For some reason, George has always been my favourite Beatle. I say ‘for some reason’ because I never had any doubt that John was the smartest of the four and the one that the cool guys wanted to be like. And, grudgingly, I accept that Paul was the most musically talented (although how the Amadeus who wrote ‘Hey Jude’ can be the same kindergarten rocker in ‘Maxwell’s silver hammer’ defies some big natural law).
But despite his middle-of-the-road music as a solo artist, the ‘quiet Beatle’ (unfortunately not so quiet, though, when it came to the ‘japa yoga’ and other Harry Krishna arrangements in many of his songs), my mind set on you’, was on his 1987 album Cloud Nine that I had shoplifted from a cassette shop in Calcutta’s Vardaan Market when it came out. It was a fun, catchy song that could have been a Phil Collins song weren’t it so nice and catchy. As I listen to it now as the opener on this album, I can’t help but enjoy the jokey ‘having a laugh’ boyish tone that George injects into it, especially when he sings, “But it’s gonna take money/ A whole lotta spending money/ It’s gonna take plenty of money/ To do it right, child.”
For all its twee airy-fairyness, ‘Give me love (Give me peace on earth)’ from Living In The Material World is a decent pop tune with a touch of soul. With its ‘Keep me free from birth’ lines, let’s just say it’s a Country Eastern that’s Nashville via Benares. But George’s talent for sheer tune comes out in ‘Ballad of Sir Frankie (Let it roll)’, where the words border on the silly and there’s no real pyrotechnics and yet... It’s just the tune and the way George is singing it that makes it such a rollicker.
I’ve always puzzled over ‘My sweet Lord’ (one of the first English songs I ever heard courtesy my Rabindrasangeet-loving father buying a double album called ‘Hits of the 70s’ surprisingly three years before the decade was up), another of George’s ‘Hare Krishna’ songs that I’m theoretically supposed to hate. But again, it’s such a disarming — and, dare I say, pure — song that I don’t tire of it. A live (and not too decent) version of ‘While my guitar gently weeps’ follows.
I’ll stick to the ‘Beatles’ original from the ‘White Album’. (The live version of ‘Here comes the sun’ is also oversung.)
But the utter beauty of the song that follows still blows me away: ‘All things must pass’ from George’s first post-Beatles album of the same name. (His first solo album (and any Beatle’s), Wonderwall, the soundtrack of a film, came out in 1969 while he was with the greatest band in the world). George sings as if on a meadow before Armageddon — and yet again, quite magically, it is a gorgeous song bursting with utter joy. How did he do it? Even armoured with my punk rock sensibilities, I have no clue. ‘Any road’, from his posthumous 2002 album, Brainwashed, has ‘Guruji’ cotton-picking on his banjo “If you don’t know where you’re going/ Any road will take you there.” It doesn’t sound deep at all; hell, it’s a barnstormin’ foot-thumper.
‘Blow away’, with its liquid slide guitar turning solid every time the chorus comes, is another George song that makes ‘happy’ a genuine sonic experience. Which is pretty much what George Harrison still does for cynical old me: make me unembarrassedly happy.