Dark Horse: Five Under-Appreciated George Harrison Songs

 

Now that iTunes is releasing special content around Martin Scorsese’s Living In The Material World, his documentary on the life of George Harrison, it seems a good time to look back over the life and work of the former Beatle and pick out a few of his less celebrated musical moments. Some of these don’t even appear in the film, and that’s FOUR HOURS LONG, so, y’know…

Note: George Harrison was a Beatle, and the Beatles were quite well known. Therefore it’s a misnomer to describe any of the songs listed here as ‘lost gems’ or ‘hidden treasures’ when they are clearly loved and appreciated by fans the world over. So here are five songs which are simply not as often praised to the skies (or used in commercials) as “Here Comes The Sun” or “What Is Life.” It goes without saying that the theme song of this entire list is “Within You, Without You,” which some people still skip past on their copy of Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band to this day. And if you’re one of those people, to you I say “tsk!”

“Long, Long, Long”

Hidden away at the end of side three of the White Album, after the double false endings of the raucous “Helter Skelter,” and seemingly mastered to be quieter than anything else on the record, “Long Long Long’ is a deceptively slight proposition on first listen, and easily overlooked. Except it’s also George’s first song of devotion to God and one which carries a sense of sobbing relief that he has found sanctuary from the soul-stripping indignities of fame. It’s beautifully ambiguous though, and could just as easily be read as a song about new found love of any sort. Extra points must go to Ringo for those apocalyptic fills, and Paul McCartney for his stately and sympathetic organ playing throughout, especially on the spooky coda.

“Run of the Mill”

A song which carries George’s sense of being overlooked in its title, a reference to a slight from Paul or John (or Paul and John) about his songwriting ability. The irony being this is a song which deserves a place next to the best of their creations, as it perfectly captures the simmering tensions within the Beatles during their latter years. “Everyone has choice,” he intones, balefully, “when to or not to raise their voices, it’s you who decides.”

“Far East Man”

A co-write between George and Ron Wood, for Ron’s first solo album, which then resurfaced on George’s 1974 album “Dark Horse.” You can tell they’ve been listening to a lot of soul music.

“When We Was Fab”

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TQXx-PKTOw0

At the other end of the telescope is this, George’s mid-’80s reassessment (with the assistance of Jeff Lynne) of his Beatles experience, riddled with the same kind of Walrus-aping orchestration that ’90s Britpop bands would use to place themselves in a made-up lineage of British music. Of course George had every right to ape his own past, although it always seems a shame that a band as sonically innovative as his can be reduced down to a few strident cellos and the occasional sitar. There again, that’s kind of what this song is about too. Wise man, Mr Harrison.

“The Pirate Song”

A genuine lost gem (and with good reason), in that this was a skit song written by George and Monty Python’s Eric Idle for Eric’s TV series Rutland Weekend Television (the same series that spawned the evergreen Beatles spoof The Rutles). Quite why a sea shanty should claim that pirates sail “the BBC” is beyond me, mind.

What’s your favorite George song? Tell us here:
(and try to begin every comment with the sentence “I can’t believe you missed out…” or we won’t believe you)

Fraser McAlpine

Fraser has been writing and broadcasting about music and popular culture for over 13 years, first at the Top of the Pops website, and most recently for the NME. He also wrote BBC Radio 1's Chart Blog and reviews albums for BBC Music.

He is Anglophenia's current resident Brit, blogging about British slang and running around the Mall taking snaps of the crowd at the Royal Wedding, as well as reigniting a childhood passion for classic Doctor Who and cramming as much music in as he can manage.

Fraser invites you to join him on Twitter: @csi_popmusic

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