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Death and Taxes

George Harrison’s Forgotten Solo Gems

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A version of this article was originally published in Death and Taxes on February 25, 2011.

Very few people are aware that George Harrison released two solo albums whilst still a Beatle.

The first is Wonderwall Music and the second is Electronic Sound. Wonderall Music doubles as Harrison’s first solo album and the soundtrack to the film Wonderwall, directed by Joe Massot and starring Jane Birkin, one-time wife of Serge Gainsbourg and mother to Charlotte Gainsbourg.  The songs on Wonderwall Music were largely instrumental and the recording was begun in late 1967 and continued into January of 1968.  And one must keep in mind that it was music written for film.  Even so, there are a few stand-outs.

It was a time when Harrison was deeply into India music, having by this point become quite adept at playing the sitar.  The album opens with a hypnotizing track called “Microbes” and is followed by what is perhaps one of my favorite George Harrison songs, “Red Lady Too.”  The chord progressions, arrangements and instrumentation on this song are simply brilliant.

“Drilling a Home” sounds like a lost relic of piano hall times, revealing Harrison as an astute musicologist and modern-day interpreter.

“Greasy Legs” would be right at home in a Wes Anderson film or Boards of Canada album, beginning as a drone piece, then transforming into a delicately pretty, lo-fi lullaby of sorts.

Harrison unleashes a psych rocker gem with “Ski-ing,” in which Eric Clapton plays a buzzsaw-sounding lead overtop Harrison’s sitar textures.

My personal favorite, however, has to be Harrison’s “Dream Scene,” which has at least two different reversed tape tracks, harp, sitar and other Indian instrumentation with Indian vocals. The song unfolds languidly until about half way through, when Harrison launches into an experimental burst before shifting once again into what sounds like Indian-inspired jazz. Other sonic noises peep in and out before the song ends in ambient bells.

“Wonderwall to be Here” is melodramatic in a quintessentially French New Wave sort of way, sounding as if Serge Gainsbourg is about to come in crooning, cigarette in hand, while girls frolic all about him. Fantastic.

Harrison’s follow-up album Electronic Sound goes for a more Musique concrète sonic template—which probably has something to do with the fact the Harrison owned one of the first Moog synthesizers, and was familiar with composers like Karlheinz Stockhausen, an influence on the Beatles’ psychedelic era music. In fact, the album artwork is a Harrison original, with the musician sitting in front of a wall of modular synthesizers seemingly floating in the sky.

And so Electronic Sound is not exactly easy listening, but interesting as a purely experimental entry in Harrison’s popular music career. And it’s a priceless artifact in the annals of synthesizer history, and perhaps even had an effect on bands like Kraftwerk and Throbbing Gristle.

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