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Giving George Harrison’s Thirty Three and 1/3 Another Spin

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When people hear the name “George Harrison,” two thoughts come to mind: his work with The Beatles, and his masterpiece All Things Must Pass.  Obviously the latter album stands the test of time, boasting a staggering number of quality singles: “My Sweet Lord,” “Isn’t It a Pity,” “Wah Wah,” and “What Is Life,” just to name a few.  However, Harrison released several other solo albums; while some were uneven, most contained at least a few gems.  One such album that has received surprisingly little attention is 1976’s Thirty-Three and 1/3, a stellar effort that features beautiful ballads, his trademark humor, and just a touch of soul. 

The album came at an interesting time in Harrison’s career: he had just formed his custom label, Dark Horse, and Thirty Three and 1/3 would be the label’s debut release.  In addition, he was recovering from a painful lawsuit, having been found guilty of plagiarizing The Chiffons’s “He’s So Fine” for his song “My Sweet Lord.”  His last album for EMI/Capitol, 1974’s Dark Horse, had not performed well on the charts; adding to the aggravation was negative reviews he received for his accompanying North American tour.  Considering these problems, the album’s content astounds with its positive and romantic outlook. 

Kicking off the album with a funky beat is “Woman Don’t You Cry for Me,” featuring Willie Weeks’s popping bass line, Harrison’s signature guitar, and Tom Scott’s deep saxophone adding some punch.  Harrison appears in fine voice, exploring its upper ranges.  Changing gears is “Dear One,” a track that could have been an extra song from All Things Must Pass.  Featuring church organ from Billy Preston, the tune beautifully reveals Harrison’s spiritual side: “Dear One show me/Simple Grace,” he sings, “Move me toward Thee/With each pace.”  “Dear One” serves as a lovely hymn, a proclamation of his beliefs. 

Perhaps expanding on this spiritual theme is “See Yourself,” a song that calls upon the listener to look deeply at one’s strengths and faults.  A gentler version of John Lennon’s “Crippled Inside,” Harrison sings that “It's easier to tell a lie than it is to tell the truth” and that “It's easier to criticize somebody else/Than to see yourself.”   These blunt lyrics are accompanied by piercing guitar, as if to emphasize these points.  Like “Dear One,” “See Yourself” urges people to look beyond the surface to explore more profound issues.George Harrison

Harrison’s well-known sense of humor emerges in two songs: “This Song” and “Crackerbox Palace.”  The former answers his critics from the “He’s So Fine” lawsuit, stating the tune doesn’t “infringe on anyone’s copyright” and that “my expert tells me it’s okay.”  Preston’s rocking piano and Scott’s screeching sax add to the song’s fun, and Harrison’s buoyant solo shows his enjoyment in skewering those involved in the trial.  Listen closely for a brief cameo from Monty Python’s Eric Idle during the bridge. 

 

“Crackerbox Palace” contains surreal images and sly wit: when a song begins with the line “I was so young when I was born,” it signals the absurd theme.  Featuring Harrison’s slide-guitar and a synthesizer that sounds as if it were being played underwater, the track is simply a delightful romp that illustrates Harrison’s love of wordplay.

Another standout, “Pure Smokey” serves as Harrison’s tribute to legendary Motown star Smokey Robinson.  Since The Beatles covered “You Really Got a Hold on Me” in their early days and consistently cited their love of soul music, Harrison’s obvious adoration of Robinson’s music comes as no surprise.  The gentle acoustic guitar and lush synthesizer set a soft, romantic tone, reminiscent of Robinson’s records.  “And as I think back over so many years/Love that's filled my ears,” Harrison croons, “And anyone who hears/Hears that voice so free/He really got a hold on me.”  Clearly Harrison had great affection for the soul star, and this track beautifully recalls that silky soul sound.

My favorite song, “Learning How to Love You,” is simply a gorgeous ballad that exudes emotion.  The chord changes are unusual yet beautiful, and the band gels together to produce a laid-back sound.  Harrison’s almost fragile voice soars over the keyboards.  His picking style in the bridge demonstrates Harrison’s skills as a guitarist. 

Interestingly, the lyrics can be read in a romantic or religious sense.  He chronicles his struggle with “learning how to love you,” that his goal is to “Love you like you may have never seen/ Move you more ways than you have been.”  These lyrics can be read as a man learning how to properly love a woman, yet he also describes his struggle as occurring “still in the night” and that he is “waiting on the light,” an obvious nod to spirituality.  No matter which interpretation you choose, it remains an example of Harrison’s exquisite talents as a lyricist and musician.

While Thirty Three and 1/3 fared well on the charts in 1976, it is often overlooked in Harrison career retrospectives.  Even Rolling Stone’s website skips over the album, and the All Music Guide contains a very brief synopsis, dismissing the work as “slight.”  But Thirty Three and 1/3 deserves a special place in the Harrison catalog, as it illustrates his exemplary gifts and shows how music can be both uplifting and thought provoking.

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About Kit O'Toole

  • Karen Stoessel

    I’ve got to get a turntable!!!! Once again, thanks Kit for reminding me of great music…especially from my #2 Beatle love, George. My vinyl copy of 331/3 sits patiently on my shelf along with all my other “forgotten” albums. I’VE GOT TO GET A TURNTABLE!!!

  • Apple Girl

    Right on Kit, this was a beautiful sound then and still is…recorded at a time when he and Olivia were still in the early part of their relationship–hence the romantic mood. Thanks for highlighting it!

  • http://www.kitotoole.com Kit O’Toole

    Thank you both for your comments!
    @Apple Girl Indeed, and the album “George Harrison” further chronicles his & Olivia’s relationship. That’s a very romantic album, too!

    @Karen Yes, get that turntable! You may also consider getting the 2004 temaster–awesome sound quality & a couple of bonus tracks!

  • kevin cramsey

    I like this album a lot when it came out — still do. In addition to the songs you mentioned, two other highlights — at least for me — are his fantastic version of Cole Porter’s “True Love” and “Beautiful Girl,” which contains a very melodic tune and some classic George guitar work. If “All Things . . .” is George’s best album, this one just might be his most listenable.

  • http://www.examiner.com/x-21829-Bob-Dylan-Examiner Harold Lepidus

    Nice article ! Most of George’s solo material has aged quite well, actually. Arguably the most consistent solo Beatles catalogue. Just one correction – GH’s last LP for Apple was “Extra Texture” (if you do not count the “Hits” compilation).

  • mrjinks

    Factual error: “His last album for EMI/Capitol, 1974’s Dark Horse, had not performed well on the charts”

    George released a 1975 album, “Extra Texture”, between Dark Horse and 33&1/3, and it was also on Apple/EMI/Capitol

  • Leebee

    Good to see this album getting some props. I have always adored it, and I would place it in higher regard than any of the much-ballyhooed John and Paul albums of the mid 70’s. The musicianship on this record is just phenomenal, one of the best ensembles ever on any fabs solo album.

  • http://www.kitotoole.com Kit O’Toole

    Thanks for all the comments, everyone. Mrjinks, thanks for the correction–I rechecked, and realized I’d accidentally neglected Extra Texture (not one of my favorite albums). And I’m glad everyone here has the same affection for this underrated album.

  • Groucho Marx

    Thanks for the review – “Thirty Three & 1/3″ is one of my favourites albums of all time and I don’t care if it’s not such a masterpiece as ATMP – it doesn’t have to. Its power and strength is in its melodic atmosphere and ambience it creates. Besides, it’s truly hard to resist bouncing kick-off like “Woman don’t you…” or “It’s what you…”.
    Superb album. :)

  • Mike

    This is a lovely review. This album, and _George Harrison_, have always held a special place for me. _All Things Must Pass_ is genius, but this and the aforementioned are quiet and sweet-natured and very, very Harrison.