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George Harrison

    Wonderwall Music (1968; Capitol, 1992)
    Electronic Sound (1969; EMI, 2001)
     All Things Must Pass (1970; Capitol, 2001)
     The Concert for Bangla Desh (1971; Capitol, 1991)
     Living in the Material World (1973; Capitol, 1992)
   Dark Horse (1974; Capitol, 1992)
    Extra Texture (1975; Capitol, 1992)
    The Best of George Harrison (Capitol, 1976)
     Thirty-Three & 1/3 (1976; Dark Horse/Capitol, 2004)
    George Harrison (1979; Dark Horse/Capitol, 2004)
   Somewhere in England (1981; Dark Horse/Capitol, 2004)
   Gone Troppo (1982; Dark Horse/Capitol, 2004)
     Cloud Nine (1987; Dark Horse/Capitol, 2004)
    Live in Japan (1992; Dark Horse/Capitol, 2004)
    Brainwashed (Dark Horse/Capitol, 2002)
     The Dark Horse Years 1976-1992 (Dark Horse/Capitol, 2004)
     Let it Roll: The Best of George Harrison (Dark Horse/Capitol, 2009)

Joining a band with John Lennon and Paul McCartney was a stroke of luck for George Harrison, but it also led to bitter frustration. Under the influence of his elder colleagues, Harrison blossomed not only as a guitarist but also as a singer and songwriter. "If I Needed Someone," "Within You Without You," "It's All Too Much," "While My Guitar Gently Weeps," "Something," and "Here Comes the Sun" would have been peak achievements for most other groups. Ah, but most other groups weren't the Beatles, who barely had room enough for two great songwriters, let alone three. In the late Sixties, Harrison diverted excess creativity into side projects such as the East-meets-West film soundtrack Wonderwall Music and the early synthesizer experimentation of Electronic Sound (both interesting, though only for established fans), but that did little to alter the basic situation: As long as John and Paul were in charge, most of George's growing backlog of songs would never see release.

The Beatles' breakup solved that problem, and the floodgates opened almost immediately with All Things Must Pass, which was originally released as a three-record set. Even at its current two-CD size, it's pretty big; producer Phil Spector packs the studio with musicians, imbuing the already epic likes of "Isn't It a Pity," "Let It Down," and "Art of Dying" with gargantuan grandeur. The monster hit "My Sweet Lord" unveiled two features that would become hallmarks of Harrison's solo career: a deep concern with spirituality, and a magisterial, instantly recognizable slide guitar style that took its cues more from the Indian Subcontinent and Hawaiian Islands than the Mississippi Delta.

Excellent as All Things Must Pass is, it's a tad overrated, mostly by people who then underrate the remainder of Harrison's catalogue. Those folks tend to forget that the album's last half hour—the entire third record, in its original form—is a bunch of instrumental blues jams that nobody listens to more than once, which is particularly nonsensical considering how many top-notch songs George was still sitting on (some of which have never been issued officially; consult your local bootlegger).

Harrison's next move was to organize the all-star benefit show documented on The Concert for Bangla Desh. Though Bob Dylan and Ravi Shankar are the top performers here, George's set has plenty of magic. On a purely sonic level, Living in the Material World is preferable to All Things Must Pass; you can hear the lovely instrumental details much better without Spector's wall of sound, and the tunes ("Give Me Love," "Don't Let Me Wait Too Long," "Be Here Now") rank among Harrison's prettiest. But the enticing atmosphere sometimes gets deflated by overly preachy lyrics.

Apparently, no one told George that he shouldn't make an album while suffering from laryngitis, and so we got Dark Horse, which ruins several decent songs with croaky vocals. Extra Texture starts off well, then runs out of steam midway through. The Best of George Harrison takes half its contents from Beatles albums, which is a little insulting.

Dipping back into his vat of unreleased Sixties compositions, Harrison pulled out "Beautiful Girl," one of the many highlights of his upbeat return to pop form, Thirty-Three & 1/3. Another Beatles outtake, "Not Guilty," surfaced on George Harrison. The understated gem "Your Love Is Forever" is the next best track, but elsewhere mellowness overwhelms musicality. Warner Bros., George's label at the time, rejected the first version of Somewhere in England, and even the released version is hard to fathom. Why, for example, are there two Hoagy Carmichael songs? And why is "All Those Years Ago," supposedly a serious tribute to fallen friend Lennon, so damn bouncy? The dynamic, synth-driven "Wake Up My Love" opens Gone Troppo and the spooky "Circles" (yet another lost Beatles song) closes it, but there ain't much in between.

Five years later, on Cloud Nine, Harrison sounds rejuvenated. Hooking up with Beatle junkie Jeff Lynne yielded George's strongest batch of tunes in over a decade, though weirdly enough, the biggest hit, "Got My Mind Set On You," was a cover of a Rudy Clark song. Subsequent years featured a tour of Japan (captured on the so-so live disc) and collaborations with the Traveling Wilburys and the surviving Beatles, but no further solo albums. Harrison hadn't stopped making music; he just wasn't interested in playing the music-biz game any longer. Following his death from cancer in 2001, some of the tracks he was working on toward the end of his life came out on Brainwashed. They're nice, but nothing special. Let it Roll is a single-disc best-of that covers Harrison's whole career; for Beatles songs, it uses live versions from The Concert For Bangladesh. Either that compilation or All Things Must Pass remains your best first buy. Just don't go expecting the Beatles; George's charms are different, modest yet undeniable.

Portions of this album guide appeared in The New Rolling Stone Album Guide (Fireside, 2004).

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