The Beatles' break-up with came at the best moment of George Harrison’s career: he had just released the two best songs on the band's last album, Abbey Road, and musically, he had found the slide guitar to be the defining element of his guitar playing. When it came time to go solo Harrison had a bag full of great songs that had been rejected by the band's two leaders, John Lennon and Paul McCartney, and a sound all his own. The result was that for a couple of years the quiet Beatle had the most successful solo career among his peers. The pity is that between 1982 and his death on 29 November 2001 he only released one solo album, Cloud Nine; although his last recordings appeared on the posthumous album Brainwashed, released a year after his death.
From Guitars Exchange we want to take advantage of the 20th anniversary of that fateful date, 29 November 2001, with a list of our 10 favourite songs from his career, once his time with the Beatles was over.
What Is Life (1970)
Four minutes of pure pop glory: the second single from All Things Must Pass proved that Harrison, when he put his mind to it, had the same melodic flair as McCartney. Here he delivers his best, and most addictive, song, an irresistible riff opening a track on which Phil Spector makes his presence felt with his famous Wall of Sound, echo, winds, strings, a chorus of vocals (all by Harrison) - and even Eric Clapton accompanying him with Brownie on rhythm. All crowned by the most infectious and heavenly chorus of his entire career, Beatles included.
Handle With Care (1988)
After five years without a record, Harrison returned in style with Cloud Nine in 1987, scoring one of the biggest hits of his career with that Jeff Lynne-produced album. The label asked him to come up with a new song to release with the third single, This Is Love, and Harrison, who was in Los Angeles with Lynne, got to work. The funny thing is that within moments and by pure chance he was going to assemble an incredible band to accompany him. Lynne was producing Roy Orbison's Mystery Girl album at the same time and the legendary singer expressed his desire to drop by the session. Harrison, who had always been a big fan, didn't hesitate to invite him, and as they didn't have a studio available he called his friend Bob Dylan who offered to record in the studio he had in the garage of his house in Malibu. On the way there, Harrison stopped by Tom Petty's house, who had one of his guitars, and when he found out about the participants, he also signed up. Harrison had a song, which Lynne had helped him with, in which he had put a part for Orbison to sing. When they were all gathered there Harrison turned to Dylan for help with the lyrics and Dylan asked the former Beatle for a title. Harrison took a look in Dylan's garage and after seeing a box with a sign that said, "Handle With Care", he didn't hesitate and said Handle With Care. Within minutes everyone was coming up with ideas and this was the result of a great song that was deemed too good to be wasted as a B-side and ended up giving life to the ultimate supergroup, the Traveling Wilburys. Also present at the session was Mike Campbell of the Heartbreakers, but intimidated by the presence of a Beatle, he handed over the lead part to the latter, who ended up using his trademark slide. In the video shot to promote the song, Harrison uses a Danelectro TW-100 Traveling Wilbury.
Give Me Love (Give Me Peace On Earth) (1973)
The lead single from Living in the Material World gave George Harrison the second solo number one of his career in the USA. It was a song in which he again showed his more spiritual side, as in My Sweet Lord, a kind of prayer in which some of the best work of his career as a guitarist can be found. Just listening to the first notes of his slide is the perfect summary of his style, an extension of his personality, spiritual, joyful and sad at the same time, like a breath of life made music.
My Sweet Lord (1970)
His first solo single, and the song that served as the presentation of the essential All Things Must Pass, was a pop marvel that showcased his spiritual devotion with a magnificent chorus and an incredible production by Phil Spector. It also introduced the world to his unique slide sound, possibly with his Stratocaster, as distinctive as the director's cameos in Alfred Hitchcock films. Among the musicians accompanying him were Ringo Starr, Eric Clapton, Billy Preston (for whom it was originally written) and members of Badfinger - a little help from his friends.
Isn't It a Pity (1970)
This is one of those songs that is hard to believe was rejected by the Beatles, not once but twice. Harrison had submitted this song in 1966 but it was vetoed by Lennon. Inexplicably the song was left out again when Harrison took it to the Let It Be sessions. As if making amends Harrison recorded it twice on All Things Must Pass, the better of the two being the first, over seven minutes long with Harrison's usual melancholy and an excellent final coda in which his slide solo shines brightly, probably on his '61 Fender Sonic Blue Stratocaster, better known as Rocky, the same guitar on which he appeared on Magical Mystery Tour.
I'd Have You Anytime (1970)
In November 1968 Harrison went to visit Bob Dylan and The Band at their retreat near Woodstock, where the Beatles' guitarist and the future Nobel Prize winner for Literature took out their acoustic guitars and composed this marvel that Harrison decided to place at the beginning of his first post-Beatles album, All Things Must Pass. When the time came to record it, Harrison called in Eric Clapton who shone without seeking the spotlight, with those opening notes in which the Cream guitarist pays homage to his friend by sounding similar to Harrison's style, and making a nod towards Something.
When We Was Fab (1987)
Harrison was always the most reluctant to indulge in Beatles nostalgia but on this Cloud Nine wonder he decided to look back without anger and pay homage to his former band. This track sounded like the psychedelic Beatles of 1967, somewhere between I Am the Walrus and Strawberry Fields Forever, with Harrison even bringing back the sitar. To cap it all off Ringo takes over the drums again and appears alongside George in the groundbreaking video. McCartney was also invited but couldn't attend so he told Harrison to bring out someone in his walrus costume playing left-handed bass and tell everyone it was him, which of course Harrison did. The impossible Fab Four reunion is closed by Neil Aspinall, the band's long-time collaborator, appearing carrying a copy of John Lennon's Imagine.
Stuck Inside A Cloud (2002)
The recording of Brainwashed was plagued by problems, both business and financial, mainly with Harrison’s manager Denis O'Brien, but also due to his breaks in which he recorded with the Traveling Wilburys, Ravi Shankar and his former colleagues in The Beatles Anthology. In the end he didn't get to see it released during his lifetime, but he had given precise instructions to his son Dhani about how he wanted it to be. When it was finally released Dhani placed this beauty, called Stuck Inside A Cloud, in the number seven position, which was his father's favourite number, and the position in which he used to place his favourite songs from each album.
All Things Must Pass (1970)
The title track of the best album of Harrison's career was clearly influenced by The Band. Although it was rehearsed on several occasions by the Beatles themselves at the Let It Be sessions, the song was seen as Harrison's statement after the break-up of the Beatles, as was John Lennon's God. Although Harrison always imagined it as a perfect vehicle for the voice of Levon Helm, the Band's drummer, his friend Paul McCartney did a magnificent job on his version for the emotional Concert For George in 2002, along with some of the original musicians on the recording, such as Ringo and Clapton.
Got My Mind Set On You (1987)
This is the song with which he returned to the top of the US singles charts, 14 years after the previous one, Give Me Love (Give Me Peace On Earth). A cover of a song written by Rudy Clark and originally performed by James Ray in 1962, Harrison took it to his own territory and made it one of his best known and most instantly recognisable songs.