George Harrison claimed a trio of chart-topping solo songs, and nine more that reached the Top 25 on Billboard’s Top 100 – including 1981’s No. 2 smash “All Those Years Ago.” Then there were his remarkable achievements as leader of the Traveling Wilburys.
Still, as with Harrison’s tenure in the Beatles, he remained largely overlooked. On the one hand, it’s understandable since Paul McCartney strung together more consistent chart runs and the martyred John Lennon initially made a more celebrated comeback. But on the other hand, Harrison’s solo work can be every bit as rewarding.
From his massive Phil Spector-produced solo debut, to unjustly ignored smaller-scale triumphs in the late ’70s to his final collaborations with Jeff Lynne, the so-called Quiet Beatle always found a way to make some joyful noise.
The below list, Underrated George Harrison: The Most Overlooked Song From Each LP, avoids a pair of early experimental albums that didn’t even chart in the U.K., since 1968’s Wonderwall Music and 1969’s Electronic Sound were neither song-based nor widely heard. Basically all of it has been overlooked, perhaps justly so.
That still leaves 12 albums to dig into in a career that ultimately spanned three decades.
“Beware of Darkness”
From: All Things Must Pass (1970)
“Beware of Darkness” originally opened Side Three of Harrison’s post-Fab creative outburst, capturing both the mood and the moment in a reserved, and very Harrison-esque, manner. It’s a showcase for his fellow musicians, as sessions evolved into loose amalgams overseen by the mercurial Spector. Yet, Harrison remains the center point, as he matches a lyrical meditation on overcoming life’s harder moments (refusing to give into “the pain that often lingers“) with an arrangement that might draw this album’s clearest line back to the Beatles.
“Don’t Let Me Wait Too Long”
From: Living in the Material World (1973)
The impish original working title of this deeply religious album was The Magic Is Here Again, which – even as a joke – was guaranteed to be an overpromise after Harrison’s triple-album debut. Still, “Don’t Make Me Wait Too Long” was one of the times when his long-awaited studio follow-up approached that kind of hyperbole. A masterpiece of coiled anticipation.
From: Dark Horse (1974)
“So Sad” was actually an outtake from Living in the Material World, and it possesses a similar elegiac tone. Ringo Starr took part in the original session, where Harrison delved into the wreckage of his complicated relationship with Pattie Boyd. Perhaps thinking better of being so nakedly honest, Harrison sat on “So Sad” for a while. By the time it finally appeared on Dark Horse, Alvin Lee of Ten Years After had already released his own version.
“The Answer’s at the End”
From: Extra Texture [Read All About It] (1975)
One of many songs sparked by various so-called “Crispisms” found engraved around Harrison’s 19th-century digs at Friar Park, which was originally owned by Sir Frank Crisp. Harrison ended up offering some kind advice, encouraging us to not to “be so hard on the ones that you love,” but it’s always felt more like a personal plea.
“Woman Don’t You Cry for Me”
From: Thirty Three & 1/3 (1976)
Harrison began work on “Woman Don’t You Cry for Me” during his guest turn on a Delaney and Bonnie tour held after Abbey Road arrived, but before the Beatles officially split. It briefly became a contender for All Things Must Pass and then was shelved for years. By 1976, however, this song’s principal innovation had become old hat: Harrison tried out slide guitar for the first time while writing “Woman Don’t You Cry for Me.”
“Your Love Is Forever”
From: George Harrison (1979)
Harrison spent some time puttering around the grounds during some time away from the music business. “I like gardens; I like the pleasure they give you,” he told Rolling Stone in 1979. “It’s like a meditation in a way.” That sense of contentment permeated this small-scale, endlessly charming album, and “Your Love Is Forever” was its heart and soul. Harrison employs an era-appropriate cycle of seasonal metaphors to craft one of his most truly enduring ballads, then completes things with some of his loveliest slide work.
From: Somewhere in England (1981)
Harrison swerved hard on this album, moving away from more mainstream recent themes on Thirty Three & 1/3 and George Harrison toward a hardened, often unpalatable religiosity. “Life Itself” stood out, not because it avoided such topics, but because his lyric featured the notable return to a message of unity across faiths that Harrison first espoused in “My Sweet Lord.” It’s probably the album’s prettiest song, too.
From: Gone Troppo (1982)
Gone Troppo was ultimately defined by the use of then-hip synths, but it actually plumbed some notable emotional depths as Harrison spoke to a desire to be part of smaller things after the big things have let you down. (In this way, it could be favorably compared with the pastoral joys of John Lennon’s earlier Double Fantasy.) That’s particularly true of “Unknown Delight,” a lovingly crafted song for his son Dhani. It remains a low-key success on what turned out to be one of George’s most up-tempo, if instantly dated, releases.
“That’s What It Takes”
From: Cloud Nine (1987)
Cowritten with Gary Wright, and featuring a nicely understated turn on slide, this is the completely realized mid-’70s hit Harrison never quite managed. Better late than never.
“Heading for the Light”
From: The Traveling Wilburys’ Vol. 1 (1988)
As the ’80s concluded, Harrison had put his life back together, then his faith and finally his career. His sense of purpose leaks out of every part of this song, which should have been a huge hit.
From: The Traveling Wilburys’ Vol. 3 (1990)
Harrison and company returned to one of his favorite topics – the environment – when gathering for this supergroup’s second album. “Inside Out,” which found Harrison showcased vocally on the bridge, was the very first song the Traveling Wilburys worked on during sessions that ultimately produced the jokingly titled Vol. 3. Successes here encouraged the remaining members to go on without the late Roy Orbison.
From: Brainwashed (2002)
This started as a fine little acoustic number. But like many of the best Harrison tracks, it cried out for a larger sound. Lynne did his best Spector imitation, with a posthumous production that explored both the ghost of regret and the atmospheric vistas that define Harrison’s best solo moments. Meanwhile, Harrison never looked away from what we know — and what, more particularly, he knows — to be true: He’s a goner.
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