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Music Review: George Harrison – Let It Roll: Songs By George Harrison

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George Harrison was the first of The Beatles to release a solo album but was probably the least interested in actually having a solo career.  Only John Lennon toured less, and not by much.  When Harrison's multi-platinum Cloud 9 was released in 1987, he was asked if he'd be out touring the record, to which he replied, "I hope not." 

His former mates in the Traveling Wilburys have mostly confirmed George missed the idea of being in a band.  While internal tensions and competition for precious space on the albums strongly fed his disenchantment with The Beatles, Harrison never really coveted being the center of attention nor soured on sharing the workload with others.  As a result of Harrison's seeming indifference to his own solo career, there were often long gaps between albums. 

When Paul McCartney was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as a solo artist in 1999, his daughter, Stella, wore a t-shirt that read "About Fucking Time."  Harrison was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as a solo artist in 2003, also "about fucking time."  The same can be said for the release of Let it Roll: Songs By George Harrison.  We finally have a true career-spanning collection of Harrison's solo career.

When considering a compilation, one has to keep in mind these are rarely aimed at an artist's most devoted fans.  The faithful will likely have all or at least most of the songs likely to be included on such a package.  To suck the faithful in, labels will often make the dubious decision to place one or two previously unreleased tracks on the compilation, forcing the faithful to fork out money for a bunch of songs they already have in order to get the new.  Let it Roll does not contain anything previously unavailable, although two rarer tracks from Harrison's solo career give this package some value even to committed fans. 

"Cheer Down" was previously available on the Harrison compilation The Dark Horse Years and originally appeared on the soundtrack to Lethal Weapon 2.  Fans who passed on the previous compilations can now add this Jeff Lynne-produced song, co-written with Tom Petty, to their collection.  The movie Porky's Revenge should be forgotten but Harrison's cover of the Bob Dylan song "I Don't Want To Do It" should not be.  While one can argue there are songs of greater stature from Harrison's career than either of these, it makes sense to collect these two rarities here.

In the majority of cases, though, compilations are intended for casual fans or the curious seeking an introduction to an artist's work.  On that level, Let it Roll mostly succeeds.  The majority of the 19 songs on this single disc come from Harrison's three most important albums: All Things Must Pass, Cloud 9, and the posthumous Brainwashed.  The five songs from All Things Must Pass are compelling arguments for why it should be considered the finest of all Beatle solo albums, or at the very least among them.  Three apiece are taken from Cloud 9 and Brainwashed, and a further three are taken from Harrison's Concert For Bangladesh.  The three live songs allow Harrison to sneak in three of his most famous Beatles songs.  The Bangladesh show is also worth remembering because it is considered by many to be the first of the all-star benefit concerts we have since become so used to seeing.

With 14 of the 19 songs on this collection coming from four sources, there are those who would suggest buying those four records over this one.  It's a fair point, but ultimately misses the broader one.  Sure, there are great songs from All Things Must Pass ("Art of Dying," "I'd Have You Any Time," "Hear Me Lord"), Cloud 9 ("Cloud 9," "Devil's Radio"), and Brainwashed ("Looking For My Life," "Never Get Over You," "Run So Far") that could easily have made this package and deserve to be heard, but this is about introducing fans to the music of Harrison.  Let it Roll does a good job of selling listeners on investing in those three records.  The case for Harrison's underrated self-titled record, represented only by the wonderful minor hit "Blow Away," as well as Living In The Material World ("Give Me Love") could have been made more strongly with the inclusion of songs like "Faster," "Love Comes To Everyone," "Sue Me, Sue You Blues," and "Be Here Now."  Good songs will inevitably be left off compilations.  Let it Roll manages to collect all the most obvious songs and is ultimately successful.

The only other quibble about the package is the sequencing.  The tracks are not presented chronologically, which is a logical way to present music on a compilation.  It's not the only way to present the material, but is often an effective one.  If there is a logic to the way these tracks are sequenced, it isn't obvious.  That doesn't detract from the quality of the music and listeners can easily create their own playlist to "correct" that, but it would have made more sense to hear the album play sequentially.

With Let it Roll, all four Beatles now have definitive looks at their solo career.  Paul McCartney's Wingspan gives an excellent overview of his work with Wings as well as his post-Wings work, although with strong records like Chaos And Creation and Memory Almost Full, he may soon need to update.  Ringo Starr's Photograph (a song co-written with George Harrison) reminds us Starr is a unique talent and more musically gifted than he is often credited for being.  John Lennon has both Legend and Working Class Hero that ably summarize his career.  About fucking time.

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About Josh Hathaway

  • Joe Tiernan

    First sentence is wrong. Paul McCartmey was the first Beatle to have a solo album.

    Stopped reading the review the first time you used the F-word. So there may be other mistakes.

  • I believe George Harrison’s Wonderwall Music was the first Beatles solo album. I stand by the assertion, and the F-word.

  • Joe Tiernan

    Harrison produced the Wonderwall album. Didn’t perform on it.

    But I take your point. F-words in print debase the culture.

  • zingzing

    well, then joe, there’s also george’s “electronic sound,” john’s (w/ yoko) “unfinished music 1,” “unfinished music 2,” “wedding album.” “live peace toronto 1969,” various plastic ono band singles, all released before mccartney’s solo album. although i’m not quite sure who this “mccartmey” person you speak of is, so maybe you know something we don’t.

    and fuck the culture.

  • I guess this may not be as cut-and-dried to some people as it is to others. I’ve read more than one publication referring to Wonderwall Music as the first Beatle solo album, although you are correct about Harrison’s role. I feel justified in the assertion but even if it’s a debateable point, I don’t think it detracts from the rest of the review.

    I feel the same way about the F-bomb. I’m not shy about using them, but my use of it here was more a reference to the Stella t-shirt and the idea that some things were overdue. I’d submit f-bombs are a symptom of a debased culture rather than a cause of it, but don’t really give a fuck either way. My aim isn’t to offend and I am sorry if anyone is, but it’s how I speak and I’m comfortable with it.

  • Joe Tiernan

    okay, i’ll read the rest of your review, Josh.

    And zingzing is sorta correct. yoko and john’s naked music experiments came before McCartney’s solo masterpiece.

    i’m listening to the “let it be” album right now and i can’t stay mad at you guys.

  • rebelwithoutaclue

    i guess you can make the claim that mccartneys solo album was the firsat mainstream non experimental solo outing for a beatle. you can also say that all things must pass was the first solo post beatles solo album

  • zingzing

    the beatles were a band only on paper for months before let it be came out. so, mccartney’s solo album, which included a printed self-interview where he declared that he was leaving the beatles (much to john’s egoistic displeasure), is, by some sort of definition, the first post-beatles solo album. i think mccartney planned the release date of his album in order to fuck up let it be’s release in some way, but i don’t recall how. either way, the mccartney album is considered the first solo album.

    and either way, it all pales in comparison to plastic ono band. (either one.)