Don’t look back in anger

By Sergio Ariza

Cloud Nine represented the return of George Harrison after the early 80s’ period in which he had released the weakest albums of his career. He had semi-retired because he was tired of the bad reviews that Gone Troppo had received and bitter about John Lennon’s death in December 1980. By the time this album appeared Harrison had gone five years without releasing anything, but he seemed willing to make peace with his past and look again at the glorious period of the Fab Four. The album was a great success and contains some of the best songs of his career, although it has to be said that it is negatively affected by the ageing and over-tidy production by Jeff Lynne.


The fact that the Beatle, least given to brag about the past, appears on the cover with his legendary Gretsch 6128 Duo Jet, which is the same that he played in the early days of 'Beatlemania', is a sign that for the first time in his solo career, George was disposed to look back without anger. Perhaps the best example of this was When We Was Fab, a clear tribute to the group, both lyrically and musically. The song sounds so 'Beatle' that even before it had lyrics he used to refer to it as the ‘Aussie Fab’, because it reminded him of his band, and because he had composed it in Australia. To put the icing on the cake he asked two ex-colleagues to appear in the video. Ringo Starr doesn’t only appear in it, but he also plays drums. Paul McCartney, however, was on tour and couldn’t participate, but he gave Harrison an idea, which involved a left-hander playing a Rickenbacker bass disguised as a walrus - like in Magical Mystery Tour. The result is one of the landmarks in Harrison’s solo career, on which he didn’t think twice about dusting down his sitar to give the final touches.  


But beyond that great song, Cloud Nine sees Harrison reinvigorised with a great collection of songs, from the title track on which he is accompanied by his faithful Eric Clapton. This is one of the greatest moments on the album, with Clapton and Harrison exchanging 'bluesy' parts - 'Slow hand’ with his Stratocaster and Harrison with another of the guitars that he decided to dust down for this recording, his 61 Fender Sonic Blue Stratocaster, better known as Rocky, the same Strato with psychedelic paintings that appears on the shoot for Magical Mystery Tour. This was his preferred guitar to do his iconic picking with slide; probably his most characteristic sound as a guitarist. Rocky appears again on Someplace Else and This Is Love (although in the video he can be seen playing a Rickenbacker 450). But, speaking of Rickenbackers, this album also represented a return to his most remembered instrument from his time in the Beatles, his 12 string 360 Rickenbacker; the same one with which he made that distinctive chord that opens A Hard Day's Night, and which here is apparent on the outstanding Fish In The Sand. Neither can we forget his irresistible version of Got My Mind Set on You or Devil’s Radio, again with the addition of Clapton’s sparkle.


Although possibly the best test of Harrison’s creative excellence, in which found himself in at that moment, lies in the fact that these same sessions produced the huge Handle With Care. This is a song that was initially considered as a B side to This Is Love, but the members of his record company convinced him that it was too good to under-use it in this way. It was upon that base that he would bulid his incredible supergroup called the Travelling Wilburys that united Harrison with his producer Jeff Lynne, Bob Dylan, Tom Petty and Roy Orbison. But that is another story, which we will return to another day…