23 November, 2010

The Best of the Best-Ofs – George Harrison

My dearest once put it to me that George Harrison was the most artistic of the Beatles. After thinking it through, I suspect she is right. While John and Paul each had very different approaches, they were still essentially saying, “Look at me!” with everything they did. Ringo was, and remains, the beloved entertainer. George just did what he wanted to do and people either liked it or they didn’t.
There have been three compilations released in George Harrison’s name, and only one of them with his clear approval. Are any of them any good?

The Best Of George Harrison - 1976

It’s something of an insult to George’s solo career that the entire first side of this album is taken up by Beatles songs. George’s songs were often the highlights of Beatles albums, largely as a reflection of how bloody good they had to be if they were to be heard above Lennon and McCartney. While Here Comes the Sun, Something and While My Guitar Gently Weeps all deserve to be counted among George Harrison’s finest work, they are still Beatles songs, not George Harrison solo recordings. George himself had nothing to do with this release. It was a contractual obligation that George suggested a tracklisting for and EMI ignored it.

The one slight attraction of this collection is that it contains the only album release of the studio version of Bangla Desh. Beyond that, it has nothing to recommend it.

For: Cheap
Against: Nasty

Best Of Dark Horse 1976-1989 - 1989

In 1987, George Harrison performed one of the greatest musical comebacks with his Cloud 9 album. A year later, he consolidated his popularity as part of the Travelling Wilburys and by the end of the 80s, the Quiet One was arguably the most recognisable ex-Beatle. It was a perfect time to bring out a compilation and remind people of some underrated classics such as Blow Away, Life Itself and Crackerbox Palace.

The album also contains three previously unreleased tracks - Cheer Down, which was used on the Lethal Weapon 2 soundtrack, and two others which remain unavailable anywhere else. Poor Little Girl sounds like a worthy out-take from Cloud 9. Cockamamie Business, which channels Bob Dylan in the lyrics, could be seen as part three of an autobiographical trilogy that began with When We Was Fab and continued with Handle With Care.

As the album title suggests the collection only includes songs from George’s Dark Horse label, so there’s no My Sweet Lord or What Is Life? but in a way, the album is better for it. By 1976, George had developed a style and sound based around his disciplined and precise slide guitar playing. That’s what Best of Dark Horse presents and it holds together as an excellent album in its own right. It’s just a pity it’s not easily available now.

For: Consistent, two songs unavailable elsewhere.
Against: Out of print, nothing from Apple years.

Let It Roll: Songs by George Harrison - 2009

The subtitle of simply Songs by George Harrison suggests that this is neither meant to be a hits or best-of album, but perhaps more of an introduction. It’s the only compilation of the three to span George’s entire solo career but in doing so, it leaves out some fairly significant songs as well. Cheer Down is included but Bangla Desh is not. I Don’t Want to Do It, a Bob Dylan cover previously only available on the soundtrack to Porky’s Revenge(!) is included. The Jools Holland collaboration Horse to Water is not.

Three Beatles songs - While My Guitar Gently Weeps, Something and Here Comes the Sun - are included, but these are live versions from the Concert for Bangla Desh. I’m torn, as I’m sure many other fans are, as to whether this is a reasonable compromise or a bit of a cop out. On one level, it’s fair enough since George effectively invented the modern charity concert with that show. In any case, I daresay Olivia has a good idea of what George would have approved of.

On paper, the track sequencing looks a bit weird, jumping from All Things Must Pass, to Brainwashed and back again, but when you listen to the album, it flows perfectly.

For: Remastered, covers George’s whole solo career
Against: Leaves out some hits

If you had to choose one, choose....
Let It Roll, if only because it’s the easiest to obtain. Best of Dark Horse comes an extremely close second, hindered only by its rareness today.

My Sweet Lord from The Best of George Harrison

My Sweet Lord from Let It Roll

Blow Away from Best of Dark Horse

Blow Away from Let It Roll

1 comment:

  1. George was always one of my 4 favourite Beatles.