Dark Horse (George Harrison album)
|Studio album by|
|Released||9 December 1974|
|Recorded||November 1973, April 1974, August–October 1974|
|Studio||FPSHOT, Oxfordshire; A&M, Los Angeles|
|George Harrison chronology|
|Singles from Dark Horse|
Dark Horse is the fifth studio album by English rock musician George Harrison, released on Apple Records in December 1974 as the follow-up to Living in the Material World. Although keenly anticipated on release, Dark Horse is associated with the controversial North American tour that Harrison staged with Indian classical musician Ravi Shankar in November and December that year. This was the first US tour by a member of the Beatles since 1966, and the public's nostalgia for the band, together with Harrison contracting laryngitis during rehearsals and choosing to feature Shankar so heavily in the program, resulted in scathing concert reviews from some influential music critics.
The Dark Horse album was written and recorded during an extended period of upheaval in Harrison's personal life, when he dedicated much of his energies to business issues such as setting up Dark Horse Records. Author Simon Leng refers to the album as "a musical soap opera, cataloguing rock-life antics, marital strife, lost friendships, and self-doubt", due to its focus on Harrison's split with first wife Pattie Boyd and his temporary withdrawal from the spiritual certainties of his previous work.
The album features an array of guest musicians – including Tom Scott, Billy Preston, Willie Weeks, Andy Newmark, Jim Keltner, Ringo Starr, Gary Wright and Ron Wood – and produced two hit singles, "Dark Horse" and "Ding Dong, Ding Dong". It showed Harrison moving towards the funk and soul musical genres. The album was not well received by the majority of critics at the time. Dark Horse was certified gold by the Recording Industry Association of America within days of release, but it became Harrison's first solo album not to chart in Britain. The cover was designed by Tom Wilkes and consists of a school photograph from Harrison's time at the Liverpool Institute superimposed onto a Himalayan landscape. The album was reissued in remastered form on 22 September 2014, as part of the Apple Years 1968–75 Harrison box set.
Background and content
– George Harrison, October 1974
George Harrison's third studio album since the Beatles' break-up came at the end of "a bad domestic year", as he describes it in his 1980 autobiography. From the middle of 1973, with his marriage to Pattie Boyd all but over, Harrison had immersed himself in his work, particularly on developing the acts he would eventually sign to his new record label, Dark Horse Records − Ravi Shankar and a hitherto unknown group called Splinter. Business issues related to the Beatles' company Apple Corps were also coming to a head during 1973–74, as Harrison, John Lennon and Ringo Starr launched legal proceedings against Allen Klein, their former manager and ally against Paul McCartney (who had served the original lawsuit in December 1970 seeking to dissolve the band's partnership). The simultaneous winding down of Apple Corps' subsidiaries left a number of music and film projects in jeopardy, which resulted in Harrison having to make regular trips to Los Angeles in order to find a distributor for the Shankar Family & Friends album, most of which was recorded in California in April 1973, and Splinter's debut, The Place I Love. Another venture that was affected was the movie Little Malcolm, an Apple Films project for which Harrison was executive producer and working to seal a distribution deal in Europe.
Compounding the pressure during what Harrison himself would refer to as "the naughty period, 1973–74", he was drinking heavily and had returned to his drug-taking ways of the 1960s. Some of Harrison's biographers suggest that this abandoning of the "semi-ascetic" path espoused on his 1973 album Living in the Material World was Harrison's reaction to the media's sniping, particularly in Britain, at the pious content of that album, as well as a reflection of Harrison's despondency over the failure of his first marriage. These two issues informed the lyrics to a new Harrison song, "Dark Horse". Friend and confidant Klaus Voormann has described this time as an obvious "step back" on Harrison's spiritual journey, Harrison addressed this behaviour in "Simply Shady" and laid out his feelings on the couple's inevitable split in "So Sad".
Wounded by Harrison's frequent infidelities, Boyd left him for Eric Clapton in July 1974, having previously had an affair with another of her husband's guitar-playing friends, Ron Wood of the Faces. Both of these dalliances would also receive attention on the Dark Horse album, which Harrison's musical biographer, Simon Leng, has described as "a musical soap opera, cataloguing rock-life antics, marital strife, lost friendships, and self-doubt". In his rewrite of the Everly Brothers' "Bye Bye, Love", Harrison declared: "There goes our lady, with a-you-know-who / I hope she's happy, old Clapper too"; while his handwritten liner notes listed one of the guest musicians on "Ding Dong, Ding Dong" as "Ron Would If You Let Him". For his part, Harrison had taken up with Starr's wife, Maureen Starkey, and the UK tabloids soon reported him as being romantically involved with model Kathy Simmons (ex-girlfriend of Rod Stewart) as well as Krissy Wood (wife of the Faces guitar player). Shortly before Dark Horse's release, Harrison would dodge reporters' questions regarding his private life with a suggestion that people wait for the new album, saying, "It's like Peyton Place."
Adultery was the subject matter of Harrison's non-album B-side from this period, "I Don't Care Anymore", and his musical association with Ron Wood led to the song "Far East Man". This co-composition was first recorded for Wood's debut solo album, I've Got My Own Album to Do, and when released on Dark Horse, it marked the first foray into soul music within Harrison's solo work.
Of more profound consequence, and the inspiration behind the Hindu bhajan "It Is 'He' (Jai Sri Krishna)", was his trip to India, in January and February 1974. In Benares, Harrison forged a plan with longtime mentor Shankar to sponsor an Indian classical-music concert tour later in the year, featuring as many as eighteen musicians and an unprecedented (in the West) range of traditional Indian instruments. An album would be recorded just beforehand, at Harrison's home studio at Friar Park, in Oxfordshire. Ravi Shankar's Music Festival from India was the realisation of a long-held dream for the ex-Beatle, but, as with his dedication to Splinter's The Place I Love, the project would impact on the quality of his own album.
By May, Harrison had agreed to distribution terms with A&M Records and was therefore able to formally launch Dark Horse Records, although he would remain contracted to Apple as a solo artist, like the other Beatles, until January 1976. After announcing the staging of the Music Festival from India in September 1974, Harrison also confirmed that he planned to tour North America, together with Ravi Shankar's ensemble, during November and December. Despite his stated aversion to performing live, Harrison would be the first of his former bandmates to undertake a tour of Beatle-hungry America; the expectations that this created, together with his role as a hands-on record company boss, meant that the pressure on Harrison was immense.
November 1973 backing tracks
Recording for Dark Horse began in November 1973, midway through the extended sessions for The Place I Love, at Harrison's 16-track home studio, FPSHOT (short for Friar Park Studios, Henley-on-Thames). As on Living in the Material World, Harrison produced the sessions himself and Phil McDonald again served as recording engineer. Using the same line-up of musicians as on Material World – Ringo Starr, Jim Keltner, Klaus Voormann, and Gary Wright and Nicky Hopkins alternating on keyboards – Harrison taped basic tracks for his hoped-for Christmas/New Year "classic", "Ding Dong, Ding Dong", an early version of "Dark Horse", and "So Sad". Harrison had originally given the latter song to near-neighbour Alvin Lee to record, in August, and had guested on the session along with Ron Wood. Harrison, Lee and Wood all subsequently added lead-guitar parts to "Ding Dong", in the first of Harrison's attempts to build up the song's layers of instrumentation, and so re-create his former collaborator Phil Spector's celebrated Wall of Sound. This overdubbing session took place sometime after Harrison's return from India in early March 1974, judging by the pre-overdubbed version of "Ding Dong" that Harrison included on a tape for David Geffen shortly before leaving. "So Sad" would similarly receive a significant amount of overdubbing, creating a "harrowing encounter", as Harrison stated his "great despair" at the end of his relationship with Boyd.
April 1974 with the L.A. Express
Simon Leng observes an uncharacteristic spontaneity in Harrison's work ethic on Dark Horse, now that his home and recording base were one and the same. The discipline of working to a schedule "flew out the ornate windows", Leng writes, along with his usual painstaking approach to recording. After catching Joni Mitchell's concert at the New Victoria Theatre in London, in April 1974, Harrison was much impressed with her jazz-rock backing band, the L.A. Express, led by saxophonist and flautist Tom Scott, and invited them to Friar Park the following day. The ensemble – Harrison, Scott, Robben Ford (guitar), Roger Kellaway (keyboards), Max Bennett (bass) and John Guerin (drums) – recorded an instrumental track that later became the opening number on the Harrison–Shankar tour, "Hari's on Tour (Express)". "Simply Shady", which Harrison had written while in Bombay, was taped later the same day. Having formed a rapport with Harrison after they had worked together on Shankar Family & Friends the year before, Scott stayed on at Friar Park and overdubbed various horn parts onto "Ding Dong" and the two new tracks. Scott later told journalist Michael Gross that he was the first Western musician that Harrison approached to join him on the upcoming tour.
Harrison dedicated the next few months to matters relating to Dark Horse Records, his former band's business affairs, and Little Malcolm. Although the film was tied up in the Beatles' "divorce", as director Stuart Cooper later said of Little Malcolm, it was entered at the Berlin Film Festival in June and won the Silver Bear award. In August, Harrison holidayed in Spain with Kathy Simmons before returning to England at the end of the month for publicity work with Splinter.
August–September 1974 at Friar Park
Harrison resumed recording for his album in late August, working through to early September with four musicians who had signed on for the upcoming tour: old friend Billy Preston on keyboards; Scott, who would serve as band leader on the tour; and the rhythm section of Andy Newmark and Willie Weeks, both of whom Harrison had met while working on Ron Wood's album in July. Harrison taped "Māya Love", "Far East Man" and "It Is 'He' (Jai Sri Krishna)" with this all-American group of musicians. They also recorded a song called "His Name Is Legs", which Harrison decided to hold back until 1975's Extra Texture album. Around this time, Shankar arrived in London with his handpicked orchestra of Indian classical musicians – an "outstanding" group, writes author Peter Lavezzoli, that included Hariprasad Chaurasia, Shivkumar Sharma, Alla Rakha, T.V. Gopalkrishnan, L. Subramaniam, Sultan Khan and Lakshmi Shankar. According to Shankar's later recollection, rehearsals for the Music Festival from India concerts and the recording of their eponymous studio album took place simultaneously at Friar Park, over a period of three weeks, with Harrison as producer.
On 23 September, Harrison introduced Shankar on stage at London's Royal Albert Hall for the Indian orchestra's debut performance, before accompanying them on a short tour of Europe. At this point, Harrison still had the bulk of his album to complete, and rehearsals for his tour were due to begin in Los Angeles in early October. When Harrison arrived in LA, he was apparently already hoarse, but since it would have been "music business heresy" to tour without a new album to promote, he was obligated to complete the recording during rehearsals.
October 1974 in Los Angeles
Using A&M Studios in Hollywood as his base for the next three weeks, Harrison rehearsed on a sound stage with his tour band, which, along with Scott, Preston, Weeks and Newmark, included L.A. Express guitarist Robben Ford, Harrison's Concert for Bangladesh horn players Jim Horn and Chuck Findley, and jazz percussionist Emil Richards. Harrison's drummer of choice, Jim Keltner, also participated, but he would not join the tour until late in November. Aside from the Harrison material, selections by Preston and Scott were also rehearsed for their spots in the show, since, as at the Bangladesh benefits in 1971, Harrison was keen for other artists to have their moment centre-stage. In a fusion of musical cultures, Harrison, Scott and Richards rehearsed with Shankar's orchestra for some of the Indian-music pieces, and all the musicians, Western and Indian, came together for the Shankar Family & Friends tracks "I Am Missing You" and "Dispute & Violence".
Outside of the daytime rehearsals, Harrison finished off the songs hastily recorded in England, and mixed the album. Horn and Findley overdubbed flutes, and Richards wobble board onto "It Is 'He'". Eight Arms to Hold You authors Chip Madinger and Mark Easter suggest that much of the vocals on Dark Horse were taped at this point – a situation that resulted in Harrison overworking and then blowing his voice in the middle of the tour rehearsals. He was diagnosed with laryngitis. According to Scott, Harrison recorded "Bye Bye, Love" alone one night at A&M, adding a variety of instruments to his acoustic guitar track, including Moog synthesizer, drums, electric pianos and various electric-guitar parts. "I Don't Care Anymore" is another solo track that was most likely recorded in Los Angeles.
Although he had intended to finish the version of "Dark Horse" taped at Friar Park with Voormann and Starr, Harrison decided to re-record the song with the tour band, live, on the sound stage at A&M Studios. The session took place on either 30 or 31 October, with Norm Kinney as engineer. Leng writes of this performance of "Dark Horse": "Anyone wondering what Harrison's voice sounded like on the Dark Horse Tour need look no further: this track was cut only days before the first date in Vancouver. Although the band sounded good, his voice was in shreds ..." Later, Harrison would admit he was "knackered" by the time he arrived in Los Angeles, having simply taken on too much over the previous year. He also claimed that his business manager, Denis O'Brien, had to force him out of the studio, to ensure he caught the plane for the opening show of the tour, on 2 November.
The Tom Wilkes-designed front cover of Dark Horse features a 1956 Liverpool Institute high-school photograph presented inside a lotus flower, behind which a dream-like Himalayan landscape extends to the horizon, where the "deathless Yogi of the Ancient of Days", Mahavatar Babaji, sits. While some observers have seen pointed similarities with the Beatles' iconic Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band cover image, Harrison's choice of artwork reflected his enduring admiration for Terry Gilliam's animation on Monty Python's Flying Circus. In the photo, a thirteen-year-old Harrison is pictured in the centre of the top row, his face tinted blue; school teachers appear dressed in long-sleeve tops bearing a superimposed record-company logo or Om symbol. Wilkes and Harrison disagreed over the size of the Babaji image, which the designer apparently disliked and wanted to reduce in size.
Inside the gatefold cover, around the edges of a tinted photo of Harrison and comedian Peter Sellers walking beside a Friar Park lake, text asks the "Wanderer through this Garden's ways" to "Be kindly" and refrain from casting "Revengeful stones" if "perchance an Imperfection thou hast found", the reason being: "The Gardener toiled to make his Garden fair, Most for thy Pleasure." A speech balloon over the photograph contains the words "Well, Leo! What say we promenade through the park?" This line was taken from the Mel Brooks movie The Producers, a favourite of Sellers and Harrison.
On the back cover, Harrison is pictured sitting on a garden bench, the back timbers of which are apparently carved with his name and that of the album. Similar to Harrison's attire in the outdoor scenes of the "Ding Dong, Ding Dong" video clip, Leng refers to his appearance here as resembling the Jethro Tull character "Aqualung". Terry Doran's photo, given the same orange hue as the one inside the gatefold, was also used on some European picture sleeves for the "Ding Dong" and "Dark Horse" singles around this time.
Dark Horse's inner sleeve notes were all the work of Harrison himself, written on a plane at the start of the tour. Along with the first Harrison-album credit for FPSHOT, and the now-familiar "All glories to Sri Krsna" dedication, his purple pen records various in-jokes while listing the many contributing musicians. As well as the confusing inclusion of Boyd and Clapton's names (leading to the assumption that they had actually contributed to the track), the song title "Bye Bye, Love" is juxtaposed with the words "Hello Los Angeles", while "OHLIVERE" would appear to be a reference to Harrison's new lover and future wife, Dark Horse Records secretary Olivia Arias. The latter is also included among the title track's musician credits – her contribution being "Trinidad Blissed Out". Under "Ding Dong", aside from the appearance of "Ron Would If You Let Him" on guitar, Friar Park's original owner, Sir Frank Crisp, is credited for providing "Spirit". Arias's face, in a photo taken by tour photographer Henry Grossman, appeared on the record's side-two face label, while a corresponding picture of Harrison appeared on side one.
– Ravi Shankar, 1974
Rather than introducing Harrison's audience to his new, jazz-funk sound, Dark Horse was released two-thirds of the way through a tour that had alienated some of rock music's most influential critics, notably Ben Fong-Torres of Rolling Stone magazine. Fong-Torres' radio piece for the Rolling Stone News Service was broadcast across America early in the tour and cemented what has become the "given" view, according to Leng, that the Harrison–Shankar tour was a failure. The majority of critics – or those "without axes to grind", author Robert Rodriguez writes – reviewed the concerts favourably. Band members Scott, Keltner, Weeks, Horn, Newmark and Richards have each identified "the Dark Horse Tour" as a career highpoint, while some commentators note the groundbreaking nature of the music as a precursor to the world music genre. The negative press Harrison received stemmed from his decision to feature Indian music so heavily in the concert program, and the fact that he was forced to sing with a voice "reduced to a raspy croak", but most crucially, from his refusal to pander to the Beatles legacy. The 1960s classics "While My Guitar Gently Weeps", "Something" and "In My Life" were all performed throughout the tour, but with lyrics altered to fit Harrison's personal spiritual transformation – or his failed marriage in the case of the guitarist's most famous Beatles-era tune, "Something".
Following the release of "Dark Horse" as a lead single, in mid November, the album was issued on 9 December 1974 in the United States (as Apple SMAS 3418). In Britain, the single was "Ding Dong", and Dark Horse was delayed until 20 December (with Apple catalogue number PAS 10008). The UK release coincided with the final show of the tour, at Madison Square Garden in New York, and came the day after Harrison and Paul McCartney had signed legal papers dissolving the Beatles partnership, at the Plaza Hotel. Dark Horse sold well in America initially, earning a gold disc for advance orders and climbing to number 4 on the Billboard 200, but its chart stay was a relatively brief seventeen weeks. In Canada, it peaked at number 42 at the start of February 1975 before quickly falling out of the RPM Top 100.
Dark Horse failed to place on the UK's Top 50 Albums Chart.[nb 1] This was not only a poor result for a former Beatle – although Starr's Beaucoups of Blues had similarly not charted in 1970 – but a dramatic turnaround in Harrison's commercial fortunes, after his three previous solo releases (including The Concert for Bangladesh live album) had all made number 1 or 2 in Britain.
Dark Horse was released on CD in January 1992. The album was remastered again and reissued in September 2014, as part of the Harrison box set The Apple Years 1968–75. As bonus tracks, the reissue includes a previously unreleased demo of "Dark Horse" and the long-unavailable "I Don't Care Anymore". Author Kevin Howlett supplied a liner note essay in the CD booklet, while the DVD exclusive to the box set contains Harrison's promotional video for "Ding Dong, Ding Dong" and Capitol's 1974 television ad for the album.
Dark Horse received some of the most negative reviews of any release by a Beatle up to that point and the worst of Harrison's career. Released amid the furore surrounding his refusal to play "Beatle George" during a tour that was a "whirlwind of pent-up Beatlemania", in Leng's words, it was as if Harrison had already committed "acts of heresy". Rather than having his new work judged on its own merits, it was "open season" on Harrison; another biographer, Elliot Huntley, has written of the "tsunami of bile" unleashed on the ex-Beatle in late 1974.
Under the heading "Transcendental Mediocrity", Jim Miller of Rolling Stone called Dark Horse a "disastrous album" to match the "disastrous tour", and a "shoddy piece of work". According to Miller, the musicians were "merely competent studio pros" and Harrison's guitar playing was "rudimentary". In contrast with the praise that the same publication had lavished on Harrison for Living in the Material World the year before, Rolling Stone's reviewer described Dark Horse as a "chronicle of a performer out of his element, working to a deadline, enfeebling his overtaxed talents by a rush to deliver new 'LP product'", and stated: "In plain point of fact, George Harrison has never been a great artist ... the question becomes whether he will ever again become a competent entertainer." The NME's Bob Woffinden derided Harrison's songwriting, production and vocals, particularly on two tracks dealing with his troubled personal life, "Simply Shady" and "So Sad". Woffinden concluded: "I find Dark Horse the product of a complete egoist – no one, you see, is in my tree – someone whose universe is confined to himself. And his guru ... I'll repeat that this album is totally colourless. Just stuff and nonsense."
Writing in The Village Voice in January 1975, Robert Christgau bemoaned the album's "transubstantiations" and particularly derided the lyrics to "Māya Love", "in which 'window-pane' becomes 'window brain.' Can this mean that pain (pane, get it?) is the same as brain? For all this hoarse dork knows ..." Mike Jahn also provided a withering assessment in High Fidelity, saying that the US Food and Drug Administration should arrest Harrison "for selling a sleeping pill without a prescription". Jahn added that only "Ding Dong, Ding Dong" registered with him after three listens, but only due to his incredulity at the lyrics.
There were a number of positive reviews for Dark Horse, with Billboard magazine deeming it a "Spotlight" release.[nb 2] The reviewer described the album as "an excellent one" and compared it favourably with Harrison's acclaimed 1970 triple set, All Things Must Pass. Brian Harrigan of Melody Maker credited Harrison with establishing "a new category in music – Country and Eastern" and lauded his "nifty" slide-guitar playing and "tremendous" singing. Although he found some of the tracks overlong, Harrigan declared: "Yep, the Sacred Cowboy has produced a good one." Combined with his feature on the tour in Circus Raves, in which he questioned the accuracy of the negative reports about the Harrison–Shankar concerts, Michael Gross described Dark Horse as matching All Things Must Pass in quality, and "surpassing" it at times, thanks to the new album's "clarity of production and lovely songs". Gross highlighted "So Sad" as a "luxurious track" and described "Ding Dong, Ding Dong", "Dark Horse" and "Far East Man" as "all, simply, good songs". Sue Byrom of Record Mirror said that, apart from "Hari's on Tour", side one of the LP was overly reliant on All Things Must Pass-era musical and lyrical themes, and that the album only "kicks off properly" with "Ding Dong". She added: "If the first side had contained the variety and progression of the second, it would be a great album …"
Taken as a metaphor for the album itself, the plea for tolerance inside the LP sleeve – "Be kindly Wanderer through this Garden's ways …" – was ridiculed at the time by some critics. In the 1978 edition of their book The Beatles: An Illustrated Record, Roy Carr and Tony Tyler termed these lines of verse "a self-pitying slab of sub-Desiderata", while Woffinden described the album cover as "ghastly". Carr and Tyler conceded that the playing on Dark Horse was "impeccable", but opined that Harrison's lyrics were "sanctimonious, repetitive, vituperative and self-satisfied"; as for the album as a whole: "One wishes it had not come from an ex-Beatle."
Writing in his 1977 book The Beatles Forever, Nicholas Schaffner found some justification in reviewers' sniping at the "shoddy performance" and "preachy, humorless message" on Dark Horse. Schaffner singled out "Bye Bye, Love" and "Ding Dong" for derision, but praised the title track and Harrison's guitar work on "Hari's on Tour (Express)" and "So Sad", with the latter making for "delectable listening". Like a number of Beatles authors and biographers, Schaffner found that neither the album nor the tour deserved the level of abuse it received in some sections of the press. "It was George's turn anyway", Schaffner reflected, "to be inflicted with the poison-pen treatment that the critics had earlier accorded Paul and John. Knocking idols off their pedestals makes for excellent copy."
Retrospective reviews and legacy
|Christgau's Record Guide||C–|
|The Rolling Stone Album Guide|||
Having previously championed Harrison's work since 1970, Rolling Stone would not change its unfavourable verdict on Dark Horse over the ensuing decades, and Harrison never completely forgave the magazine for the treatment he received during this period. In 2002, writing in the Rolling Stone Press book Harrison shortly after his death, Greg Kot approved of Dark Horse's "jazzier backdrops" compared with Material World, but opined that Harrison's voice turned much of the album into an "unintentionally comic exercise". In the same publication, Mikal Gilmore identified Dark Horse as "one of Harrison's most fascinating works – a record about change and loss". Alan Clayson similarly writes of the interest factor of "a non-Beatle, as well as an ex-Beatle in uncertain transition", and while classing the album as "an artistic faux pas", describes "It Is 'He' (Jai Sri Krishna)" as "wonderful" and "startling". Richard Ginell of AllMusic highlights "Dark Horse" and the "exquisite" Harrison–Wood composition "Far East Man".
Leng, the first author to write purely on Harrison's career rather than on his standing as a musical celebrity, considers Dark Horse to be a "remarkably revealing album" and writes: "Any voyeur who wanted to know the intimate details of his personal life didn't need to buy National Enquirer, they just needed to hear this disc." While bemoaning the state of Harrison's voice and the "sonic patchwork" nature of the set, Leng notes that both "So Sad" and "Far East Man" were received positively when first released on albums by Alvin Lee & Mylon LeFevre and Ron Wood, respectively. The difference in winter 1974–75, Leng continues, was that, by championing Ravi Shankar's Indian music segments during the tour and neglecting his duties as an ex-Beatle in America, Harrison had "committed the cardinal counterculture sin – he had rejected 'rock 'n' roll'".
Reviewing the 2014 Apple Years reissue, for Uncut magazine, Richard Williams dismisses Dark Horse as an album that "only a devoted Apple scruff could love", while Joe Marchese of The Second Disc describes it as "Harrison's earthiest work to date", containing "many stellar moments". Blogcritics' Chaz Lipp comments on the album's "world-weariness" yet similarly finds "a lot of rewarding listening here", with "Bye Bye, Love", "Far East Man", "It Is 'He'" and "Dark Horse" among the highlights. Scott Elingburg of PopMatters opines: "What makes Dark Horse so unique is that, aside from All Things Must Pass, Dark Horse sounds and feels like Harrison is playing music like he has nothing to lose and all the world to gain."
In his review of the Apple Years box set, for Classic Rock magazine, Paul Trynka writes that "The surprise of this set, though, is the albums whose quietness and introspection were out of tune with the mid-70s. Dark Horse … [is] packed with beautiful, small-scale moments." While identifying "Simply Shady" and the title track among the standouts, Trynka adds: "Only 'Ding Dong, Ding Dong' embarrasses …" AllMusic editor Stephen Thomas Erlewine describes Dark Horse as "a mess but … a fascinating one".
Ultimate Classic Rock ranked Dark Horse 31st (out of 63) in their list of the best Beatles solo albums released up to late 2018. In a similar list, Junkee ranks it at number 5, describing the album as a "big, footstomping masterpiece" that has improved with age and "a work of considerable beauty, held in place by the crushing, excellent titular song".
All songs by George Harrison, except where noted.
- "Hari's on Tour (Express)" – 4:43
- "Simply Shady" – 4:38
- "So Sad" – 5:00
- "Bye Bye, Love" (Felice Bryant, Boudleaux Bryant, Harrison) – 4:08
- "Māya Love" – 4:24
- "Ding Dong, Ding Dong" – 3:40
- "Dark Horse" – 3:54
- "Far East Man" (Harrison, Ron Wood) – 5:52
- "It Is 'He' (Jai Sri Krishna)" – 4:50
2014 reissue bonus tracks
According to 1974 LP credits, via Castleman and Prodrazik's book All Together Now. Track numbers refer to CD and digital versions of the album.
- George Harrison – vocals (2–9), electric and acoustic guitars (1–9), Moog synthesizer (4, 9), clavinet (3, 4, 6), organ (6), bass (4), percussion (4, 5, 6, 9), gubgubbi (9), drums (4), backing vocals (2–6, 8, 9)
- Tom Scott – saxophones (1, 2, 5, 6, 8), flute (7, 9), horn arrangements (1, 2, 5, 6, 8), organ (1)
- Billy Preston – electric piano (5, 7, 8), organ (9), piano (9)
- Willie Weeks – bass (3, 5, 7–9)
- Andy Newmark – drums (5, 7–9), percussion (8)
- Jim Keltner – drums (3, 6, 7)
- Robben Ford – electric guitar (1, 2), acoustic guitar (7)
- Jim Horn – flute (7, 9)
- Chuck Findley – flute (7, 9)
- Emil Richards – percussion (7, 9)
- Ringo Starr – drums (3, 6)
- Klaus Voormann – bass (6)
- Gary Wright – piano (6)
- Nicky Hopkins – piano (3)
- Roger Kellaway – piano (1, 2), organ (2)
- Max Bennett – bass (1, 2)
- John Guerin – drums (1, 2)
- Ronnie Wood – electric guitar (6)
- Alvin Lee – electric guitar (6)
- Mick Jones – acoustic guitar (6)
- Lon & Derrek Van Eaton – backing vocals (7)
|Australian Kent Music Report||47|
|Austrian Albums Chart||10|
|Canadian RPM Top Albums||42|
|Dutch MegaChart Albums||5|
|Japanese Oricon LP Chart||18|
|New Zealand Albums Chart||29|
|Norwegian VG-lista Albums||7|
|US Billboard Top LP's & Tape||4|
|US Cash Box Top 100 Albums||4|
|US Record World Album Chart||4|
|West German Media Control Albums||45|
Shipments and sales
- Leng, p. 159.
- Steven Rosen, "George Harrison", Rock's Backpages, 2008 (subscription required).
- George Harrison, p. 69.
- Leng, p. 148.
- Olivia Harrison, p. 312.
- Rodriguez, p. 60.
- Badman, p. 111.
- Woffinden, p. 75.
- Clayson, pp. 332–33, 335.
- Woffinden, p. 74.
- Badman, pp. 94, 98.
- Lavezzoli, p. 195.
- Clayson, p. 346.
- Badman, p. 150.
- Michael Simmons, "Cry for a Shadow", Mojo, November 2011, p. 85.
- George Harrison, p. 274.
- Rodriguez, p. 58.
- Stephen Holden, "George Harrison Living in the Material World", Rolling Stone, 19 July 1973, p. 54 (retrieved 31 March 2012).
- Clayson, p. 324.
- Inglis, p. 43.
- Tillery, p. 116.
- Allison, p. 139.
- Inglis, pp. 43, 47.
- Klaus Voormann interview, in George Harrison: Living in the Material World.
- Leng, pp. 150–51, 165.
- Inglis, p. 45.
- George Harrison, pp. 240, 282.
- Wood, p. 147.
- Clayson, p. 343.
- Spizer, pp. 264, 265, 267.
- Badman, p. 135.
- Rodriguez, p. 423.
- Clayson, p. 329.
- 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 15 July 2012).
- Allison, p. 145.
- Inglis, p. 49.
- Clayson, pp. 343, 344.
- Badman, p. 109.
- Leng, p. 156.
- Rodriguez, pp. 234–35.
- Rodriguez, p. 384.
- Leng, p. 157.
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