Here’s a clip of movie producer, racing enthusiast, gardener, songwriter, and guitarist George Harrison with his poptastic 1979 song ‘Blow Away’. Oh, he was in the Beatles too.
George was an exceptional songwriter, not in the least because he had the tough job of attempting to put across material while in the same band as Lennon and McCartney. And of course he managed to match their ‘A’ material quite well with ‘Taxman’, ‘If I Needed Someone’, ‘While My Guitar Gently Weeps’, ‘Here Comes the Sun’, and others. Although Harrison’s solo material is notoriously patchy, arguably no different than that of all of the other Beatles, the high points during his career as a solo artist often matched his Beatles output.
For instance, I’ve always loved ‘Blow Away’, a sparkling gem from Harrison’s low-key 1979 self-titled album, George Harrison. All Things Must Pass may be his towering magnum opus as a solo artist – and rightly so. But, this tune is as good as anything on ATMP. I think this is in part to do with his approach to finding his own sound, while still resting in what he’d learned while honing his songwriting craft in competition with John and Paul. Part of what helped him to do that was his way of integrating a signature guitar sound into the best of his work. And he certainly uses his mournful, melancholic slide guitar to full effect here on this tune.
Sometime in the 1970s, Harrison seemed to change his approach to the guitar, leaving his Carl Perkins-like jangle and twang behind, and taking to the slide. It’s arguable perhaps that he wasn’t interested in meeting his friend Eric Clapton on the top of guitar-Mount Olympus by trying to play like him. In this, the slide might have worked out as a way through for him, given Clapton’s disuse of it. But that’s just me speculating. Harrison was never that kind of guitarist anyway. He was a proponent of the ‘simple is best’ school, and George Harrison’s contributions to the Beatles in terms of guitar are often missed by those who aren’t paying attention. The point is, on this track George seems to make a mournful guitar part sound exactly right in one of the most optimistic songs in his catalogue, a happy tune with just a hint of melancholy. Despite a change in style, George still made a point of proving that simple was still best.
The thing I like about this song, besides the guitar, is that it seems to be drawn from a place of comfort. There’s no ‘uptightness’ in this song, which can’t be said of a lot of his material a couple of years before. This is a guy who remains to be unselfconscious about writing a straight-ahead Beatle-George pop song during a time when pop music was in the middle of an overhaul with the upcoming 1980s looming. There’s something in it which kind of suggests an autumn day after a fantastic summer. What with this tune being one of the last of the Beatles solo singles to be released before the end of the ‘will they or won’t they’ era of hoped-for Beatles reunions, perhaps that’s just what it is.
Check out the George Harrison official website for more information about Harrison’s legacy as guitarist and songwriter.