George Harrison was an intensely spiritual man, but the compilation gods have never been kind to him. His first best-of – actually a kiss-off from Apple/Capitol after he signed with Warner Bros. in 1976 – was downright insulting, with one LP side devoted not to his solo work, but to his Beatles songs. The Best of Dark Horse (1976-1989), compiled with Harrison’s participation and released in time to capitalize on the success of the Cloud 9 album and the Traveling Wilburys, was considerably more thorough in covering its timeframe; yet it failed to include the Apple hits. With Harrison now sadly gone, and his musical legacy split between two conglomerates that have not (yet) managed to merge, it long has seemed that newcomers to his music might never find a comprehensive sample of his best work in one package.
But lo, this week brings the new, “career-spanning” EMI comp Let It Roll: Songs by George Harrison … and I’m sorry to say that the wait continues.
Of course, any reduction of a long career to a single, 19-track CD is bound to be full of holes. (Though it must be said, while we’re on the subject of single-disc solo-Beatles comps, that EMI did an excellent job with Lennon Legend and even did right by Ringo with the recent Photograph set.) But Let it Roll’s inclusions (and exclusions) seem so random, its sequencing so thoughtless, that one can only wonder whether the compilers gave any consideration to (or even had much knowledge of) the arc of George’s career. That’s a sweeping accusation, I know, and I’ll be suitably embarrassed if it turns out that George himself wrote the track listing on a napkin while lying on his deathbed, or perhaps put it in his will. (Such information might be in the album credits or in Warren Zanes’ liner notes, neither of which EMI saw fit to include with review copies of the CD.)
I also know that you can’t share my befuddlement unless you read the track listing, so here goes: 1. “Got My Mind Set on You”; 2. “Give Me Love (Give Me Peace on Earth)”; 3. “The Ballad of Sir Frankie Crisp (Let It Roll)”; 4. “My Sweet Lord”; 5. “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” (live at the Concert for Bangladesh); 6. “All Things Must Pass”; 7. “Any Road”; 8. “This Is Love”; 9. “All Those Years Ago”; 10. “Marwa Blues”; 11. “What Is Life”; 12. “Rising Sun”; 13. “When We Was Fab”; 14. “Something” (live at the Concert for Bangladesh); 15. “Blow Away”; 16. “Cheer Down”; 17. “Here Comes the Sun” (live at the Concert for Bangladesh); 18. “I Don’t Want to Do It”; 19. “Isn’t It a Pity.”
Forgetting the sequencing for now – and giving due credit to Giles Martin for his state-of-the-art remasters – let’s examine Let It Roll’s song selections by their time periods. Any thorough accounting of George’s career must lean heavily on All Things Must Pass, and it’s nice to see as many as five tracks from that classic set here. But as beautiful as “Sir Frankie Crisp” is, shouldn’t “If Not for You” and/or “Awaiting on You All” be here instead? (I know, “If Not for You” is a Dylan song, but still…) His next major success was the Concert for Bangladesh in late 1971 – which Let It Roll’s compilers take as an excuse to sneak Beatles songs into a Harrison comp again! As historical artifacts, I suppose it’s nice to see these three tracks (the best of which is the all-acoustic “Here Comes the Sun,” with Badfinger for backup) extracted from the pricey Bangladesh box set – but not on a single-disc Harrison best-of, and certainly not at the expense of the “Bangla Desh” single itself, which (while no great artistic achievement) represents a key moment not just in George’s career, but in the evolution of pop-music activism.
From there it’s on to George’s second solo album, Living in the Material World, and its big hit, “Give Me Love (Give Me Peace on Earth).” And then … nothing. Crickets. As far as Let It Roll is concerned, the next six years didn’t happen. And that’s a shame, because “Dark Horse” (from ’74) is a lovely song despite George’s laryngitic, too-many-tour-rehearsals croak, and “You” (from ’75’s Extra Texture) is a bouncy bit of popcraft in spite of his post-laryngitic rasp. Then there was George’s first Warner Bros. album, Thirty-Three & 1/3, which boasted a couple of fair-sized hits and several other interesting tracks, yet is also unrepresented here. He sang about his losing plagiarism battle amusingly on “This Song,” and covered Cole Porter’s “True Love” effectively – but for criminy’s sake, what kind of self-respecting best-of ignores “Crackerbox Palace”?!?
At least Let It Roll didn’t choose to ignore “Blow Away,” the glorious single from George Harrison (1979). But while Best of Dark Horse had the good taste to include two other wonderful tracks from that album, “Love Comes to Everyone” and “Here Comes the Moon,” those songs are missing from the new set. From that point forward, song-choice complaints are more nitpicky, though it’s a shame that “Wake Up My Love” and “Gone Troppo” and a few other late-period Warners tracks aren’t here. Cloud 9 gets three tracks, which is the least Let It Roll could do – though leading off the set with “Got My Mind Set on You” seems to give that song too much weight – and it is nice to see the digital debut of “I Don’t Want to Do It,” from the classic Porky’s Revenge soundtrack. But George’s last album, Brainwashed, is overrepresented with three songs; the instrumental “Marwa Blues,” in particular, seems to be merely taking up space.
Returning briefly to the sequencing … I’ve been staring at it for a couple hours, and listening to the CD a couple times, and I still can’t make heads or tails of it. (Anybody who wants to take a crack at justifying it in the comments is welcome to do so.) But regardless of the order in which these 19 tracks appear, I can’t believe anybody thought these were the best possible 19 to represent the 30 years of George’s post-Beatles career.
All of this begs two questions: Doesn’t George Harrison deserve at least one pass at a truly career-spanning two-disc package, if not a box set? And why did EMI, rather than Warners (and more specifically its highly skilled Rhino subsidiary), get the opportunity to screw up another compilation of Harrisongs?
Sadly, Best of Dark Horse is now out of print (though it’s available used via Amazon Marketplace). Happily, though, the rest of George’s catalog is readily available on disc and/or download, so I’d advise any Harrison newbie to play mix-and-match, and create a fantastic 40-track compilation that will burn onto two discs. I could even imagine whittling those 40 tracks down to one disc, and getting a satisfying listen out of the effort; it’s too bad the compilers of Let It Roll were unable to pull off such a feat.