George Harrison was the first Beatle to release a solo album. “Wonderwall” was released in 1968 and was the soundtrack to a psychedelic film, starring Jane Birkin. “Electronic Sound” (from 1969) was exactly what it says and was a demonstration of the capabilities of the recently invented Moog synthesiser. Neither of these albums featured any vocals and neither charted.
Once The Beatles had split, George Harrison released nine more conventional albums in his lifetime (and one released posthumously). “All Things Must Pass” (1970) was a triple album which reached Number One in the U.K. Charts. His steadily declining chart placings in the Seventies was somewhat reversed after John Lennon’s death: “Living In The Material World” (released in 1973, got to Number 2 in the charts), “Dark Horse” (1974, didn’t chart), “Extra Texture” (1975, 15), “Thirty Three And A Third” (1976, 35), “George Harrison”(1979, 39).
John Lennon was murdered in December 1980 and this rekindled interest in The Beatles (especially in the U.K.). “Somewhere In England”, released in June 1981, reached Number 13. Subsequent albums had mixed success: “Gone Troppo” (1982,didn’t chart) and “Cloud Nine” (1987, 10). “Brainwashed” was released in 2002, a year after George Harrison’s death and reached 29 in the U.K. Charts.
The original recording of “Somewhere In England” took place between March and September 1980. George Harrison had started his own record label, Dark Horse, with Warner Brothers acting as distributors. Despite owning his own label, Warner Brothers rejected the album stating that it was too laid back and uncommercial. He was also told to submit another picture for the cover – George Harrison’s head superimposed on a map of Great Britain was rejected.
Four new songs were recorded which were more up-tempo, poppy and “catchy”. “Blood From A Clone” became the opening song on the album and reflected the former Beatles’ feelings about having a record label reject his music. The first verse is “They say they like it, but, now in the market it may not go well as it’s too laid back. You need some oomph-papa, nothing like Frank Zappa and not New Wave – they don’t play that crap.”
Spotify have started showing the number of “plays” for every track that they have available and most of the songs on this album have been played fewer than 200 000 times. The exception is “All Those Years Ago” which has over 14 million plays. The song was originally written for Ringo Starr to record but the drummer didn’t like the lyrics and felt that the vocal range was too high for him. After Warner Brothers rejected his original album and after John Lennon’s death, George Harrison re-wrote some of the lyrics and included it on the album. The song addresses John Lennon with love, affection and anger at the brutality of his murder. “Living with good and bad, I always looked up to you. Now we’re left cold and sad by someone, the devil’s best friend. Someone who offended all”. As well as the heartfelt lyrics, it’s a good tune, featuring Ringo Starr on drums and Paul and Linda McCartney on background vocals. The video features lots of great clips of the Fab Four.
One of the original songs on the album that survived Warner Brothers’ rejection is “Writing On The Wall”. This is laid back, meditative and lovely with a very strong melody. Lyrically, it marks a return to George Harrison’s spiritual writing (think “Within You, Without You”, “The Inner Light” or “All Things Must Pass”). Lines like “Strange we hold on to things that have no grace or power while death holds on to us much more with every passing hour” are more thought provoking than “Piggies” or “Don’t Bother Me”. The line “all the time you thought it would last. Your life, your friends would always be, but they’re drunk away and shot away and die away from you” were understandably interpreted as being a reaction to John Lennon’s brutal murder but were, in fact, written before December 1980. The instrumentation on this song includes a gubguba (an Indian percussion string instrument) played by George Harrison and a tabla played by Alla Rakha (who had been Ravi Shankhar’s chief accompanist in the 1960s).
One of the four new songs to be recorded for “Somewhere In England” was “That Which I Have Lost” which describes someone who is lost and is fighting “falsehood and mortality” – they are seeking illumination. Although this person (himself?) has the darkness removed from his soul, he knows that “you people” don’t have time to follow his example because “you” are too busy fighting revolutions and “Your mirrors of understanding they need cleansing“. An inspirational song except nobody likes being preached at. Or should I say, that I don’t.
“Life Itself” offers praise to Christ, Vishnu, Jehovah and Buddha, thus emphasising his belief in a universal deity. It’s worth noting that George Harrison bankrolled “Life Of Brian” because he wanted to see the film and nobody else would fund it. When he was asked whether or not it was hypocritical of him to support a sacrilegious film, he replied “All it made fun of was people’s stupidity in the story of Jesus Christ. Actually it was upholding Him and knocking all the idiotic stuff that goes on around religion.“
In 1993, George Harrison authorised the inclusion of three songs from this album (“Writing On The Wall”, “Life Itself” and “That Which I Have Lost”) on an audio release of a book called “Ageless Body, Timeless Mind” by Deepak Chopra who is an advocate of alternative medicine. English professor George O’Har placed “the sophistries of Chopra alongside the special effects and logic of Star Trek, and the magic of Harry Potter. ” George Harrison was just as susceptible to new ideas as John Lennon was. In 1992, he performed a benefit concert in support of the Natural Law Party which advocated yogic flying to reduce crime and war.
“Save The World” closes the album and addresses issues of environmental catastrophe and nuclear Armageddon. The solution is to accept that “God lives in your heart“. The music is jolly and upbeat and a “musique concrete” section includes the sounds of cash registers, falling bombs, street demonstrations and babies crying. George Harrison said that the song was meant to be “serious and funny at the same time.”
“Teardrops” was written in response to Warner Brothers’ criticism that there was no obvious single on the album. However, it failed to chart. George Harrison compares the tears from a failed relationship with the rain. Musicians on this track (and on most of the rest of the album) include the mighty Dave Mattacks (Fairport Convention) on drums, Herbie Flowers (the bassist on “Walk On The Wild Side”), Ray Cooper (Elton John) on percussion and Mike Moran (who co-wrote “Rock Bottom” with Lynsey de Paul) on keyboards.
George Harrison spent many years as a second class citizen in The Beatles with his songwriting ignored and his guitar solos supplanted by Paul McCartney. After some highly successful (and some not so successful) albums, his record company told him that his original submission of “Somewhere In England” wasn’t good enough. For someone who said “If everyone who had a gun just shot themselves, there wouldn’t be a problem” but also said “Sometimes I feel like I’m actually on the wrong planet“, his acceptance of other people’s hang-ups and misdirected anger is a shining example to us all.