George Harrison Gets Back: Rolling Stone's 1987 Cover Story

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Lynne, of course, was smart enough not to take the ex-Beatle's invitation — passed along through guitarist and producer Dave Edmunds, a mutual friend — at all lightly. "I was in Los Angeles, actually, at the time," Lynne says. "Dave Edmunds said to me, just matter-of-fact, 'Oh, by the way, I forgot to tell you, George Harrison would like you to produce some stuff with him.' You know, 'by the way.' If I could've picked one guy I wanted to work with, it would have been George. I was stunned, really."

Following that initial contact, Lynne came by Friar Park for a casual dinner, and the two men hit it off. Harrison followed up with a phone call and suggested they start making some music together. "I waited," Harrison said, "then I thought, 'Well, I'm going to make the move.' He may be shy, or if he isn't and he just didn't want to know, then I'd give him the chance to tell me to piss off!" They got together a few more times "for a laugh and a drink," and then in mid-1986, while Harrison was working on the soundtrack to Shanghai Surprise — HandMade Films' one magnificent flop and a film Harrison dismisses as the company's "joker in the pack" — Lynne helped out on one track, an instrumental piece called "Zig Zag." They continued to meet, played new songs for one another, and without a formal agreement being reached, it soon became clear that a new musical team had been formed.

While he had broken ground both with the cult-favorite band the Move in the Sixties and later with ELO, Lynne was walking down a path trod by some formidable people when he agreed to work with Harrison. Not only had Harrison made some of the greatest records in pop-music history with the Beatles and their producer George Martin, but All Things Must Pass — which included such classic Harrison tracks as "My Sweet Lord." "Beware of Darkness," "Isn't It a Pity" and "What Is Life" — was coproduced by none other than Phil Spector. Spector had first worked with the Beatles on John Lennon's "Instant Karma" and on the group's Let It Be, and he also oversaw the production of the live album from the concert for Bangladesh. Fortunately for Lynne, Harrison is not awed by his own past.

About the creative breakthrough that All Things Must Pass seemed to represent, Harrison says, simply, "Don't forget, John and Paul had been more satisfied from their ego point of view, having written all those tunes with the Beatles. Especially after 1966, I was starting to write loads of tunes, and one or two songs per album wasn't sufficient for me.

"By the time All Things Must Pass came, it was like being constipated for years, then finally you were allowed to go," he says, laughing. "I had seventeen tracks, and I didn't really want to chuck any away at the time — although I'm sure lots of them in retrospect could have been chucked away. I wanted to get shut of them so I could catch up to myself."

As for working with Spector, who is nearly as well known for his excesses as for his studio prowess, Harrison says, "He's been a bit outrageous, but he was very sweet. He was like a giant person inside this frail, little body. I had a lot of laughs with Phil and a lot of good times. But I had a lot of bad times as well. Most of the stuff I did with Phil, I ended up doing about eighty percent of the work myself. The rest of the time I was trying to get him into hospital or out of hospital. He'd be breaking his arm and, you know" — he shoots a knowing glance — "various other things."

Harrison and Lynne's working arrangement for Cloud Nine was a good deal more straightforward. They met for two weeks in early January at the Friar Park studio and laid down the basic rhythm tracks for about seventeen songs. Reconvening at regular intervals through late summer, they gradually narrowed their focus until they were left with the eleven songs that ended up on the album. Along the way they were joined in the sessions by guitarist Eric Clapton; drummers Ringo Starr, Jim Keltner and Ray Cooper; keyboardists Elton John and Gary Wright; and sax man Jim Horn.

Despite the shifting cast of characters, collaborating with Lynne gave Harrison the enjoyable feeling of being in a band again. "The Beatles were a little unit on their own," Harrison says. "We grew up together, we played all our apprenticeship together in Liverpool and Germany. We completely understood each other. Having Jeff Lynne, for me it was like 'Now I'm back in a group.' We share responsibilities, we share ideas." Having Ringo on hand also helped Harrison feel comfortable. "Ringo is like myself with the guitar," Harrison says. "I don't play it that often. I don't practice. Ringo may not play the drums from one year to the next, but when he picks up his sticks and gets his drum skins tightened right, he'll just rock and play just like he played in the old days."

Harrison and Lynne were in complete agreement about what the songs on Cloud Nine should sound like on record. "I think he feels the same as me," Lynne says of Harrison's sense of sonic proportion amid the high-tech, electronic din of so many Eighties records. "He didn't want all this banging and clattering going on."

Lynne defined a crisp, bright, neatly textured sound that sidesteps trends and still manages to set Harrison squarely in the Eighties. "George is the king of rock & roll slide guitar," Lynne says with glee, and Harrison's sinuous, gently weeping leads are prominently featured on the album — nowhere more prominently than on the title track, where he duels exquisitely with his longtime buddy Eric Clapton. The ballads, "Just for Today," "Someplace Else" and "Breath Away from Heaven," subtly capture the mood of prayerful, detached contemplation that is still at the center of Harrison's spiritual life. The album's first single, "Got My Mind Set on You," which was written by Rudy Clark and recorded by R&B singer James Ray, is the sort of cocky, early-rock kicker that formed Harrison's musical tastes and that he still listens to regularly. And "This Is Love," "That's What It Takes" and "Fish on the Sand" find Harrison mining the pop vein that yielded many of his catchiest songs of the Seventies.

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