Ten years ago most of George Harrison’s later catalog was remastered and issued as The Dark Horse Years 1976-1992 box set, named after the late artist’s own record label. Now the earlier part of his career, released on the Beatles-founded Apple Records, has finally been overhauled and made available as six separate album releases and as a deluxe box set, The Apple Years 1968-75. The pricier set has more elaborate packaging and an exclusive DVD of various odds and ends. For review purposes, I had access only to the individual releases but Harrison devotees will likely want to invest in the full box. The individual album packaging is designed to replicate the original vinyl (only in miniature, obviously) and each includes new liner notes. Keep in mind, The Concert for Bangladesh live album is not part of this set.
Wonderwall Music (1968) and Electronic Sound (1969)
These albums are the least accessible of the batch, though the essentially instrumental Wonderwall Music (a soundtrack to the obscure feature film Wonderwall) is admittedly quite tuneful; a bit of late-‘60s experimentalism that holds up relatively well. Those with a taste for Harrison’s “raga rock” Beatles songs like “The Inner Light” will find much to like in the classical Indian instrumentation. Most of the pieces are quite brief (less than half the album’s 19 tracks top the two-minute mark) and present an intriguing, eclectic mix of Eastern and Western elements (“Ski-ing” boasts guitar work by Eric Clapton and drumming by Ringo Starr). Three bonus tracks supplement the reissue, highlighted by an alternative instrumental take of “The Inner Light.”
Not much can be said for Electronic Sound. In fact, Apple has some real nerve making this available as a standalone, full-retail album release. The worst kind of indulgence, it would never have survived its era were it not for the name on the cover. Consisting of two LP side-long cuts (“Under the Mersey Wall” is over 18 minutes, “No Time or Space” clocks in at 25 minutes) of Moog synthesizer noises, the album’s title is certainly accurate. Maybe an experimental filmmaker like Andy Warhol could’ve utilized some of this to set an eerie mood, but this Zapple Records (Apple’s very short-lived experimental subsidiary) release can only be categorized as “music” in the very broadest sense of the word. No bonus tracks are included.
All Things Must Pass (1970)
Harrison’s proper debut, a triple-LP boasting some of the best material of his career, was reissued in expanded, remastered form back in 2001. The same bonus tracks (including a 2001 update of the number one single “My Sweet Lord”) are included, tacked onto the end of disc one. Disc two presents “Apple Jam” (the instrumental rock workouts that made up the third LP in the original release) in Harrison’s preferred order (notably closing, rather than opening, with the 11-minute “Out of the Blue”). The fidelity seems to be quite similar to the 2001 reissue (which itself was a vast improvement over the original, circa 1990 CD debut of the album).
As a grand statement of Harrison’s artistic conception at the time, all things have already been said about All Things. The songs are great but overall the album is somewhat hampered by its overheated production. Harrison himself admitted to being tempted to remix the whole thing during the 2001 remastering process. Co-produced with Phil Spector, nearly every track is burdened by the weight of over-production. Otherwise strong songs like “Wah-Wah” and “Awaiting On You All” are nearly drowned in sheer sound. Luckily the strength of the material is enough to overcome these issues, but one can’t help but wish Harrison had given into his temptation.
Living in the Material World (1973)
Often overlooked, this chart-topping classic is, in terms of production, arguably preferable to its predecessor. It’s meticulously produced, but Harrison scaled things back which resulted in a more intimate atmosphere. The delicate melodies of songs like “The Day the World Gets ‘Round” and “Be Hear Now” are never lost in bombast. “Give Me Love (Give Me Peace on Earth)” was the big hit (a Billboard number one), but it’s hardly the only highlight. The sinewy “Sue Me, Sue You Blues,” galloping title track, and soaring “Don’t Let Me Wait Too Long” rank right alongside Harrison’s best work. The new remaster carries over the B-side bonus cuts found on the 2006 remaster (“Deep Blue” and “Miss O’Dell”) and adds the top 40 benefit single “Bangla Desh.”
Dark Horse (1974)
If Material World is sometimes overlooked, Dark Horse is generally dismissed outright. The album was recorded during a particularly tumultuous period in Harrison’s personal and professional life. As a result, the songs are marked by a world-weariness that stands in stark contrast with much of the previous album’s confident optimism. Still, there’s a lot of rewarding listening here for those willing to listen with an open mind. His rewrite of “Bye Bye, Love” is a funky and funny comment on the dissolution of his marriage. “Far East Man” is a smooth soul collaboration with Ron Wood that, once heard, lodges itself in the brain. Even catchier is the closing track, “It Is ‘He’ (Jai Sri Krishna).” “Maya Love” is another soulful R&B number that benefits from Willie Weeks’ bass and Billy Preston’s electric piano. Though hampered by a hoarse vocal, the hit title track is a great personal theme song of sorts. The new edition adds an excellent demo of that song (with a better lead vocal) and the demo-quality B-side “I Don’t Care Anymore.”
Extra Texture (Read All About It) (1975)
Ending the reissue series on a bum note, Extra Texture sounds tired and depressing. Though not without a few notable tracks, it’s the least satisfying album of Harrison’s entire career. Lead-off cut “You” was a top 20 single—it’s peppier than the rest of the album, but a fairly slight composition. Vocally he simply wasn’t up to the Smokey Robinson pastiche “Ooh Baby (You Know That I Love You)” (“Pure Smokey” on 1976’s Thirty-Three & 1/3 is far better). The essential cut is the grooving “Tired of Midnight Blue.” The new remastered edition adds a 1992 re-recording of the “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” sequel (and flop single, Harrison’s first to miss Billboard’s Hot 100 entirely) “This Guitar (Can’t Keep from Crying).” This tighter rock-oriented remake was recorded with Dave Stewart and completed in 2002 with Ringo Starr on drums and Harrison’s son Dhani on guitar.[amazon template=iframe image&asin=B00MG4CUH4,B00MI7120K,B00MI711RO,B00MI711QA,B00MI7121E,B00MI712KA,B00MG4CV8C]