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Music

45 years of George Harrison's song 'Crackerbox Palace'

After half a decade of peerless work, Thirty Three &1/3 finally found the guitar player running on half a tank, making it the one and only embarrassing work George Harrison released in the 1970s.

But the album holds two standouts: ‘This Song’, scintillatingly produced and geared at the court systems who monetised his intellectual craft based on how they valued it, and ‘Crackerbox Palace’, a jaunty pop tune that offered a rare insight into his personal psyche. 

Although every member of The Beatles walked away from the band with a certain level of baggage, Harrison remembered the four-piece with damning praise, even going as far as to rubbish Paul McCartney‘s bass playing in 1974. When he finally agreed to work with McCartney in the 1990s, he did so as a means of re-gaining the money that Handmade Films had lost him.

One sympathises with the guitar player, but he did get some of his shrill slide playing on ‘Free As A Bird.’ “They gave their money, and they gave their screams,” Harrison recalled. “But the Beatles kind of gave their nervous systems. They used us as an excuse to go mad, the world did, and then blamed it on us.”

Harrison was in no mood to reunite with The Beatles in 1976, although he did perform ‘Here Comes The Sun’ on Saturday Night Live with Paul Simon that year. Instead, he was discovering new pleasures with his partner Olivia Arias, and had taken a liking to Mel Brooks masterpiece, Blazing Saddles. The line ‘twoo, twoo’, as was heard on ‘Crackerbox Palace’, was taken from the Brooks film. 

Always a fan of comedy, Harrison was delighted to encounter Lord Buckley`’ s manager, George Greif, at the Midem music conference in Cannes. Buckley informed him of the “Crackerbox Palace”, a house where his former client lived. Impressed by the title, Harrison used it for one of his more hummable melodies, and addressed Greif directly in the song. 

“George [Greif] was aware of the song,” Eric Greif recalled, “and was very proud that Harrison had included the story in ‘Crackerbox Palace.’ The big coincidence is that George represented Lord Buckley, a hero of Harrison’s, and that sparked the friendship and interaction that Harrison memorialized in the song.”

The song was accompanied by a sparkling music video, and featured future Rutle Neil Innes pushing the Beatle in a pram. Clean-shaven, Harrison looked nearly ten years younger than he was, inhabiting the role of an unworried, cheeky-chappie enjoying the splendour of his neo-gothic mansion. 

Olivia Arias appears in the video, her leg wrapped against the upholstery that made up the bedroom. Directed by Monty Python alumnus Eric Idle, the video is littered with sight gags, from Harrison donning the typical school uniform that haunts an English pupil’s nightmare, to the crusty old corporal taking a break from military services to bark at the baby-faced Beatle. 

Bolstered by their work together, Harrison and Idle would collaborate further on All You Need Is Cash, a parody drama that lampooned and homaged The Beatles in equal measure. Harrison made a brief appearance as a BBC reporter, querying The Rutles “capabilities” as businessmen and impresarios. 

All You Need Is Cash set the template for the “rock-doc-comedy”, and may have directly influenced Rob Reiner’s decision to direct Spinal Tap. But The Rutles is a more sincere effort, largely because it was so truthful. John Lennon loved it, as did Yoko Ono, which was surprising, considering that Idle portrayed her as a Nazi. 

McCartney took umbrage to certain aspects of the film, which must have delighted Harrison to no end. Idle played the part of Dirk McQuickly, and played the bassist as an earnest, albeit prudish, musician determined to get his bandmates tucked into bed before getting back to work. Watching the ‘Crackerbox Palace’ video now, it’s possible to discern a certain McCartneyesque pose from the Python, as he sits cross-legged in his rocking chair. 

It’s not really our place to say whether or not ‘Crackerbox Palace’ is Harrison’s finest single, considering it has neither the longevity of ‘My Sweet Lord’ or the tuneful innocence of ‘Blow Away, but the video that came with the single is easily his most enjoyable promo.