Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Happy Birthday, George Harrison

It would have been George Harrison's 58th birthday a few days ago (February 25th, to be exact), and the occasion got me playing his music, as it usually does. I've made many George comp CDs over the years, beginning with an "In Memoriam" CD made in the year after he died (see below for cover art), culminating in an expansive five-disc overview of his career, which I've been laboring over for nearly two years, off and on. In between working on that beast, however, I managed to bang out a mix CD that I'm very proud of, one that honors the 1966-1968 period, when George was truly straddling the eastern and western musical worlds, bringing them together in a way unheard of in rock music, then or since. Most think George was totally immersed in Indian music for most of these years, but in reality he was still making experimental psychedelic rock while composing "raga rock" songs like "Love You To" and "Within You Without You."

The two styles of music, both competing for George's attention, became intermingled in George's first solo album, 1968's Wonderwall Music. Written and recorded as the original score to the movie Wonderwall, George recorded these tracks in early 1968, in Bombay and in London, using Indian and British musicians. While not particularly "Beatley," the recordings certainly showed what George had learned about producing during the Beatles' psychedelic phase. Sounds and recording techniques we had heard on Beatles tracks showed up in Wonderwall tracks, and tricks and instruments he used as the producer of Wonderwall Music showed up in his White Album tracks. The missing link between the Wonderwall album and the White Album is George's "The Inner Light"; George had recorded the music track for it in India during the Wonderwall sessions, and he wrote the lyric and recorded the vocals during a Beatles session. It ended up as the b-side on the "Lady Madonna" single.

A good pal of mine named Glenn -- whom I only know through the Internet, but my gut tells me the guy's a peach -- had the clever idea to combine George's Wonderwall songs with his White Album songs, to highlight their similarities as well as their differences, and to make a new "solo album" out of it -- one that contained vocal tracks, unlike the all-instrumental Wonderwall Music. He sent me a CD-R of his resulting mix-CD, called "George White," and I enjoyed it greatly -- in fact, it was the first time I had ever appreciated George's Wonderwall album at all. I'd tried to listen to it before, but just couldn't get into it; as it turns out, all I really needed was some traditional Western vocal rock tracks sprinkled in to break up the instrumental monotony.

Of course, Glenn's CD got me to thinking, and because I've never met a good idea I didn't think I could improve, I set out to make my own version of this compilation. First, I wanted to expand the scope of it, because (a) I needed MORE vocals from George mixed in with the instrumentals, and (b) I really felt that several of George's 1966 and 1967 tracks (like "Love You To" and "Blue Jay Way") fit perfectly with this music. Then, I wanted to tinker with the sequence a little, have some of the songs blend together via segues -- I am an inveterate segue addict, if there is such a thing -- and tweak the volume levels to make the whole thing flow like one long piece. The result is an an expansion of George's famous "Indian period" to include some truly bold and inventive music which has been mostly forgotten by Beatles fans and overlooked by Beatles historians. I've called it, for no other reason than it sounds cool, It's All Too Much. Here's the cover art, with the album jokingly released on the "Zapple" label:

Here's the tracklist, followed by a few notes:

01. Love You To (2:55)
02. Guru Vandana (1:01)
03. Only A Northern Song (3:24)
04. Tabla and Pakavaj (1:03)
05. Within You Without You (5:00)
06. Gat Kirwani (1:14)
07. Blue Jay Way (3:45)
08. Drilling a Home (3:01)
09. In The Right Place (3:20)
10. Party Seacombe (4:32)
11. Fantasy Sequins (1:49)
12. The Inner Light (2:31)
13. Glass Box (1:03)
14. Not Guilty (3:20)
15. Red Lady Too (1:52)
16. While My Guitar Gently Weeps (Rock Band remix) (4:43)
17. Ski-ing (1:50)
18. Savoy Truffle (2:54)
19. On the Bed (2:16)
20. Long, Long, Long (3:02)
21. Dream Scene (5:27)
22. While My Guitar Gently Weeps (LOVE version) (3:20)
23. Wonderwall to Be Here (1:22)
24. It's All Too Much (6:25)
25. Singing Om (1:54)

Now, obviously, this track listing will only resonate with those who are familiar with the Wonderwall soundtrack -- and even then, honestly, I don't know most of these tracks by their names, only by how they sound. But I tried to skip back and forth between vocal and instrumental tracks, between Eastern and Western sounds. If I found an instrument or a sound that was prominent in two songs, I'd put them together -- for example, there's an instrument in "Fantasy Sequins" that is also used in "The Inner Light," so those tracks were matched with each other. I tried to let songs melt into one another, so the way one song faded out and another began became an important factor in sequencing. And, as I often do, if I could find an "inside joke" or "secret communication" between songs, that always helped. The best example of that here is "While My Guitar Gently Weeps" (a Beatles song featuring Eric Clapton) leading into "Ski-ing" (a Wonderwall song featuring Eric Clapton), leading into "Savoy Truffle" (a Beatles song ABOUT Eric Clapton).

As they often are, my CD comps are about providing a CONTEXT for the songs so I can enjoy them. It's All Too Much allows me to fully enjoy the Wonderwall tracks as well as the heavily "Indian" Beatles tracks, which sometimes seem out of place or dated on Beatles albums. It also gave me a place to listen to the Rock Band remix of "While My Guitar," which kicks ASS and features an unfaded ending, as well as the "LOVE" version of the same song, which features a beautiful George Martin score over George Harrison's acoustic demo. It's all about context for me, folks.

So thanks to Glenn for the idea -- and finally today, after a year of promising it, I've finally sent him a copy of my version of his original "George White" CD. I hope he likes it -- there are so few people in the world who enjoy this kind of thing to the mega-nerd extent that I do, that when someone really "gets" it, it's a real hoot. And happy birthday to George -- even though you were mostly retired for the last decade-plus of your life, I miss just knowing you're somewhere in England, tinkering in your garden.

No comments:

Post a Comment