Everything that has been written about George Harrison’s contribution to the Beatles has been notarized and analyzed to death (great guitar playing, spiritual seeker, sardonic and cranky interviewee, underrated songwriting genius, etc.). But where John Lennon and Paul McCartney gave the Beatles their best (neither had the tenacity to continue writing at the level of brilliance they brought to the Fab Four) Harrison found himself in the position where he could prove himself as a songwriter in his own right. Releasing eight albums over the course of his career, Harrison wrote a collection of beautiful songs that certainly rivaled (often improved upon) the best of Lennon-McCartney’s solo material. Here are ten of his best:
My Sweet Lord (All Things Must Pass, 1970): Perhaps the greatest song ever written about God, “My Sweet Lord” gave Harrison the first No. 1 hit the Beatles enjoyed in their solo careers. A brilliant and sparkling acoustic gem (Harrison, Eric Clapton and the members of Badfinger all join hands to play acoustics), vocally supported by “the George O’Hara-Smith Singers” (surprise, surprise, Harrison himself) even overdubbed) and a gentile solo guitar Noel Gallagher later plucked for “ Supersonic, ” this proved to be Harrison’s most famous and enduring work, somewhat marred by a court case where Harrison was found in subconsciously borrow from The Chiffon’s “ He Is So Beautiful ” (this was partly the initiative of Allen Klein, the former Beatles manager!). Nonetheless, when it comes to religious ballads, no one has improved this song for its sincerity or musical beauty.
What Is Life (All Things Must Pass, 1970): Beautifully produced by Phil Spector (possibly the last single he produced with his Wall of Sound effect still at its zenith), this vibrant and resounding pop song took off well found in Martin Scorsese’s Goodfellas (1990) (Scorsese later made an interesting documentary about Harrison, titled “Living in the Material World”). A fused Motown classic, the song was a hit in the US, although oddly enough it was relegated to the back of “My Sweet Lord” in the UK! Amplified by Harrison’s gripping opening riff, this is the best song from Harrison’s early days.
Isn’t It A Pity Version One (All Things Must Pass, 1970): One of the songs the Beatles stupidly dismissed was Harrison’s pantheon “ Hey Jude ”, a plaintive look at life sung on a shimmering display of piano chords, orchestrated by guitar lines and beautiful screaming gospel, “Pity” would forever be championed by Eric Clapton as one of Harrison’s best. Clapton himself performed the song at “The Concert For George” in 2002 – there wasn’t a dry eye in the house!
Give Me Love (Give Me Peace On Earth) (Living In The Material World, 1973): This is Harrison’s best solo song and rivals “Something” as the best song he has ever written. Skillfully backed by Ringo Starr on drums, this is a nice piece of pop fun, Harrison in his prime as a lyricist. There is a humility and vulnerability here from Harrison, a delicate line of slide guitar (almost Hawain in its sound) made this Harrison the second American No.1.
This Guitar (Can’t Keep From Crying) (Extra Texture, 1975): A sort of sequel to Harrison’s white album masterpiece, and it wasn’t Harrison’s instrument alone that cried . If ever a picture of Harrison could be painted in 1976, this was it, a time of uncertainty for him following an unsatisfactory American tour in 1974 and the breakdown of his marriage to Patti Boyd. Here he fixes his mind, decrying the venerable sneer of critics (“may even climb the walls of Rolling Stone”) at his lonely state of mind (“I found myself on a limb”). Saturated with Dylan’s influence, “Guitar” is an intoxicating deep cut.
Crackerbox Palace (Thirty Three and a Third, 1976): Harrison, a Monty Python fan and vocal supporter of comedy, delivered this laconic piece of irreverence, with witticisms à la “while growing up, trying to / not knowing where to go start “. With a music video directed by real-life pal Eric Idle (Python cohorts John Cleese and Neil Innes), Harrison’s tirades in school uniform and good-natured at his mansion, Friar Park, are a slice of brilliance sucked in by Goon.
Dream Away (Time Bandits Soundtrack, 1981): Recorded just hours after John Lennon’s death, this is a song filled with emotion and dynamism, all sung in the first conductor’s jovial fairy tale -work by Terry Gilliam ‘Time Bandits’ (1981). Opening with an absurd babylon of babbling, ending with a superlative slide game, this is one of the wackiest bits of bubble gum pop from the eighties, armed with lyrics from “dark in mythology” and “traveling through history”.
This is Love (Cloud Nine, 1988): Armed with Jeff Lynne as co-author, George Harrison’s return to the mainstream after half a decade of sabbatical brings a Beatlesque quality to the proceedings, albeit with lyrics only Harrison could write. “Since our problems were our own creation / They can also be overcome” he sings, more song than adage “When we use the power freely given to all”. Perhaps Harrison’s most Beatlite song (either this one or tongue-in-cheek “When We Was Fab”), it has been a mainstay of radio since the late eighties.
Cheer Down (Lethal Weapon 2, 1989): Although Harrison’s rockers are rare, this “ Lethal Weapon 2 ” showed up close that stadium tilting came as naturally to him as divine chants. Together with Tom Petty, his title came from Harrison’s wife Olivia, a saying she would say if the excitement got the better of him. Traveling Further Wilbury Jeff Lynne offers inspired be-bop harmonies, and Harrison’s guitar choice is reminiscent of his Beatle debut.
Any Road (Brainwashed, 2002): Written in 1988 and first performed on VH1 during an interview between Harrison and mentor Ravi Shankar, “Any Road” was released posthumously in 2002. Completed by Jeff Lynne and Dhani Harrison’s “Brainwashed” turned out to be poignant listen, nothing more than “Any Road”, a song that seemed to end the message started by “My Sweet Lord” in 1970. Rightly so, it would be nominated for Best Pop Performance. male at the 2004 Grammys. Written for the ukulele, “Road” proved a busker’s dream, a chord-filled journey that promised “if you don’t know where you’re going, any road will get you there” .