George Harrison was an intensely spiritual man, but the compilation gods have never been kind to him. His first best-of â€“ actually a kiss-off from Apple/Capitol after he signed with Warner Bros. in 1976 â€“ 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 Harrisonâ€™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, â€œcareer-spanningâ€ EMI comp Let It Roll: Songs by George Harrison â€¦ and Iâ€™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 weâ€™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 Rollâ€™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 Georgeâ€™s career. Thatâ€™s a sweeping accusation, I know, and Iâ€™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 Zanesâ€™ liner notes, neither of which EMI saw fit to include with review copies of the CD.)
I also know that you canâ€™t share my befuddlement unless you read the track listing, so here goes: 1. â€œGot My Mind Set on Youâ€; 2. â€œGive Me Love (Give Me Peace on Earth)â€; 3. â€œThe Ballad of Sir Frankie Crisp (Let It Roll)â€; 4. â€œMy Sweet Lordâ€; 5. â€œWhile My Guitar Gently Weepsâ€ (live at the Concert for Bangladesh); 6. â€œAll Things Must Passâ€; 7. â€œAny Roadâ€; 8. â€œThis Is Loveâ€; 9. â€œAll Those Years Agoâ€; 10. â€œMarwa Bluesâ€; 11. â€œWhat Is Lifeâ€; 12. â€œRising Sunâ€; 13. â€œWhen We Was Fabâ€; 14. â€œSomethingâ€ (live at the Concert for Bangladesh); 15. â€œBlow Awayâ€; 16. â€œCheer Downâ€; 17. â€œHere Comes the Sunâ€ (live at the Concert for Bangladesh); 18. â€œI Donâ€™t Want to Do Itâ€; 19. â€œIsnâ€™t It a Pity.â€
Forgetting the sequencing for now â€“ and giving due credit to Giles Martin for his state-of-the-art remasters â€“ letâ€™s examine Let It Rollâ€™s song selections by their time periods. Any thorough accounting of Georgeâ€™s career must lean heavily on All Things Must Pass, and itâ€™s nice to see as many as five tracks from that classic set here. But as beautiful as â€œSir Frankie Crispâ€ is, shouldnâ€™t â€œIf Not for Youâ€ and/or â€œAwaiting on You Allâ€ be here instead? (I know, â€œIf Not for Youâ€ is a Dylan song, but stillâ€¦) His next major success was the Concert for Bangladesh in late 1971 â€“ which Let It Rollâ€™s compilers take as an excuse to sneak Beatles songs into a Harrison comp again! As historical artifacts, I suppose itâ€™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 â€“ but not on a single-disc Harrison best-of, and certainly not at the expense of the â€œBangla Deshâ€ single itself, which (while no great artistic achievement) represents a key moment not just in Georgeâ€™s career, but in the evolution of pop-music activism.
From there itâ€™s on to Georgeâ€™s second solo album, Living in the Material World, and its big hit, â€œGive Me Love (Give Me Peace on Earth).â€ And then â€¦ nothing. Crickets. As far as Let It Roll is concerned, the next six years didnâ€™t happen. And thatâ€™s a shame, because â€œDark Horseâ€ (from â€™74) is a lovely song despite Georgeâ€™s laryngitic, too-many-tour-rehearsals croak, and â€œYouâ€ (from â€™75â€™s Extra Texture) is a bouncy bit of popcraft in spite of his post-laryngitic rasp. Then there was Georgeâ€™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 â€œThis Song,â€ and covered Cole Porterâ€™s â€œTrue Loveâ€ effectively â€“ but for criminyâ€™s sake, what kind of self-respecting best-of ignores â€œCrackerbox Palaceâ€?!?
At least Let It Roll didnâ€™t choose to ignore â€œBlow Away,â€ 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, â€œLove Comes to Everyoneâ€ and â€œHere Comes the Moon,â€ those songs are missing from the new set. From that point forward, song-choice complaints are more nitpicky, though itâ€™s a shame that â€œWake Up My Loveâ€ and â€œGone Troppoâ€ and a few other late-period Warners tracks arenâ€™t here. Cloud 9 gets three tracks, which is the least Let It Roll could do â€“ though leading off the set with â€œGot My Mind Set on Youâ€ seems to give that song too much weight â€“ and it is nice to see the digital debut of â€œI Donâ€™t Want to Do It,â€ from the classic Porkyâ€™s Revenge soundtrack. But Georgeâ€™s last album, Brainwashed, is overrepresented with three songs; the instrumental â€œMarwa Blues,â€ in particular, seems to be merely taking up space.
Returning briefly to the sequencing â€¦ Iâ€™ve been staring at it for a couple hours, and listening to the CD a couple times, and I still canâ€™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 canâ€™t believe anybody thought these were the best possible 19 to represent the 30 years of Georgeâ€™s post-Beatles career.
All of this begs two questions: Doesnâ€™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 itâ€™s available used via Amazon Marketplace). Happily, though, the rest of Georgeâ€™s catalog is readily available on disc and/or download, so Iâ€™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; itâ€™s too bad the compilers of Let It Roll were unable to pull off such a feat.