Side Tracked: “This Song” and “Pure Smokey”, George Harrison, Thirty Three & 1/3

Even– or perhaps especially– if you’re a huge Beatle fan, you could be forgiven for believing George Harrison simply just stopped making albums after his triple LP All Things Must Pass. Some may even remember that he released Living In The Material World shortly after, but the rest of Harrison’s solo career seems to be blips, maybe a single here or there, “All Those Years Ago”, “Got My Mind Set On You” (why did that ever, ever, get made?), and of course his time with The Traveling Wilburys.  There’s a good reason that most of his 70s output gets glossed over like a sterilized re-write of history.  Most of it is terrible.

Now I don’t mean terrible in the sense that McCartney was able to craft beautiful melodies centered around what in the world lyrics like “Someone’s knocking at the door, somebody is ringin’ a bell”,  or that Lennon spent his whole mid 70s/ “Lost weekend” trying to rediscover what a good melody was. I mean Harrison tried to hard to be philosophical and inaccessible, and his music–and audience– suffered.

He also had a tremendous bout of bad luck.  His wife left him (though his own behavior certainly had a hand in that), he tried to record an album, Dark Horse, before his first solo tour and was left with a crippling case of laryngitis that made itself comfortable throughout the album.  The tour was even worse, not only was his voice gone, he decided to replace the “she” of “Something” with God, and as many rock stars of the era, had been wooed by the cocaine habit that was exploding around the world.  His last album for EMI, Extra Texture, would also be a bust, avoided on radio play except for maybe its lead single “You”.

More problems followed, Harrison was sued for plagiarizing The Chiffon’s “He’s So Fine” in his biggest hit to date, “My Sweet Lord”. When he set about recording his first album off the EMI label, he came down with hepatitis.  However, Thirty Three & 1/3 would emerge as one of the best Harrison releases in years.  

“This Song” was written as a direct response to the whole “My Sweet Lord” lawsuit, and in a way Harrison predates the MTV craze by concocting a ridiculous video for the affair (you almost can’t hear the song on it’s own and get the same effect) . It’s a meta-moment where he sings about writing the song because of the court, and saying what key the song is (E).  He also throws in a bunch of subtle tongue-in-cheek moments (like Eric Idle’s psuedo-feminine declarations before the instrumental break.  More than anything, this song proved that the usually dour Harrison was at his best when he didn’t take things too seriously.

“Pure Smokey”  on the other hand, was tucked away as the B-side to “True Love”, a Cole Porter cover that is wholly out of place, even on a usual Harrison record.  Yet “Pure Smokey” is a delight, sounding more like Steely Dan’s idea of slicked back R&B with some great horn and guitar parts.  Strange that it’s supposed to be a dedication to Smokey Robinson when the music doesn’t attempt to comply. It’s an unusual–but well crafted– unknown highlight of Harrison’s catalog.

This Song

Pure Smokey

Side Tracked: I Hope We Passed the Audition…

When it comes for people to try to knock on The Beatles; to find some sort of weakness within their absolute dominance of the pop field of music in the 60’s, many point to their musicianship.  Pete Townshend would famously say that listening to The Beatles in stereo was the best way to tell how shitty they were at their instruments.  While none of the members may have been exceptionally gifted at their instrument (i say this only in terms of a virtuoso ability, i.e. Paul McCartney may not have been flashy but he still proved to be one of the finest rock bassists in terms of melodic lines) there was no denying that they could hold down a song, having played together for many years.  In sports they often say a team is only as strong as their weakest member, and most would agree that in terms of The Beatles, that would be Ringo.  Yet Ringo was no slouch, often having the innate ability to play to the song, fundamentals in drumming that most forget, and in a way all of The Beatles possessed this ability with their instruments, playing to be heard as a group of individuals, not individuals within a group.  A great example would be “Get Back”

“Get Back” written by Paul McCartney starts out with an unforgettable intro albeit a simple one, Ringo is playing paradiddle’s for heaven’s sake (for frame of reference, in my 2 weeks or so of drum lessons, this was a snare hitting pattern that I had already mastered), John and George are playing simple guitar chords accenting on the off beats, and Paul’s pretty much just playing the roots of the bass line.  Yet you get this fantastic sound, one full of energy, a full sound, where the melody and rhythm are almost in-discernable from each other, all the listener hears is the song itself, a great interlocked groove of rhythm and melody.  Billy Preston proves to be a great addition, putting in keyboard fills here and there and Johns little solo guitar runs are great as well, the tone is exceptional and the breakdown at the end, left off the single version is too great to leave off.  Additionally this is around the time where Paul McCartney collaborated with Steve Miller and I for one could totally see Steve Miller cover this.

Get Back- The Beatles