The Best of George Harrison
|The Best of George Harrison|
|Greatest hits album by George Harrison|
|Released||8 November 1976 (US)
20 November 1976 (UK)
|Producer||George Martin, George Harrison, Phil Spector|
|George Harrison chronology|
Cover for the North American, Australasian and French editions of the album
The Best of George Harrison is a 1976 compilation album by English musician George Harrison, released following the expiration of his EMI-affiliated Apple Records contract. Uniquely among all the four Beatles' solo releases, it mixes a selection of the artist's Beatles-era songs on one side, with later hits recorded under his own name on the other. The song selection caused some controversy, since it underplayed Harrison's solo achievements during the 1970–75 period, for much of which he had been viewed as the most successful ex-Beatle, artistically and commercially. Music critics have also noted the compilation's failure to provide a faithful picture of Harrison's contribution to the Beatles' work, due to the omission of any of his Indian music compositions. In a calculated move by EMI and its American subsidiary, Capitol Records, the compilation was issued during the same month as Harrison's debut on his Warner-distributed Dark Horse label, Thirty Three & 1/3.
The Best of George Harrison peaked at number 31 on the US Billboard 200 chart and was certified gold by the RIAA in February 1977, but the album failed to chart in Britain. It is the first of three Harrison compilation albums, and was followed by 1989's Best of Dark Horse 1976–1989 and the posthumous Let It Roll: Songs by George Harrison, in 2009. The album was issued on CD in 1990 featuring the cover artwork from the original British release, rather than the artwork created in-house by Capitol and used in the majority of territories internationally in 1976. The album has yet to be remastered since 1990. The Best of George Harrison remains the only official CD release to contain Harrison's 1971 charity single "Bangla Desh".
Ray Coleman of Melody Maker observed in December 1976 that it was "somehow ironic" that EMI, having made "millions of pounds" from the Beatles' recordings, should put out The Best of George Harrison within days of Harrison's debut release on Warner-distributed Dark Horse Records. The compilation was instigated by EMI's US counterpart, Capitol Records, a company with which Harrison had grown disaffected since August 1971, due to their "avaricious dithering" over the release of the Concert for Bangladesh album. In a final effort to force Capitol to distribute that live album at cost price, to generate much-needed funds for the refugees from East Pakistan, Harrison had gone public with the issue and embarrassed the label.
In January 1976, all the former Beatles' contracts with EMI/Capitol expired, and only Paul McCartney had chosen to re-sign with Capitol. The two record companies were now free to license releases featuring songs from the band's back catalogue and the individual members' solo work, without the need for artist's approval. Along with accompanying singles, the double album Rock 'n' Roll Music was Capitol's first venture under this new arrangement. Released in June 1976, Rock 'n' Roll Music contained 28 previously released tracks from throughout the Beatles' career. John Lennon and Ringo Starr both expressed dissatisfaction with the compilation's running order, the reversion to a pre-1967 royalty rate for the band, and what Starr termed Capitol's "craphouse" packaging. After the record company had promised "the largest selling campaign in the history of the music business", the album was a commercial success.
Late in 1975, EMI/Capitol had issued greatest-hits collections on the Apple Records imprint for Lennon and Starr − Shaved Fish and Blast from Your Past. Since Lennon and Starr were both nominally Apple artists, they each had input into the content and packaging of their solo compilation, and Lennon, in particular, was active in promoting his album. Shaved Fish and Blast from Your Past sold reasonably well, in America, but their sales failed to match record-company expectations. For George Harrison, there had been long delays between releases following the international success of his All Things Must Pass triple album in 1970–71, due first to his commitment to the Bangladesh charity project and later to his production work for Dark Horse Records acts Splinter and Ravi Shankar. As a result, Harrison had only completed his quota of Apple studio albums in the autumn of 1975, with the "contractual obligation" Extra Texture (Read All About It), meaning that a Harrison compilation would not be viable until the following year and that he had effectively surrendered all artistic control over such an album.
In the second half of 1976, thanks to the success of both Rock 'n' Roll Music and McCartney's world tour with his band Wings, the public's nostalgia for the Beatles was at a peak. Increasingly generous offers from rival promoters Bill Sargent and Sid Bernstein for a one-off Beatles reunion concert, 20th Century Fox's musical documentary All This and World War II (for which, as with the earlier stage play John, Paul, George, Ringo … and Bert, Harrison would refuse permission for any of his songs to appear) and Steve Harley & Cockney Rebel hitting the UK top ten with their cover of "Here Comes the Sun" were all examples of this heightened interest. Capitol therefore chose to combine the idea of a Harrison greatest-hits compilation with an experiment whereby Beatles tracks were mixed with solo hits on the one album. Harrison immediately disavowed the venture, he being the least attached to the band's legacy of all the former Beatles.
To fill one side of the LP, Capitol selected Harrison-penned songs that had been released by the Beatles between 1965 and 1970. A risk-free approach prevailed, commentators have noted, both with the unimaginative album title and with the "predictable" selection of songs. Nowhere was Indian music represented, for instance, a musical genre with which Harrison was synonymous via his long association with Ravi Shankar, and which various authors, and Shankar himself, credit Harrison with introducing to Western popular music. In this way, Harrison's "landmark" Indian compositions "Within You, Without You" and "The Inner Light" were overlooked while "Taxman" received its second album release in six months (having been issued on Rock 'n' Roll Music). "While My Guitar Gently Weeps", "Here Comes the Sun" and "Something" were also among the tracks selected, even though they had all appeared on the 1973 Beatles compilation 1967–1970.
Side two was made up of Harrison's biggest solo hits: "My Sweet Lord" and "What Is Life" from All Things Must Pass (1970), "Give Me Love (Give Me Peace on Earth)" from Living in the Material World (1973), the title track from Dark Horse (1974), and "You" from Extra Texture (1975). The sixth solo song was the non-album single "Bangla Desh", released in 1971.
Aside from the financial benefits of repackaging Beatles-era songs, part of the reason for Capitol reducing Harrison's mostly successful solo years thus far to six album tracks was due to the "lackluster" commercial fate of the Lennon and Starr compilations. Another factor was Harrison's tendency to limit his single releases to a minimum: he had been reluctant to issue any single from All Things Must Pass originally, and the scheduled second single from Material World, "Don't Let Me Wait Too Long" − a "certain #1", author Simon Leng has suggested − was cancelled altogether. Yet the big-hits requirement was not applied to the Beatles selections, only one of which, "Something", had even been issued as the A-side of a single.
In November 1976, while promoting his new album, Thirty Three & 1/3, Harrison reported that Capitol had ignored his suggested track list and alternative title for the collection. "[There] was really a lot of good songs they could have used of me separately. Solo songs," he complained. "They did that with Ringo's Blast From Your Past and John's Shaved Fish. It was just John's. It wasn't digging into Beatles records." Notable omissions from The Best of George Harrison were "Isn't It a Pity" − one half of the double A-side single with "My Sweet Lord", and a number 1 hit in Canada in its own right − and "Ding Dong, Ding Dong", which charted relatively low in the top 40 in the main markets of America and Britain but was a top ten hit in Europe. In comparison, Shaved Fish had contained "Happy Xmas (War Is Over)", "Mother" and "Woman Is the Nigger of the World", singles which, on the US Billboard Hot 100, respectively: did not chart at all; peaked at number 43; and reached number 57. On Blast from Your Past, the non-album B-side "Early 1970" was included, as were "I'm the Greatest" (an album track never released as a single) and "Beaucoups of Blues", which peaked at number 87 in the United States. On those terms, Harrison had "Deep Blue", a much-admired 1971 B-side; "Ding Dong", which climbed to number 36 on Billboard; and acclaimed album tracks in "All Things Must Pass", "Awaiting on You All" and "Beware of Darkness". Music writers have remarked also on the "short weight" nature of Starr's album, at just 30 minutes in length, whereas Capitol felt the need to pad out the Harrison compilation to achieve a running time of 45 minutes.
Release and reception
The Best of George Harrison was released in November 1976 on EMI's Parlophone label in Britain (catalogue number PAS 10011) and as Capitol DT 11578 in America. Some sources give the UK date as 14 January 1977, however, implying that the Harrison compilation was delayed there to allow for the release of the Beatles' 1967 Capitol album Magical Mystery Tour.
In the US, with Harrison actively promoting the concurrent Thirty Three & 1/3, and enjoying some of his best reviews in years, the compilation reached number 31 on the Billboard 200. By 15 February 1977, it was certified gold in America for sales of over 500,000 units. Like Starr's 1975 compilation, The Best of George Harrison failed to place on the UK's Top 60 Albums Chart. EMI, in an attempt to capitalise on recent publicity from the ruling on Bright Tunes' plagiarism suit against Harrison, also reissued "My Sweet Lord" (backed with "What Is Life") as a single on 25 December 1976.
Although the album was generally well received, its content drew criticism from fans, who felt the overall effect diminished the significance of Harrison's solo career. In their book The Beatles: An Illustrated Record, Roy Carr and Tony Tyler summed up the implication: "George's 'Best Of'. Half Beatle, half Harisongs. But will there be a Volume II?" Occasional Village Voice and Rolling Stone contributor Nicholas Schaffner observed a couple of minor positives on this "half-baked" collection: "The Best of George Harrison does confirm that George's big production numbers from All Things Must Pass more than hold their own alongside the seven featured Beatles tunes ... And the album is undeniably better looking than Rock 'n' Roll Music." In Melody Maker, on the same page as his mixed review of the "exhausting" Wings over America (which featured live versions of a number of McCartney's Beatles-era songs), Ray Coleman provided a favourable assessment: "[Harrison is] a highly individual artist who always keeps creative musical company; it's a good album, essential for Harrison students who may not have all the records ..." Writing in Swank magazine, Michael Gross recognised Capitol Records' "slick marketing ploy" but admired the music, the "final treat" being the availability of "Bangla Desh" for the first time on an album.
Commenting on the controversial choice of tracks, but without regard for the compromises permitted on the Lennon and Starr albums, Allmusic's Stephen Thomas Erlewine writes: "But all this is down to a matter of timing and circumstance: Harrison needed to have a hits collection out in 1976, he didn't have enough big hits to fill out 13 tracks (even if he certainly had enough great album tracks to do so), and so the Fabs were brought in to fill in the cracks. The result might be a little underwhelming in retrospect, but it's undeniably entertaining."
Harrison biographer Elliot Huntley is scathing in his opinion of the album's content, writing: "Had EMI [and Capitol] forgotten the great songs on All Things Must Pass?" The inclusion of Beatles material was a "completely unnecessary public humiliation" for Harrison, Huntley continues, giving the impression that Starr and Lennon's solo careers up to the end of 1975 had been more successful than his – "when, in reality, the opposite was the case". In Huntley's view, the record companies should have "gone the whole hog" and released a compilation dedicated to Harrison's Beatle songs, a collection that would have "certified how underrated Harrison's talent had been" within his former band. In his book Fab Four FAQ 2.0, Robert Rodriguez likewise bemoans EMI/Capitol's attempt to humiliate Harrison with a compilation that failed to reflect his standing as the most accomplished ex-Beatle during 1970–73. Rodriguez describes the company's efforts to "effectively sabotag[e]" Harrison's Thirty Three & 1/3 chart run as "a final touch worthy of Allen Klein".
Despite the 2009 Let It Roll compilation and the 2005 reissue of the Concert for Bangladesh live album, The Best of George Harrison remains the only CD release featuring pop's first-ever charity single, "Bangla Desh". (In July 2011, it was made available as an iTunes-exclusive download as part of The Concert for Bangladesh, however.)
The North American and British versions of the album were released with different covers. In the United States and Canada, the front and back cover had small black-and-white pictures of Harrison against an image of the cosmos; Roy Kohara of Capitol was responsible for art design, as he had been for Extra Texture and the Lennon and Starr compilations, while the illustrations were the work of Michael Bryan. Robert Rodriguez describes this choice of sleeve as "bizarre" and notes the use of an outdated, "rather dour-looking" image of Harrison.
The UK edition contained Bob Cato's colour photo of Harrison sitting in front of an antique car, with art direction for the package being credited to Cream designs. The international CD release of the album uses the latter cover. The inner sleeve of the original LP in Britain contained a picture by Michael Putland, showing Harrison on a wintry beach in Cannes, where he was attending the Midem music-industry trade fair in January 1976.
All songs written by George Harrison.
- "Something" – 3:01
- "If I Needed Someone" – 2:22
- "Here Comes the Sun" – 3:05
- "Taxman" – 2:37
- "Think for Yourself" – 2:18
- "For You Blue" – 2:31
- "While My Guitar Gently Weeps" – 4:45
All tracks performed by George Harrison and produced either by himself or with Phil Spector.
- "My Sweet Lord" – 4:38
- "Give Me Love (Give Me Peace on Earth)" – 3:35
- "You" – 3:41
- "Bangla Desh" – 3:57
- "Dark Horse" – 3:53
- "What Is Life" – 4:17
- Ray Coleman, "George's Best", Melody Maker, 18 December 1976, p. 16.
- The Editors of Rolling Stone, p. 44.
- Clayson, George Harrison, p. 345.
- Badman, p. 58.
- Leng, p. 121.
- Richard Williams, "The Concert for Bangla Desh (album review)", Melody Maker, 1 January 1972; available at Rock's Back Pages (subscription required; retrieved 10 August 2012).
- Madinger & Easter, p. 436.
- Schaffner, pp 186, 188.
- Spizer, p. 194.
- Rodriguez, pp 124, 126.
- Rodriguez, p. 126.
- Woffinden, p. 94.
- Badman, p. 186.
- Woffinden, pp 94–95.
- Badman, p. 195.
- Clayson, Ringo Starr, p. 262.
- Schaffner, pp 186–87.
- Schaffner, p. 182.
- Rodriguez, pp 122–23.
- Schaffner, pp 182, 188.
- Spizer, pp 109, 335.
- Woffinden, pp 72, 83.
- Clayson, George Harrison, pp 315–16.
- Rodriguez, p. 51.
- Anne Moore, "George Harrison on Tour – Press Conference Q&A", Valley Advocate, 13 November 1974; available at Rock's Back Pages (subscription required; retrieved 28 November 2012).
- Madinger & Easter, p. 442.
- Leng, p. 178.
- Spizer, p. 275.
- Rip Rense, "The Rip Post Interview with Simon Leng", The Rip Post, 2006 (retrieved 29 November 2012).
- Schaffner, p. 188.
- Badman, pp 190–91.
- Carr & Tyler, pp 118, 122.
- Badman, p. 191.
- Huntley, pp 140–41.
- Badman, p. 196.
- Woffinden, p. 102.
- Clayson, George Harrison, pp 285, 362.
- Schaffner, pp 171–72, 190.
- Inglis, p. 65.
- Woffinden, pp 83–84.
- The Editors of Rolling Stone, p. 40.
- Rodriguez, p. 127.
- Philip Glass, foreword, booklet accompanying Ravi Shankar−George Harrison Collaborations box set (Dark Horse Records, 2010; produced by Olivia Harrison), p. 1.
- Shankar, pp 101, 102.
- Booklet accompanying Ravi Shankar−George Harrison Collaborations box set, p. 11.
- The Editors of Rolling Stone, pp 34, 36.
- George Harrison biography, Rolling Stone online (retrieved 24 May 2012).
- Lavezzoli, pp 172–73.
- Paul Theroux's introduction, in Olivia Harrison, p. 12.
- Michael Simmons, "Paul McCartney on George Harrison: Part 2", Mojo, September 2011 (retrieved 18 April 2012).
- Schaffner, pp 207, 209.
- Rodriguez, p. 125.
- Castleman & Podrazik, p. 124.
- Rodriguez, pp 121, 127.
- Rodriguez, p. 128.
- Huntley, p. 140.
- Badman, p. 15.
- Leng, p. 128.
- Madinger & Easter, pp 440–41, 456.
- Michael Gross, "George Harrison: The Zoned-Out Beatle Turns 33 1/3", Swank, January 1977; available at Rock's Back Pages (subscription required; retrieved 10 August 2012).
- Clayson, George Harrison, p. 360.
- Badman, p. 197.
- Riley, pp 348–49.
- Jillian Mapes, "George Harrison's 10 Biggest Billboard Hits", billboard.com, 29 November 2011 (retrieved 29 November 2012).
- RPM 100 Singles, 26 December 1970, Library and Archives Canada (retrieved 4 August 2012).
- Badman, pp 144, 151.
- GfK Dutch Charts, George Harrison: Ding Dong, Ding Dong (retrieved 17 April 2012).
- Schaffner, pp 146, 149, 167.
- Castleman & Podrazik, pp 352, 372.
- Rodriguez, p. 123.
- Clayson, George Harrison, p. 319.
- "George Harrison: Awards", Allmusic (retrieved 23 November 2012).
- Leng, pp 153–54.
- Huntley, p. 151.
- Carr & Tyler, p. 118.
- Stephen Thomas Erlewine, "George Harrison The Best of George Harrison", Allmusic (retrieved 17 April 2012).
- Robert Christgau, "George Harrison > Consumer Guide Reviews". Robert Christgau (retrieved 16 April 2012).
- Graff & Durcholz, p. 529.
- Schaffner, pp 209, 212.
- Carr & Tyler, pp 121, 122.
- Schaffner, p. 192.
- Rodriguez, p. 296.
- RIAA − Recording Industry Association of America, "RIAA's Gold & Platinum Program" (retrieved 18 April 2012); search by album title.
- Schaffner, p. 195.
- Carr & Tyler, p. 122.
- Mike DeGagne, "Ringo Starr Blast from Your Past", Allmusic (retrieved 10 August 2012).
- Rodriguez, pp 122–23, 126.
- Rodriguez, pp 126, 159, 263.
- Leng, p. 112.
- Lindsay Planer, "George Harrison 'Bangla Desh'", Allmusic (retrieved 10 August 2012).
- Graeme Thomson, "The Concert for Bangladesh and its charity pop legacy", Guardian.co.uk, 28 July 2011 (retrieved 15 October 2012).
- "Concert For Bangladesh on iTunes", concertforbangladesh.com, 26 July 2011 (retrieved 13 January 2013).
- Graham Calkin's Beatles Pages, "The Best of George Harrison", 2002 (retrieved 17 April 2012).
- Badman, pp 175–76.
- Leng, pic. sect. p. 10.
- Clayson, George Harrison, p. 385.
- George Harrison – The Best Of George Harrison (Vinyl, LP), Discogs.com (retrieved 18 April 2012).
- George Harrison – The Best Of, austriancharts.at (retrieved 31 January 2013).
- "George Harrison: Chart Action (Japan)", homepage1.nifty.com, October 2006 (retrieved 3 January 2012).
- Kent, p. 167.
- "American album certifications – George Harrison – The Best of George Harrison". Recording Industry Association of America. If necessary, click Advanced, then click Format, then select Album, then click SEARCH
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- Harry Castleman & Walter J. Podrazik, All Together Now: The First Complete Beatles Discography 1961–1975, Ballantine Books (New York, NY, 1976; ISBN 0-345-25680-8).
- Alan Clayson, George Harrison, Sanctuary (London, 2003; ISBN 1-86074-489-3).
- Alan Clayson, Ringo Starr, Sanctuary (London, 2003; ISBN 1-86074-488-5).
- The Editors of Rolling Stone, Harrison, Rolling Stone Press/Simon & Schuster (New York, NY, 2002; ISBN 0-7432-3581-9).
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- 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).
- Ian Inglis, The Words and Music of George Harrison, Praeger (Santa Barbara, CA, 2010; ISBN 978-0-313-37532-3).
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- Peter Lavezzoli, The Dawn of Indian Music in the West, Continuum (New York, NY, 2006; ISBN 0-8264-2819-3).
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- Nicholas Schaffner, The Beatles Forever, McGraw-Hill (New York, NY, 1978; ISBN 0-07-055087-5).
- Ravi Shankar, My Music, My Life, Mandala Publishing (San Rafael, CA, 2007; ISBN 978-1-60109-005-8).
- Bruce Spizer, The Beatles Solo on Apple Records, 498 Productions (New Orleans, LA, 2005; ISBN 0-9662649-5-9).
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