George Harrison, rock pioneer
PITTSBURGH — There's hardly a wedding band on the planet that doesn't owe a debt to George Harrison. As author of the elegant "Something" - which early Beatle-hater Frank Sinatra called the most beautiful love song ever written - his place in history would be cemented even if he hadn't been in the world's most influential rock band.
Sinatra's accolade impresses even more because Harrison was constantly eclipsed by bandmates John Lennon and Paul McCartney. Beatles albums rarely contained more than two Harrison compositions, yet they were often gems: "While My Guitar Gently Weeps," one of the most exquisite songs in existence, helps me cry when I need to. "Here Comes the Sun," its antidote, is a universally perfect statement on happiness and the simple joy of a spring day. Who doesn't smile upon hearing it?
He amused us with his scathing "Piggies" and "Taxman;" his creation of the pseudonymous supergroup, the Traveling Wilburys; and several solo videos. Harrison, whose wit and humor belied that "quiet one" label, also helped birth the first rock "mockumentary" (yes, it predates "This is Spinal Tap"): the Monty Python comedy, "The Rutles: All You Need Is Cash." He later produced the Pythons' "Life of Brian" and other films.
He introduced Western audiences to "world music" with his use of tabla, sitar, and Indian scales - and to Eastern spiritual thought through his immersion in Indian culture. With his Concert for Bangladesh, he pioneered the use of star-laden rock concerts as fundraisers. (The high-school term paper I derived from that project was my first inkling that one could use music to write about larger issues.) When Harrison's masterpiece, "All Things Must Pass," was reissued early this year, listening to it felt like revisiting a long-lost friend, one with whom the bond is so deep, it doesn't matter how much time has elapsed. Bob Geldof, Harrison's friend and organizer of the massive Live-Aid concert, said last week that he regards "All Things" as the best solo album released by any Beatle.
He's right. Not only did it allow Harrison to fully express his spiritual quest, and earn him the distinction of being the first artist to truly meld religion and rock, it gave his songwriting and playing some much-deserved limelight. "My Sweet Lord," "Awaiting on you All," "Wah-wah," "What Is Life?," "Beware of Darkness" ... 30 years later, they still rock.
The Beatles knew they had enough talent and charisma to set the world on fire. They couldn't know then that, decades later, whenever some publication listed the best songs, albums, bands, or pop-cultural moments "of all time," they'd almost always wind up at No. 1.
I still feel lucky that I was born in 1957, which made me old enough to remember the Ed Sullivan moment when the earth literally moved for a generation not yet labeled "baby boomers."
I wouldn't be a music journalist if it weren't for the Fab Four. One of my best friends, Carl, wouldn't own his vintage guitar shop - and a vast instrument collection based on those each Beatle played - if he hadn't fallen in love with those lads from Liverpool. People entering his shop can view a humidity-controlled showcase frequently displaying guitars like those George played. They're likely to overhear conversation about how underrated he was as a player and songwriter.
What would George think about all this? As the band's lead guitarist, he might love knowing he helped make electric guitars the most popular musical instruments on earth. He wasn't as thrilled with his own stifling popularity, but the very reason his passing made headlines around the world is that he was part of a musical phenomenon so big and so unrepeatable, it will never be forgotten.
Lynne Margolis is a freelance writer.