George Harrison was the lead guitarist of the most popular band of all time, something which makes him one of the most important guitarists of all time. Oddly enough, his most characteristic sound didn’t emerge until after the Beatles broke up. Harrison learned how to play slide while he was on a mini-tour with Delaney and Bonnie, near the end of 1969. Soon that sound would become the most distinct element of his solo career, managing a sound like no other, with a much more melodic style, usually playing with just one string, avoiding the common areas. It is something he achieved almost always with normal tuning, instead of open tuning like most slide players did.
Isn't It a Pity (1970)
When the Beatles breakup materialised, George Harrison found himself with a big bag of songs that had been rejected by his ex-mates, and a new weapon to add to his enormous musicality, his special way of playing the slide. No wonder that All Things Must Pass is considered by many the best solo album of an ex-Beatle. You’ll find many of the best songs of his career here, and several of his best moments as a musician. An example that brings both together is the first version of Isn’t It A Pity, a song John Lennon had rejected in 1966, and then threw it out again for the Let It Be sessions. It’s not understood why it was ignored, because it’s a great song, with a typical Harrison melody and melancholy, and an excellent final coda where he really glows on slide, likely with his Fender Sonic Blue Stratocaster from 1961, best known as ‘Rocky’, the same guitar he used on Majestical Mystery Tour. However, this epic solo is just the tip of the iceberg in All Things Must Pass, where his slide is featured on many of the songs that make up this masterpiece, such as, My Sweet Lord, Beware of Darkness, Wah Wah, I Dig Love, or the irresistible What Is Life.
How Do You Sleep? (1971)
As with any lasting relationship, the Beatles breakup opened deep wounds among the members. The biggest problem was between Lennon and Paul McCartney who would exchange barbs and insults during some songs, the most famous being How Do You Sleep?, where Lennon mercilessly attacks his former partner. Although perhaps the most important grievance is the presence of George reigning with his slide.
Day After Day (1971)
Badfinger were the first group to sign with Apple (the label made by the Beatles) in 1968, their first success was a McCartney song called Come and Get It. In 1970 they released their first great album, No Dice, besides collaborating with Harrison on All Things Must Pass, where they recorded most of the acoustic bits. Their link with Harrison went on to produce the splendid Straight Up, that featured this gem of Pete Ham’s, which benefits from Harrison and Ham’s double slide where you can distinctly hear the style of the author of Something. Of course, the relationship between Harrison and the band was strong, with all the members playing in the Concert for Bangladesh, including a duet by Ham and Harrison on Here Comes the Sun. Maybe the most important link is that Ham was left with the legendary Gibson SG Standard from ’64 that Harrison played when he was a Beatle, making good use of it on classics like No Matter What, Baby Blue, or this Day After Day.
Back Off Boogaloo (1972)
George Harrison, unlike Lennon and McCartney, always had time to lend a hand to Ringo Starr with his songs and when they broke up, he was the drummer’s best mate, giving him the splendid It Don’t Come Easy, and helping him on Back Off Boogaloo, which Ringo had composed under the influence of his mate, the great Marc Bolan, at the height of popularity of ‘glam’ and his band T-Rex. It was one of the biggest hits of Starr’s career, and counts as the main clincher to Harrison’s tremendous talent on slide, one of the bluesiest of his career.
Give Me Love (Give Me Peace on Earth) (1973)
Just listen to the first slide notes on this song and you’ll find all the essentials: an extension of his personality, spiritual, joyful and sad all at once, like a breath of life made music. It’s a sublime piece, and possibly it best reflects his peculiar unique sound on slide, a sound that seems to reflect his own soul.
This Guitar (Can't Keep From Crying) (1975)
This is like the second part of While My Guitar Gently Weeps, but, instead of Clapton, the main star is his way of playing slide. Extra Texture, a record which includes this song, is far from the best of his solo discography, but this song was suffice for dodging the disaster label so many critics were speaking about in those days.
Someplace Else (1987)
During the 80’s, the sour breakup of the Beatles was behind them and it was time to look back without anger. Cloud Nine was the album that could do precisely that, from the photo on the album cover, with his Gretsch 6128 Duo Jet, the same one he played at the start of ‘Beatlemania’, to the lovely self-tribute of When We Was Fab. Not to mention the fun he had bringing back ‘Rocky’, his Fender Sonic Blue ‘61 Stratocaster, specially built for slide parts, which he again makes gently weep like old times on songs like this beauty.
Leave A Light On (1989)
In his own words (1992 interview) this is “the best slide solo I have ever played”. Big words. His collaboration with the ex-Go-Go Belinda Carlisle came on the singer’s 1989 record Runaway Horses. It’s not an especially memorable song, but from 3:03 on, it soars skyward with a solo that Harrison himself described as, “It had its own melody which went well with that of Belinda’s, but it’s also a little composition in itself, and for that, I’m very proud”.
Free As A Bird (1995)
If only to have a Beatles’ song with Harrison's slide at the forefront it is worth the reunion of the 3 remaining members to work on a Lennon demo. I know a lot of people don’t think it’s a great song, but it moves me, mainly because of the excellent work by George on, it couldn’t be any other way, ‘Rocky’.
Marwa Blues (2002)
The 12th and final George Harrison record, Brainwashed, was released in November of 2002, almost a year after his death. In spite of starting to record it more than a decade before its release, it was completed by his son Dhani and his friend (and Travelling Wilbury) Jeff Lynne after his passing. One of his most significant findings was this Marwa Blues, where there are two distinct tracks cut by Harrison that sum up up his career to perfection, with a nod to Indian music and sitar included. A work of art to close our brief review of one of the slide wizards, someone who found a new voice with the instrument and knew how to perfect it right to the end.