George Harrison’s 10 Greatest Guitar Moments After the Beatles

March 9th, 2016

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By Damian Fanelli | Photo: Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

Music writers and verbose rock fans have dedicated thousands of words to the merits and behind-the-music details of “important” albums such as the Rolling Stones’ Exile on Main St.

But how many books have you read about Mick Jagger’s solo debut, She’s the Boss? How about Bill Wyman’s 1974 solo outing, Monkey Grip? Should we even bother asking about the Charlie Watts Quintet’s Long Ago and Far Away?

Let’s face it, regardless of how great (or, in these three cases, decent-ish) they might be, solo albums by members of legendary rock bands—from the Stones to the Beatles to Led Zeppelin—rarely (if ever) attain the same legendary status as the music released by the bands themselves.

For instance, let’s take this George Harrison fellow.

Guitar-centric magazines and websites (like this one) have slathered decades worth o’ praise on Harrison’s 1962-to-1970 guitar work with the Beatles. We’ve broken down his solos from “Something,” “I’m Only Sleeping,” “Let It Be” and “Old Brown Shoe.” We’ve applauded his introduction of sitars and 12-string electric guitars into pop music. We’ve even dedicated Guitar World lessons to his late-Beatles-era acoustic work.

But what about his guitar playing after the Beatles?

Harrison started playing slide in 1969 while on tour with Delaney & Bonnie, suddenly inventing an entirely new “guitar persona” for himself. What he came up with was a distinctive, often-copied, non-blues-based slide style that incorporated hints of Indian music and a few offbeat things he picked up while learning sitar—all of which he meshed with other Beatles-esque odds and ends.

He debuted his new slide sound on his first solo album, 1970′s All Things Must Pass (check out “My Sweet Lord”), and refined it over the years on his own albums and as a highly sought-after session player, if you can call a former Beatle a session player.

Below, we revisit 10 of the finest examples of Harrison’s post-Beatles guitar work. Enjoy!

GIMME SOME TRUTH
John Lennon | Imagine | 1971

In mid-1971, more than a year after the Beatles officially split, John Lennon started recording what would become his second proper solo album, Imagine. The album, which was released later that year, was a critical and commercial success.

It also marks one of the only times Lennon recorded with Harrison, his former Beatles bandmate, after the dissolution of the Fab Four (As every little schoolboy knows, they both took part in the sessions for Ringo Starr’s “I’m the Greatest” in March 1973). Harrison’s fretwork can be heard on several Imagine tracks, including “I Don’t Wanna Be a Soldier” and “Oh My Love.” He even plays a mean dobro on “Crippled Inside.”

However, from a six-string perspective, there’s just something special, and a bit chilling, about Harrison’s slide work on “How Do You Sleep?” and “Gimme Some Truth,” the latter of which we’ve included below. Harrison wasn’t a speed demon; his talent lay in his note choices, phrasing and emotional delivery (a trait he shared with Pink Floyd’s David Gilmour and, to a lesser extent, B.B. King); in this song, he uses the slide to achieve a chilling, sustained, singing tone. Harrison’s solo starts at :49.

GIVE ME LOVE (GIVE ME PEACE ON EARTH)
George Harrison | Living in the Material World | 1973

Everything came together for Harrison on this track, the lead-off single from his highly anticipated 1973 followup to All Things Must Pass.

First there’s the quality of the song’s message and melody, both of which stay in your skull long after the final notes have faded. But more importantly (as far as we’re concerned), there’s Harrison’s slide playing, which shows plenty of maturation since All Things Must Pass.

Harrison’s mid-song solo (1:51), which features twin slide parts, is simply one of the most intricate and melodic things the former Beatle ever played on slide. The brief solo at the end of the song starts at 3:14.

“Give Me Love (Give Me Peace on Earth)” spent several weeks at the top of the U.S. charts in 1973. In fact, 1973 was massive for all four solo Beatles.

CLOUD NINE
George Harrison | Cloud Nine | 1987

We’re not gonna rehash the old stories about how Eric Clapton played guitar on Harrison’s “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” on the Beatles’ White Album … or how Harrison co-wrote and played guitar on Cream’s “Badge,” both of which took place in the late Sixties. We will, however, remind you that these guys continued to record together long after that mythic time, especially during the “far less important” Eighties. They even toured Japan together in December 1991.

Harrison’s “comeback” album, 1987′s Cloud Nine, features a hefty serving of Clapton’s guitar playing (not to mention Ringo Starr’s drumming). On the title track, Clapton and Harrison trade bluesy solos in G minor, Harrison on slide, Clapton not.

Below, we present a live version of “Cloud Nine” from their 1991 tour. The official document of the tour, the boringly titled Live in Japan, was released in 1992.

CHEER DOWN
George Harrison | Let It Roll: Songs of George Harrison | 1989

Here’s another one from Harrison and Clapton’s 1991 Japan tour. It’s a rousing live performance of “Cheer Down,” a Harrison/Tom Petty compostion that was released as a single and as part of the Lethal Weapon 2 soundtrack in 1989.

In marked contrast to his prior tour—which took place in 1974 (yes, he took a 17-year break between tours)—Harrison played all the guitar solos (including all the slide stuff) in 1991. In 1974, guitarist Robben Ford did all the heavy lifting while George basically sang and strummed. He was never all that interested in showing off—until 1991, it seems.

The studio version of “Cheer Down” sports an especially warm overdriven guitar sound, which distinguishes it from pretty much every other Harrison recording.

BACK OFF BOOGALOO
Ringo Starr | Photograph: The Very Best of Ringo Starr | 1972

Harrison’s slide guitar is all over this Richard Starkey (Ringo Starr) composition, the follow-up to Ringo’s first hit single, 1971′s “It Don’t Come Easy,” which also features a unique guitar solo by Harrison (Random Beatles factoid: There’s a demo of “It Don’t Come Easy” that features Harrison on vocals).

The song, which Harrison also produced, features Starr on drums and vocals, Beatle buddy Klaus Voormann on bass and Gary Wright (“Dream Weaver”) on keyboards. But the main event is clearly Harrison’s slightly wild, wacky—and very bouncy—slide guitar solo, which includes an alternate melody line that’s even catchier than the melody Ringo is singing.

Harrison played several tasteful solos on Ringo’s songs throughout the years, including “Early 1970,” “You and Me (Babe),” “I’m the Greatest,” “Down and Out,” “Wrack My Brain,” “You Belong to Me” and “King of Broken Hearts.”

MARWAH BLUES
George Harrison | Brainwashed | 2002

This instrumental track from Harrison’s last studio album, Brainwashed, shows off his deft touch on slide guitar, not to mention his subtle mastery of melody.

Brainwashed features a healthy serving of quality guitar playing by Harrison. Be sure to check out “Any Road,” which even starts off with the spoken line, “Give me, uh, plenty of that guitar.”

A friend once characterized “Marwah Blues” as “something akin to Indian blues.” Well, not quite, but if it helps you, go with it!

THAT WHICH I HAVE LOST
George Harrison | Somewhere in England | 1981

This mini-masterpiece of a guitar solo is very “early Eighties” in its approach, much like contemporary solos by Neil Giraldo (Rick Springfield’s “Jessie’s Girl”), Squeeze’s Glenn Tilbrook and the Kinks’ Dave Davies.

The solo starts at 2:37; Harrison makes his point quickly, throws in a clever run or two and gets the hell out of there. He even incorporates a nice little pedal steel guitar impression at 2:54.

This song is also notable for its weighty mouthful of a lyric, “Your mirrors of understanding, they need cleansing / polish away the dust of desire before pure light will reflect in them.” Um, OK!

LEARNING HOW TO LOVE YOU
George Harrison | Thirty Three & 1/3 | 1976

Here’s a love song from Harrison’s stellar (and fun) Dark Horse Records debut, Thirty Three & 1/3. George’s beautiful steel-string solo starts at 2:24.

I often pair this song with “Dark Sweet Lady,” a track from George’s 1979 album, George Harrison. It features his best nylon-string guitar solo—hands down—since the Beatles’ “And I Love Her.” Knowing Harrison, he used the same Spanish guitar on both recordings.

THE BLUEST BLUES
Alvin Lee | Nineteen Ninety-Four (also released as I Hear You Rockin’) | 1994

At some point, Harrison and Ten Years After frontman Alvin Lee became neighbors in (or near) Henley-on-Thames, England. So it was inevitable that they’d record together, which they did in the early Nineties (and in the early Seventies, when Harrison recorded “Ding Dong, Ding Dong”).

Lee’s Nineteen Ninety-Four album features Harrison on three tracks, including a cover of the Beatles’ “I Want You (She’s So Heavy).” The highlight of the bunch, however, is a slow, bluesy burner called “The Bluest Blues.”

It’s a little crazy to hear Harrison playing blues slide guitar, but there it is. In his solo, which starts at 2:15, George plays several throaty passages that recall his chilling playing on John Lennon’s “How Do You Sleep?” and “Gimme Some Truth.”

LEAVE A LIGHT ON
Belinda Carlisle | Runaway Horses | 1989

In the January 2003 issue of Guitar World, there’s a story called “Do You Want to Know a Secret: Confessions of the Quiet Beatle.” It’s a previously published 1992 interview of Harrison by Vic Garbarini. At one point, Garbarini asks Harrison to choose his best slide solo.

“The best slide solo I ever played was on…what’s her name? That girl singer who used to be with that all-girl band? … Belinda Carlisle of the Go-Go’s! That’s who it was,” Harrison said. “I played on one of her albums. One of the slide solos had its own little tune which related to the tune Belinda was singing, but it’s also a little composition in its own right, which I was really pleased with.”

Harrison played guitar on two Runaway Horses tracks—”Leave a Light On” and “Deep Deep Ocean” (but it’s pretty obvious he was talking about “Leave a Light On”). His solo starts at 3:01

THE LIGHT THAT HAS LIGHTED THE WORLD
George Harrison | Living in the Material World | 1973

Well, that was 10 songs. In terms of additional six-string-Harrison listening, be sure to check out Harrison’s “My Sweet Lord” and “Any Road,” John Lennon’s “How Do You Sleep?,” ELO’s “A Long Time Gone,” Jim Capaldi’s “Anna Julia,” Badfinger’s “Day After Day” and “The Light That Has Lighted the World,” an often-overlooked track from Harrison’s Living in the Material World album.

Like a lot of Harrison’s slower slide solos, this selection (which starts at 1:42) is all about intelligent note choices and raw emotion. In the closing bars of the solo, Harrison’s guitar is almost sobbing. As Simon Leng once put it, George finally made his guitar gently weep.

To quote Iain Clarke (a friend of a friend of an acquaintance of a friend): “Every note, phrase and piece of timing is immaculately presented with such feeling and emotion. It’s a guitar solo from the heart and soul.”

We’ll leave you with that.

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