Sunday, July 18, 2010
THIRTY THREE & A THIRD
Never one to mince words about his experiences behind the scenes as a Beatle, George Harrison looked forward to creating music on his own terms when the inevitable split became a reality. Roaring out of the gate with All Things Must Pass in late 1970, he viewed the group's demise as an emancipation of sorts.
Solo success brought additional pressure to top himself, not to mention his former band mates. His need to distance himself from these expectations pushed him toward some very interesting musical territory. The Dark Horse LP, in particular, flirted with elements of jazz and arrangements that his fan base found hard to embrace. The 1974 tour was marred by problems with his voice, took a critical pasting and left him disillusioned with the business that he had once been so keen to break into. By 1975, he released the half-hearted Extra Texture to dwindling sales. Coincidentally, this was the last release for George on Apple Records and the label on the vinyl copies depicted an eaten away core as opposed to the iconic Granny Smith that graced all previous discs.
Such seemed to be the state of his career and personal life at that time.
It did get worse before the gloom lifted.
1976 would see him lose the lawsuit filed against him by Bright Tunes, which charged him with lifting the melody of the Chiffons "He's So Fine" for "My Sweet Lord". The actual story on this one is quite bizarre.
Back in 1969, he accepted an offer to do a short tour with Delaney and Bonnie and Friends. Harrison's experience was quite positive and he enjoyed the simple act of playing as part of a great band, without the nuisance of screaming idiots drowning out every note. At one tour stop, Delaney Bramlett and George were hanging out after the gig and Harrison quizzed Bramlett about his song writing:
"George came over to me and asked what inspired me to write gospel songs. I told him that I get thngs from the Bible, from what a preacher may say or just my feelings toward God. He said, 'Well, can you give me a for instance? How would you start?' So I grabbed my guitar and started playing the Chiffons melody from 'He's So Fine', singing the words My sweet Lord/Oh, my Lord/I just wanna be with you. George said okay. Then I said, 'Then you praise the Lord in your own way.' Rita and Bonnie were there and I told them when we got to that one part to sing Hallelujah."
Over a year later, Bramlett was shocked to hear this tune blasting out of every radio station he tuned to. He called Harrison and told him that he did not intend for him to actually use that melody. George claimed that he had changed it, though certainly not enough to avoid legal trouble.
Bramlett was even more shocked when he learned that he received zero writing credit for his efforts.
Probably for the best as it turned out.
Back to 1976, he was now unencumbered by contractual obligation to Apple. Signing on with A & M Records, health issues in the form of hepatitis delayed the recording of his new album. A & M promptly sued for breach of contract as the master tapes were not delivered on time.
Enter Warner Brothers records, who gladly took him on and bailed him out of his litigation with Herb Alpert and Jerry Moss.
Are we there yet?
Considered a return to form, Thirty Three and a Third benefited greatly from the injection of humor in some of the lyrics. Slapped for his more lugubrious excursions into spiritual subject matter, Harrison toned down his proclivity for proselytizing in favor of more down to earth themes.
This set of tunes found him singing about cars ("It's What You Value"), women ("Woman Don't you Cry For Me", "Beautiful Girl") recent legal tangles ("This Song") the absurdities of life in the good old material world ("Crackerbox Palace") and Smokey Robinson ("Pure Smokey"). Malaise thus lifted, it does seem that a great deal of care was taken with arrangements and acheiving the right sounds to match the mood of the music: light and breezy.
Melodic touch sharpened to a fine point, Harrison's slide work is impeccable throughout. The session crew that he employed was not much different from his previous outings (Billy Preston, Tom Scott et al.), though the material that he gave them to work with was far more upbeat. You can hear great joy infused in their playing as a result.
Taking honors as the standout of the pack, "Crackerbox Palace" marries a silky slide orchestra with some of the wittiest lines to ever grace a Harrisong.
George Harrison - Crackerbox Palace
Another factor that certainly helped this album was George's mining of song ideas from the late sixties. Revisiting no less than three compositions left unfinished between 1967 and 1969 ("Woman Don't You Cry For Me", "Beautiful Girl" and "See Yourself"), he likely found renewed inspiration in their completion. Managing to go back even further, the lone cover is a very clever update of Cole Porter's "True Love", originally sung by Bing Crosby and Grace Kelly in the movie High Society.
Closing with some cool jazz, "Learning How to Love You" was originally slated to be given to Herb Alpert to record. Considering the spectacular failure of George's short-lived partnership with A & M records, there is a certain incongruous calm displayed in this gentle offering that belied the business squabbles in which both were ensnared at that time.
I'm sure that in a parallel universe, there's a George Harrison LP called Fuck You, Herbie!
Definitely one of his strongest sets from the seventies.