Monday, December 15, 2008

George Harrison 7: Best Of and Thirty-Three & ⅓

Capitol had just begun the repackaging campaign, plus George was on his way to Warner Bros. by way of A&M. So they decided to seize the moment and exploit George’s continuing commercial status. In their minds, The Best Of George Harrison would include Beatles songs so they put seven of them on side one, none of them rare, some already repackaged. Side two includes all of his solo A-sides save “Ding Dong”, though it did include the studio version of “Bangla Desh”. Even Ringo got a full (albeit short) two sides to himself, but he’d actually had more hits. This was just a quick holiday cash-in to compete with his next “real” album.

Originally intended to coincide with his 33⅓rd birthday, Thirty-Three & ⅓ was trumpeted at the time as his best album since his first. Today, it’s hard to see why. Granted, the songs are back to a tempo that gets your toes tapping, but several years on it has dated badly, just as Paul’s contemporary disco arrangements have. “Woman Don’t You Cry For Me” may have been started in 1969, but the recording is all 1976 thump. “Dear One” is a more pleasant hymn, but the synthesizer torpedoes it. “Beautiful Girl” was intended for All Things Must Pass, and gives support for the idea that he really ought to consider the other songs he never finished for that album. “This Song” is one of his best, a fantastic defense of his writing process that, at the time, had been costing him money and leaving him in litigation. Here again is the humor that had been so lacking of late. “See Yourself” also dates from the Maharishi era, but stumbles around too much to be appreciated.
“It’s What You Value” is filled with hooks and a very enthusiastic vocal, but goes nowhere. “True Love” is soaked in what had become George’s trademark sound, but is actually a Cole Porter tune. (In all seriousness, George should be commended for exposing his listeners to all kinds of music they’d otherwise ignore.) “Pure Smokey” is a retread of the last album’s “Ooh Baby”, literally thanking God for Smokey Robinson. “Crackerbox Palace” is the other hit, and a catchy one; the arrangement for once actually enhances the song. “Learning How To Love You” closes us out, and he finally gets the sound he wanted on the last album right. The jazz chords fit the vocal, and the guitar solo is virtuosic without showboating. But do you really feel like hearing the whole album again?
Besides producing others and helping out friends, George stayed busy for most of the ‘70s, and had let the public hear quite a bit of music. But the promise he seemed to exude when finally allowed to shine on his own six short years earlier seemed to dim. Despite his continued success, his laissez-faire attitude towards the pop business was about to take serious root.

George Harrison The Best Of George Harrison (1976)—4
Current CD availability: none
George Harrison Thirty-Three & ⅓ (1976)—
2004 Dark Horse Years reissue: same as 1976, plus 1 extra track

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