Discog Fever - Rating and Reviewing Every George Harrison Album (Part 1)

by Jeff Fiedler

Discog Fever is a regular feature on thegreatalbums.com, rating and reviewing a band's entire catalogue of studio albums.

Wonderwall Music (1968, Apple)                                                                   

C –

An entirely instrumental soundtrack for the lost movie Wonderwall,  the musicianship throughout is excellent (Eric Clapton and Ringo Starr are just two of the musicians featured), but this is a really challenging album for most listeners to get through from start to finish, if only because it alternates wildly from track to track between more pop-oriented score music and full-on sitar ragas.  Even if you're one of the Beatles fans who are enthusiasts for their excursions into Indian music, you're still likely to be jarred by the constant juxtaposition of these two styles from song to song.  It's a fairly fascinating listen the first time you hear it, but odds are slim that you ever play it again.

Electronic Sound (1969, Zapple)                                                                    

D –  

Released on the short-lived Apple Records subsidiary label, Zapple, there's a reason for the relative obscurity of this album (and this is unquestionably the most commonly-forgotten of all of Harrison's solo albums): there are no actual songs here, just two side-long tracks of Harrison noodling around on a Moog synthesizer.  Side-long synthesizer instrumentals are not necessarily a bad concept, but, unlike, say, a Tangerine Dream record, there doesn't seem to be any inherent structure or design to the synth playing - or even much melody, for that matter, much of it literally being just random noises - to these two tracks, just a lot of random button-pushing and knob-twiddling.  An album for Harrison completists only, this is one you're even less likely to play a second time than Wonderwall.  

All Things Must Pass (1970, Apple)                                                               

A –

Typically heralded by critics as Harrison's best solo album, it’s certainly one of his two or three best, but it has tended to be somewhat overrated over the years.  True, there are some excellent numbers here - "My Sweet Lord" was the big hit, but follow-up single "What Is Life" and impressive album tracks like the title track, "Awaiting on You All," "Beware of Darkness," and "I'd Have You Anytime" eclipse it in greatness - but the three-disc set also contains an absolutely ridiculous amount of filler, namely the entire third disc, which is comprised exclusively of instrumental studio jams, and could easily have been pared back to a single disc without sacrificing anything especially memorable. It’s got about the same number of great songs as Cloud Nine does, but it also will cost you quite a bit more due to the number of discs.  

The Concert for Bangladesh (1971, Apple)                                                   

B +

It’s not actually a studio album, nor is it even exclusively a George Harrison album, but this triple-disc package of a Harrison-organized benefit concert was one of Harrison’s highest-charting solo projects and took home the Grammy for Album of the Year in 1973. Oddly enough, while Harrison takes center stage on most of the tracks here and is perfectly fine throughout, none of his performances here terribly stand out except for when he breaks out his Beatles material, such as the delightful, stripped-down version of “Here Comes the Sun” and his guitar duel with Eric Clapton on “While My Guitar Gently Weeps.” Bob Dylan shows up and contributes a full side’s worth of material, which is wildly intriguing and inspired, if not exactly nearly as lively as the music that preceded it, either. (Despite the presence of both Ringo Starr and Jim Keltner at the show, Dylan performs all five of his songs sans a drummer.) There are other guests including Ravi Shankar (who contributes a nearly side-long sitar instrumental) and Ringo Starr, who gets a turn at the microphone on his own hit “It Don’t Come Easy.” The best moments, however, come via Leon Russell, who turns in an energetic, soulful medley of “Jumpin’ Jack Flash” and “Young Blood,” and Billy Preston, who delivers the album’s best moment in the passionate gospel workout of “That’s the Way God Planned It.”

Living in the Material World (1973, Apple)                                                   

B –

While nothing here is necessarily bad, Material World is not an easy album to get excited about, either.  This album has a notorious reputation for being his most overly preachy album (which it definitely is), but that's not the inherent flaw of the album; like All Things Must Pass before it, there's quite a bit of filler here, and the sequencing also leaves something to be desired, the album ending with a very long stretch of exceptionally slow ballads, making Side Two an especially lifeless listen.  But the first side is very strong, and the album does have its rewards: the Number One smash "Give Me Love (Give Me Peace on Earth)" is here; “Sue Me, Sue You Blues” is a commentary on the messy dissolution of the Beatles that manages to sound more playful and clever than bitter; and the album has a seriously overlooked gem in the beautiful love song "Don't Let Me Wait Too Long," which Apple really dropped the ball by not releasing as a single.

Dark Horse (1974, Apple)                                                                             

C –

Arguably the biggest misstep of Harrison's post-Beatles career, Dark Horse suffers largely from being recorded at one of the rockier patches in Harrison's life: he was going through a divorce from Patti Boyd, for one, and his bitterness seeps into this album in huge fashion, most insufferably on his ghastly remake of the Everly Brothers' "Bye Bye Love," the lyrics of which George has rewritten to address the divorce.  For another, Harrison recorded this while suffering from a severe bout of laryngitis, which would get even worse on the supporting tour for this album, and his voice has never sounded worse on record than it does here, rendering most of the tracks here - namely the two singles (the title track and the New Year's anthem "Ding Dong, Ding Dong") - almost unlistenable.  The album has its moments - "Far East Man" is perhaps the most fun track here, an excursion into soul music co-penned with Ron Wood - but one can't help but feel throughout the album that Harrison should've instead used the time to rest his throat and his spirits.