The Coronavinyl Revival: On George Harrison.

Whether you like it or not collecting music is generally speaking man territory. It’s not that women can’t or won’t collect music, it’s just that generally speaking most large gatherings of music on any physical format tend to be guarded over by les hommes. Go into any record shop and feel free to prove my point. Quite why this is the case is not for me to speculate over. I know that Wifey has a vast and multilayered bag and shoe collection. She has many vessels for her make up, purses for her purses and, now that she has joined the knitting craze, more wool than Wales. Maybe then it’s just that women hold more value in other things than stacks of metal and plastic things with noises on them. They may have a point.

 

Any self respecting owner of a decent music collection will tell you immediately that just having thousands of songs on some cloud somewhere is not at all the same. A collection should be physical, it should be ever growing and should be a, if not the, pride and joy. A great record collection should be considered a glorious folly at worst and a magnificent achievement at best. Like having a handsome baby but with less shit and piss and sick to clean up. Should you wish to learn more then perhaps you could try a website called superdeluxeedition.com which worships at the alter of “music you can hold in your hand”. From musical krill to the biggest blue whale of a box set, very little escapes its attention and if it does one of its devoted readers will gladly point out the omission. It is on here that I have found some of my dearest treasures and learned of many magical things that soon would come to pass. When I die only the most worthy will be allowed to take my music collection off me. I must go and speak to Wifey about this.

 

A big fat box of music, provided it is tastefully put together, is truly a thing of beauty. I return to that George Harrison vinyl box, which weighs roughly the same as fat, newborn triplets. Maybe more. How much would fat triplets weigh? Oh look, stop distracting me, it weighs quite a bit and I wouldn’t want to go swimming with it, or sleep with it on my chest. Housed within a satisfyingly robust and ornate box are 13 albums and 2 ‘collectors picture discs’. 18 records altogether, it’s all pressed on 180g heavyweight vinyl, which is the stamp of quality in today’s market. Some reissued vinyl even comes as 200g ‘super heavyweight’ (Robert Fripp from King Crimson seems particularly keen on it) but this seems a touch wasteful, even in world as wasteful as this one. I was at a 5 km charity run to support Wifey supporting cancer (well, she wasn’t supporting cancer, if anything the opposite) when this popped up in an alert email at a bargain price of £199.99. This may sound steep but the retail price was £349.99 and if you want a new copy now it will set you back £500 or so, which I believe means I bagged a bargain. A big, heavy, useless, wasteful bargain. Like Gemma Collins, but with class.

 

And so to the interesting career of George Harrison. Poor farmer George was never in the limelight enough for his liking, being one of only four people in the most famous band that has ever existed. Bless him, sometimes he must have felt invisible. Some of his songwriting contributions the The Beatles canon were impeccable: ‘Taxman’, ‘Long, Long, Long’, ‘Here Comes The Sun’ – the last of which is 1969’s most streamed song (should pub quizzes ever start up again). Others were just crap, such as ‘Within You, Without You’ and ‘Piggies’. Harrison wanted to engage some level of spiritualism in his craft but there’s only so far people can go with some sitar drone and wafer thin lyrics. His first two albums (and the first of any Beatle) were, what’s the word, er, lame and best described as experimental. Experimentation is all very well but it helps if you get some positive results back from the lab at the end.

 

Depending on how you look at things Harrison was in some senses the coolest of The Beatles. John Lennon was a bit of a prick sometimes and Paul McCartney still is a bit of a prick sometimes. That leaves Ringo, who was most amiable but did himself no favours a few years ago when he basically told all his fans to fuck off and leave him alone, but insisted on doing so with some ‘peace and love’ tacked on the end. Yet Harrison was a bit more of a mystery, the quiet one. He may have been the most ‘spiritual’ but he was probably also the most hypocritical, and coming from a band that also contained John ‘imagine there’s no money etc’ Lennon that’s saying quite something. Here was a man who preached about the benefits of a frugal life and the great richness of Sri Krishna and not being reliant on material goods, all the while indulging in his passion for motor sports, living in a huge mansion and shovelling bags of coke up his honk. Musicians, eh! What are they like?

 

Back to the music. Experiments over, he stockpiled his songs for the big break and then shat them all out in one go on the monumentally good ‘All Things Must Pass’. Just listen to the onslaught of dancing guitars, brass and percussion throughout most of ‘Wah Wah’ and you can hear a man of quite some talent enjoying the freedom of doing whatever the hell he wanted with whoever the hell he wanted. Get a copy, or, if you’re not really serious about music, hop up on your big imaginary cloud and stream it. Sadly everything went south pretty quickly; it never got as close as rock bottom but it was never the same again. The follow up ‘Living In The Material World’ certainly looked the part but it didn’t have anywhere near as much of the chop and growl of its predecessor. ‘Dark Horse’ (after which he named his own vanity record label) was croaky at best and while ‘Extra Texture’ was also nice to look at it seemed to forget that music is to be listened to first and looked at second. It is an extra shame that ‘Extra Texture’ didn’t offer more as the back sleeve lists a formidable army of musical talent for cavalry.

 

After that even the packaging started to falter. ‘Thirty Three and A Third’ has a close up of the man himself but it isn’t what one could strictly call flattering. His next album – ‘George Harrison’ had better tunes but the haircut on the back cover suggested George was entering a Kevin Keegan lookalike competition. The follow up was called ‘Somewhere in England’, as in – somewhere in England there might be a worse haircut than the one on the front cover but we haven’t found it yet. The songs weren’t up to a great deal either. Incidentally it is a rule of the musical gods that as songwriting skills falter and sex appeal starts to fade then the male rock star must also take a hit in the follicle department. Just compare pictures of Roger Daltrey or Robert Plant in 1972 and 1982 and you’ll see what I mean. At least Jimi Hendrix and Brian Jones never had to suffer the shame of a bad day at the barbers.

 

Next we hit (actually more of a wet slap) ‘Gone Troppo’, which may as well have done just that. By now most people had started to forget about George Harrison’s musical career, and they probably had a point. Perhaps he didn’t care. He had settled down and he would always have money coming in from somewhere. He needed to because it didn’t last long. We should be grateful for some of his investments though, and in particular his involvement with Handmade Films, the company that brought us ‘Life Of Brian’, ‘The Long Good Friday’, ‘Time Bandits’, ‘Mona Lisa’ and ‘Withnail And I’. They made some stinkers too but just like in his day job the best bits are nothing short of world class.

 

Harrison was rescued by Beatle whore, Jeff Lynne from ELO. With his input he walloped out ‘Cloud Nine’ and as a kid I think watching the video to ‘Got My Mind Set On You’ on TOTP was possibly the first time I really knew who the hell George was. Lynne has a very recognisable production style and it suited the music very well. Tuneful, tasteful and relatively unfussy, bit with good enough clout to help the music fly well above insubstantial. The next time I took Harrison seriously was when his song (again with Lynne) ‘Cheer Down’ played over the closing credits of Lethal Weapon 2. As a teenager I was very impressed with it, and still am, and it was one of the highlights of the movie, along with Patsy Kensit getting her tits out. Sorry, that was teenage me talking, it won’t happen again. Probably.

 

And that’s pretty much it. He played his part in The Travelling Wilbury’s but even an ex-Beatle was never going to out cool Bob Dylan or out sing Roy Orbison. His next solo release came out posthumously. He didn’t record another after that on account of being dead. Luck had roughened up for George, first with some deranged wanker stabbing him in his home and then by getting stupid fucking cancer – which is what did for him in the end. He was only 58 but the second Beatle to go, and it’s been that way ever since. It seems odd that they would make this much of a fanfare and effort, putting together such a delicious box of goodies for such a muddled, inconsistent and sometimes underwhelming career, and yet when you start to rummage through it it brings such joy that for £199.99 it still feels like a good deal. I would never not recommend delving into the music of George Harrison, just don’t expect to get blown away at every corner. I have many, many issues with The Beatles but if I had to pick a favourite then it would George Harrison every time. If only he had lived long enough to appreciate just how special that must feel.

 

G B Hewitt. 11.04.2020

 

Have you still not ordered ‘All Things Must Pass’?

 

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