Start Your Summer Off Right With Harrison’s Joyful ‘Early Takes’
Published: Thursday, May 3, 2012
Updated: Wednesday, January 9, 2013 18:01
As the school year draws to a close, it’s time for my final column. I’d been hoping for a subject this week that would end everything on an up-note and, as luck would have it, a new release was made just yesterday from literally one of my favorite people to ever exist: George Harrison. The compilation, Early Takes: Volume I, is a collection of unedited demo material recorded by Harrison post-Beatles, but never published until now. Almost all of the tracks are original, with the exception of the occasional Bob Dylan co-write and cover. The release is connected to the recent Martin Scorsese documentary on the guitarist’s life and work, George Harrison: Living in the Material World. It mostly features original takes from the making of Harrison’s first solo album, All Things Must Pass, which marked the most successful start to any of the Beatles’ post-band careers.
Harrison lived one of the most objectively beautiful lives in music: from being dubbed the shy and kindly “Quiet Beatle” and living more or less in the shadow of the raucous and witty Paul and John, he went on in his own unassuming way to effuse his work with a gorgeous passion for the Oriental culture, instrumentals, and philosophy that would colorfully and dramatically revolutionize the Western World. Music fans everywhere watched Harrison transform from a grinning Liverpudlian boy with mop-like hair, the youngest member of a whole new craze, to the mysterious and immaterial young man who seized everybody’s attention with his blissful talk of peace and spiritual unification. George’s breed of rock and roll was new, inimitable, and genuine to a degree not even the other Beatles could engage. His later work is characterized not only by its charity but also by the distinctly untraveled path it took.
Early Takes is the prettiest and most joyful piece I’ve heard since I honestly can’t remember when. George’s voice in its prime—soft, calm, and yet sublimely confident behind the rich, pure strumming and picking strains—stands proudly unaccompanied. There truly is something moving and natural to the effortlessness of Harrison’s presentation, a sincerity in his voice and chords that makes for a light, noble clarity in every piece of this work. It begins with a minimal sound check, then launches uninhibitedly into an acoustic “My Sweet Lord,” played as swiftly and powerfully by George alone as in the studio version with a full chorus in the background and Phil Spector Wall-of-Sound. Listeners are welcomed to amble about the collection, expected, to a certain degree, to seek out those precious studio moments such as the grinning, flippant twang of “Woman Don’t You Cry For Me” and the brilliant lambaste of “All Things Must Pass” gracefully reduced to a single take.
Yet in your wandering, there is one song that will inevitably stand out and will demand returning to: “Run of the Mill.” Even the drums fade away for this recording, leaving only you and George to wonder at the sad, ethereal strangeness of friendships lost, a looming, lonely decision magnificently soaking in the whole of the horizon and the sky before you. Every part of this track is young, wonderful, sprawling, even naive to such an extent that it is set apart from the others by the sheer rawness of its thoughts and emotion. Whatever your journey may be, and whatever part of it you are on, the “Run of the Mill” demo will make you want to cry.
I can hardly even tell you strongly enough to listen to this album. George Harrison’s bold, poetic life yielded an extraordinary style and soul that stood among the giants of classic rock and roll music as one of the greatest of all. The “baby brother” of the Beatles has a perspective that is sure to move you, and this is a release that can’t be missed. Happy end of year, everyone!