1974 was George Harrison‘s annus horribilis. Worn out, run down and shot down by the critics, the Beatle returned to his home in Friar Park with little to show for his efforts on Dark Horse but the memories of failure. Worse still, his wife had left him for Eric Clapton, earning him an unfair reputation as one of rock’s first cuckolds. Dark Horse failed to chart in England, and he was now being forced into the realms of yesteryear, where he arguably never truly came back from.
And there is no stronger possible indication of Harrison’s fury at the year than this telling quote, which suggested that the demons that had pulled the guitar down into an unfortunate slump had followed him back to his beloved garden. “When I got off the plane and back home, I went into the garden and I was so relieved,” he once commented. “That was the nearest I got to a nervous breakdown. I couldn’t even go into the house.”
So, it’s to his credit that he summoned the strength to rebuild himself as an artist, and although his career never reached the dizzy heights of his early 1970s output, he made great efforts to ensure that it was the art, and not the sales awarded to it, that mattered. By 1975, he felt sufficiently confident in himself to record a new album, and by 1976, he was writing songs about the woman who was set to carry his son, Dhani. Even more extraordinarily, Extra Texture (Read All About It!) was a far superior album to Dark Horse, carrying a production sheen that was punctuated by the theatre, romance and blistering keyboards that carried it to the most romantic terrain of the songwriter’s career.
He was focused on the spirit of the album, curating a work soaked in gospel and soul influences, yet lifted by a desire for rebirth and growth. In some ways, Extra Texture (Read All About It!) was about re-calibrating the essence of what made him such an attractive proposition to John Lennon in the late 1950s. It was less Dark Horse II, and more The Dark Horse Rises.
Unlike the emotionally coiled elegies of its immediate predecessor, Extra Texture (Read All About It!) was rich in spontaneity, every track sounding more carefree and untroubled than the one that came before it. Best of all, ‘The Answer’s At The End’ captured the songwriter in a forgiving mood, as he absolved the evils of the world through one of the most committed vocals of his career. He sounded jovial on ‘You’, before embarking into out-and-out comedy territories with ‘His Name Is Legs (Ladies and Gentlemen)’, a jocular rocker lifted by the presence of a Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah member.
And yet for all the happiness, Harrison returns to the darkness for the blinding ‘This Guitar (Can’t Keep From Crying)’, in an earnest attempt to lacerate the journalists who had devalued his art based on their preconceptions. “I always think people will give others more credit than they do,” Harrison admitted, “So I assumed they’d know I’m in bad voice but still feel the music’s plentiful and good. I wrote that song about being stuck on a limb, and being down, but not out”.
It’s a blinding number, rattling through the papers, chiefly Rolling Stone, that had gone out of their way to harass, humiliate and even embarrass him. But rather than let the anger soak the tune, Harrison is guided by it, to bellow out a response that was equal parts condescension as it was mockery. Despite their best efforts, he was still able to “climb walls”, but recognised “the score” at a time when his greatest dissenters didn’t. Through it all, his guitar kept singing, although the instrument, like the man who played it, reacted better to the prospect of “love” over the charge of hate.
The song also found Harrison embracing his Beatle past, and rightly or wrongly, the tune carries on the narrative of The White Album‘s seminal ‘While My Guitar Gently Weeps’. Destined to follow in the shadow of its older sibling, ‘This Guitar (Can’t Keep From Crying’ is actually the stronger track, and certainly the more impactful, rising from the bottom of Harrison’s gut into the vicinity of the public domain. Mercifully, the song is also devoid of the propulsive Clapton licks of the original, although there was little chance that Harrison would have invited the Cream frontman to play on his album at that particular juncture in time!
If the track served to cleanse his throat of past evil, then it did the trick, and then some. George Harrison and Somewhere in England made for much more jolly listens to Dark Horse, and by 1980, he was able to embrace the media with a bigger smile on his face.