|Song by George Harrison from the album Dark Horse|
|Published||Oops (UK)/Ganga (US)|
|Released||9 December 1974 (US)
20 December 1974 (UK)
|Dark Horse track listing|
"Simply Shady" is a song by English musician George Harrison, released on his 1974 album Dark Horse. The song's lyrics address Harrison's wayward behaviour during the final years of his marriage to Pattie Boyd and the allure of earthly pleasures over spiritual goals. Harrison wrote "Simply Shady" in India early in 1974 and his lyrics reference John Lennon's "Sexy Sadie", a song inspired by the Beatles' stay at Rishikesh in 1968. On the recording, Harrison is supported by Tom Scott & the L.A. Express, who were touring as Joni Mitchell's backing band at the time.
Background and composition
Although some commentators have claimed that he made a pilgrimage to India in early 1972, either with musician friend Gary Wright or with Pattie Boyd, according to George Harrison's recollection in his 1980 autobiography, the trip to India in January and February 1974 was his first since June 1968, when he'd returned there briefly following the Beatles' highly publicised meditation course at Rishikesh.
Along with the birth of the idea that became Ravi Shankar's Music Festival from India and led to the Harrison–Shankar tour of North America at the end of the year, a product of this early 1974 trip was Harrison's song "Simply Shady". It was written in Bombay, most probably before the spirit-cleansing visit to Benares and Vrindavan documented in "It Is 'He' (Jai Sri Krishna)", its lyrics reflecting the decadent lifestyle he'd just left behind at Friar Park in England – or as he himself put it in I Me Mine, "what happens to naughty boys in the music business". Boyd has written of their self-indulgence during that final year or more of their relationship: "We were all as drunk, stoned and single-minded as each other ... [but] George used cocaine excessively and I think it changed him ... it froze George's emotions and hardened his heart."
In the opening verse of "Simply Shady", Harrison appears to acknowledge this change:
Somebody brought the juicer, I thought I'd take a sip
Came off the rails so crazy, my senses took a dip
Before the bottle hit the floor and I'd had time to think
I was blinded by desire, the elephant turned pink.
The blurring of the senses is underlined in the chorus, along with the realisation that this path provides no solutions:
Now the rest is simply shady, it's all been done before
But it doesn't make life easy, that's for sure
You may think about a lady, cause yourself a minor war
And your life won't be so easy anymore.
The song's later choruses change this third line to "You may think of Sexy Sadie, let her in through your front door", reprising the late-period Beatles habit of self-reference. In this case, and perhaps influenced by his surroundings in Bombay, Harrison name-checks "Sexy Sadie", John Lennon's thinly veiled attack on Maharishi Mahesh Yogi and his alleged sexual advances towards one of the female students at the Rishikesh retreat.
In the final verse, Harrison acknowledges the karmic consequences of all actions and thoughts, since "A pebble in the ocean must cause some kind of stir": "The action that I've started sometime I'll have to face / My influence in motion rebounding back through space."
During his pre-tour press conference in October 1974, Harrison would fend off inquisitive reporters with the statement "If you get my album, it's like Peyton Place. I mean, it will tell you exactly what I've been doing ..."; one song he recommended to the throng of journalists was "So Sad", the other was "Simply Shady". By early 1979, he was prepared to expand on the issue, and came up with a different soap opera as a comparison: "I went on a bit of a bender [in 1973–74] to make up for all the years I'd been married. If you listen to 'Simply Shady', on Dark Horse, it's all in there – my whole life at that time was a bit like ...Mrs. Dale's Diary."
Simon Leng has noted that Harrison's method of dealing with his domestic problems during this period was to "immerse himself in frantic work" and indulge in "one drink too many, too frequently". Amid a workload that included producing Splinter's seventeen-months-in-the-making debut, The Place I Love, liaising with Los Angeles music-business executives in order to set up his Dark Horse Records label, producing the Apple feature film Little Malcolm, and completing Ravi Shankar's first Dark Horse album (Shankar Family & Friends) and preparing to record a second one, Harrison had to have a product of his own ready in time for the tour rehearsals, starting in mid October. His Dark Horse album would therefore be made in piecemeal fashion, one example being the impromptu session for "Simply Shady" in April 1974.
Harrison had collaborated with Tom Scott the year before on the Shankar Family & Friends sessions in Los Angeles and, according to L.A. Express bassist Max Bennett, had "developed a rapport" with both Scott and the band's current paymaster, Joni Mitchell. After catching their show at London's New Victoria Theatre, Harrison invited the five band-members to record at his Friar Park studio, FPSHOT, the following day. The instrumental "Hari's on Tour (Express)" – which would become the opening song of both Dark Horse and Harrison's live shows with Shankar – was recorded on the same day, the first track they worked on, according to Scott.
"Simply Shady" is set in a country-rock mode, Leng writes, a "stark-sounding cut". Its "melancholic guitar/piano leads" were supplied by Robben Ford and Roger Kellaway, respectively, with Scott's sweeping horns arriving on the choruses. Apart from Kellaway overdubbing an organ part, only backing tracks were recorded on the day, states Bennett, who admits he enjoyed the visit but did not feel they had "accomplished much musically". While the rest of the band flew off to Denver the next day, band leader Scott stayed back at Friar Park with Harrison, who overdubbed a rare non-slide guitar solo to close the song – an attacking, bluesy break, against Scott's one-man horn section. Harrison's "wobbly" vocals, by no means the most laryngitis-affected on an album that would become synonymous with the star's throat affliction, were overdubbed either at FPSHOT also, or at A&M Studios, LA, late in October during the rush to complete the album.
Release and reception
With "Simply Shady" as track 2, Dark Horse was released during the second week of December 1974 in North America, over halfway through the tour, and a few days before Christmas in Britain. Reflecting the contrast between side one's songs and the more optimistic themes in side two's, Tom Wilkes's design for the LP face labels included a photo of Harrison on the first side and one of new girlfriend Olivia Arias on the reverse. The pictures were taken by tour photographer Henry Grossman and their inclusion in the album artwork, just two months after the couple first met, was evidence of the immediacy of their relationship.
The majority of reviews for Dark Horse were negative, and a large portion of the critics' scorn was reserved for "Simply Shady". Bob Woffinden of the NME denigrated the song as "[evincing] all the faults that clog the album. George's vocals are tiresome, his voice, nasal and toneless, seems to be slowing down the song; the lyrics are straightforward and dull. Also the familiar cloying punches that Harrison's own production pulls are evident. Nothing ever happens – the sound is dense, viscid ..." Even a favourable reviewer such as Melody Maker 's Brian Harrigan found that the song "really drags on".
Opinions have not improved in the 21st century. Chip Madinger and Mark Easter write that Harrison "managed to bring the LP to a screeching halt" with this, the first vocal track on the album. "Somnambulistic in tone and tempo," they continue, "George's hoarseness had nothing but a negative effect on this weak tune ..." Simon Leng draws parallels with Neil Young's similar fall from grace with his Time Fades Away and On the Beach albums, in that Harrison reaches the same "impasse" as the Canadian singer: "decadence, dependency, and despair". "'Simply Shady' neatly shatters the 'Beatle George' image," Leng goes on, "but for fans readying their Sgt. Pepper costumes for the Dark Horse Tour, it was all too much." Elliot Huntley offers a positive view, enjoying the song's "pleasant melody" and its "continuation of the West Coast feel that commenced the album".
- George Harrison – vocals, electric guitars, backing vocals
- Tom Scott – saxophones, horn arrangement
- Robben Ford – electric guitar
- Roger Kellaway – piano, organ
- Max Bennett – bass
- John Guerin – drums
- Leng, pp. 124–25.
- "Of Mice and Lambs", Contra Band Music, 30 June 2012 (retrieved 3 February 2013).
- George Harrison, p. 57.
- Lavezzoli, pp. 180, 184.
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- Leng, p. 148.
- George Harrison, p. 282.
- Leng, p. 157.
- Pattie Boyd, "Pattie Boyd: 'My hellish love triangle with George and Eric' – Part Two", Daily Mail, 4 August 2007 (retrieved 4 May 2012).
- Leng, p. 150.
- MacDonald, p. 275.
- Leng, p. 85.
- Leng, p. 151.
- MacDonald, p. 262.
- Lewisohn, p. 144.
- Badman, p. 136.
- Anne Moore, "George Harrison on Tour – Press Conference Q&A", Valley Advocate, 13 November 1974; available at Rock's Backpages (subscription required; retrieved 25 July 2012).
- George Harrison: Living in the Material World DVD (Village Roadshow, 2011; directed by Martin Scorsese; produced by Olivia Harrison, Nigel Sinclair & Martin Scorsese).
- Mick Brown, "An Interview with George Harrison", Rolling Stone, 19 April 1979; available at Rock's Backpages (subscription required; retrieved 26 July 2012).
- Leng, pp. 143, 147–48.
- Michael Gross, "George Harrison: How Dark Horse Whipped Up a Winning Tour", CIrcus Raves, March 1975; available at Rock's Backpages (subscription required; retrieved 26 May 2015).
- The Editors of Rolling Stone, p. 44.
- Olivia Harrison, p. 312.
- Leng, p. 149.
- Huntley, p. 109.
- Spizer, p. 265.
- Leng, pp. 148, 151.
- Madinger & Easter, p. 443.
- Leng, p. 151fn.
- Badman, p. 145.
- Castleman & Podrazik, p. 144.
- Woffinden, pp. 84–85.
- Spizer, pp. 265, 268.
- Spizer, p. 265.
- Olivia Harrison's foreword, in George Harrison, p. 1.
- Rodriguez, pp. 423–24.
- Leng, pp. 150–51.
- Bob Woffinden, "George Harrison: Dark Horse", NME, 21 December 1974; available at Rock's Backpages (subscription required; retrieved 15 July 2012).
- Brian Harrigan, "Harrison: Eastern Promise", Melody Maker, 21 December 1974, p. 36.
- Keith Badman, The Beatles Diary Volume 2: After the Break-Up 1970–2001, Omnibus Press (London, 2001; ISBN 0-7119-8307-0).
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- George Harrison, I Me Mine, Chronicle Books (San Francisco, CA, 2002; ISBN 0-8118-3793-9).
- Olivia Harrison, George Harrison: Living in the Material World, Abrams (New York, NY, 2011; ISBN 978-1-4197-0220-4).
- Elliot J. Huntley, Mystical One: George Harrison – After the Break-up of the Beatles, Guernica Editions (Toronto, ON, 2006; ISBN 1-55071-197-0).
- Peter Lavezzoli, The Dawn of Indian Music in the West, Continuum (New York, NY, 2006; ISBN 0-8264-2819-3).
- Simon Leng, While My Guitar Gently Weeps: The Music of George Harrison, Hal Leonard (Milwaukee, WI, 2006; ISBN 1-4234-0609-5).
- Mark Lewisohn, The Complete Beatles Recording Sessions, Hamlyn/EMI (London, 1988; ISBN 0-600-55798-7).
- Ian MacDonald, Revolution in the Head: The Beatles' Records and the Sixties, Pimlico (London, 1998; ISBN 0-7126-6697-4).
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- Bob Woffinden, The Beatles Apart, Proteus (London, 1981; ISBN 0-906071-89-5).