Tag Archive: George Harrison


Primal Scream

The Beatles died their first death in September of 1969 when John Lennon finally quit the band, but nobody knew it outside their tight circle. They were still on the airwaves with new music, since their final album Abbey Road was released that same month. John, at the behest of the other Beatles, had agreed to keep it a secret and not announce his departure publicly. In the meantime, John released “Give Peace a Chance” and “Cold Turkey” under the moniker Plastic Ono Band.

As late as April of 1970, the world was laboring under the delusion that the Beatles were still together, safe in the comfort that all was as it should be, despite the lack of a single release in 6 months. John had kept silent like he promised, but then Paul announced his own departure from the band, simultaneously releasing his first solo album, simply titled McCartney.

Paul beat John to the punch with the announcement of the breakup, put the attention solely on himself, and sold lots of records, the songwriting profits from which would go directly to Paul instead of the Lennon/McCartney team. With all three things, Paul left John royally screwed over. As you might have guessed, John was just a wee bit upset.

This latest act of selfishness on McCartney’s part was just the final straw in a long string of issues and complications John had endured throughout his life. They included the death of his mother, trouble at school, the death of Stuart Sutcliffe, his difficult relationship to his first wife Cynthia – and his physical abuse of her – and the baggage from the birth of his son Julian. That’s a lot of riders on the camel of John’s emotions. So what did he do? He screamed a lot.

Theoretically, primal scream therapy ought to work like a charm. You have a bad experience, you scream, you get it all out, and then it doesn’t bother you anymore. Arthur Janov basically says that we accumulate and hold on to traumatic experiences throughout childhood, and they manifest themselves repeatedly until they are finally let go of through some sort of release. That’s where the screaming comes in.

Despite John Lennon’s ringing endorsement (as well as that of a few other celebrities) that caused its popularity to spike in the early 70s, it fizzled soon afterwards due to the lack of definitive outcomes to prove its effectiveness. Real psychotherapists never put much stock in it, and it now exists as the quintessential psycho-fad.

John Lennon’s first proper solo album came directly out of his primal scream therapy. It was officially called John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band, and it was the very first time the world was looking at John and seeing all his baggage lying nakedly out there for all to see. It’s a complete mess, formless and unregulated, unified only by John’s unhindered exploration of his entire psyche. Imagine has form and appeal that Plastic Ono Band doesn’t, and also has the beauty, grace and focus John found through his experience with primal scream. POB was John in the middle of his scream, and Imagine was where he took a deep breath and said, “let’s see about moving forward.”

However, John was not above personal attacks. There’s just one on Imagine, but it’s a doozy. “How Do You Sleep?” sees John simply letting his vitriol fly, all directed at Paul McCartney. John’s pretty nasty here; he calls Paul “a pretty face,” says he’ll last “a year or two” on his own, and is still holding on to bitterness over the Beatles’ most commercially successful song being the Paul-penned banal toss-off love song “Yesterday.” He insults his prowess as a songwriter, something only a consummate song-spinner like John can feel comfortable doing. The only thing left is calling Paul bad in bed.

The other Beatles must have thought Paul had been a real douche-bag, too. George lent his talents on the slide guitar to “How Do You Sleep?” and guested on 4 other tracks. Ringo was hanging around the studio, but didn’t play. Paul was nowhere to be seen.

Next: John and Yoko – stupidly, sickeningly, beautifully in love.

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Layla & Other Assorted Love Songs – Polydor Records – 11/21/1970

In a nutshell, most of Layla & Other Assorted Love Songs is about Pattie Boyd. While the wailing and gnashing of teeth of Eric Clapton over his unrequited love for Pattie is the centerpiece, that’s not the only thing going on. After all, Clapton wasn’t the only songwriter in Derek & the Dominos; Bobby Whitlock lends a bit of order to Eric’s barely controlled chaos.

“Tell the Truth” is an excellent rocker with country elements to it, loud and aggressive while still retaining a consistent groove. Whitlock wrote most of the lyrics, with Clapton only contributing the last verse. Whitlock’s voice, which takes more of a front seat here than on most other songs, is deep and sonorous. It lacks the desperate tone of Clapton’s, but it serves him well because he uses it in appropriate arenas.

Another song with hard-driving force yet beautiful grace, “Keep On Growing” has victory and joy in its melody. Clapton and Whitlock combine their songwriting forces here to make the most awesome song of their collaboration. It could also be noted that this song, as great as it is, was one of the few recorded before Duane Allman joined the band, so he doesn’t appear on it.

In a little switch for the cap (though it logically follows the long instrumental section of “Layla”), “Thorn Tree In the Garden,” is sweet and gentle. Whitlock’s voice switches modes to a sad and mournful tone. The band all sat in a circle on the floor with a single mic in the center for this one, a more chill method than usual.

Bobby Whitlock

Now, Whitlock has explained that “Thorn Tree” is about when he was forced by his landlord to get rid of his dog and cat. He brought the cat to Delaney Bramlett’s mom, but when he got back, he found his landlord had given the dog away without his permission. According to Whitlock himself, the song is about that event (his landlord being the “thorn tree”), but I have a different interpretation. Keep in mind that it’s not true; if it was, though, it be so much cooler that it being about a dog.

I imagine that “Thorn Tree In the Garden” is about the whole Eric/Pattie/George fiasco, 9 years in the future after Pattie has left George and Eric’s dreams of having Pattie for his own are fulfilled. But it’s from George’s perspective. The sadness and passive melancholy make sense in the context of a woman’s former lover, the woman having gone off to greener pastures. While George doesn’t understand why she left, he does understand that Pattie will be happier once she’s in the arms of another man. But that doesn’t stop George from missing her terribly. The “thorn tree” would of course be the man who stole his lover away; Eric, in this case. But the focus of the song is the garden (the girl), not the thorn tree.

Jimi Hendrix

Then there’s a piece that stands out from the rest of the album, a Jimi Hendrix cover called “Little Wing.” Hendrix was another one of Eric’s close friends. They had bonded back in Eric’s days with Cream, and Eric was one of the first musicians to make prominent use of the wah-wah pedal, an item he had been tipped off to by Jimi. “Little Wing,” at the time of the Dominos recording, was only 3 and a half years old, being the centerpiece of Axis: Bold As Love by the Jimi Hendrix Experience. It’s a spacey and mystical slow-blues song, showing off Jimi’s distinctive guitar style. The Dominos’ take on it is significantly different, being loud and epic while losing none of the original’s beauty or cosmic wonder.

In a ridiculously eerie twist, “Little Wing” was recorded by the Dominos as a tribute to Jimi Hendrix about a week before he died. About two months before this record was released, Jimi died from choking on his own vomit after ODing on sleeping pills. Musicians and fans world over were shocked and saddened, not the least of which was Eric Clapton. “Little Wing” was one of the last songs recorded for Layla, and the bizarreness of the prophetic tribute could not have been lost on Clapton and the others.

On Monday: my own personal Layla.

Love Story

From the first time a caveman scratched a burnt stick on a wall, art has been made about a few basic subjects. The struggle for survival (man vs. nature) is a popular theme, as is the creation of the universe. It may have taken a little time to develop, but a motif that’s even stronger and more prevalent, I think, is the classic quest of a lover to win their love. That’s a story that’s been told literally millions of times, and that’s for two reasons. The first is that it’s applicable to nearly everyone. No one doesn’t know the pain, yearning and joy of striving for something of highest value. The second is that it can be told an infinite number of ways. The star-crossed lovers (Romeo and Juliet), the love triangle (Nikolai, Sonya and Marya in War and Peace), the unrequited obsession (Eponine in Les Miserables), the rescue (Superman), the stalker (Erik in Phantom of the Opera), or the woman worth going to war over (The Iliad).

Stories are always more compelling if they really happened. Movies bandy about the term “based on true events” even if the movie shares only the most extremely tangential relation to the facts. It’s because there’s something that automatically ups the drama if there’s a hint of it being reality.

George Harrison & Pattie Boyd, 1969

Cut to 1970 Britain. George Harrison is in wedded bliss with his beautiful bride of 3 years, Pattie Boyd. The “bliss,” however, is a fiction; as George’s interest in Eastern religion is growing, so is the rift between him and his wife. George is quickly becoming distant and strange, morphing into someone Pattie never would have married. But she remains committed to him, and despite the rift, there is still much love between the two. There some rather beautiful moments, not the least of which is the recording of “For You Blue,” a no-brainer blues number that George wrote quickly that illustrates nothing more complicated or less marvelous than a man’s adoring love for his wife.

Parallel to that is the story of Eric Clapton. During the mid to late 60s, he had scaled the heights of stardom almost as high as George and the other Beatles, first gaining notoriety with the Yardbirds, and really showing the world what he could do as one third of Cream. Being already on the mountaintop, George naturally befriended Eric when he reached that high. Eric played lead guitar on the Beatles track “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” in 1968, they worked together to pen the Cream track “Badge” in 1969, and Eric and George became the best of friends.

Eric Clapton, 1970

What makes this story 50x more compelling than that is Pattie. To use a somewhat antiquated phrase, Pattie was a knockout. Her profession, other than Beatlewife, was as a model. Eric met George and became attached to him, but not nearly as much as to Pattie. For certain people, forbidden fruit is much more appetizing, increased by the severity of the forbidding. Call it cliché, but there’s little more forbidden than another man’s wife. The cliché holds true for Eric and Pattie. He was crazy about her.

Eric was feeling the tension between desire that drives you bonkers and loyalty that doesn’t budge. His reaction to the war inside his head and heart was one of the worst things you can do in this situation, or any. Heroin fixes things temporarily, but only makes them worse when the high wears off. Eric tried to distract himself from one woman who had control of his life by giving control to another. Which is worse? The pain of addiction, or the ache of a heart that breaks every day? Drugs or unrequited love?

It all sounds like something out of a drug store romance paperback, doesn’t it?

Eric was serving third mistress, as well; music. Unlike the other two, this one cradles you when you hurt, whispers in your ear when you’re trapped in silence, and always stands beside you when all your other mistresses are gone. Just as Eric used heroin to dull his pain, he channeled it into music. And the blues is a singularly awesome thing to channel that particular type of pain in to. Thus, in 1970, he delivered to the world Layla & Other Assorted Love Songs.

Duane Allman

After the bitter disintegration of Cream, Eric tried to capture lightning in a bottle with the supergroup Blind Faith. That band toppled over with the weight of its own stardom after one album, but Eric wasn’t ready to give up. He tried again by recruiting two old buddies who played for Delany & Bonnie and taking advantage of a chance crossing with Duane Allman, a rising star who played American yin to Clapton’s British yang. Duane had equal chops to Eric, and their different approaches to the six-string combined in a cosmic brilliance to create something that was so much more than the sum of its parts.

The final piece of the puzzle was the name of the group. They were originally called Eric and the Dynamos, but the announcer at their first public gig screwed it up by saying “Derek and the Dominos.” It turned out to be a happy accident, since Clapton had some misgivings about pasting his famous name to his new band. People might think it was another supergroup, and the problem with Blind Faith was that it withered under the hot sun of media focus. What better solution that the red herring of Derek? Done.

Their one contribution was Layla, and Clapton poured every ounce of pain, yearning, and hopeless angst into that one album. And let me tell you… it’s really something to behold.

Mother Mary

My own novelization of Let It Be might center on Paul, John and Yoko and the triangle of love/hate there, but that certainly wasn’t the only thing going on. Over the course of Beatles history, what commonly happened was John and Paul getting all the attention, both because of their individual brilliance and their feud. Because of that, George and Ringo get pushed to the side. Ringo seemed fine with that, but it had to be a disappointing thing for George.

He did actually have contributions to make, and he made them. Sgt. Pepper would have been very different (and not even close to as great) had “Within You Without You” not been there; it’s the peaceful eye that the storm of the album revolves around. Likewise, Let It Be would be incomplete without a word (or two) from George.

The first is “I Me Mine.” The popular theory is that George wrote it about Paul’s increasing control over the Beatles, and his troubling obsession with himself. The second is “For You Blue,” a bluesy ditty that’s both simple and beautiful. The whole thing follows the I-IV-V pattern, commonly called a twelve bar blues. George wrote it for his wife Patty Boyd.

Patty Boyd w/ George

If you wanna talk about love triangles, there’s one that’s even better than the Paul/John/Yoko one, and that’s George/Patty/Eric.  George Harrison and Eric Clapton were best friends; Eric played lead guitar on “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” in ’68, and George played rhythm guitar on Cream’s “Badge” in ’69, co-writing the song with Eric. Patty, in the course of time, was married to both of them. At the time that “For You Blue” was released, George and Patty had been married for 4 years, and Eric was desperately, pathetically and devastatingly in love with Patty. This produced the album Layla & Other Assorted Love Songs from Derek & the Dominos later in the year. I’ll talk more about the Patty Chronicle when I cover Layla.

Right smack in the middle of the album, there what I think would have been a very fitting closing song to both the album and the Beatles’ career in general. The song “Let It Be” is gentle and melancholy. The lyrics speak of letting things go and moving on with a smile, and learning what you can from experiences. On Let It Be… Naked, Paul resequenced the album, and put the title song last.

My mom hates “Let It Be.” The mention of “Mother Mary” and the fact that she “comes” to the listener (as if in a dream), is something she finds laughable and ridiculous. Personally, I tend to agree with her about Mary. I don’t want to speak ill of Catholic traditions, since Catholicism is something I respect deeply, but I’ve never understood the deification and worship of Mary. The Bible warns up down and sideways against idol worship – it didn’t work out too well for the Israelites in Exodus, for instance. As far as I understand it (and any Catholic can feel free to correct me), the logic is that since Jesus is sinless, his mother must also be sinless, thus Mary is of equal standing to Jesus, and is worshipped. The problem I see with that is that Mary’s mother must also be sinless, and her mother, and HER mother, and so on. How many sinless people can there BE, for crying out loud??

Anyway, if “Mother Mary” actually referred to the mother of Jesus, I would agree with my mom; but it doesn’t.  Paul wrote “Mother Mary” to mean his mother, whose name was actually Mary. He must have thought the double meaning was pretty cool, but John didn’t. He thought the Christian overtones and the obviousness of them to be beneath the Beatles. He did two things about it. First, he recorded a snippet of him saying in a mocking voice “and now we’d like to do ‘Hark, the Angles Come!’” just before the recording of “Let It Be,” and made sure it got on the album. Second, he also made sure “Maggie Mae” got on the album, too, and immediately followed “Let It Be.” “Maggie Mae” is a traditional piece, the unofficial anthem of the Beatles’ hometown, Liverpool. The central character in the song is a prostitute who steals from her johns.

For the Beatles, the end really came earlier, and was signaled by the song “The End,” the penultimate track on Abbey Road. It may have come out 7 months before what was arguably their “last” album,” but the material on Abbey Road was recorded after all the stuff on Let It Be. So in reality, Abbey Road is their “last” album; Let It Be is merely a look back. However, that look back is quite the look.

Farewell, Beatles; you served us well.

In our exploration of The White Album, we come again to George. His side two offering, “Piggies,” is a baroque-esque tune (kitchen sink, much?). It features a riff played on a harpsichord, and the song has cutting and satirical lyrics. The term “piggies” refers to the rich, not to the police. “Pig” as a pejorative term for a policeman has been around since the 19th century, though it rose in popularity during the 60s and 70s among the anti-establishment movement. For the most part, though, it’s an American term. Here, much is made of the ridiculous and harmful behavior of the corporate-minded. It’s even a little violent, though the line “what they need’s a damn good whacking” was added by George’s mother. The song uses a mocking tone both lyrically and musically, even having John make pig snort sounds at points. Frankly, it’s hard to take seriously.

Speaking of hard to take seriously, the next song is “Rocky Raccoon.” It’s even sillier than ”Piggies” and has much less serious subject matter. Here’s another instance of Paul talking out his ass. It’s about a cowboy (honestly) named Rocky Raccoon, who’s named that simply because Paul thought it sounded like a cowboy name. Once again, a lot of the things I don’t like about Paul’s songwriting coalesce into one incredibly infectious tune. Like with so many other Paul songs, it just wore me down. It’s the Oreos all over again.

Another irritating/endearing quality of Paul’s songs is at work in “Why Don’t We Do It In the Road?” Going to India must have been a singularly huge experience for all four Beatles. They must have seen and experienced things they wouldn’t get in any other time or place. Such occasions are simply bursting with potential art for the right mind. John wrote many songs based on his time in India, and so did Paul. But while John wrote about a plea for a friend to rejoin the living and the destruction of nature, Paul wrote about monkeys screwing.

The lyrics of “In the Road” don’t actually take us by surprise considering its dunderheaded title and near-complete lack of lyrics that aren’t in the title. But as is commonly the case with Paul, it’s not about the song but the song-craft. The music and the vocals more than make up for the lack of other elements. I really don’t know why; it’s nothing more than a 12 bar blues repeated 3 times. Against all odds, it gets under my skin with alarming speed, and I can’t help but sing along at the top of my lungs (provided no one is listening, of course).

The sole Ringo moment comes between “Rocky” and “In the Road” with “Don’t Pass Me By.” It’s a pleasant surprise. Most other songs with Ringo on lead vocal are cute and harmless at best, groan-inducing at worst. But here, Ringo puts on a pretty good show. Even more impressive is that it’s the first completely Ringo-penned song the Beatles released. Maybe that was all he needed, to take the reins and have total control.

John with his mum Julia

“I Will” and “Julia” close out the first side, two tender love songs from Paul and John respectively. Paul writes a heart-warming yet exciting pop tune with “I Will” that features some great guitar work. “Julia” is the only Beatles song that John recorded completely on his own with no involvement from the other Beatles. It’s a tribute to his mother who died when John was 17. In a naked and unguarded moment, which was rare from John until Plastic Ono Band, I think he’s trying to explain his relationship with Yoko to the spirit of his mother. John was always very close to his mother, and I think her death changed him into the person we’re all familiar with. Had she not died at that crucial time in his life, we would indeed have seen a very different John, the Beatles, and music history in general.

On Wednesday: can you imagine Paul as a heavy metal rocker?

Fate

George

“While My Guitar Gently Weeps” is the first of four George offerings on The White Album, and it’s centered on the Eastern idea that everything is connected. George decided he would let fate lead him by the nose on this one. He took a random book from his parents’ bookshelf, turned to a random page, and randomly picked two words from that page. The words he found were “gently weeps.” A song was born.

My skepticism wonders if it really went down like that, if “gently weeps” really came on George’s first try. He might have had to plow through about 50 books before he got to a combination of words he liked and could actually write a song about.

Just as an experiment, I took three random books from my bookcase and did the same thing. I came up with “and tell,” “you would,” and “man’s outstretched.” I can’t even force that to make grammatical sense, much less write a song about it. It reminds me of something I did as a naïve teenager (and probably something every Christian teenager does at some point). My mother’s “life verse” (the nugget of the Bible someone chooses to live their life by) is Psalm 1, verses 2 and 3. As a teen, I heard about my mother’s and other people’s life verses, and was frustrated that I didn’t have one myself. So I picked up my Bible, turned to a random page and said, “wherever my finger lands is gonna be my life verse” – just so you know, it didn’t stick.

Out of curiosity, I tried it again just now. My finger landed on 2 Kings 11, verse 5.

“This is what you must do. A third of you who are on duty on the Sabbath are to guard the royal palace itself.”

I guess when my pastor asks why I wasn’t in church on Sunday, I can just tell him “sorry, but the Bible told me to guard a royal palace on the Sabbath. You’re not gonna argue with the Bible, are you?” The takeaway: George’s method usually doesn’t work.

Yoko & John

The most bizarre moment on the first half of the record (we’ll get to the second half and “Revolution 9” later) is definitely “Happiness is a Warm Gun.” John made three song fragments he had written into a pastiche, all of them in some way about his desire and sexual preoccupation with Yoko Ono. It’s here on The White Album – and a little on the singles after Sgt. Pepper – that we start to see John moving into deeply personal material, yet still keeping it clouded in the obtuse and obscure. With the release of his breakout solo record, Plastic Ono Band, the cloud is lifted and we’re forced to stare John right in the face. But in 1968, he’s couching his horniness in thinly veiled metaphors. It doesn’t take a genius to figure out what “I feel my finger on your trigger” really means.

“Martha My Dear” is about Paul McCartney’s dog. I don’t think anything further need be said. Sweet though it may be, it’s still about a dog.

“I’m So Tired” is a down and out blues song, the first of two blues numbers John wrote for The White Album. After an intense meditation regiment for several days in Rishikesh, John had developed insomnia and longed for his new love. This song is among the most literal that John ever wrote, and the “what’s troublin’ ya?” aesthetic of the blues fits the theme quite well.

“Blackbird” is a seemingly simple song hiding a very complicated finger-picking style. The lyrics deal with the racial tensions in Scotland during the late 60s in beautiful poetic language. In terms of interpretation and art inviting the spectator in, this is the flipside of what was going on in “Glass Onion.” It may be about blacks and whites in Scotland to Paul, but it’s poetic enough that it could mean other things to other people.

Sherry Stringfield as Dr. Susan Lewis

To me, this song is forever tied to a scene from the first season of ER, when Dr. Susan Lewis delivers her sister Chloe’s baby in a frantic and mad rush. Chloe, who brought her boom box and a plethora of tapes, demands that “Blackbird” be played, and Carter struggles to find The White Album with no success, all the while with Susan yelling at him.  Chloe and Susan sing “Blackbird” a cappella as the baby is born. Even though it’s impossible to find in the lyrics, “Blackbird” is about new life to me.

On Monday: Cowboys, rich people and monkey sex; this could only happen on The White Album!

George has a presence on Sgt. Pepper, too. Though bored and restless throughout most of the recording process, he makes himself known on a solitary track. “Within You Without You” is a foggy and contemplative trance in the middle of the craziness of the rest of the album. Paul and John spin about in their own circles, but it seems they’re brought to a near-halt by George here. “WYWY” has a ponderous calm to it, and it’s only escalated by the frantic energy of the rest of the album. George’s lyrics are about the oneness of the universe, the way most people live unaware of a world beyond their nose, and how our problems can be solved by things as simple as love and understanding.

“WYWY” says, “you’re really only very small, and life goes on within you and without you.” On the one hand, this rubs against the humanism that’s part of most people’s views. Many people are forced to think the entire human experience only has meaning as it applies to them in particular. To be told they’re “very small” is to tell them that they don’t matter at all.

Then there’s the other view. The idea that we’re “only very small” means that others matter, too. When we realize that we’re all the same size (very small), how we treat one another changes. The individual becomes less important while the good of the community becomes more important. And by community, I could really mean anything; it might be as small as your marriage or family, or as big as your town, country, or the world at large. Once the focus is off the me me me, our attitude shifts and we start to be useful to the world. It’s a position of better balance.

Perhaps by accident, “WYWY” also presents a principle that’s found in Christianity. The line “the people who gain the world and lose their souls” is actually a quote from Jesus himself. The book of Matthew says:

“For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it. What good will it be for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul? For the Son of Man is going to come in his Father’s glory with his angels, and then he will reward each person according to what they have done.” Matthew 16:25-27

I have a feeling George would be pretty upset to hear that he was a Christian prophet. Oh well; he probably has bigger things on his mind now.

Tomorrow: Even dogs like Sgt. Pepper!