Today marks what would have been George Harrison’s 74th birthday. To celebrate, I’ve decided to share some of my favourite songs from his solo career. Of course there’s so much to choose from that I could go on forever, but I’ll try to stick to a top ten. Here we go…
1. Blow Away
This has always been my all-time favourite George song. It’s beautiful and uplifting with a message of optimism. Taken from his 1979 self-titled album, it reflects the happiness George was feeling at the time, newly married to Olivia with a baby son, Dhani. It never fails to put me in a good mood.
2. Learning How To Love You
Undoubtedly one of George’s finest love songs, he considered it to be his best work since ‘Something’. It was originally written with Herb Alpert in mind and so is heavily influenced by soul and jazz, driven by electric piano. George’s vocal is tender and heartfelt and the song also features a beautiful acoustic guitar solo.
3. Run Of The Mill
One of the many highlights of George’s classic All Things Must Pass album, he described it as the first song he had ever written “that looked like a poem on paper.” Indeed, the lyrics show him at his spiritual best. The album was notable for Phil Spector’s ‘Wall of Sound’ production, but it’s more subtle on this track. My own personal favourite version, however, is the stripped-down acoustic demo.
4. Give Me Love (Give Me Peace On Earth)
This is another example of George writing about spirituality. It’s a gorgeous song, with a lovely melody and fantastic slide guitar work. As with ‘Blow Away’, it’s a song that makes me happy whenever I hear it. George referred to it as “a prayer and personal statement between me, the Lord, and whoever likes it.” Which is nice, because I like it very much.
5. That’s What It Takes
Cloud Nine was both George’s first album in five years and his last for well over a decade. It was also a big commercial success, thanks in no small part to Jeff Lynne’s slick production. It’s difficult to pick a favourite song from the album, but I’ve always had a particular soft spot for ‘That’s What It Takes’. It’s a catchy, feel-good track with a strong, confident vocal.
6. Any Road
George’s final album, Brainwashed, was released posthumously and features some of his best ever work. I adore it, and it’s also understandably an incredibly poignant album. The opening track, ‘Any Road’, is a joyous ukulele-driven tune which was written around the time of Cloud Nine. It sounds like George having fun. How fitting that it was his final single.
7. Stuck Inside A Cloud
Another song from Brainwashed, this one has more downbeat lyrics, but it’s not depressing in any way. It’s my personal favourite, and it’s Dhani Harrison’s too. That’s why, when finishing off the album, he placed it seventh in the tracklisting — George’s favourite song on each album always had the honour of being the seventh track.
8. Marwa Blues
I’ve picked another from Brainwashed. This is an instrumental track, and it’s just hauntingly beautiful, showcasing George’s distinctive slide guitar. It manages to say so much without the need for words. Sublime.
9. Isn’t It A Pity
Originally intended as a Beatles track, this seven-minute epic ended up on All Things Must Pass instead. Some view it as a reflection on the band’s break-up, though it was written earlier than that, and George himself described it as simply an observation on society and “how we take each other for granted.” I can certainly imagine it as a Beatles song.
10. When We Was Fab
Now this is a song that is definitely about The Beatles. The lyrics reflect on the experience of Beatlemania in a light-hearted way, and the music itself harks back to the band’s sound, using many of the same recording techniques and effects found in their songs. Ringo even makes an appearance in the video (and the bass-playing walrus was rumoured to be Paul).