Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Think for Yourself

George Harrison was the greatest Beatle of all time. There, I said it. Please don't smite me, McCartneyists, Lennonoids, and those of the Ringo faith. St. George was a mighty man in Century XX, even mightier than all those hundreds of other Beatles out there, and their number is legion.

Why? Here's a quick checklist:

* Joined the Quarrymen when he was only 14.
* Auditioned by playing Link Wray's "Raunchy".
* Lied about his age to get into Hamburg with the rest of the Beatles.
* Proceeded to drink the older Beatles under the table, and outdo them
in chasing the fairer sex.
* Had "Beatle Hair" without even trying.
* Provided the real rockabilly undercurrent to all their best records.
* Performed live on The Ed Sullivan Show tripping his balls off on antibiotics.
* Most influential guitarist of the 1960s.
* Played Hawaiian-style slide guitar licks without a slide for years and no one even noticed.
* Wore a true sneer of arrogant teenage condescention in their early
years, as opposed to John and Paul's clowniness.
* Single-handedly created the fuzztone psychedelic era, then quickly discarded it and moved on.
* Single-handedly made the sitar hip. (I forgive him.)
* Composed key memorable musical bits of Lennon-McCartney songs but never credited.
* Became buddies with the Monty Python gang.
* After the Beatles breakup, while John & whatshername sat in bed, sat in bags, shot heroin, and screamed into tape recorders "for world peace", George was actually doing something about it by organizing a major rock and roll humanitarian Bangladesh relief fundraising effort, years before "Live Aid", "Farm Aid", and "We Are the World".
* Jammed with Deep Purple.
* Co-produced Time Bandits.
* Helped ghost-write "Octopus' Garden" for Ringo.
* Told Paul off on camera in Let it Be.
* Told John off on a tape-recorded bit during White Album sessions: "You're so full of bull, man."
* Wrote the Beatles first anti-government protest song, long before John Lennon ever got revolution-minded: "Taxman".
* Played on John's anti-Paul song "How Do You Sleep?"
* Patti Boyd.
* Refused to let Yoko Ono play the Concert for Bangladesh.
* Played on Cheech & Chong's "Basketball Jones".
* Made a cameo appearance in Madonna's Shanghai Surprise.
* Wrote his autobiography and didn't mention John Lennon once.
* Took part in Eric Idle's Beatles parody The Rutles.
* Dabbled as a race car driver in the mid-70s.
* Has a planet named after him.
* When asked by an interviewer why he had an affair with Maureen Starkey, the wife of his best friend Ringo, when he could have almost any other woman on Earth, George shrugged and said, "incest".

You may think of Jorge as that second-string songwriter in the Beatles who sported a mustache more than the others and went all goofy-hippie-hare-krishna mushmind a go go. It ain't necessarily so. He was a spiritual man, sure, but unlike that egomaniacal blabbermouth Palmer Cartney, George mostly minded his own business and kept his mouth shut - especially about what he learned behind closed tentflaps in the swami's swamp. Those who say don't know, and those who know don't say, and Mr. Harrison was quite content to quietly sit in the back seat and let the Lennon-McCartney pissing contest go about its downward spiral.

While many may speak of the "lasting legacy" of the Lennon-McCartney songbook, it should be noted that George's "Something" has been covered by both Frank Sinatra and Elvis Presley, who also both did Paul's "Yesterday" but never covered a John song. (I think "Jealous Guy" would have been perfect for ol' Blue Eyes, though.) And George had genuine bonafide hits long after Paul and John stopped - 1987's "I Got My Mind Set On You" was a #1 hit in the US, #2 in the UK. And from there, George became the only Beatle so honored to receive the Weird Al treatment.

George also, like KISS, got a raw deal from the Clear Channel cultural tastemakers who get to decide what oldies we remember and which ones are relegated to a lost statistic in a dusty book. Throughout the 70s and early 80s, George was constantly all over the radio with hits - "What is Life", "Blow Away", "This Song", "Isnt it a Pity", "You", "Awaiting on You All", "Crackerbox Palace", "Teardrops", "Dark Horse", "Give Me Love", "My Sweet Lord", and "Beware of Darkness".

He also scored not one but two hits with songs about the Beatles: "All Those Years Ago" and "When We Was Fab".

And this doesn't even begin to touch upon his super-successful band The Traveling Wilburys. Nor the hits he had as Ringo's official ghost writer into his solo career: "Photograph", "I'll Still Love You", "It Don't Come Easy", "Wrack My Brain", etc.

And don't forget his big hit "Baby On Board" with the Be-Sharps, which was top of the pops in Interzone.

Meanwhile, Badfinger were also racking up hits in the early 70s, and their shtick was coasting entirely on an imitation George Harrison sound, largely with George's own generous assistance.

Soon, the whole damn decade was cluttered with third-generation post-Harrison singer-songwriters and bands, like James Taylor (who was originally discovered by the Beatles for Apple Records, and George played uncredited on "Carolina On My Mind"), Gordon Lightfoot, Klaatu, Electric Light Orchestra, The Grateful Dead, Peter Frampton, Eric Clapton (a lifelong friend of George's), Todd Rundgren, Gary Wright (who had been a member of George's backup band), Gerry Rafferty, Billy Joel, Al Stewart, Harry Chapin, Cat Stevens, etc. George Harrison gave birth to the entire gawdam nineteenseventies, for better or for worse, and not only don't I think he got his props, I don't think he got mad paid enough.

Though George seemed to live a happier life than his miserable ex-bandmembers, he deserved a lot better than he got. He was diagnosed with cancer, then was stabbed by a burglar in his home, then ended up in the clutches of a quack doctor. And it's a real drag to see a distinct lack of the postmortem canonization that Lennon, fairly or unfairly, received. Who mourns today for George Harrison, the spooky-cool Keith Richards to John and Paul's pouting-preening Mick Jagger?

Raise your glasses with me, Gents, to that werewolf-lookin' son-of-a-gun. Hare krishna, hare rama.

- - JSH

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