Category Archives: George Harrison

Rocks In The Attic #793: The Beatles – ‘Abbey Road (3LP Anniversary Edition)’ (1969/2019)

RITA#793Christmas continues to come twice a year for fans of the Fab Four, with 2019’s banner Beatles release. 50 years and a day after its original release on 26th September 1969, Abbey Road  has been given the same makeover afforded to last year’s White Album anniversary set.

Packaged in a similar sized box to the White Album / Esher Demos package, the set is comprised of the new 2019 mix by Giles Martin (with credit given to mix engineer Sam Okell on the hype sticker) in its own sleeve, two LPs of outtakes from the sessions presented in an ‘alternate’ cover sleeve, and a four-panel booklet of liner notes, featuring forewords by Paul McCartney and Giles Martin.

It’s a wonderful package down to the smallest details. The blue font used on the hype sticker and in the ‘3LP Anniversary Edition’ labelling on the side of the box echoes the blue sky that takes up the negative space on the album’s world-famous cover shot. Or is it the blue of the dress worn by the girl blurrily walking out of shot on the rear cover? Maybe it’s just the same blue as gravedigger George’s double-denim?
RITA#793aAs with the White Album’s 2018 mix, the 2019 mix of Abbey Road is intimately revealing. Casual listeners probably won’t be able to spot the changes, but if you grew up listening to the album on headphones during your formative years, the differences are massive. Following on from Pink Floyd and Led Zeppelin’s remastering campaigns in recent years, the key words here are clarity and presence. It isn’t merely a money-grab release by simply making things LOUDER, although I’m sure the EMI accountants will all be in line for a sizable end-of-year bonus. Thankfully, Giles Martin and team have done more than just ‘make ten louder and make ten be the top number and make that a little louder.’

John’s vocal on the first stop in Come Together – ‘got to be a joker, he just do what he please’ – reveals the first tweak. You can hear him bite down – or hold back? – on that last word even harder than before. George’s jangly guitar on Octopus’s Garden is even janglier, strengthening the song’s Country credentials. And Ringo’s fills, particularly on The End, have more weight in them. ‘The sound was the result of having new calfskin drum heads,’ Ringo explains in Kevin Howlett’s liner notes. ‘There’s a lot of tom-tom work on that record. I got the new heads and I naturally used them a lot – they were so great.’

The biggest change in the remix however is in the bottom end. Paul’s bass is pushed further into the front of this mix – if such a thing is possible given how front and centre it already was in the original 1969 mix. This is a good thing; the bass playing throughout the album represents the peak of McCartney’s playing, and his fluid, walking basslines are one of the album’s key ingredients.

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In terms of bonus content, it feels like a missed opportunity that Martin Jr. wasn’t tasked to produce a mono mix of the album. With the White Album being the last Beatles record to enjoy a mono mix upon release, Yellow Submarine, Abbey Road and Let It Be have only been available in stereo, the decade’s eventual winning format (even though Martin Sr. and team were still mixing the singles in mono in 1969, with Get Back appearing in April of that year as the band’s final mono single in the UK). If mono mixes of Yellow Submarine, Abbey Road and Let It Be don’t already exist somewhere in the archive, even as reference mixes, then it seems a missed opportunity to not hand this challenge to Martin The Younger. Of course, nobody really needs a mono mix of these albums, but given his achievements, from 2006’s Love soundtrack album of the Cirque du Soleil show, to the remixes of Pepper, the White Album and now Abbey Road, he’s the perfect candidate to do something a little different sonically to compliment the respective stereo mixes.

What we do get as extras are still brilliant: twenty-three tracks of demos, outtakes and orchestral instrumentals. As with the outtakes in last year’s White Album set, some have seen the light of day in one form or another across the Anthology project, but the vast majority have been officially unreleased until now.

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The studio chatter preceding the first track – a run-through of I Want You (She’s So Heavy) at Trident studios – offers a glimpse at the joys that lie ahead:

“Is it possible, without affecting yourselves too much, to turn down a little?” somebody politely asks in the background, off-mic. “Apparently there’s been a complaint.”

“From who?” asks John.

“Somebody outside the building,” comes the reply.

“Well, what are they doing here at this time of night? What guy?” fires back a frustrated John.

Several voices debate for a few seconds. In the background, Paul says ‘It’s his own fault for getting a house in such a lousy district!’

John then comes back on the microphone. “Well, we’ll try it once more very loud, and if we don’t get it, we’ll try it quiet….Last chance to be loud!”

As much as I love hearing the alternate versions of these fifty-year old songs, it’s the banter in the studio that’s just as revealing. As we’ve heard before, Paul is always the most playful in the studio. At the beginning of a take of You Never Give Me Your Money, a croaky Paul – at exactly half-past-two, he tells us, presumably in the A.M. – sings ‘You never give me your coffee.’ At the start of the first take of Golden Slumbers, he changes the piano chord from minor to major (specifically from Am7 to D6), singing ‘Day after day…’, the opening line of The Fool On The Hill, before stopping abruptly to concentrate on the task at hand. It’s annoying when the later, solo-years McCartney peppers his releases with this kind of studio tomfoolery. Listening to him larking about as a grown-up feels akin to tolerating a precocious child. Here, as a fresh-faced 27-year old, he’s just endearing.

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As for the album itself, fifty years young, for me it represents their artistic peak. It’s always been in my top 3 Beatles albums, and contests that top spot on an almost daily basis with Revolver and the White Album. It has such a magical vibe, and seems to be full to the brim with positivity. Even John’s default songwriting setting – pessimist – doesn’t seem to derail the proceedings.

Speaking of which, forget other contenders (The Who, The Byrds, and the Beatles’ own Helter Skelter) for the first heavy, heavy sound. Surely the roots of heavy metal can be traced back to John’s doom-laden arpeggios in I Want You (She’s So Heavy). It’s surely the song that feels it’s opening the door for Black Sabbath’s debut just five months later. Lennon and Harrison’s use of arpeggios thoughout their Beatles career – from songs as varied as And I Love Her to Maxwell’s Silver Hammer – feel like one of least celebrated aspects of their musicianship. Mark Lewisohn, in the first volume of his Beatles mega-biography, goes to great pains to point out that it was the band’s vocal harmonies that made them stand out from their contemporaries in their early years. I hope Lewisohn will give the band as much credit for their intricate rhythm guitar lines, in the eagerly anticipated next volume of his biography (currently due in 2020).

Abbey Road also represents the songwriting peak of George Harrison, with two of the album’s songs penned by him. It’s a peak that would last at least as long as his debut record, arguably longer, but there’s no debate that in terms of maturity, both Something and Here Comes The Sun are miles ahead of anything he submitted to the White Album or the Let It Be sessions.

Those calfskin toms on Ringo’s drums get the spotlight at the end of the record, with the break leading into The End serving as a brilliantly held-back bit of drumming. Some might see it as a half-hearted drum-solo, but Ringo’s subtlety and less-is-more ethos, as always, works wonders.

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More than anything, it sounds like McCartney’s enthusiasm – the driving force of the band since the death of manager Brian Epstein in 1967 – has led the band to this point, from movie-making and the aborted attempts to get back to their roots as a performing band, to getting together to record again with George Martin. The studio banter on the sessions discs sound as good natured as the biographies would have us believe all these years, and there doesn’t sound to be any kind of tension from the business affairs that were looming in the background.

The album’s very special to me for one specific reason. Once, during my teens, I was on a holiday over Christmas in the snowy highlands of Scotland. My parents fell sick with food poisoning for a few days, and so I was left to my own company. Out of boredom one day, I decided to walk to the next village and back – a 6-mile round trip, through heavy snow. I took off, with the last Beatles album to be unlocked in my brain – Abbey Road – sitting in my portable CD player. I probably listened to the album 6 or 7 times, back to back, as I made my way through the snow. Those magical elements to the album seemed to be heightened in the landscape and even now I associate it with that hike from Newtonmore to Kingussie and back. In terms of location, it’s not a million miles away from the Mull Of Kintyre, where McCartney might have been wintering with Linda at the time, and so the connection feels just right.

Hit: Here Comes The Sun

Hidden Gem: Goodbye (Home Demo)

Rocks In The Attic #754: George Harrison – ‘Cloud Nine’ (1987)

RITA#754Imagine if George Harrison, Eric Clapton, Elton John, Ringo Starr and Jeff Lynne had got together and formed a band, maybe recorded an album together. What a project that would have been! Well imagine no more, as it did happen, in the form of this, George’s eleventh and final (in his lifetime) studio album from 1987.

The stars were definitely aligning around George around this time. The players on this album attest to the strength of this; neither of them needed the work. And it wasn’t the only supergroup that George would play with before the decade was out. A year later he and Jeff Lynne would form the Traveling Wilburys with Bob Dylan, Tom Petty and Roy Orbison – itself the result of a need to record a b-side for a Cloud Nine single.

In fact, it’s Jeff Lynne who I see as the unsung hero behind these two projects. His production is the reason Cloud Nine sounds so focused, compared to some of George’s more meandering efforts. It sounds upbeat and now, mainly thanks to that big drum sound – something he would apply again to Ringo’s drums ten years later on the Beatles’ ‘reunion’ singles, Free As A Bird and Real Love. Lynne would apply the same formula to Roy Orbison’s Mystery Girl and Tom Petty’s Full Moon Fever in 1989, before pulling Paul McCartney back on creative track with 1996’s Flaming Pie.

It’s sad that George didn’t release any more studio albums after this, before he died in 2002. Aside from working on the Beatles’ Anthology project, I guess he was happy just to tinker around in his garden, and bring up his son, Dhani.

Speaking of Dhani, I was happy to see his name credited as the composer of HBO’s recent documentary The Case Against Adnan Syed.  Alongside his writing partner, Paul Hicks, he’s been working as a composer for films and TV shows since 2013. Given the soundtrack success of partnerships Nick Cave & Warren Ellis, and Trent Reznor & Atticus Ross, it’s more than likely that we’ll hear more from Harrison and Hicks in the near future.

Hit: Got My Mind Set On You

Hidden Gem: Fish On The Sand

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Rocks In The Attic #724: George Harrison – ‘George Harrison’ (1979)

RITA#724You’d be forgiven for thinking that by the time of George’s eighth solo album, he was bereft of ideas. This 1979 effort finds him not only running out of ideas for album titles, but he also re-uses earlier material: the second-track, Not Guilty, is a leftover from the last self-titled album he was involved in, the Beatles’ eponymous 1968 release.

But there’s lots to like about this record. It’s a bit happier and a bit more laid-back than his previous work, having married Olivia Arias and become a father to Dhani a year earlier.

Side-two opener Faster – “inspired by Jackie Stewart and Niki Lauda” – is perhaps one of the last hidden gems of George’s solo career – a non-charting single, released as a picture-disc (a first for a Beatle past or present) with all proceeds going to charity (a cancer fund set up following the death of Swedish F1 driver Gunnar Nilsson in 1978). George must have had enough invested into the song to go to the trouble of filming a promotional video for it.

RITA#724aSpeaking of chart positions, this album comes a full five years after George had a #1 single anywhere in the world – 1973’s Give Me Love (Give Me Peace On Earth), the sole single from Living In The Material World, which topped the US Billboard. His poor chart performance through 1977 and 1978 correlates with the rise of punk, and his more mature songwriting was probably at odds with Johnny Rotten, Joe Strummer and the rest of the new breed of youth music.

Here Comes The Moon is lovely, the first single Blow Away is great, and there really isn’t a weak song on the album. But that’s probably the rub – while George might not write or record bad songs by this point, he also doesn’t write or record anything particularly outstanding. His next single, All Those Years Ago in 1981 performed much stronger in the wake of John Lennon’s death, and it wouldn’t be until 1987 before he topped the charts again (with his Jeff Lynne-produced cover of I’ve Got My Mind Set On You).

Mention must be made of George’s hairstyle during 1979. The rear cover image shows him walking across his garden, not only in the largest pair of flares this side of the 1960s, but with a perm long enough to make any poodle-breeder proud.

Hit: Blow Away

Hidden Gem: Faster

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Rocks In The Attic #335: The Travelling Wilburys – ‘Traveling Wilburys Vol 1’ (1988)

RITA#335As a rule I don’t go for supergroups. There’s too much ego, hype and general bullshit to get in the way. At least with this album, there’s no truth to spoil the illusion – none of the contributors (George Harrison, Bob Dylan, Roy Orbison, Jeff Lynne and Tom Petty) are mentioned anywhere on the album sleeve. Instead, they’re only represented by their pseudonyms (Nelson, Lucky, Lefty, Otis and Charlie T. Jr. respectively). The album’s liner notes are by Michael Palin (again, under a pseudonym – Hugh Jampton), which is another nice touch.

It just sounds like a bad dream though, doesn’t it? George Harrison, Bob Dylan, Roy Orbison, Jeff Lynne and Tom Petty? All songwriters well past their prime, and in Orbison’s case, close to the end of his life. The production – by Lynne and Harrison – is about as far from analogue as you can get; everything sounds digitised and far too clean. The guitars all sound the same on every single track – clean, bouncy and soul-less acoustic guitar, and like everything that Harrison was touching in his solo career, that horrible overdriven slide guitar of his is over the whole album like a bad stain.

You’d be forgiven for expecting the songs to be pretty good, given the calibre of the songwriters involved. As a collection of songs, they’re not too bad – the album’s only real saving grace. Handle With Care and End Of The Line are great tunes (from Harrison) and the only song I dislike is the dirge of Dylan’s Tweeter And The Monkey Man.

The album does succeed in coming across as it is intended to be. That is, four middle-aged guys and a senior citizen having a sing-song in somebody’s garage.

Hit: Handle With Care

Hidden Gem: Last Night

Rocks In The Attic #122: The Beatles – ‘Please Please Me’ (1963)

Rocks In The Attic #122: The Beatles - ‘Please Please Me’ (1963)When I first listened to this, the debut album by The Beatles, I used to think it would have sounded pretty revolutionary at the time. In hindsight, you can hear that it’s still got one foot firmly planted in the 1950s. Dylan followed Please Please Me two months later with The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan, and that’s like a futuristic text compared to the childlike nature of this album.

This album is notable for a few things. Firstly, the original compositions are attributed to ‘McCartney-Lennon’, not long before the decision was made to reverse the surnames. I heard a few years ago that McCartney was lobbying Yoko Ono to get the rest of their back catalogue changed back to this original song-writing credit. Thankfully it didn’t happen, and anyway, you never know if things like that are even true. I wouldn’t put it past McCartney to try something like this – he obviously waited until George Harrison died to release Let It Be…Naked – but you’d get the impression that after 40 or so years, he’d be content that his name comes last in 99% of their song-writing credits.

Secondly, the album was famously recorded in one day. I don’t really see that as being anything special though. This happens for a lot of bands – especially on their debut albums – and perhaps this should be a rite of passage for bands recording their first batch of songs.

In terms of their song choices though, I do think that there are a few mistakes. Their original songs really sound very good alongside some very odd covers, but maybe that was the intention. There were better covers recorded during the New Years Day 1962 Decca audition (available on Anthology 1), that would have fit better than some of the covers here, and are closer to the standard of covers they recorded on their second album.

Thirdly, Ringo Starr isn’t the only drummer on the album. He’d later be replaced by McCartney on the occasional track later in their career, but here he is replaced by session man Andy White on their prior single, Love Me Do / P.S. I Love You – both sides of which open the second side of the album. George Martin had expected them to turn up to the session with Pete Best (who had played on their first Parlophone session), had told Brian Epstein that he wouldn’t allow Best to play on another session and that he would supply the drummer next time. When The Beatles then arrived with their newly appointed drummer in tow, Ringo was relegated to tambourine. If nothing else, this story confirms that the band was right to fire Pete Best.

All in all, a very simple album that’s very hard not to like. Sometimes that simplicity turns me off, but I also think that’s where most of its charm comes from. The Beatles would produce works of much greater value and innovation, and it wouldn’t take them long.

Hit: Twist And Shout

Hidden Gem: Baby It’s You

Rocks In The Attic #121: John Lennon – ‘John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band’ (1970)

Rocks In The Attic #121: John Lennon - ‘John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band’ (1970)Although this album is starkly minimalist and deals with pain, anger and isolation, I find it to be a really chilled-out album. Of the four debut solo albums by the recently split Beatles in 1970, this is probably my favourite, closely followed by Ringo’s Sentimental Journey. McCartney’s debut is too childlike and home-made; and Harrison’s All Things Must Pass is too self-indulgent, warranting a lengthy amount of time to sit down and listen to it in full.

I can definitely imagine relaxing to this, with a joint, on its release – but like most people I would probably have been a little let down with its unBeatleness. All of the four albums are as removed from The Beatles as possible, with each member trying to escape from that shadow, but Lennon’s album sounds to me to be the furthest away.

Although McCartney’s album sounds like a hastily assembled bunch of demo recordings, Lennon’s album sounds more mature – and even though there is a very minimal arrangement and production, it doesn’t come off as sounding infantile like his former writing partner’s debut offering.

Hit: Working Class Hero

Hidden Gem: Look At Me

Rocks In The Attic #109: Mamas And Papas – ’20 Golden Hits’ (1973)

Rocks In The Attic #109: Mamas And Papas - ’20 Golden Hits’ (1973)It’s funny that there’s a Lennon & McCartney song on this album – a very good cover of I Call Your Name (in addition to a cover of Twist And Shout) – as Denny Doherty has a real resemblance of John Lennon, as the cover of this album shows. And I guess John Phillips doesn’t look too far away from George Harrison circa 1968.

I can’t remember why I bought this album. I guess with a lot of 60s artists, as it was a time before the LP had really become the in-thing, it makes a bit more sense to go for compilations over (usually) hastily assembled studio albums (which in most cases are simple compilations of singles and B-sides anyway).

I used to work with a guy in Oldham who was obsessed with The Mamas & The Papas. I never really saw the attraction really – although there are some very nice harmonies on here. I guess they’re a bit like a prototype Abba really, five or so years before that group hit the big time. Although if you were to go the whole way and change the name of the band to the band members’ initials, they actually sound more like a hip-hop group: DJMC.

Hit: California Dreamin’

Hidden Gem: Creeque Alley