Tuesday, November 29, 2011

George Harrison - not the Fabbest but still pretty Fab

For me, remembering to post about notable anniversaries is a bit like sending birthday cards: a couple of weeks out from the day I make a mental note not to forget. Then it doesn't cross my mind until after the event has passed.

In the nick of time I've remembered that today is the tenth anniversary of George Harrison's death. I had intended to watch Martin Scorcese's two-part documentary on the Quiet One and use it as the basis for my argument that he was the true genius of The Beatles. But I forgot either to record the second part or watch it when it was available on iPlayer.

While I note that at least one person has tried, it isn't really tenable to argue for George as the greatest Beatle. He's my favourite because he was the plucky underdog who emerged from the shadows of the other two. I quite like his songs too.

His solo career showed that he wasn't quite the songwriting equal of John and Paul. Yes, All things must pass is a great album because he had built up a backlog of material, having been rationed to two songs per album with The Beatles. The follow up Living in the material world is a fine piece of work also, perhaps underrated because his religious preoccupations are to the fore. But after that he ran out of steam, and I suspect it was because he didn't have the others to keep up with. His solo albums between the mid-70s and mid-80s each had their strong tracks, but overall lacked inspiration or ambition.

It was only when he started working with Jeff Lynne of ELO fame that things got better. 1987's Cloud Nine was a return to form, the first Travelling Wilburys album was very good and the posthumous Brainwashed , probably the second best of his career.

While George was known to complain that his songs didn't always get a fair hearing in The Beatles, I suspect he needed strong collaborators to inspire him to great work, and he was fortunate that they didn't come much better than his Fab colleagues.

The YouTube link is to Sam Brown singing one of George Harrison's very last songs Horse to the water from the tribute Concert for George. His own version, a collaboration with Jools Holland, was recorded shortly before he died and doesn't quite have the oomph that the song deserves. Sam Brown really does it justice. Unfortunately the audio and video are badly out of synch so it's better listened to than watched. Frustratingly also, the song can only be downloaded from iTunes with the whole album. These tribute things are normally pretty uneven overall, but this is one of the best cover versions of a Harrissong.

1 comment:

Paul Walter said...

The second part of the Scorsese film was the best I think. So I hope you are able to watch it in some format at some stage.
I tend to agree with you. The true genius of the Beatles was a combination of all them including the likes of George Martin and Brian Epstein, and quite a lot of their success was pure luck and good fortune.
Perhaps one of their best moves, although it was by unfortunate accident, was to break up in 1970. "The Beadles" from Harry and Paul has some truth in it.