The Essentials: George Harrison
Everyone’s got a favorite Beatle.
Like death and taxes, loving John, Paul, George, or Ringo a little more than the others is one of life’s few certainties. You don’t even actively choose one. It just…happens.
When I got into the Beatles, and I mean really into them, I was a senior in high school. I was gangly, reserved, a wallflower. I never got asked to a dance, always ate lunch with the same two people, and spent a lot of time feeling invisible--never sure if I actually even wanted anyone to see me. Needless to say, I was left with a real love of underdogs. I think that's what first led me to George.
Not that anyone who is a member of the most famous band in the history of music is actually an underdog, but I don't know what else to call the scrappy, slight, baby of the group who constantly lived in the shadow of the almighty Lennon/McCartney. Even with songs like "Taxman" and "Here Comes the Sun" serving as evidence that his acidic wit could match John’s, and his gift for melody—when encouraged—could be on par with Paul's, he was often looked-over.
When the band deteriorated--a moment he cheekily referred to as the biggest break of his life after getting into the band in the first place--George made the switch from mop-top to spiritual seeker gracefully, staying out of the nasty pissing contest between Lennon and McCartney, and forgoing the trip down memory lane that Ringo took refuge in. Instead, he spread out across six album sides, releasing All Things Must Pass in 1970--the first triple album by a solo artist EVER--and an awe-inspiring outpouring of songs he had been stockpiling since the mid-60's. It served as a proper introduction to the Eastern spirituality that would remain at the core of his music, and his life, and cemented him as an artist of note in his own right, going right to number one--something even the ego-battling Harrison must have found particularly satisfying.
That album alone could technically qualify him as an essential artist. Never-mind the fact that he organized the first rock benefit concert (The Concert For Bangladesh), is largely responsible for introducing Eastern influence to Western pop, wrote Ringo's best solo songs ("Photograph" and "It Don't Come Easy"), had a number one single the same week the Beatles were being inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame ("Got My Mind Set On You"), and was a founding member of the most "super" supergroup of all time, The Traveling Wilburys.
On top of all that, he was a beautiful human being, who is still described in the most reverent tone possible by pretty much any one who came in contact with him. His warmth, generosity, friendship, strength, wisdom, and mischievous pirate heart all come through in his music. He continually used the ex-Beatle platform granted to him to craft songs of universal love and peace, avoiding any whiff of falsity, cow-towing, or the hedonistic vanity and excess running rampant through popular music in the 70's and 80's,-- creating some of the most comforting and thought-provoking music of the era.
George Harrison's music changed the way I look at the world and the people in it. It serves as an anchor, tying me down to the aspects of myself that are the most good--the most filled with light. No matter how wonky I'm feeling, a quick visit with George always rights me. The heartfelt concern of "Behind That Locked Door" has induced the tears that I needed to cry, the reassuring jaunt of "Any Road" has eased the gnaw of existential dread more times than I can count, the elegant warning of "Run Of The Mill" has softened my anger and my heart, and I hear all the goodness and light in the universe inside of the exuberant "What Is Life." Weirdly enough, I find that these songs come to me when I need them most. After car accidents, after break-ups, in the midst of a nasty case of the blues. A George Harrison song will come on in the grocery store, his voice will float from the car radio, the sound of his signature-slide guitar will drift from the window of an apartment I'm walking past. Maybe it's coincidence. I like to think it's George, sending me a little comfort, a little love, a little reminder that I'm not alone. He's always right there in the music.
Click on the list or any of the images below to listen to The Essential George Harrison.