December 11 – Turntable Talk, Round 9 : A Dark Horse Christmas Pick?

Welcome back to Turntable Talk! As this is the ninth instalment, regular readers know what it is. Every month, I have several interesting guest writers sound off on one topic related to the music that we look at here daily. Earlier this year we’ve looked at some topics that sparked lively debates, including if the Beatles were still relevant and people’s takes on how videos changed music. This time around though, in recognition of the calendar we have a simpler topic : Songs of the Season. We’ve just asked the guests to talk about a Christmas/holiday song that they love and why it has meaning to them.

With us today is Lisa, from Tao Talk, a diverse and lively site where she shares poetry, thoughts on the world around us, movie reviews and more. We know she’s very fond of the Beatles and Pearl Jam…will one of those come up as her Christmas music pick?

The first time in memory that I heard “Ding Dong, Ding Dong” was when I bought the 2014 George Harrison: The Apple Years 1968-75 box set. Not only were there the first six of Geo’s solo albums but one DVD that had over 30 minutes of this and that, including two videos of this song. I hadn’t thought about it for awhile until I was searching youtube for a holiday song a couple of years ago and ran across it. When Dave asked us to write about a favorite holiday song, it immediately came to mind. I will warn you that it is an insidious earworm, so beware.

Other than where I first heard it, I didn’t know a lot about the tune. Thankfully wikipedia has a wealth of information on the song. I will include just the first three paragraphs, but there is a lot more to know about it, so click the wikipedia link to take you there.

“Ding Dong, Ding Dong” … was written as a New Year’s Eve singalong and released in December 1974 on Geo’s album Dark Horse. It was the album’s lead single in Britain and some other European countries, and the second single, after “Dark Horse“, in North America. A large-scale production, the song incorporates aspects of Phil Spector’s Wall of Sound technique, particularly his Christmas recordings from 1963. In addition, some Harrison biographers view “Ding Dong” as an attempt to emulate the success of two glam rock anthems from the 1973–74 holiday season: “Merry Xmas Everybody” by Slade, and Wizzard’s “I Wish It Could Be Christmas Everyday“. The song became only a minor hit in Britain and the United States, although it was a top-twenty hit elsewhere in the world.

Harrison took the lyrics to “Ding Dong” from engravings he found at his nineteenth-century home, Friar Park, in Oxfordshire – a legacy of its eccentric founder, Frank Crisp. The song’s “Ring out the old, ring in the new” refrain has invited interpretation as Harrison distancing himself from his past as a member of the Beatles, and as the singer farewelling his first marriage, to Pattie Boyd. As on much of the Dark Horse album, Harrison’s vocals on the recording were hampered by a throat condition, due partly to his having overextended himself on business projects such as his recently launched record label, Dark Horse Records. Recorded at his Friar Park studio, the track includes musical contributions from Tom Scott, Ringo Starr, Alvin Lee, Ron Wood and Jim Keltner.

On release, the song met with an unfavorable response from many music critics, while others considered its musical and lyrical simplicity to be a positive factor for a contemporary pop hit. For the first time with one of his singles, Harrison made a promotional video for “Ding Dong“, which features scenes of him miming to the track at Friar Park while dressed in a variety of Beatle-themed costumes. The song still receives occasional airplay over the holiday season.

I also want to talk about a phenomenal cover of the song by The Analogues that I ran across while looking for the original. Not only did The Analogues cover this tune, they’ve covered many Beatles songs with such precision that your ears will be both shocked and delighted simultaneously.

More about The Analogues from my old pal, wiki:

The Analogues are a Dutch tribute act to the Beatles. Founded in 2014, the Analogues’ ambition has been to perform live the Beatles’ music from their later studio years, using analogue and period-accurate instrumentation. The Analogues distinguished themselves by performing songs and whole albums live, which the Beatles never played live. While the band does not attempt to look like the Beatles, they have been noted for accurately recreating and reproducing their music and sound.

From 2015 to 2016, the Analogues went on their first tour both in the Netherlands and abroad, performing the Magical Mystery Tour album. In 2017, the band toured with a complete performance of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, including a performance at the 17,000-capacity Amsterdam Ziggo Dome on 1 June 2017 to celebrate the album’s 50-year existence. In June 2017, Dutch public-service broadcaster NTR aired a one-hour documentary on the band’s painstaking process of analyzing the Beatles’ compositions and experimental use of studio equipment, as well as acquiring the proper analogue instruments, in preparation of live rendition of the Sgt. Pepper‘s album. Before an album can be performed, the multi-layered arrangements are fully written out by the band. From 2018 to 2019, the Analogues toured the Netherlands, Belgium, Germany and the UK, playing The Beatles, also known as The White Album.

To sound as close to the original recordings as possible, the Analogues have amassed a collection of musical instruments, such as a black-and-white Rickenbacker guitar similar to John Lennon’s, a light blue Fender Stratocaster similar to George Harrison’s, and a Höfner 500/1 bass. Exotic musical instruments from India are also used in their performances, including a dilruba, a swarmandal, a tanpura, a tabla and a sitar. Further special instruments include a one-metre-long harmonica for “The Fool on the Hill” and a clavioline for “Baby, You’re a Rich Man”.

The band’s primary analyst is bass guitarist and producer Bart van Poppel. After a thorough analysis of an album’s arrangements and consulting Beatles Gear, they find the necessary equipment such as a 1965 Lowrey Heritage Deluxe organ, or one of only thirty known existing mellotrons in a particular series, used in the intro of Strawberry Fields Forever.

I have enjoyed putting this post together. I hope you enjoy the song as much as I do. Thanks, Dave, for asking me to be a part of this round of Turntable Talk. Happy Holidays to All!

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November 23 – George’s First Single Was So Fine, But…

My Lord”… talk about mixed blessings. George Harrison took a giant leap forward and made a massive mistake all at the same time 52 years ago. “My Sweet Lord” was released as a single this day in 1970. It was his first single, from the great triple-album All Things Must Pass, which although his third was his first solo release since the breakup of the Beatles.

Of course, calling it a “solo” is a bit misleading, and probably wouldn’t have been his own description of the record. He had a bevy of friends along working on the record with him. On this song alone, besides George and his singing plus slide guitar, all four members of Badfinger played (three on guitar, one on drums), as did Eric Clapton and Peter Frampton on guitars, Gary Wright and Billy Preston both played keyboards. And that’s only a partial list. It was co-produced by Phil Spector, and even though he was famous for his “Wall of Sound” production, he found it a bit overwhelming. “It took about 12 hours to overdub the guitar solos,” he said, “perfectionism isn’t the word. He was beyond that.” But as demanding as he was, keyboardist Bobby Whitlock, who worked on some other songs on the album, remembers “all the time that I ever knew him, (George) was a wonderful man” and added that various Hare Krishnas would pop into the studio in their white robes at times and hand out cookies.

Of course, the result was well-worth it, a record that seemed worthy of Harrison’s message. He said it was a call to unite religions and have people be thankful no matter how they might worship. “All of us – Christian, Hindu, Muslim, Jews, Buddhists – can address our gods in the same way, using the same phrase,” he explained. He’d gotten the idea that he wanted to write a spiritual song, and came up with “My Sweet Lord” while in Denmark with Clapton and Preston the year before. He hadn’t even intended to record it, initially, so he let Billy Preston release a version before All Things Must Pass came out. In the end he got a spiritual tune with a pop feel… too much of a pop feel, as it turned out.

Now when his album was ready for release, he wanted no singles. He figured people should experience it all as one work, and perhaps didn’t even want to show favoritism to one of his songs over another. Of course Apple Records saw it differently and needed something to get on radio for Christmas time to spur on sales. Harrison relented somewhat, and “My Sweet Lord” was released in North America, with “Isn’t It a Pity?” on the other side. Although the former was the real hit, he considered it a two-sided single, just as so many of the Beatles 7” records had been. He got his way initially in Britain, with the company waiting until 1971 to release the single there.

Reaction was great. Billboard declared it “a powerhouse two-sided winner.” The UK’s NME said it “establishes George as a talent equivalent to either Lennon or McCartney” , a bit of a radical idea at that time. Later Elton John would declare it the last great song of its era and say the first time he heard it, “you know when a record starts on the radio and it’s great and you think ‘Oh, What is This?’”… that’s what “My Sweet Lord” was to him. “The only other record I ever felt that way about was ‘Brown Sugar’”.

Many people felt that way too. The song quickly hit #1 in North America, and then the next year became the biggest-selling single of the year in Britain. It topped German charts for 10-straight weeks. It won the Ivor Novello Award for most played record of the year. In time, it sold beyond 10 million copies, making it in all likelihood the biggest-selling single ever by a Beatle after that band’s days were done.

So all was great, right? Well, not quite so fast. Just as the reviews loved the song, several of them, notably Rolling Stone and the NME also pointed out that it bore more than a passing similarity in tune to the 1963 Chiffons hit, “He’s So Fine.” One wonders how Spector didn’t notice it and tell George something, or for that mater as Harrison himself would later ask “why didn’t I realize?”

Not surprisingly, he, and Apple Records, were sued. Now the writer of the Chiffons hit, Ronnie Mack, had died young of cancer around the time that song became a hit. So a record publisher, Bright Tunes filed suit against Harrison only weeks after “My Sweet Lord” hit the charts. What followed was…messy to say the least. And complicated and lengthy. It involved different courts and ex-Beatles manager Allen Klein at first representing Harrison, then being replaced… an entire book could be written about the proceedings, which dragged on into 1976. George actually thought if he used any tune for a base, it was the old hymn “Oh Happy Day.”

In the end, Harrison lost. The judge, Richard Owen, himself a composer, said “did he deliberately use the music of ‘He’s So Fine’? I do not believe he did so deliberately. Nevertheless, it is clear that ‘My Sweet Lord’ is the very same song as ‘He’s So Fine’ with different words…this is under the law an infringement of copyright.” Harrison had to pay approximately $1.6 million, which was 3/4 of the North American royalties from the single and some of the album’s sales too. However, the case dragged on more and after appeals, that amount was reduced to approximately $587 000, with other courts finding Judge Owen’s finding overly harsh and also finding that Klein was negligent in his defense of Harrison.

The whole thing left the ex-Beatle understandably upset and “paranoid”. He said “99% of the popular music that is heard is reminiscent of something or other”. He had trouble writing any material for several years as a result. And one would think he worked as a cautionary tale for other artists in the future. Or at least those not called Radiohead or Vanilla Ice.

November 19 – George Got Back Upto Speed In ’76

They say when life gives you a bunch of lemons, make lemonade. Well, life had indeed dealt George Harrison a few sour fruits in the mid-’70s, but he spun them into something tasty with Thirty Three & 1/3 , his fifth post- Beatles album. It came out this day in 1976.

Harrison had been working on the record for most of the year and was still smarting some from the failure of his marriage to Patti Boyd a couple of years earlier. As well he suffered hepatitis, and last but certainly not least, was diverted quite a bit of the time by an ongoing lawsuit against him for plagiarism. He eventually lost that one, with publishers Bright Music succeeding in saying he’d copied the music of “He’s So Fine” for his “My Sweet Lord.” As a result of those things one would imagine, one might be a bit bitter, and for a time Harrison did indeed get rather negative and start over-indulging in drinks and drugs. But there were patches of blue in his sky at the same time. He’d got a new girlfriend, whom he’d later marry, Olivia Arias. He had fun hanging out with the Monty Python comedy troupe, was becoming a serious fan of car racing and was being nudged back towards spirituality and meditation by Olivia. Thankfully, it was the new, upbeat version of George which came through on Thirty Three & 1/3. “”I think generally the album’s nice because it’s happy” he told interviewers at the time.

The result was a ten song effort which indeed sounded reasonably upbeat. He got help from a good group of his musical friends including Billy Preston, Gary Wright and even future star producer David Foster on keyboards. There were nine originals plus a cover of the old Cole Porter song “True Love”.
He wrote “Beautiful Girl” for Olivia, while the four singles off it generally were agreed by critics to be the stars of the record – “This Song”, “Crackerbox Palace”, “It’s What You Value” and the Porter song. “This Song” especially stood out, for two big reasons. First, the jaunty little tune poked fun at his lawsuit and the whole process of being in court for such things (“this song ain’t black or white and as far as I know, don’t infringe on anyone’s copyright” he sings) Secondly, long before the MTV age, he made a comic video for it, directed by Eric Idle of Monty Python. It parodied the court case, being shot in an actual California court, and had Ron Wood of the Rolling Stones among the people making cameos in it. He debuted the video on Saturday Night Live a day after the album dropped, and did “Here Comes the Sun” and “Homeward Bound” with Paul Simon on the same show.

Reviews at the time were quite decent. Billboard called it “a sunny, upbeat album of love songs and cheery jokes that is his happiest and most commercial package” to that point. The Village Voice felt it was his “best album since All Things Must Pass, and on a par with say (Bob Dylan’s current album at the time) Blood on the Tracks.” Rolling Stone though disagreed. Although they liked “Crackerbox Palace” and “This Song” well-enough they felt the rest of the record had “the feeling and sincerity of cellophane.”

The public’s reaction depended on where they were. In Britain, as one commentator put it “punk rock rendered Harrison obsolete.” And indeed, the album didn’t do much there, missing the top 30 and having none of the four singles make the chart. North America was either a bit behind the times or a bit more open-minded, and both “Crackerbox Palace” and “This Song” hit the top 30 singles charts and the album went to #11 in the states, where it sold to gold levels, and #10 in Canada.

Most retrospective reviews give it decent scores, like Mojo which graded it 3-stars calling it “confident if not classic.” Uncut gave it half a star more but summed it up nicely: “a pivotal album…the document of a man in the art of discovering exactly where he belonged.” And that’s some pretty good lemonade.

November 14 – The End Of Solo Career Was Beginning Of Wilburys

It was almost a last hurrah for the Beatles. George Harrison‘s “Got My Mind Set On You” made the U.S. Top 40 this day in 1987. It would go on to be his third #1 hit in the U.S. (after “My Sweet Lord” and “Give Me Love” in the ’70s) , and eventually the last chart-topper for any solo Beatle.

The song was written by Rudy Clark and originally recorded by James Ray in 1962; Harrison recorded it for his Cloud Nine album, which was co-produced by Jeff Lynne of ELO, whom he would form the Traveling Wilburys with the following year. There was even more of a tie-in between the two than that; Harrison was wanting a new b-side for another single off Cloud Nine, so he got Lynne in on the song,  in turn they got Roy Orbison, Tom Petty and Bob Dylan in on it too. “Handle with Care” was the song, originally designed to be a one-off Harrison song but they all agreed it sounded so good and they liked working together well-enough to carry on as a band. Thus the Traveling Wilburys were born. 

Although he often was the over-looked Beatle, he had a very impressive solo career, starting with Wonderwall Music in 1968 (an instrumental album which was the first solo work for any of the Fab Four) and peaking with All Things Must Pass. That 1970 album was a 105-minute, triple album which drew upon his friends Eric Clapton, Gary Wright, Peter Frampton, the members of Badfinger and others and was called “the War and Peace of Rock and Roll” by Rolling Stone. while Britain’s The Guardian called it the “best, mellowest and most sophisticated” of any solo record by one of the Fab Four. Cloud Nine may not have matched that but drew decent reviews and went platinum in the States. It ended up being the last solo album George would release in his lifetime.

October 18 – Picture When Ringo’s Star(r) Was On The Rise

Picture this : at one time it seemed like Ringo Starr might have had a decent shot at having as good a, if not better than, post-Beatles career than the other three. In both 1971 and ’72 he’d had a sizable hit single (“It Don’t Come Easy” and “Back off Boogaloo”) and on this day in 1973 he bolstered his resume with a single that Billboard magazine raved about, declaring it “has to be a #1 single this month. Right?” that single was “Photograph”, the first single off his third album, simply called Ringo. The single was released in Britain and Europe 49 years ago today, a week or two after it had come out in the U.S.

If Ringo was seen as not having the voice of Paul or the writing chops of any of the other three, he could still hold his own against many of his pop contemporaries in those areas and was a very good, under-rated drummer. But perhaps his greatest skill is in being a nice guy everyone seems to like. That was reflected in the fact that each of the other three Beatles helped out on this album, albeit not all together. “Photograph” was written by George and Ringo together, and in fact they’d recorded a demo of it while George was recording an album two years earlier. Ringo decided to revisit it and record a new version, with none other than Harrison coming back to play the 12-string guitar on it and sing backing vocals. Among the other talents who played on the song were saxophonist Bobby Keys and Nicky Hopkins on piano. They recorded it in L.A., opting for a full sound reminiscent of Phil Spector’s Wall of Sound, something not coincidentally helped along by using some studio engineers who oft worked with Spector. Ringo – well ahead of his time – later made a video (or “promotional film” as he would call it then) for the song back in England, at Tittenhurst Park, the famous estate that he’d just bought from John Lennon.

The song managed to sound fairly upbeat despite having forlorn lyrics about the guy who couldn’t forget a love from the past who was gone, leaving him with only a photograph. And it sounded good, something that would have sounded right at home on a number of Beatles albums. Record Mirror upon its release also predicted it would be a “giant smash,” admiring how it sounded big but “nothing’s overdone so as to take away from the song.”

Photograph” hit #1 in New Zealand and Australia (where it would be his only #1) and Canada, where it was his second, and proving Billboard right, also in the U.S., where it got him a gold record. His native land was a bit of an exception though, with it only getting to #8 in the UK.

May 25 – George Prayed For Peace, Apple For #1 Hits

They weren’t quite John, Paul and Ringo… but drummer Jim Keltner, pianist Nicky Hopkins, organ & synth player Gary Wright as well as bassist Klaus Voortman made for a pretty stellar backing band to George Harrison…as Britain was reminded on this day in 1973.

That was when they got to hear the lead track off his third post-Beatles album (that is after All Things Must Pass and the live Concert for Bangladesh), Living in the Material World. That was the great “Give Me Love (Give Me Peace On Earth)”, which those of us on this side of the Atlantic got to get the single a couple of weeks before, although oddly it was just a tiny bit different than the original. Capitol, who put it out in North America, decided to speed it up just a tiny bit to make it sound a little perkier than the album cut or British single issued by Apple.

Around that time, Harrison was deeply involved in the Eastern spiritualism movement and believed in a universality of God and faith, which he clearly tried to demonstrate on the single. “I want to be God-conscious. That’s my only real ambition, everything else is secondary,” he said. He also added “sometimes you open up your mouth and you don’t know what you are going to say, and whatever comes out is a starting point. If that happens and you get lucky, it can usually be turned into a song. This song is a prayer and a personal statement between me and the Lord and whoever likes it.”

A lot of people did like it. It’s hard not to like his mix of outward (“give me peace on earth”) and inward (“My Lord, please take hold out my hand that I might understand”) looking prayers or wishes, coupled with a melody Pop Matters call “effervescent”. The incredible slide guitar playing of his, two tracks overdubbed, doesn’t hurt at all either! Little wonder Eric Clapton ranks it as one of his two favorite Harrison songs.

An indication of the control record companies have, or at least had, was that since Apple still controlled pretty much all things Beatle in the UK at least, they chose the exact release dates and picked a time for George after the record was ready, but sufficiently long enough to not possibly cannibalize sales of Paul McCartney’s Red Rose Speedway, and early enough as to not deter mass sales of the two Beatles “greatest hits” albums (the “red” and “blue” ones) to come out that summer.

That strategy worked, as the song went to #1 in the U.S. – his second, after “My Sweet Lord” . Curiously, it knocked McCartney and Wings “My Love” out of the #1 spot, making a Beatle deposing another Beatle at the top. Then to top that off, Billy Preston, Beatles’ friend and late in their career, keyboard player, knocked Harrison off the top with his “Will it Go Round in Circles?”. At the end of June that year, the three songs held down the three top spots on the charts.

Elsewhere, for some reason the reception wasn’t as warm, though it was a big hit in most Western places. It peaked at #10 in his homeland, and #9 in both Canada and Australia.

May 15 – Fab Three Remembered John

Tragedy can put things in perspective. Not exactly a consolation, but a fact and an explanation for a great song that came out this day in 1981. George Harrison gave us his first single off the Somewhere in England album, “All Those Years Ago” , not only a tribute to John Lennon, but the closest thing we’d get to a Beatles reunion.

Harrison had remained friends with Ringo Starr, and was in 1980, both working, slowly, on his own album, and helping Ringo put together his Stop & Smell the Roses album. Harrison added some guitar work to the record and wrote a song for it, “Wrack My Brain.” He also wrote a version of “All Those Years Ago”, and they did the preliminaries, with Ringo doing the drumming of course. However, Starr didn’t really love the song, and turned it down.

Meanwhile, through rather good fortune that seemed anything but to Harrison originally, Warner Bros. – who distributed his own Dark Horse Records – refused to put out the version of Somewhere in England he turned in late in ’80. They noticed that George had only had one minor hit (the under-rated “Blow Away”) in years and thought the album he finished was rather bland and totally lacking commercial appeal. They even rejected the cover photo.

Harrison was upset, but grudgingly agreed to go back, rework a track or two and add a couple of new songs. Then, of course, John Lennon was murdered. Harrison remembered the old song he’d written for Ringo, and quickly rewrote the lyrics as a love song to John, with lyrics like “we’re living in a bad dream” and “you point to the truth when you say ‘All You Need Is Love’.” He kept the recording of Ringo doing the drums – session superstar Herbie Flowers did the bass by the way – and then, in an act of generosity, called up Paul McCartney. McCartney, along with his Wings bandmates (at that point just his wife Linda and Denny Laine) came by and recorded backing vocals, making it the first time the three had been together on a record since they finished Let It Be some 11 years earlier. Harrison finished it off with a touching video, a slideshow of pictures highlighting John.

It was a good song, and a timely one, and it helped put George back on the musical map, briefly at least. In his UK, it only got to #13 surprisingly, but elsewhere it was very well-received. In Canada it got to #3, in Ireland, #4; it also made the top 10 in Australia and several European lands. In the all-important U.S. market, it was a chart-topper on Adult Contemporary stations (an indication of the aging of the Beatles fans perhaps) and got to #2 on the singles chart, only kept from the top by Kim Carnes mega-selling “Bette Davis Eyes.”

It didn’t help the album out that much though; Somewhere in England peaked in the teens (#11-19) almost worldwide and quickly disappeared, it became George’s first post-Beatles album to not get a gold record (or better) in the U.S. Harrison would be almost invisible in the music world until his big comeback in 1987, Cloud Nine, which had another look back at the Beatles, “When We Were Fab.”

February 25 – The Bright Light That Was The Dark Horse

The “Quiet Beatle” was born 79 years ago today, so in honor of that, we look at some thoughts about George Harrison…and from George himself.

Ringo Starr, after George’s death in 2001: “George was a best friend of mine. I loved him very much and will miss him very greatly.”

Paul McCartney, at same time: “He was a lovely guy and a very brave man, and had a wonderful sense of humor. He (was) really just my baby brother.”

Peter Asher, friend of the Beatles and record producer : “(he was) an extraordinary composer and wildly skilled, inventive guitarist; a brilliant and remarkable man. He combined some of the virtues of an English country gentleman – civility, good humor and a certain traditionalism – with a profound fascination with other cultures.”

Tom Petty, bandmate of George’s in the Traveling Wilbury’s : “He just had a way of getting right to the business of finding the right thing to play. That was part of the Beatle magic.”

Jeff Lynne of E.L.O and the Traveling Wilburys, upon their first real meeting: “He invited me over and we got on great. One of the first things he asked was ‘do you want to go on holiday?’..So, we went on a holiday to Australia, and then we came back and…made Cloud 9.

Eric Clapton : “A lot of times during our relationship, I found it very difficult to communicate my feelings towards George – my love for him as a musician, as a friend and a brother…because we skated around stuff” (presumably like how Eric pursued George’s wife Pattie for years.)

Keith Richards of the Rolling Stones: “George was an artist, but he was also a…craftsman. When you listen to his songs, you’re aware of how much went into it. George crafted his stuff very, very carefully.”

New York Times after his death: “Some of his best compositions, like ‘While My Guitar Gently Weeps’ and ‘Something’ stand alone in the Beatles canon for their introspective beauty” and he “created the concept of the all-star charity rock concert.”

The Guardian: “the most handsome but under-rated Beatle…seemed stranded on the far side of the stage, even if he was the best musician and the motor of the band.”

Olivia Harrison, his widow: “He often said ‘everything else can wait but the search for God cannot’ and ‘love one another.'”

And a few words from the man himself:

In 1980 – “I’m a gardener. I plant flowers and watch them grow. I don’t want to go out to the clubs partying.”

We’re now the results of our past actions. In the future, we’ll be the result of the actions we’re performing now.”

Quiet words of wisdom from the quiet Beatle.

January 16 – Did Three Dozen Beatles Number Ones Put George On ‘Cloud Nine’?

It was the end of an era, though we didn’t know it yet. On this day in 1988, George Harrison had the #1 single in the U.S., with the great “Got My Mind Set On You” from his comeback album Cloud Nine. It had just knocked a Whitney Houston song off the top spot. It was George’s third American chart-topper on his own, but first since “Give Me Love” back in 1973. However, as it turns out it would also end up being the last #1 single by a Beatle.

As we know, the Beatles pretty much owned the charts in the mid-to-late ’60s, racking up no less than 20 #1 singles. After they split up around the end of 1969, each of the four had a good measure of success on their own, although as the years wore on it became clear Paul McCartney was the most successful. In all, the four solo Beatles (including McCartney’s Wings and his duets with Stevie Wonder and Michael Jackson) tallied 16 more #1s, eleven in the ’70s and five in the ’80s. Of those, nine were McC’s, three George’s and two each were by John and Ringo. Put together, it’s a rather mind-blowing 36 #1 hits, spanning 24 years, and the first in five years since McCartney (and Jackson’s) “Say Say Say.”. The 24 year span between chart-toppers was matched by Elton John and the Beach Boys, but neither have come close to the total number by the Fab Four (and the Beach Boys went some 20 years in that span without a big hit before getting back there with “Kokomo”).

Curiously, the timing meant that Harrison had the top song the day he was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame as a member of the Beatles. Rather a testimony to a stellar career when you can be being put into the Hall of Fame while still having the top new record! However, when Michael Jackson’s “The Way You Make Me Feel” deposed “Got My Mind Set On You” the next week, it apparently ended the era of the Beatles dominating the charts. It was their last #1, and given that John was already dead by then and George has passed away since, with neither Paul nor Ringo really being major players on hit radio (or hit Spotify if you will) of late, it would appear that the record is written.

Of course, their popularity endures, as the recent documentary Get Back has shown. The Beatles have gone to #1 on the American album chart four times since 1988… each time with a compilation of their old music. Seems we probably still have our minds set on you, Beatles.

November 29 – George Sure Was Something

Something” of a monumental day in The Beatles calendar, and in particular, George Harrison’s.

52 years back, on this day in 1969, the Fab Four hit #1 in the U.S. for the last time in the ’60s (they’d score two final ones, “Let It Be” and “The Long & Winding Road”, in the early-’70s) with the rather awesome single consisting of “Something” and “Come Together.” Unlike most singles, it was billed as a “double A-side” with both songs off Abbey Road having lasting radio appeal. It also went to #1 in Canada and Australia; oddly it “only” hit #4 in their UK.

While “Come Together” was a good rock song and as allmusic would note, a “boogie” tune which “contains a sensuality previously unheard in the Beatles”, it was the other side that was the standout. While pretty much all the real substantial “hits” of the Beatles had been written by Lennon & McCartney, “Something” was Harrison’s baby. While he’d written other tunes for them together (among the most notable, “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” and “Within You, Without You”) popular opinion at the time held that he was a far lesser talent. That idea started to change with this song… as well as perhaps when he briefly quit the band for a few days earlier in the year, as documented well in Get Back.

Harrison in all likelihood wrote the love song for his wife at the time, the famous model Pattie Boyd (who also inspired Eric Clapton to write “Layla”). She says so, stating “He told me matter-of-factly that he had written it for me. I thought it was beautiful.” So did the fans! In some later interviews, Harrison suggested the inspiration was more oblique and included Krishna (the Indian God) and women in general. Whatever was going through his mind when he came up with it, it was one powerful muse.

Although recorded in the final sessions that The Beatles would take part in, all four appeared on the record and Billy Preston added some Hammond organ and electric piano parts while producer George Martin put together the string section.

The song was an instant, and enduring hit. Elton John would say years later it “is one of the best love songs ever – ever – written. It’s like the song I’ve been chasing for the last 35 years.” Ringo suggested that it and “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” were “two of the finest love songs ever written, on a par with John and Paul and anyone else.” The BBC declared that “Something” shows “more clearly than any other song that there were three great songwriters in the band, rather than just two.”

Not only did the record sell, it also was copied. Over 150 artists have recorded cover versions of it, ranging from Tanya Tucker to Frank Sinatra to James Brown. Harrison once said “at the time I wasn’t too thrilled that Sinatra did ‘Something’…but I’m very pleased now. I realize that the sign of a good song is when it has lots of cover versions.”

Sadly as many remember, 32 years later, which is to say this day in 2001, Harrison passed away from cancer. He was 58 at the time. Upon his passing away, his former bandmates remembered him fondly. Paul McCartney said “he was a lovely guy and a very brave man and had a wonderful sense of humor. He is really just my baby brother,” while Ringo added “George was a best friend of mine. We will miss George for his sense of love, his sense of music and his sense of laughter.” Even Yoko Ono noted “his life was magical and we felt we had shared a little bit of it by knowing him. Thank you, George.” Possibly Bob Geldof, Boomtown Rat and Live Aid organizer summed it up best : “as he himself said, ‘How do you compare to the genius of John and Paul?’ But he did very well.” .