50 Years Ago: A George Harrison Album Review From 1973

As the fall quarter of my final year at the University of Georgia got underway in 1973, I was on the staff of The Red & Black, the student daily newspaper. I was the co-news editor that fall, but still found time to write columns and some music coverage, including a review of the recent album from George Harrison. It’s generally a positive review, though I seem to have been a bit put off by some of George’s rather nasal singing. I also wasn’t a fan of anything smacking of Phil Spector’s “wall of sound” production style. Anyway, here’s my 1973 review of “Living in the Material World.” …

From a scruffy Liverpool rocker to the “quiet, moody Beatle” to the high priest of British rock is quite a transition, but George Harrison has managed to make it with style and a certain spiritual grace.

It is that spiritual grace that distinguishes Harrison’s new LP, “Living in the Material World.”

All of the former Beatles seem to have inherited a part of the group’s legacy, which they carry on. John Lennon has continued the political activism; Paul McCartney, the catchy melodies and excitement of a touring rock star; Ringo Starr, the good-time “A Hard Day’s Night”/“Help!” nostalgic feeling for fans; and to Harrison has fallen the spiritual magic that surrounded The Beatles after “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.”

Harrison lampooned traditional religion with this “last supper” shot for the album.

On this new album, Harrison takes his deep religious involvement in his music even further than before. All but one of the 11 cuts carry the message of George’s Krishna-inspired beliefs, and all but two of the songs are having their royalties given to charity.

The album’s very strong Side 1 opens with the excellent hit single, “Give Me Love (Give Me Peace on Earth.” This short-phrased exhortation for the betterment of life features a plaintive vocal by Harrison and some nice guitar work by him. Nicky Hopkins on keyboards and Klaus Voormann on bass also shine on this one.

“Sue Me Sue You Blues” is Harrison’s weary reaction to the many court appearances he has had to make on behalf of his business interests over the past three years. Its driving rhythm, featuring great drumwork by friend Ringo, and slide guitar perfectly complement the Lennonesque sarcasm of the lyrics: “You serve me, and I’ll serve you / Swing your partners, all get screwed.”

Pope George?

The least strong of the Side 1 cuts is “The Light That Has Lighted the World,” George’s very personal defense against public criticism. His vocal reflects the pain and frustration of his fame, as he sings that people say he’s changed and “people just won’t accept change.” It might just as well have been sung by John, Paul or even Ringo.

The pounding love song “Don’t Let Me Wait Too Long” is another one of the record’s better cuts, with a strong (though a little too nasal) vocal and a very strong instrumental backing. Here, as in the rest of the album, the emphasis is a personal one, with “I” and “me” being the prominent pronouns. This album is George’s personal testimony, as evidenced in the group photo where he is the only one in color.

Side 1 ends with the title cut, which is the best thing on the LP. The story of George’s rise and involvement in the material world (“Met them all here in the material world / John and Paul here in the material world / Though we started out quite poor / We got ‘Richie’ on a tour”) is followed by Ringo doing a little signature drum bit that sounds suspiciously like the one in “The End” on “Abbey Road.”

The driving rock, interspersed with a tabla-backed falsetto, moves into high gear as the band really cooks with an instrumental performance rather like “Bangla Desh,” and then winds up with a traditional “big ending.”

Unfortunately, Side 2 does not live up to the standard set by Side 1. The gospel-flavored opener, “The Lord Loves the One (That Loves the Lord),” has nice instrumental work, but the vocal is a bit lazy and nasal, and the lyrics are rather pedantic.

An outtake photo from the album session.

“Be Here Now,” one of the less memorable cuts, is a meditative prayer, in which the vocal and organ re-create the drone of the Indian sitar. It does, however, feature the strongest Harrison vocal on the album.

“Try Some Buy Some” is the only cut co-produced by Phil Spector (and was done as a single by Spector’s wife, Ronnie, two years ago). It is the best cut of Side 2, despite the Spector “wall of sound” production.

The album’s last two songs, “The Day the World Gets ’Round” and “That Is All,” are weaker, thanks mostly to Harrison’s use of very Spectorish, lush production that overpowers the simple melodies.

The former is the LP’s weak sister, with condescending lyrics and a nasal vocal, but still possesses a certain charm.

The latter is most appropriate as the album’s final cut, giving the listener some more excellent musicianship, albeit with another nasal vocal. George needs to do more of the grainier, McCartneyish vocals that George Martin elicited from him on his Beatles cuts.

Although the album could have used the humor of the single B-side “Miss O’Dell” (complete with George breaking up laughing), the serious tone is still not heavy enough to prevent it from being enjoyable.

In fact, with the sincerity evident in George’s songs, and his tasteful “weeping” guitar, the album manages to overcome its shortcomings and become something special. Thus, for the legions of Beatles fans, this LP indeed is something to rejoice about.

Bill King