This is one quirky little movie, the type that would ordinarily get on my nerves but for some reason pushes all the right buttons in my head.
Huge cast with lots of odd rock star cameos from Neil Young, Tom Petty, Ric Ocasek, etc. as well as author Tom Robbins. One of Young’s songs is featured prominently, as is Sly’s “If You Want Me to Stay” in an amusing scene.
Friday Night Slightly Inebriated Record Review and George Harrison Tribute, #2 in a series.
George Harrison - Dark Horse. released December 9th, 1974 (US).
01. 00:00 “Hari’s On Tour (Express)” 02. 04:43 “Simply Shady” 03. 09:22 “So Sad” 04. 14:24 “Bye Bye, Love” 05. 18:33 “Māya Love” 06. 22:57 “Ding Dong, Ding Dong” 07. 26:39 “Dark Horse” 08. 30:34 “Far East Man” 09. 36:27 “It Is ‘He’ (Jai Sri Krishna)”
Dark Horse is nobody’s favorite George Harrison album. Well, I suppose that it has more admirers than, say, the lackluster Extra Texture (Read All About It) or the under-the-radar Gone Troppo…but this record, released in 1974, was also the first Harrison album I ever owned (though I had heard his hits on the radio), given to me as a Christmas present, and even though I freely recognize that it is far from his best solo release (that would be the majestic, and I do insist that it is just that, All Things Must Pass or his tuneful 1979 “comeback record” George Harrison)- I love it. Sure, it’s sloppy, George’s voice was shot thanks to illness, drugs, and booze, and its spare production caused much head scratching after the more ornate likes of Pass and the melodic, but sour and didactic Living in the Material World- but it has a lot going for it, I believe. Harrison’s vocals garnered this album most of its scorn, but honestly, I don’t think it’s worse than the ragged vocals that someone like Paul Westerberg gave us much later on…in fact, in spirit, sometimes Dark Horse, to me, kinda captures a little of the “what the hell” spirit of many of the Replacements’ looser songs, despite a far fussier production style. It’s an enigma wrapped in a conundrum to me.
Designed to accompany George’s 1974 tour, which ultimately proved disastrous- American audiences weren’t ready for Ravi Shankar and snarkily rearranged Beatle songs, go figure- Dark Hoarse, as wags named it (Christgau typically hated it, insulting George by calling him a “hoarse dork”) starts out with nothing less than an instrumental, by Tom Scott and the L.A. Express, a talented lite jazz ensemble (who also had backed Joni Mitchell and others) that suffered from an antiseptic, dull sound on their own albums; fortunately, this one (perhaps due to Harrison’s touch) comes across as lively and melodic, and while it’s not an ideal album-opener, I’ve always found it agreeable. Scott & Co. would also contribute to 1976’s 33-1/3.
That segues into “Simply Shady”, which is, for once, George scolding himself about succumbing to the pleasures of the Material World. Eric Clapton can be heard in the mix, and I’ve always loved its deliberately stately piano-driven forward motion, punctuated by stinging guitar licks, probably courtesy of Clapton (don’t have the credits handy). “The actions that I’ve started/somehow I have to face/my influence in motion/rebounding back through space”.
I seem to recall that the twelve-string driven “So Sad” was an older song that George recycled…it’s a song that I’ve always wanted to like a lot more than I actually do. Still, the guitar textures are gorgeous and the production values are cleaner here than on any of the other tracks.
"Bye Bye Love" is a re-do of the old Everlys tune, but with the added bonus of backing vocals by none other than estranged wife Patti Boyd "Layla" Harrison and new lover Clapton. It’s a neither here or there cover; not particularly compelling rhythm wise (though it is given a reshuffled, stop-and-start beat that is really odd compared to the original) or music wise, It’s as loosely played as any of the songs on the album, but the car-wreck-rubberneck factor in this one can’t be ignored. Harrison, for his part, had let her go with is blessings and had in fact already met his next partner, Olivia Arias.
"Maya Love" is another minor, but very melodic, tune that boogies along agreeably and has a nice slide accenting it. George is in bad voice on this one, but it never bothered me much. Another ode to the Krishna lifestyle.
Perennial (well for me, anyway) holiday favorite “Ding Dong Ding Dong” is one of my favorite Harrisongs period, with a nice, almost-funky midtempo rockish shuffle beat and lyrics cribbed from the writings of Sir Frankie Crisp, one of the previous occupants of his mansion Friar Park, Henley-on-Thames (the sleeve jacket boasts “Recorded at F.P.S.H.O.T”). Peter Sellers was part of the group singers, and no doubt had a lot to do with the irreverent “dong ding horse dong” chant at the end.
"Dark Horse" was the only kinda-sorta hit from this album, and provided the tour with its name. Of course, George’s voice is brutal on this one, but the guitar provides a nice white-boy funk the flutes are a nice touch, and there’s a raggedness about it I find endearing. I always liked hearing this on the radio. In this one, George seems to be blowing a raspberry at his critics, but didn’t have a terribly strong bully pulpit from which to testify.
"Far East Man" was co-written by Ron Wood, and also appeared on Woody’s first solo album I’ve Got My Own Album to Do. I suppose I could look up which one came out first but I’m lazy and I’ll let you do that. Another mid-tempo and melodically strong track, in which George sings the praises of a guru or perhaps Ravi Shankar, I don’t know. More Scott horns. He mumbles something about not thinking “…Sinatra would cover this”, and y’know what? He’s right.
The album closes with “It Is He (Jai Sri Krishna)”, and I’m sure you can infer what it’s about by that title. This one has a little Beatle magic in it, I think; it’s melodically lovely and George shows a light touch on the accompaniment, using flutes and Indian strings judiciously.
Dark Horse sold well enough, people still wanted to believe in the Fabs, even in 1974…but as stated previously the tour was a PR disaster (though I understand the shows themselves were often entertaining) and George’s commercial fortunes began a slow decline which was exacerbated by 1975’s Texture and reversed slightly by ‘76’s 33-1/3. Though he had hits in 1979 (“Blow Away”) and 1981 (Lennon eulogy “All Those Years Ago”) he wasn’t hugely successful again until he released 1987’s Cloud Nine (in all fairness, he had lost interest in the music business anyway after 1981). Dark Horse is often dismissed as the beginning of Harrison’s end, and while it’s technically true, it’s kinda unfair to an acquired-taste album that has many delights when one acquires that taste.