George Harrison Sings ‘Blow Away’ from 1979

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.

The cover of George Harrisons self-titled album in 1979
The cover of George Harrison's self-titled album in 1979

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.

Enjoy!

Fantasy Albums: The Beatles 1971 comeback album

Or, how music history should have unfolded if I were in charge.

This is another possible series, should the spirit of the Delete Bin move me further. That is, the geekiest of all geekery among music geeks – the fantasy album. Most of these either come about because the albums haven’t happened, are unlikely to happen, or could never happen. But, fantasy albums are the stuff dreams by music geeks the world over (I have proof that this is the case, good people…). Here is one of mine, with more to (possibly … well, probably) follow. My Beatles album 1971.

Here’s the story:

Paul McCartneyThe Beatles decide to take a breather at the end of the Abbey Road sessions, knowing that they’re running on fumes. John makes the Plastic Ono Band album. George puts out All Things Must Pass as a double album (but holds back a few tunes). Ringo makes some coin as a guest musician on albums by Badfinger and Harry Nilsson, among others. Paul McCartney retreats to his farm in Scotland to write his first album, with some tunes held back. 1970 is otherwise a quiet year. But, by the end of it, The Beatles feel refreshed enough to come back to the Beatles with a renewed sense of vigour. This is because they’ve decided to take control of it, and not have it define them.

George HarrisonThey decide to have solo careers, while coming back to the Beatles by treating it as their hobby band. They deflate the myth by taking it less seriously, while at the same time always making a commitment to bringing their best to it, out of respect. This attitude will create a certain thematic cohesion for the ensuing sessions for their next record. Meanwhile, they’ve cut ties with Allen Klein to find new management in a local firm out of Liverpool with a charismatic leader at the head of it who also happens to be a fan of the music. Through this firm, they are able to re-negotiate their publishing deal with Northern Songs so that they own their own back catalogue outright, as well as control of all materials they put out going forward, either as a group or as solo artists. So, the first year of the decade is a good year indeed.

Ringo StarrThey go into Abbey Road studios with George Martin to record this album, with Geoff Emerick as engineer. And Klaus Voorman will do the album cover (as he did for 1966’s Revolver…), as well as playing bass on a few tracks. Billy Preston will appear playing organ and Fender Rhodes.

Beatles ’71

1. Too Many People – Now not about how obnoxious John and Yoko are, but a song about the disillusion of the hippie ideal. I think John Lennon would add some interesting lyrical content to this. The arrangement would be the same, but with Macca/Lennon/Hari three part harmonies on the “this was your first mistake/you took your lucky break and broke it in two” section. And Harrision would get a slide solo somewhere.
2. What is Life – with more three-part harmonies. It would otherwise remain unchanged.

3. Jealous Guy – No strings on this one, but a bit bluesier, with some Billy Preston organ to make it sound more like a gospel tune. Macca’s bass would be almost a lead instrument on it (his compositional contribution), providing a counter melody under the vocal. The first verse would be John at the piano, and the band would come in on the first chorus.
4. How Do You Sleep? – Equally, this is no longer about Macca, but about the American government and its involvement in Vietnam. John’s lyrics are bolstered by tougher playing and grittier production, making this rock harder than anything they’ve done up until this point. Still featuring the blistering Harrison slide riff, it will also feature a lead guitar as played by Macca that offsets the riff , making it about 12 bars longer. Also, there is a new middle-eight section added by Paul as well, which features his vocal.
5. It Don’t Come Easy The Ringo song! This time, it’s not a mercy track.

Side Two

1. Maybe I’m Amazed Pretty much as is, but with more three-part harmony bits. John would still get a co-writing credit.
2. Wah-Wah George leads an extended version of this tune, allowing for riff-trading with John, Paul, and Preston on Fender Rhodes. This will be the collective statement of the group in many ways, since the sentiment of the song is not being tied to someone else idea of your identity. All the Beatles faced this, and this tune would speak to that issue, along with George’s personal ones. As such, the song would be even harder, and more exhuberant!
3. Gimme Some Truth More chances for cascading “ah” backing vocals a la “Because” on this. Macca would add an intertwining countermelody sung as a backing to John’s lead. It will rely for the main on the strength of the vocals, both lead and backing. As such, it will be entirely a cappella.

4. Reeperbahn Days– This will be a tune that uses the melody of “Oh Yoko!” with Lennon/McCartney/Harrison/Starr contributions to the lyrics. The song is about their Hamburg days, and about their sense of innocence, just playing rock n roll and discovering the world as young men before they were famous. It will feature a rockabilly middle eight section contributed by McCartney which ups the tempo, and on which they will play as a four piece without any keyboards or production flourishes. The song will resolve back to the descending Lennon melody. It will be good natured and celebratory, but the sentiment will resolve on the idea that the past is behind and serves only as a means to understand the present.

5. Imagine – This would be as is, sans strings, with John doing this entirely solo, no drums.
6. Junk This would be a laid back, back porch acoustic guitar strum, with Ringo on a streamlined drum kit and brushes. George would play a tasteful acoustic slide. It would be cut live, with as much of a “just felt like playing” feel to it as possible.

The Beatles would not do a full tour, but would appear at the Concert For Bangladesh, organized by George Harrison. They will perform three songs together: “I’ve Got a Feeling”, “Across the Universe”, and “Too Many People”. In addition to Harrison’s solo set, John Lennon will have a solo tune (“Imagine”), and McCartney will perform “Blackbird” solo to close the record. The money from the concert would be more effective too, with less of it going toward administration, and more to the people who needed it. Royalties from the record would continue to serve development agencies in the sub-continent for many years to come.

In 1976 after the four concentrate on solo careers, there’s a live album …

So there it is, good people. This might be my geekiest article yet. So, there’s no reason for you not to tell me about your fantasy recordings, ones that never were or never can be.

PS- In December 1980, a city bus would jump the curb in New York City and take out a single victim standing outside of the Dakota apartment, knocking a signed copy of Double Fantasy heavenward…