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.