Five moments when George Harrison stepped out of The Beatles’ shadows

Posted On
Posted By admin

Anyone standing next to artists like John Lennon and Paul McCartney was bound to get overshadowed. As much as The Beatles likened themselves to four corners of a square whenever they played together, George Harrison was always liable to fade into the background if he wasn’t competing with the rest of the group for real estate on the proper album. That being said, there are moments during Harrison’s solo career where he was light years ahead of his bandmates.

Being quiet for that long usually gives someone time to fester their ideas, and Harrison was looking to put together music much different than anything his other group ever did. It would still be successful, but it would have a completely different agenda than talking about love, peace, and everything else that the Fab Four had been connected to.

From talking about his struggles with faith to how he delivered most of his records to the public, Harrison took the initial success of his solo career to new heights everywhere he went, either being on the cutting edge of a new trend or managing to break out of the confines of his old mates by actually one-upping them on the charts.

For all that success, Harrison wasn’t looking to outdo his mates at their own game. He just had a vision for what his music was going to be, and it still feels like the world is dissecting the importance behind some of his career highlights.

Five moments where George Harrison stepped out of The Beatles’ shadow

Exposing Indian music to the Western world

Before we look at what made Harrison a masterful solo artist, we first have to roll back to when he was still in the Fab Four. The group had always prided themselves on writing classic tunes whenever they went into the studio, and while Harrison could hang with the best of them, he was more than just a rock and roll player. He was a student of all flavours of music, but up until his dying day, Indian music may have been his one true love when it came to his personal favourites.

Outside of his friendship with artists like Ravi Shankar, Harrison brought Indian instrumentation into the public consciousness in England and beyond. After trying out a sitar on ‘Norwegian Wood’, some of the best moments of his career involved him bringing that kind of spiritual connection with music into his work, whether that was going full world music on ‘The Inner Light’ or songs with a spiritual slant like ‘My Sweet Lord’.

That love never exactly dulled, either. The final track on his final album concludes with a Buddhist prayer meant to lay his body down to rest as he passes into the next life. Harrison could definitely kick back with a simple rock and roll song, but that was kid’s stuff by the end of his life, and his true calling came whenever he saw Indian music as a way to communicate with a higher power.

First number-one album

The minute The Beatles broke up, everyone was already antsy to see what each member would get up to in their solo careers. Outside of the massive stigma of being a part of the biggest group in the world, each of them now had an artistic target on their back surrounding everyone’s expectations for what the solo Beatles members would end up making. So, with Lennon and McCartney still plodding away at songs, Harrison ascended to legendary status when crafting All Things Must Pass.

Made up of mostly songs that he had been woodshedding during his Beatle days, this triple album could have been considered anyone else’s greatest work. While it’s not necessarily the breeziest of listening experiences, Harrison sounded like he had become a seasoned veteran of the medium, sending the record all the way to number one in the charts before half of his bandmates could even muster a solo album of their own.

This could have just been Harrison’s way of getting all his songs in one place, but All Things Must Pass was far more than that. This was the quiet group member stepping out of the shadows for the first time and reminding everyone why he was on the same level as his bandmates, if not better.

Making the world’s first charity concert

When artists reach the level that The Beatles did, they probably don’t need to work another day in their lives. It’s one thing to be able to pull off a miracle by reaching the big leagues, but their status as some of the best musicians alive didn’t suddenly fade as soon as called things off. People were still looking at them as gods, and since he had the platform, Harrison figured he would do some good for humanity with The Concert for Bangladesh.

Since he had heard from Ravi Shankar about the horrors happening half a world away, Harrison set about putting together a concert of music legends to raise money to help. Along with writing the song ‘Bangladesh’ for the occasion, the entire concert film and album contains a starstudded group of talent, from Ringo Starr coming back behind the drumkit to Bob Dylan playing a short acoustic set.

Years before the likes of Live Aid or USA for Africa, this was one of the first major moments when a musician decided to use their services to enact real change in the world. While Lennon was focused on the personal politics he faced every day, Harrison knew that leading by example and giving back to the community was the least he could do as a major figure in the music industry.

[embedded content]

The Traveling Wilburys

Most music fans have been used to the term supergroup for years now. Everyone has their favourite artists to listen to, but the mind games that come with putting the best musicians you can think of under one roof are usually reserved for artistic pipe dreams. Harrison did get to live his rock star fantasy once, but during his major comeback, he was starstruck when joining his “other” band, The Traveling Wilburys.

Combining Bob Dylan, Tom Petty, Jeff Lynne, and Roy Orbison on one record, The Wilburys were the equivalent of a bunch of dads coming together to create an album’s worth of material. Although this could have gone the way of most artists and come off as syrupy dad rock, this is one of the few instances where the results are genuinely super, including Harrison’s stellar work on ‘End of the Line’ and ‘Heading for the Light’.

Although the group pretty much collapsed in on itself after Orbison’s death, The Traveling Wilburys were the perfect way for Harrison to continue his star power into the next generation. Whereas most his age were thriving off the goodwill they still had towards his biggest hits, Harrison managed to find some hidden magic that no one knew was there when he had his fellow legends by his side.

Sending messages from beyond the grave

No artist is really looking to make an album centred around their death. Even if you can’t play tunes forever, it’s impossible to go into one project thinking that it could be the last thing everyone hears from you. Harrison knew that his time on Earth was short, and while John Lennon left on a good note on Double Fantasy, Brainwashed proved why the ‘Quiet Beatle’ was also the most forward-thinking.

Recorded in bits and pieces after Harrison struggled with cancer, many of the tunes on the album have a running theme of mortality, from the existential fears in ‘Looking For My Life’ to knowing that he will be okay on the other side on ‘Any Road’. Even with a few tossed-off covers and B-sides included, Brainwashed is still one of the more haunting records that any Beatle has made, as if he’s trying to come to grips with his death while reminding everyone to appreciate life.

Posthumous albums are, unfortunately, a more common practice now, but Brainwashed was the kind of conceptual piece that laid the groundwork so someone like David Bowie could run when he put out Blackstar. It’s certainly a morbid milestone to have to his name, but Harrison never sugarcoated anything he did, and it’s only fitting that he gave us a dose of reality and gave us the farewell that The Beatles never could.

Related Topics

Related Post