GEORGE HARRISON-ELECTRONIC SOUND
GEORGE HARRISON-ELECTRONIC SOUND.
Whenever people discuss the disparate personalities of The Beatles, George Harrison is billed as the “quiet one.” That’s doing a George Harrison a huge disservice. He was spiritual, cerebral, and a humanitarian. Away from the constraints of The Beatles, George Harrison was also a truly innovative musician.
Anyone familiar with George Harrison’s eclectic discography will realise that. Having written While My Guitar Gently Weeps, Hear Comes The Sun and Something, for The Beatles, it was apparent that George Harrison was a talented songwriter. As lead guitarist of The Beatles, there was no doubt that George was a talented guitarist. However, George was very much in the shadow of Lennon and McCartney.
George, it seemed, was a junior partner in The Beatles. Lennon and McCartney enjoyed star billing. They wrote most of the songs and were the focus of all the attention and speculation. For George, this must have been frustrating. He was, undoubtably, a talented songwriter. This would become apparent when his solo career blossomed.
George Harrison’s solo career began in 1968. That was nearly two before the breakup of The Beatles. By the time Paul MacCarney announced his departure from The Beatles, George had already released two of the most innovative solo albums released by a Beatle.
Wonderwall Music was George’s debut solo album. It was released in November 1968. The following year, 1969, George returned with the ambitious and groundbreaking album, Electronic Sound, which was recently released by Universal Music Group. However, before I tell you about Electronic Sound, I’ll tell you about George Harrison’s career up until then.
Wonderwall Musicwas the soundtrack to Joe Massot’s film. The soundtrack was a fusion of two musical cultures. Indian classical music and rock sat side-by-side on Wonderwall. This isn’t surprising. George Harrison had been interested in Indian music since 1966. Now George had the opportunity experiment with his new musical love.
Recording of Wonderwall Music took place between November 1967 and February 1968. On Wonderwall Music, George Harrison collaborated with renowned classical pianist and orchestral arranger John Barham. He played an important part in Wonderwall Music. So did a number of Indian musicians, including of the other Mahapurush Misra, Shivkumar Sharma and Aashish Khan. However, it wasn’t just classical musicians that featured on Wonderwall Music.
Eric Clapton, Ringo Starr and Peter Tork featured on Wonderwall Music. So did Tony Ashton and his band The Remo Four. Once recording of Wonderwall Music was complete, it was released on The Beatles’ new record label Apple.
Before Wonderwall Music was released, it failed to catch the attention of critics. Many didn’t even bother to review Wonderwall Music. They perceived it as “just a soundtrack.” However, since then, critics have reevaluated Wonderwall Music. It’s now perceived as a compelling and innovative album. Indeed, Wonderwall Music is now one of the most underrated solo albums by a former Beatle. Not many people would’ve realised this in 1968.
Wonderwall Music was released in Britain on 1st November 1968, it failed to chart. A day later, Wonderwall Music was released on 2nd November 1968. It peaked at number forty-nine in the US Billboard 200. This vindicated George Harrison’s decision to release such a groundbreaking album. The followup to Wonderwall Music saw George’s music head in a much more avant garde direction.
Just over a year later, George Harrison released his sophomore album, Electronic Sound. It was an album of avant garde music. Electronic Sound was released on The Beatles’ short lived Zapple label in May 1969.
Zapple was an imprint of Apple. Its raison d’être was to release of avant garde music. However, Zapple didn’t last long. When Allen Klein started managing The Beatles, he closed Zapple down. This was one of his cost cutting measures. One of the few albums it released was Electronic Sound.
Electronic Sound was recorded during November 1968 and February 1969. The album featured just two lengthy pieces played on the Moog snyth. Under the Mersey Wall lasted nearly nineteen minutes and No Time or Space was a twenty-five minute epic. Both these songs were written by George. However, Bernie Krause, an electronic pioneer, later claimed otherwise.
After the release of Electronic Sound, Bernie Krause took legal action against George Harrison. Bernie Krause, the claimant, alleged that No Time Or Space, was, to all intents and purposes, a recording of him demonstrating a Moog III. He further alleged that, the recording of Bernie Krause’s demonstration was recorded without neither his knowledge nor consent. However, Bernie Krause’s name was originally credited on the front cover under George Harrison’s cover credit. It was, however, painted, at George Harrison’s insistence. If you look closely enough at an original copy, the words “assisted by Bernie Krause” can be read. However, back in November 1969, George was all set to release his sophomore album Electronic Sound.
Just like Wonderwall, critics weren’t interested in Electronic Sound. Reviews were few and far between. That’s not surprising. Here was an album that ahead of its time. Very few people understood what George was trying to achieve. Later, when critics revisited Electronic Sound, it was deemed as an album for completists only or those interested in pioneering electronic albums. Electronic Sound hadn’t stood the test of time. Neither was it a commercial success.
Electronic Sound was released in Britain on 9th May 1969, and failed to chart. Just over two weeks later, Electronic Sound was released in America on 25th May 1969. History repeated itself and Electronic Sound failed to chart. However, in the intervening forty-five years, critics have reappraised Electronic Sound, which I’ll tell you about.
Under the Mersey Wall opens Electronic Sound. It fills side one of Electronic Sound. Recorded in February 1969, it’s mostly George, playing two Moogs. What sounds like bullets being fired opens the track. Then a myriad of space-age, sic-fi sounds are unleashed. They’re very much reminiscent of the Space Age. Later, the sounds replicate a howling gale. Other times, it’s like an old transistor radio changing channels. George it seems, is happy to let his imagination and the new technology run wild. Surprises are around every corner. You never quite know which direction the track will head in. At one point, it’s like being stuck inside a computer game. The only problem is, computer games weren’t even a figment of the most fertile minds. This includes George Harrison, soundscape pioneer. He pioneered what’s now called sound design. Somehow, he managed to do this, with quite basic equipment. Despite this, George creates a futuristic, innovative and cinematic soundscape where subtleties and surprises are omnipresent.
No Time or Space is a twenty-five minute epic, that fills side two of Electronic Sound. Slow, dark and trippy describes the myriad of buzzes, crackles, shrieks, interference and feedback. Gradually, George tames his Moogs. It veers between melodic to challenging, futuristic and compelling. Quickly, your realise never to try and second guess George. Where the track is heading, is anyone’s guess? Later, it sounds like something Brian Eno would produce circa Music For Airports. There’s even a chance No Time or Space influenced Kraftwerk’s Autobahn. George sounds as if he’s embarking upon a train journey. Other times, it’s as if he’s jumped onboard the latest Apollo Mission, and is part of the space race. Futuristic, and full of eerie, otherworldly beeps, squeaks and crackles, it’s a truly compelling and groundbreaking track. So much so, that’s hard to believe that No Time or Space was recorded in 1969. Instead, it sounds like a track that was recorded much later. However, George Harrison was a musical visionary, who was capable of creating music that was truly innovative.
Sadly, when Electronic Sound was released, critics failed to even review this groundbreaking album. It was as if they couldn’t be bothered with the quiet one’s latest project. However, if it had been John announcing his latest protest, critics and cultural commentators would’ve been hanging on his every word. It’s still the same today.
Paul McCartney, is still the beneficiary of a fawning media. They hang on his every word, failing to see the irony of album titles like Kisses On The Bottom. That irony is directed at the fawning critics and cultural commentators. Sadly, George didn’t receive such a fair hearing.
Although Electronic Sound wasn’t the greatest album George Harrison ever released, it’s an interesting and innovative project. Two captivating and cinematic soundscapes take you on a musical journey.
The music is eerie and futuristic, full of beeps, buzzes, squeaks, shrieks and sci-fi sounds. This is music that could only be a figment of the most fertile imagination. It would take someone who was a groundbreaking musician to create music like that on Electronic Sound. One such musician was George Harrison.
In 1969, George Harrison looked like embarking upon a career as a soundscape pioneer. He was pioneer or what’s now called sound design. Somehow, he managed to do this, with quite basic equipment. The result was variously lo-fi, groundbreaking, innovative and cinematic. That’s why forty-five years after the release of Electronic Sound, George Harrison’s sophomore album, a new generation of critics and music lovers are reappraising this captivating and pioneering album.
GEORGE HARRISON-ELECTRONIC SOUND.