George Harrison was many things to many different people. He was a father, a husband, a songwriter, a guitarist, an actor, a movie producer, the organizer of the world’s first charity concert, a member of supergroup the Traveling Wilburys, a solo artist, and by the way, one of the Beatles.
George Harrison’s solo work was introspective, inspirational, spiritual, and very successful. Though he only recorded 12 albums during his 33-year-long solo career, he sold millions of records and had several number one hit singles.
While every fan picks out their own favorite songs, you might be surprised by which of his singles actually made the most impact on the charts. As we come to what would have been his 70th birthday, let’s take a look at his biggest hits.
“My Sweet Lord” - US #1 / UK #1
George once stated that “My Sweet Lord” “saved many a heroin addict’s life”. Arguably the most successful religious song of all time, it is also the subject of one of the best-known plagiarism lawsuits in history. Harrison wound up paying over half a million dollars to the publishers of the Chiffons’ “He’s So Fine”, but that legal mess inspired him to write “This Song”. As for “My Sweet Lord”, Harrison would later go on to record and release several different versions of it, including a special single re-released in the UK shortly after his death. Raising money for his Material World charity foundation, it held the No.1 spot again for six weeks.
“Got My Mind Set on You” - US #1 / UK #2
George vastly changed the arrangement of a forgotten oldie from James Ray and turned it into his first No.1 hit in 14 years. It was his last #1 hit, and currently the last #1 single from a former Beatle. Ironically, its classic music video lost all three MTV VMA categories in which it was nominated.
“Give Me Love Give Me Peace on Earth” - US #1 / UK #8
“This song is a prayer and personal statement between me, the Lord, and whoever likes it”. Those were George’s own words about his second #1 US hit. From that point on, he played it at every one of his concerts and donated its publishing royalties to charity.
“All Those Years Ago” - US #2 / UK #13
A tribute to former bandmate John Lennon, this featured Ringo Starr on drums and back-up vocals from Paul McCartney and Wings (though all of them were not in the studio together at the same time). At the time of its release, it had been eight years since Harrison had a top 20 hit in the UK and eight years since he had a top ten hit in the US.
“What Is Life” - US #10
In the UK, this served as the B-side to “My Sweet Lord”, but it was George’s second solo single in the States. The big question: is it a love song or a religious ode? Either way, Goodfellas taught us that it serves as the perfect soundtrack to being chased down the street by a helicopter.
“Blow Away” - US #16 / UK #51
George didn’t like this song at first, but it eventually grew on him. While some say it was inspired by his love of Formula One racing, George himself stated that it was about how he “loved everybody” and needed to be more optimistic. Today it’s a fan favorite, with a 2010 AOL poll listing it as his second best solo song of all time.
“Bangla-Desh” - US #23 / UK #10
The country may be spelled as “Bangladesh”, but the record label to this hit reads “Bangla-Desh”. One of the first singles to raise money for charity, a live version of it was recorded onto The Concert For Bangladesh album. The entire project eventually raised over eight million dollars for UNICEF relief efforts.
// Notes from the Road
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