George Harrison: Living in the Material World

The news that Olivia Harrison (George’s widow) will be reading from her new book George Harrison: Living in the Material World tonight (7pm) at the 82nd & Broadway Barnes and Noble seems a fitting occasion for a few words on the quiet Beatle, seeing as how I’ve already written about Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr and John Lennon on this blog.  We are also coming up on the tenth anniversary of Harrison’s death (November 21), also a fitting time for commemoration.

“Slow and steady wins the race” is the byword for Mr. H. I consider All Things Must Pass to be the best of all post-Beatle Beatle records, and by a pretty wide margin. (While McCartney continued to progress musically at first, his lyric-writing deteriorated, and his songwriting grew lazy and uninspired. And today the majority of Lennon’s post-Beatle output seems self-indulgent, tedious, dated or all three.) All Things Must Pass is not only Harrison’s masterpiece, but Phil Spector’s: a soaring, spiritual song-cycle, at once contemplative, catchy, celebratory and religiously inspired. (The single “What Is Life?” is one of my favorite songs of all time). The follow-up record Living in the Material World is almost as good.

And, while there were certainly dips along the way (I threw 1982’s Gone Troppo, which I’d bought because I liked the song “Dream Away’ from the movie Time Bandits, directly into the garbage after a single listen), the point is that Harrison, in the end, outpaced the other two. To my mind, after two excellent solo records, Lennon was already in artistic decline by 1972. Since his life was cut tragically short, there’s no telling what he would have accomplished later, but Double Fantasy does not bode well. McCartney shat the bed around the same time as Lennon, and his singles stopped being hits around the late 1980s. Harrison, however, produced solid singles right along (even if  some  didn’t sell well) and the late 1980s, when McCartney was declining, are just when Harrison started to pick up steam again with hit solo albums and The Traveling Wilburys. Of the three surviving Beatles, he seemed to need the mid 90s reunion least of all. And he never really did fall from favor thereafter. In fact, towards the end he became a ukulele fanatic, making him far more tuned in to the zeitgeist than nearly everyone in his generation of dinosaur rockers.

And let’s not slight his pre-solo work. McCartney, who famously said in 1969 “Up til now George’s songs haven’t been as good [as mine or John’s]” did Harrison a great injustice. Many of those early songs have a haunting quality: particular favorites of mine include “I Need You” from the Help! soundtrack and “Long, Long, Long” from the White Album. I’m also crazy about “Old Brown Shoe” which didn’t make it onto an album until the Hey Jude LP. And of course “Taxman” is one of the high points of Revolver.

So, three cheers for George. In his honor, we attach one of my favorite of his songs (and one of the most Beatlesque of post Beatle singles), Crackerbox Palace, in a hilarious video directed by Eric Idle and featuring Neil Innes of the Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah band.

For more on show biz historyconsult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever nutty books are sold.

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And don’t miss my new book Chain of Fools: Silent Comedy and Its Legacies from Nickelodeons to Youtube, just released by Bear Manor Media, also available from amazon.com etc etc etc

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4 comments

  1. Many years ago, an older (boomer-aged) Beatles fanatic asked me, when he learned I was a Fab Four collector, which was my favorite Beatle — as I was in my early 20s, I of course named Lennon. He then smiled and told me his theory that when you’re a kid and digging the music, you start out loving Paul, then when you’re a young man (ie, pissed at the world for no good reason), you’re into Lennon. Then, when you mature, you realize that George was the genius all along.

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