Beware of Darkness (song)
|"Beware of Darkness"|
|Song by George Harrison|
|from the album All Things Must Pass|
|Released||27 November 1970|
|Producer(s)||George Harrison, Phil Spector|
|All Things Must Pass track listing|
"Beware of Darkness" is a song written by English musician George Harrison and originally released on his 1970 solo album All Things Must Pass. It has also been covered by artists such as Leon Russell, Marianne Faithfull, Spock's Beard, Concrete Blonde, and the duo of Matthew Sweet and Susanna Hoffs. Harrison and Russell performed the song at the Concert for Bangladesh in 1971, and Eric Clapton performed it at the Concert for George in 2002. The song warns against permitting illusion from getting in the way of one's true purpose, an admonition that, like the content of "My Sweet Lord", reflects the influence of the Radha Krishna Temple.
Lyrics and music
"Beware of Darkness" is a ballad containing dense imagery. The song marks a return to the spiritual concerns of Harrison's songs with the Beatles such as "Within You Without You". The lyrics of "Beware of Darkness" reflect the philosophy of the Radha Krishna Temple, with which Harrison was involved, in which spiritual concerns must always override material things. In the verses, the listener is warned against various influences that may corrupt them. Among the potential corrupting influences are con men ("soft shoe shufflers"), politicians ("greedy leaders") and pop idols of little substance ("falling swingers"). In addition, the lyrics warn against negative thoughts ("thoughts that linger"), since these corrupting influences and negative thoughts can lead to maya, or illusion, which distracts people from the true purpose of life. The middle eight delivers the message that this "can hurt you", and that "that is not what you are here for."
Author Simon Leng describes the melody of "Beware of Darkness" as "complex and highly original". The melody of the verses incorporates a pedal point on the key of G major and moves to G sharp minor, a progression Leng claims "should not work in harmonic terms", using as an analogy a count of "one, two, six", but notes that somehow the melody manages to work. Music professor Wilfrid Mellers explains the effectiveness of this key shift as dramatising the "beware" in the lyrics. Similarly, Mellers claims that harmonic movement from the key of C sharp minor to D major to C major "creates the 'aimless' wandering of 'each unconscious sufferer'" described in the lyrics. The nearly chromatic melody of the verses contrasts with a more standard rock melody in the middle eight. The musicians on the recording include Harrison, Eric Clapton and Dave Mason on guitar, Carl Radle on bass guitar, Bobby Whitlock on piano, Gary Wright on organ and Ringo Starr on drums.
In his contemporary review of All Things Must Pass, Ben Gerson of Rolling Stone wrote that "Beware of Darkness" was possibly the album's best song, commenting on its "enigmatic" music and the combination of "warning" and "affirmation" in its lyrics. AllMusic critic Richie Unterberger similarly views "Beware of Darkness" as one of the highlights of All Things Must Pass. In his feature on Harrison's solo career for Goldmine magazine in 2002, Dave Thompson paired it with "Art of Dying" as songs that "rate among the finest compositions of Harrison's entire career". Rolling Stone's Anthony DeCurtis terms it "haunting" and comments that the lyrics reflect fears that Harrison hoped to calm with his religious beliefs.
Chip Madinger and Mark Easter call the song "a stunning composition", reflecting the considerable growth in Harrison's songwriting abilities since his early Beatle days. Writing for the music website Something Else!, Nick DeRiso includes "Beware of Darkness" among the highlights of Harrison's solo career on Apple Records; DeRiso describes it as Harrison's "best album's very best song – one where he perfectly matches a lyrical meditation on overcoming life's harder moments … with the sound, mysticism and fury of one of the early 1970s' greatest amalgamations of sidemen". Writing for Mojo magazine in 2011, John Harris described the track as "simply jaw-dropping".
The following musicians are believed to have played on Harrison's original version of "Beware of Darkness":
- George Harrison – vocals, electric guitar, slide guitars
- Eric Clapton – lead guitar
- Dave Mason – acoustic guitar
- Bobby Whitlock – piano
- Gary Wright – organ
- Carl Radle – bass guitar
- Ringo Starr – drums
- John Barham – string arrangement
- uncredited – vibraphone
"Beware of Darkness" was one of the songs Harrison played at the Concert for Bangladesh at Madison Square Garden on 1 August 1971. Harrison sang the lead vocals for the first two verses, and then Leon Russell took over the lead for the third verse. It was played at both the afternoon and evening performances. The evening performance of the song was included on the album Concert for Bangladesh as well as the film of the concert.
An acoustic version of "Beware of Darkness", which was recorded on 27 May 1970, was included on the Harrison bootleg album Beware of ABKCO! This version was later released on the 2001 remaster of All Things Must Pass.
Russell recorded his version of "Beware of Darkness" on his 1971 album Leon Russell and the Shelter People. Australian critic Toby Creswell considered "Beware of Darkness" the highlight of the album, regarding this as the "definitive" version of the song, noting that Russell "brings chiaroscuro to this song about Eastern mysticism". The song was also included on several of Russell's compilation albums, including Gimme Shelter!: The Best of Leon Russell and The Best of Leon Russell.
Eric Clapton performed "Beware of Darkness" at the George Harrison tribute concert Concert for George in 2002. Author Ian Inglis stated that Clapton's performance "captures the thoughtful intent of the original".
Joe Cocker covered "Beware of Darkness" for his 2007 album Hymn for My Soul. In 2010 American singer Laura Martin recorded a version on her album Songs for the Fall. The Hardin Burns, an American duo consisting of guitarist Andrew Hardin and ex-Burns Sister Jeannie Burns, released a rendition of "Beware of Darkness" on their 2012 album Lounge.
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