George Harrison: Early Takes, Vol. 1

Early Takes, Vol. 1 is a tiny gem of a collection that offers an intimate look at the songwriting process of George Harrison.

George Harrison

Early Takes, Vol. 1

Label: UMe
US Release Date: 2012-05-01
UK Release Date: 2012-04-30

It’s been nearly 11 years since we lost George Harrison to cancer, yet it feels as if we’ve been living without him for much longer. Over the last decade and a half of his life Harrison spent far more time tending to the sprawling gardens (which, it should be noted, cover an area the size of a small town) than he did recording music. A reflective, deeply spiritual man for whom the daily grind of a working musician’s life held no allure, Harrison was determined to live according to his own rules. While he never officially retired, in his later years he seemed to have found an inner peace from his non-musical pursuits that he never would've found schlepping around the world with a guitar in his hand.

Save for one final studio album and a couple of remasters, the posthumous career of the Quiet Beatle has also been pretty quiet. Unlike other grossly mismanaged estates (looking your way, Courtney Love) the guardians of Harrison’s music and likeness, widow Olivia and son Dahni, appear to be determined to protect and honor the legacy of a man who lived with a lot of dignity. Rather than cobble together some rush-job documentary, the Harrisons allowed themselves time to grieve and then went out and hired one of the world’s greatest living filmmakers, Mr. Martin Scorsese, to bring George’s complicated life story to the big screen. Scorsese and his team spent several years piecing together Living in the Material World, a moving yet occasionally exhausting documentary that should stand as the final word on the journey of George Harrison. Arriving with little fanfare in conjunction with the domestic release of Scorsese’s film is Early Takes, Vol. 1, a seemingly random collection of demos from the early 1970s that makes for a thoroughly satisfying listen despite its brief running time.

Not all of these mostly acoustic sketches appear in the documentary, and there isn’t a shred of information about when this music was recorded and who’s playing on it. We have to rely on what we already know as fact to piece together a narrative. By the time The Beatles split up in 1970, Harrison was sitting on a wealth of material, much of which had been, for reasons far beyond this reviewer, denied placement on the last few Beatles albums. While Paul McCartney released the pastoral McCartney and John Lennon purged his soul on Plastic Ono Band, Harrison linked up with Phil Spector for All Things Must Pass, a towering triple LP that’s widely considered to be the greatest solo album released by a Beatle. More than half of the songs on Early Takes, Vol. 1 are All Things Must Pass-era demos. Pulled away from the shadow cast by Spector’s mighty wall of sound, the beauty at the core of Harrison’s compositions is allowed to shine through.

Much credit is due to Giles Martin, son of legendary Beatles producer George Martin, who has meticulously restored Harrison’s original recordings. At no point do these songs sound like demos that were recorded over 40 years ago, due in no small part to the strength of Harrison’s performances. We’ve rarely heard Harrison sing better than he does here. Tracks like “Run of the Mill” and “Behind That Locked Door” are one-take run-throughs, yet they’re flawlessly executed. More fully formed are covers of Bob Dylan’s “Mama, You Been on my Mind” and The Everly Brothers' “Let It Be Me”, the latter of which features some impossibly gorgeous self-harmonizing from Harrison. Hearing Harrison in such an intimate setting is a revelation and it makes one wonder why he rarely worked in this format throughout his solo career. Not to take anything away from his work with Phil Spector or Jeff Lynne, but it’s a shame that, more often than not, Harrison’s gentle voice and aching melodies were overwhelmed by production.

It’s a pair of full-band demos that provide the missing link between All Things Must Pass and Lennon’s Plastic Ono Band. Before Spector showed up with his army of session musicians, horn players, and gospel singers, Harrison was working on something that sounded every bit as raw as Lennon’s album. Of course, Harrison is using the same rhythm section of bassist Klaus Voorman and drummer Ringo Starr (Note: there’s nothing in the liner notes to confirm this but I’ll be damned if that isn’t Ringo behind the kit). Ringo, who never played better than he did in 1970, gives “My Sweet Lord” a laid back, vaguely bluesy feel and then goes absolutely apeshit on a blistering work-up of “Awaiting on You All”. The only indication that this track, with its crunchy guitars and backwards drum fills, wasn’t pulled from the Plastic Ono Band sessions is Harrison’s voice.

Both The Beatles and John Lennon have been anthologized, and those projects, while comprehensive and informative, are a bit of a chore to sift through. George Harrison’s Early Takes, Vol. 1, on the other hand, practically demands to be listened to on repeat. Rather than throwing open the vaults and inundating us with a deluge material, the Harrison family has made a wise choice in rolling out one slim volume at a time. Hopefully we’ll continue to be reunited with Harrison’s gentle spirit through these archival releases for many years to come.


In the wake of Malcolm Young's passing, Jesse Fink, author of The Youngs: The Brothers Who Built AC/DC, offers up his top 10 AC/DC songs, each seasoned with a dash of backstory.

In the wake of Malcolm Young's passing, Jesse Fink, author of The Youngs: The Brothers Who Built AC/DC, offers up his top 10 AC/DC songs, each seasoned with a dash of backstory.

Keep reading... Show less

Pauline Black may be called the Queen of Ska by some, but she insists she's not the only one, as Two-Tone legends the Selecter celebrate another stellar album in a career full of them.

Being commonly hailed as the "Queen" of a genre of music is no mean feat, but for Pauline Black, singer/songwriter of Two-Tone legends the Selecter and universally recognised "Queen of Ska", it is something she seems to take in her stride. "People can call you whatever they like," she tells PopMatters, "so I suppose it's better that they call you something really good!"

Keep reading... Show less

Morrison's prose is so engaging and welcoming that it's easy to miss the irreconcilable ambiguities that are set forth in her prose as ineluctable convictions.

It's a common enough gambit in science fiction. Humans come across a race of aliens that appear to be entirely alike and yet one group of said aliens subordinates the other, visiting violence upon their persons, denigrating them openly and without social or legal consequence, humiliating them at every turn. The humans inquire why certain of the aliens are subjected to such degradation when there are no discernible differences among the entire race of aliens, at least from the human point of view. The aliens then explain that the subordinated group all share some minor trait (say the left nostril is oh-so-slightly larger than the right while the "superior" group all have slightly enlarged right nostrils)—something thatm from the human vantage pointm is utterly ridiculous. This minor difference not only explains but, for the alien understanding, justifies the inequitable treatment, even the enslavement of the subordinate group. And there you have the quandary of Otherness in a nutshell.

Keep reading... Show less

A 1996 classic, Shawn Colvin's album of mature pop is also one of best break-up albums, comparable lyrically and musically to Joni Mitchell's Hejira and Bob Dylan's Blood on the Tracks.

When pop-folksinger Shawn Colvin released A Few Small Repairs in 1996, the music world was ripe for an album of sharp, catchy songs by a female singer-songwriter. Lilith Fair, the tour for women in the music, would gross $16 million in 1997. Colvin would be a main stage artist in all three years of the tour, playing alongside Liz Phair, Suzanne Vega, Sheryl Crow, Sarah McLachlan, Meshell Ndegeocello, Joan Osborne, Lisa Loeb, Erykah Badu, and many others. Strong female artists were not only making great music (when were they not?) but also having bold success. Alanis Morissette's Jagged Little Pill preceded Colvin's fourth recording by just 16 months.

Keep reading... Show less

Frank Miller locates our tragedy and warps it into his own brutal beauty.

In terms of continuity, the so-called promotion of this entry as Miller's “third" in the series is deceptively cryptic. Miller's mid-'80s limited series The Dark Knight Returns (or DKR) is a “Top 5 All-Time" graphic novel, if not easily “Top 3". His intertextual and metatextual themes resonated then as they do now, a reason this source material was “go to" for Christopher Nolan when he resurrected the franchise for Warner Bros. in the mid-00s. The sheer iconicity of DKR posits a seminal work in the artist's canon, which shares company with the likes of Sin City, 300, and an influential run on Daredevil, to name a few.

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.