’d Have You Anytime which featured on the All Things Must Pass LP. What appears is an early take of that song which was originally written in late ’68 and also contains the prominent lead guitar of Eric Clapton. The following summer, after Dylan’s return from hiatus and appearance at the Isle of Wight festival Harrison penned another track from this record called Behind That Locked Door which spoke of his perceived disappointment that Dylan seemed to be holding back in his performance, which inspired the lines: The love you are blessed with, This world’s waiting for, so let out your heart please, please, from behind that locked door.
There appears also, one of his later recordings from 1976’s Thirty Three & 1/3 in the form of its lead track, an early take of Woman Don’t You Cry For Me. The track was initially written for All Things Must Pass in ’69 but didn’t make the record for reasons unknown. What is exceptional about this version is the simplicity of the blues riff over which his tactile vocal reaps something of an original concept in blues music. He uses often the natural harmonies of the guitar to suspend phrases and punctuate the chorus, which exemplifies him as an outstanding song-writer in his own right.
It becomes clear throughout that his original tracks would have been welcome on any Beatles record, and often in their simply produced nature they caress on a slightly different aspect to some of the album recordings. Run of the Mill stands as a cousin to Norwegian Wood, with a desperate melody and poignantly beautiful acoustic frame. Harrison’s lyrics are always centred around humanity, his witty observations and quite preciously, his love for those he admires. The final track, a demo of The Light That Has Lighted The World, from 1973’s Living in the Material World is perhaps his most revealing lyrical work and exemplary of his ability to convey with both charming humour and coarse honesty: It’s funny how people just won’t accept change, As if nature itself they’d prefer re-arrange. I could quite easily quote the entire lyric for this song as it reads like a precious sermon and in such a graceful recording there is a profound message which cuts even deeper to something he quite obviously understood, yet most never will. Maybe it was due to his spirituality and human instinct to know the right and good that can be so scarce in life, but as a man who struggled with ideas of capitalism it was never a negative crusade which motivated his music. There was always better, it was always a wish for more of the happiness, but not in a trivial, hippy idiom – it was a much more rich and heartfelt feeling than a fleeting decade or two. With a post-humous sentiment that message of his for love and happiness becomes ever-more true, his lyrics become sharpened in their succinct perfection and his absolutely under-regarded voice, as heard on this record in particular, blossoms upon every listen for time after time without exception.
All Things Must Pass was rejected for The Beatles final collaborative record Let It Be, released after their break-up in 1970. The demo version on this record is, again, a wonderfully cognitive imagining of the widely acclaimed title track to his solo album. Take this track in isolation or the whole album in its entirety and what you find is that he isn’t just George Harrison of The Beatles, he is George Harrison; musician; vocalist; spiritualist; human and friend. He was a genius of his time and carries a legacy that raises him beyond any constraints of Beatlemania and in fact, beyond this world.
“Darkness only stays at night-time, in the morning it will fade away. Daylight is good at arriving at the right time, it’s not always gonna be this grey.” George Harrison31 May, 2012 - 11:14 — Matt Bevington