25 February 1943, Liverpool, Merseyside, England, d. 29 November 2001, Los Angeles, California, USA. As the youngest member of the Beatles, Harrison was constantly overshadowed by John Lennon and Paul McCartney. Although Dont Bother Me (With The Beatles), I Need You (Help!) and If I Needed Someone (Rubber Soul) revealed a considerable compositional talent, such contributions were swamped by his colleagues prodigious output. Instead, Harrison honed a distinctive guitar style, modelled on rockabilly mentor Carl Perkins, and was responsible for adding the sitar into the pop lexicon through its complementary use on Norwegian Wood.
Harrisons infatuation with India was the first outward sign of his growing independence, while his three contributions to Revolver, noticeably Taxman and I Want To Tell You, showed a newfound musical maturity. The Indian influence continued on the reflective Within You, Without You on Sgt. Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band. He flexed solo ambitions with the would-be film soundtrack, Wonderwall and the trite Electronic Sounds, but enhanced his stature as a skilled songwriter with the majestic While My Guitar Gently Weeps (The Beatles), featuring the guitar of his close friend Eric Clapton (as L'Angelo Mysterioso) and the beautiful Something (Abbey Road). Sales of the latter composition exceeded one million when issued as a single in 1969. It became the second most recorded Beatles song (after Yesterday), and prompted Frank Sinatra to comment that it was the greatest love song ever written. His comment was tainted somewhat as he clumsily thought that the song was written by Lennon and McCartney.
Harrison also produced releases for Billy Preston, Jackie Lomax and the Radha Krishna Temple and performed on the concurrent Delaney And Bonnie tour before commencing work on All Things Must Pass. This triple-record set consisted of material stockpiled over the years and featured several high quality compositions including Awaiting On You All, Id Have You Anytime (co-written with Bob Dylan) and Beware Of Darkness. These selections were, however, eclipsed by My Sweet Lord, which deftly combined melody with mantra and deservedly soared to the top of the US and UK charts. Its lustre was sadly removed in later years when the publishers of the Chiffons 1964 hit, Shes So Fine, successfully sued for plagiarism. All Things Must Pass is generally rated as the best post-Beatles solo project, a fact that must have given Harrison considerable compensation for always being cast in the shadow of Lennon and McCartney.
Harrisons next project was Bangla-Desh, a single inspired by a plea from master musician Ravi Shankar to aid famine relief in the Indian subcontinent. Charity concerts, featuring Harrison, Dylan, Preston, Eric Clapton and Leon Russell, were held at New Yorks Madison Square Gardens in August 1971, which in turn generated a film and box set. Legal wrangles blighted Harrisons altruism and it was 1973 before he resumed recording. Whereas All Things Must Pass boasted support from Derek And The Dominos, Badfinger and producer Phil Spector, Living In The Material World was more modest and consequently lacked verve. The album nonetheless reached number 1 in the US, as did an attendant single, Give Me Love (Give Me Peace On Earth), but critical reaction was noticeably muted. A disastrous US tour was the unfortunate prelude to Dark Horse, the title of which was inspired by Harrisons new record label. His marriage to Patti Boyd now over, the set reflected its creators depression and remains his artistic nadir. Although poorly received, Extra Texture partially redressed the balance, but the fact that its strongest track, You, dated from 1971, did not escape attention. Thirty Three & 1/3 and George Harrison continued this regeneration with This Song, Love Comes To Everyone, Not Guilty and the underrated Blow Away; the latter album was a particularly buoyant collection, but the overall quality still fell short of his initial recordings back in 1970.
During this period Harrison became involved with his personal heroes, the Monty Python comedy team, in the production of 1979s controversial Life Of Brian. His financing of the film ensured its success and cemented a long-lasting relationship with the troupe. In 1980 the artists parent label, Warner Brothers Records, rejected the first version of Somewhere In England, deeming its content below standard. The reshaped collection included All Those Years Ago, Harrisons homage to the murdered John Lennon, which featured contributions from Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr. The song reached US number 2 when issued as a single, a position reflecting the subject matter rather than faith in the artist. Gone Troppo was issued to minimal fanfare from both outlet and creator, and rumours flourished that it marked the end of Harrisons recording career. He pursued other interests, notably with his company Handmade Films which included such pioneering productions as the aforementioned Life Of Brian, The Long Good Friday (1980), Time Bandits (1981), Water (1985), A Private Function (1985), Mona Lisa (1986), Shanghai Surprise (1986) and Withnail And I (1987). Harrison only occasionally contributed to the soundtracks.
During this time Harrison cultivated two hobbies which took up a great deal of his time, and he ultimately became passionate about both: motor racing and gardening. He was however, tempted back into the studio to answer several low-key requests, including Mike Batts adaptation of The Hunting Of The Snark and the Greenpeace benefit album. He joined the all-star cast saluting Carl Perkins on the television tribute Blue Suede Shoes, and in 1986 commenced work on a projected new album. Production chores were shared with Jeff Lynne, and the care lavished on the sessions was rewarded the following year when Harrisons version of the James Ray hit Got My Mind Set On You reached number 2 in the UK and number 1 in the USA. The intentionally Beatles-influenced When We Was Fab was another major success, while Cloud Nine itself proved equally popular, with Lynnes grasp of commerciality enhancing Harrisons newfound optimism. Its release completed outstanding contracts and left this unpredictable artist free of obligations, although several impromptu live appearances suggest his interest in music was now rekindled.
This revitalization also saw Harrison play a pivotal role within the Traveling Wilburys, an ad hoc supergroup initially comprising himself, Lynne, Dylan, Tom Petty and Roy Orbison. Orbisons death curtailed continuation, following two excellent albums. Harrison made his first tour for many years in Japan during January 1992 with his long-time friend Eric Clapton giving him support. He reappeared onstage in England at a one-off benefit concert in April. In 1995, the UK press seemed to delight in the fact that Harrison had hit hard times caused by various business ventures and ill advice from people he used as advisors. The Beatles reunion in 1995 for the Anthology series banished any thoughts of bankruptcy. A further bonus came in January 1996 when he was awarded $11.6 million following litigation against Denis OBrien and his mishandling of Harrisons finances.
Harrisons tact and the way he dealt with his inner self should not be underestimated. The quiet Beatle did seem to have this part of his life totally sorted out, but treatment for throat cancer cast a black cloud over his personal life during the latter part of the decade. Further drama ensued on December 30 1999, when Harrison was repeatedly stabbed attempting to accost a burglar in his home. The deranged man was later charged with attempted murder, but was found not guilty by reason of insanity. This episode, however, clearly damaged and shook the frail singer. Harrison supervised the magnificent reissue of All Things Must Pass in 2000, with new artwork and re-recordings as a bonus. Rumours of a new album began to circulate before it was confirmed that Harrison had relapsed and was suffering from an inoperable brain tumour.
The youngest member of the Beatles finally succumbed to the disease in November 2001. The reaction to his death was worthy of the Beatles standing in the world; newspapers and radio and television stations in most parts of the world gave massive coverage. As the tributes flowed in three instant points of contact for mourners were: Abbey Road studios in London, the Strawberry Fields memorial in Central Park, New York, and the city centre of Liverpool. The most condescending tribute came from Paul McCartney, who, although clearly shaken with grief, referred to Harrison as his little baby brother. It is a pity that McCartney did not feel the need to offer to write any songs with his young sibling in the period between the Beatles emergence in 1961 to the release of the first Traveling Wilburys album in 1988. When asked to respond at the time to McCartneys offer to write songs together, Harrison politely declined as he was quite happy writing songs with Bob Dylan et al. Harrison had now found a group in which his songwriting ability was not undervalued. The best and most perceptive tribute came from Bob Geldof, who pointed out that millions of people have and will, hum and sing Harrisons magnificent guitar intros to numerous Beatles songs. Harrisons melodic guitar work often defined the melody of Beatles songs as we know them. His contribution to songs such as Day Tripper, I Feel Fine and Eight Days A Week was immense. They are a testament to Harrisons craft. His death invoked mass sadness in the passing of yet another member of the Beatles who failed to reach the ripe old age of 64. My Sweet Lord posthumously topped the UK singles chart in January 2002, and later in the year Harrisons final recordings were released on Brainwashed. His Dark Horse albums were re-released in expanded and remastered editions in February 2004. The following month, Harrison was posthumously inducted into the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame as a solo artist.
Source: The Encyclopedia of Popular Music by Colin Larkin. Licensed from Muze.