We were brought back to the late George Harrison this week with the release of Early Takes Volume 1, featuring 10 early outtakes and demos. The truth is, there is still much to discover about his solo work.
You say you’ve got a best-of compilation, and this new acoustic offering, and that’s enough? Not so fast.
Early Takes, issued as a companion to the release of Martin Scorsese’s recent documentary on DVD and Blu-Ray, focuses primarily on songs from Harrison’s initial project after the demise of the Beatles — though a couple of its featured tracks showed up on later albums. Our list tried to find lesser-known songs from throughout Harrison’s career away from the Fabs — from All Things Must Pass to Brainwashed, an album completed by producer and friend Jeff Lynne after Harrison succumbed to cancer.
That meant delving into albums that mildly disappointed, like the long-awaited follow up to his stirring 1970 debut, as well as the ones that wildly disappointed — like 1983’s Gone Troppo, which did so poorly upon release that it sent Harrison into a quiet period that lasted until his comeback with Cloud Nine some five years later. It also meant ignoring familiar favorites like “Got My Mind Set On You” and “My Sweet Lord,” not to mention “Blow Away” and “You.” We tried to find the tracks adjacent to those more familiar hits, songs you might not have heard — or, at the very least, have not heard in some time.
Along the way, we’ll explore some forgotten corners of the sprawling All Things Must Pass, and uncover a trio of collaborative gems with Tom Petty, Bob Dylan and Gary Wright that really should have been big hits.
Presenting Something Else! Reviews’ ultimate George Harrison deep cut list …
“BEWARE OF DARKNESS” (ALL THINGS MUST PASS, 1970) Harrison’s first, best album’s very best song — one where he perfectly matches a lyrical meditation on overcoming life’s harder moments (refusing to give into “the pain that often lingers”) with the sound, mysticism and fury of one of the early 1970s’ greatest amalgamations of sidemen. Originally opened side three of this post-Fab creative outburst.
“DON’T LET ME WAIT TOO LONG” (LIVING IN THE MATERIAL WORLD, 1973): The original working title of this album was reportedly The Magic Is Here Again, and this is perhaps the only song from the long-awaited studio follow up to All Things Must Pass that approaches that kind of hyperbole. A masterpiece of coiled anticipation.
“THAT’S WHAT IT TAKES” (CLOUD NINE, 1987): Co-written with keyboardist Gary Wright (of “Dreamweaver” fame; thanks “Wayne’s World!”), and featuring an understated turn on slide, this is the completely realized mid-1970s hit George never quite managed. Better late than never. Eventually showed up as the b-side to “Cheer Down,” found elsewhere on our list.
“UNKNOWN DELIGHT” (GONE TROPPO, 1983): An album that included the principal tune from the hit film “Time Bandits,” which George produced, along with a catchy if slight single in “Wake Up My Love,” Gone Troppo is nevertheless sunk by ham-fisted production touches — including some then-trendy synths. Still, “Unknown Delight,” this lovingly crafted song for his son Dhani, remains a terrific reason to delve into what turned out to be one of George’s most uptempo, though instantly dated, releases.
“SO SAD” (DARK HORSE, 1974): Though part of a generally more uplifting effort, this track was an outtake from Material World, and it’s got the same elegiac tone. Considering that his wife had just ran off with his best friend, you’d think they’d all sound like this. Instead, elsewhere on Dark Horse, you have Patti Boyd and Eric Clapton singing back up on the Everly Brothers’ “Bye Bye Love.” No kidding.
“I’D HAVE YOU ANYTIME” (ALL THINGS MUST PASS, 1970): Every bit as moving as Abbey Road triumphs like “Something,” with a Beatle-ish guitar signature and a lyrical assist by Bob Dylan. I always thought “I’d Have You Anytime” was a gutsy opening song for an enormous undertaking like his triple-sided solo debut.
“CHEER DOWN” (LETHAL WEAPON 2 soundtrack, 1989): Co-written by Wilbury buddy Tom Petty, this was once one of the more hard-to-find gems from a period of offhanded delights. Produced in a surprisingly contemporary style, tongue is firmly placed in cheek throughout. (“When your teeth drop out, you’ll get by even without taking a bite. …”) Later widely issued as a single upon the release of Best of Dark Horse.
“BE HERE NOW” (LIVING IN THE MATERIAL WORLD, 1973): This is the quiet, then soaringly meditative song George was trying to make with the Beatles on the White Album’s interminable “Long, Long, Long.” Featuring a drone played on the tanpura, the title comes from one of George’s favorite books by Baba Ram Dass.
“STUCK INSIDE A CLOUD” (BRAINWASHED, 2002): Harrison’s plaintive tone, even as he loses his battle with cancer, makes for a devastatingly fragile moment — “never slept so little, never smoked so much; lost my concentration, I could even lose my touch” — on this final release. Credit Jeff Lynne, of ELO fame, for some appropriately sensitive production, too.
“YOUR LOVE IS FOREVER” (GEORGE HARRISON, 1979): What should have been one of Harrison’s most enduring ballads, it could have gotten lost in an adult-contemporary-ish album that is occasionally too airy and slickly mid-tempo — and one that, somehow, includes yet another needless update of a Beatles cut, “Here Comes the Moon.” Don’t let that distract from this comfy triumph, which includes some of Harrison’s loveliest slide work.