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Music

Ranking all George Harrison albums in order of greatness

George Harrison was considered by many to be ‘The Quiet Beatle’, which was a tidy, albeit prescriptive, title. Instead, he was a man of great integrity, tremendous intuition and singular performance. Undervalued by his bandmates, Harrison managed to stockpile enough songs for a solo album that is widely considered a masterpiece of 1970s rock.

It would be too easy to say that Harrison peaked with All Things Must Pass because he did release four other albums that were worthy of his listener’s attention. His work suffered in the 1980s, but he wisely took the time to record Brainwashed with the care and attention it deserved. Like All Things Must Pass, Brainwashed was a work of incredible beauty.

Harrison died in 2001, the victim of a four-year cancer battle. Yet his work seems more popular than ever. In a world based on tweets, tirades and technology, Harrison’s more aphoristic view on society has comforted many drowning in the changes in front of them.

Before releasing All Things Must Pass, Harrison recorded two instrumental albums that bear little in common with the works that came after them. For the purposes of this list, they won’t be included in the ranking.

Ranking all George Harrison albums from worst to best:

10. Cloud Nine (1987)

In an attempt to revive his commercial fortunes after a five-year hiatus, George Harrison teamed up with Electric Light Orchestra founder Jeff Lynne to produce this work. Buoyed by the release of a drum-heavy cover, the album demonstrated the former Beatle at his frothiest and most accessible. It was also his most derivative work, and his most airless.

True the guitars sounded infectious, and the melodies were often brilliant, but this was rock as commerce, not art, and it’s almost possible to discern the dollar symbols behind Harrison’s fuzzy glasses on the cover. Commerce rarely breeds good art, and this is no exception. ‘Devil’s Radio’ is awful, ‘When We Was Fab’ a little more promising, and the less said about the hackneyed ‘This Is Love’, the better. The album boasts one gem in ‘Fish On The Sand’, a punchy rocker that was pleasantly reminiscent of The Beatles during their ‘Eight Days A Week’ heyday.

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9. Somewhere in England (1981)

The 1980s wasn’t the most productive decade for Harrison as a composer, so he wisely spent most of his attention on Handmade Films, a studio that produced such acclaimed dramas as The Long Good Friday and Withnail and I. None of the albums from the ’80s matched the calibre of his earlier output, but Somewhere in England would have been a contender if the guitar player had released the album as he had always intended it.

Where his intended tracklisting was rife with hunger and searching, Warner Brothers rejected it for something more immediate and commercial. The new album included the lazily written ‘All Those Years Ago’, his tribute to John Lennon, and the propulsive ‘Blood From A Clone’, a last-ditch attempt to jump on the funk bandwagon that was popular in England at that time. Harrison had to dump four superior numbers from the album, but the finished product included his sumptuous re-imagining of ‘Baltimore Oriole’, complete with one of Harrison’s most assured vocal deliveries.

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8. Thirty Three & 1/3 (1976)

Miss out on this album, and you’re missing the excellent ‘This One’, and little else. It’s unfair to call the album a disappointing one, the guitars are too stellar for that, but it’s certainly an uninspiring album, and proved the first time in his solo career that Harrison wasn’t pushing his music forward.

The interviews he gave at the time suggested a creative rebirth, but listeners would have to wait until 1979 to experience the richness of this metamorphosis. Barring the execrable ‘Woman Don’t You Cry For Me’, Harrison’s foolish exercise in disco-posturing, there are no bad tracks, yet there’s nothing truly remarkable about the album either. Still, ‘True Love’ is fun, ‘Dear One’ forms the beginnings of ‘Your Love Is Forever’ and ‘Crackerbox Palace’ boasts one of his more enjoyable slide-licks.

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7. Gone Troppo (1982)

Like Thirty Three & 1/3 before it, Gone Troppo is neither dreadful nor brilliant, but pivots somewhere in between, like lukewarm water. On average, Gone Troppo is the superior album, largely because it’s the better realised. Arguably the most unapologetically fun-sounding album in his canon, Gone Troppo indulges in the whimsy he had long considered part of Paul McCartney’s metier.

From the jaunty ‘Wake Up Love’, to the holiday rose-tinted jollity of ‘Greece’, the album is a refreshingly light work, featuring little of the trappings of his 1970s outlet. The guitars are clean-sounding, the vocals suffused with melody, and the dream-like ‘Circles’ holds up with the best of his post-Beatle balladic output.

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6. Dark Horse (1974)

Criminally misunderstood by contemporary critics, Dark Horse is an album of extraordinary resilience and fortitude, written on the back of his divorce to Pattie Boyd. True, the vocal performances were ragged, but the lyrics were as revealing as the confessionals heard on John Lennon’s critically-acclaimed Plastic Ono Band.

In one almost blinding opening address, Harrison lets out years of anger on the startling title track, admonishing the critics who had undervalued his contributions to The Beatles. Then there’s the stunning ‘Simply Shady’, burning with desire and desperation, the guitars brimming to the forefront of the mix. Harrison addresses his break-up both implicitly (‘So Sad’) and explicitly (‘Bye-Bye Love’), but there’s no sense that he’s drowning. Indeed, by the close of the album, you think he’s going to be happy in himself.

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5. George Harrison (1979)

By the time he recorded his sixth solo album, he was very content in himself. He was happily married to the mother of his child, and he was now experiencing life through the eyes of his son, Dhani. Garden walks seemed more adventurous, friendships seemed more valuable, and he used these feelings so beautifully on ‘Blow Away’, complete with a bubbly video.

Other album highlights include the shimmering ‘Your Love Is Forever’ and the boisterous ‘Faster’, written in tribute to the Formula 1 drivers he envied, but the album holds another treat for Beatle fans in the form of ‘Not Guilty’. Pencilled as a White Album track, the song lay in Harrison’s cupboard until he felt brave enough to issue it alone.

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4. Living in the Material World (1973)

Phil Spector acted as producer on All Things Must Pass, but Harrison was confident enough in himself to produce his sophomore album alone. The result is a more unvarnished affair, dismantling many of the flourishes of the double album to focus squarely on the songs, and the man singing them.

Much of it is gorgeous, largely because Harrison was in such a good place creatively. Mantras ‘Who Can See It?’ and ‘The Light that has Lighted The World’ offer a more tranquil contrast to the rock-oriented fodder ‘Try Some, Buy Some’ and the giddily-inventive title track, but if the album boasts a classic, it’s ‘Give Me Love (Give Me Peace On Earth)’. Laced with a breezy riff, the song exhibits pastoral and electric textures. And reader, it’s brilliant.

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3. Brainwashed (2002)

Following the release of Cloud Nine, Harrison made the decision not to record again until the late 1990s. By then, he was suffering from cancer, which only worsened after he was stabbed by an intruder in 1999. He didn’t get to finish the album, but his son Dhani followed his notes as a way of best preserving the integrity of the record.

The album, easily his best since the 1970s, holds a number of revealing lyrics, from the introspective ‘Stuck Inside A Cloud’ to the more universal ‘Any Road’, but it’s the unadorned ‘Marwa Blues’ that proves worthiest of attention, largely because it’s so fresh sounding. Entirely instrumental, and produced with great reverence for the instrument, the tune exudes a passion for the world he was fortunate to inhabit. It deservedly won the 2004 Grammy Award for Best Pop Instrumental Performance.

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2. Extra Texture (Read All About It!) (1975)

Straight from the opening soaring salvo of saxophones, Harrison means business on an album that restored much of his artistic cache after his miserable experience in 1974. ‘You’ captures the vocalist amidst a circle of choppy guitars, ‘World of Stone’ demonstrates his fondness for keyboard, and the rollicking ‘This Guitar (Can’t Keep From Crying)’ is simply a monster.

The album also holds his first comic number as a solo artist. Inviting ‘Legs’ Larry Smith the opportunity to scat on ‘His Name Is Legs (Ladies and Gentlemen)’, Harrison proved he was as capable of writing flippant material as he was penning spiritual rockers. But that’s not to say the album lacks gravitas, as ‘The Answer’s At The End’ holds the most emotionally resonant vocal of Harrison’s life, both within and without The Beatles.

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1. All Things Must Pass (1970)

There could only be one winner. Harrison’s first solo album is his best work, and it’s seen by many, including this writer, as the best solo album from any former Beatle. In some ways, we have The Beatles to thank because Harrison had accrued enough rejects and outtakes to produce a triple album in 1970.

There are too many highlights to go into, but what’s even more remarkable than the density of the record is how varied and versatile it is. From the gospel-oriented grooves of ‘Hear Me Lord’ to the thunderous ‘Art of Dying’, the album exudes confidence in every genre it touches. Best of all, the album holds a third disc of instrumentals, giving Harrison the excuse to plug in and wail. Seismic.

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