Today marks 52 years since George Harrison gave the world the first-ever taste of a solo album by a member of The Beatles when his soundtrack for the film Wonderwall was given it’s premiere at the Cannes Film Festival.
The 19-track record was later released in November and became the first to be shared on The Beatles’ newly founded Apple Records. It was a completely instrumental record, except for occasional non-English language vocals, and mostly comprised of short musical vignettes. It showed of Harrison’s growing sonic prowess.
The film which the soundtrack accompanied was director Joe Massot’s debut and the project followed a lonely professor—played by Irish actor Jack MacGowan—who has a growing obsession with his female neighbour. The character just so happens to be a fashion model named Penny Lane played by Jane Birkin and the professor becomes slowly infatuated with her.
Wonderwall, at the time of its release, couldn’t have been any more different than the music that Harrison was putting out with The Beatles. The score provided the guitarist with the opportunity to experiment with new sounds that would never have found their way on to The White Album.
Harrison recorded the album between November 1967 and February 1968 in both London and Bombay. Indian culture was famously a major influence on Harrison. He used the film score to further promote the country’s heritage of classical music by introducing Western audiences to instruments that were relatively unknown such as the shehnai, sarod, tar shehnai and santoor. A collection of traditional instruments which he juxtaposed with experimental psychedelic rock.
Speaking about his thinking behind the record in 1992, Harrison recalled: “I decided to do it as a mini-anthology of Indian music because I wanted to help turn the public on to Indian music.”
The former Beatle also spoke about his creative process, adding: “I had a regular wind-up stopwatch and I watched the film to ‘spot-in’ the music with the watch. I wrote the timings down in my book, then I’d go to [the recording studio], make up a piece, record it.”
Wonderwall was a critical success with author Simon Leng waxing lyrical about Harrison’s masterpiece of a debut: “The lack of dialogue left acres of room for music to speak, and a soupçon of cosmic apotheosis also helped … Wonderwall touched on themes that would come to preoccupy George Harrison — critically, the objectification of celebrities and the shallowness of fame.”
Harrison’s debut went on to inspire Oasis’ 1995 hit song ‘Wonderwall‘ which would become more famous than the former Beatles guitarist’s album and give attention to the record to a whole new generation of music lovers.
Listen to the 1968 masterful debut by George Harrison below.