Monday 10 August 2015

Stephen Stills "Illegal Stills" (1976)

Available in ebook format 'Change Partners - The Alan's Album Archives Guide To The Music Of CSNY' by clicking here!

Stephen Stills "Illegal Stills" (1976)

Buyin' Time/Midnight In Paris/Different Tongues/Soldier/The Loner//Stateline Blues/Closer To You/No Me Nieges/Ring Of Love/Circlin'

'The less you bet, stayin' in, the more you lose even when you win'

Psst buddy. Wanna buy a record? No it's not a bootleg, though some say perhaps it should have been and many fans reckon 'Illegal Stills' is more criminal. I feel I ought to be making some joke here about the record's famous front cover (the most inventive thing about it actually) with Stills' head plastered on a bottle of hooch with such great additives as 'A Strong blend' 'brewed in the Rockies' (where Stephen was living at the time) and '33 and a third proof' (the 'speed' of the record back at the time when vinyl records played at different sizes for different speeds). Even if they did miss the obvious: 'Not fizzy, but Stills'. You know the sort of thing: 'It's powerful stuff!' 'Alco-Pop!' 'The Booze Brothers' 'Stills is a Hooch-filled coochie blues man!' and on pretty much any other Stephen Stills album these terms would be highly fitting for the sort of bluesy heard-hitting rock Stills usually brings to the table (or on the other-hand his light touch with singalong pop songs). Instead the only one metaphors that really works are 'it's all a bit diluted' and 'don't listen to this album while operating heavy machinery'. Coming hard on the heels of one of the greatest extended runs of writing by anyone ever (between 1968 and 1975 Stills appeared on a grand total of nine studio albums, one of them a double) 'Illegal Stills' just sounds a little dry somehow, a little lacking in flavour and by Stills' usual standards this is actually a rather weak blend of what Stills can do when pushed - whatever it says on the sleeve. The sad fact is that 'Illegal Stills' could have with a little more brewing - and being a lot more 'illegal' (or at any rate slightly more 'dangerous'!)

That's where most of the review of this album end, kicking Stills when he's done and shaking our collective heads at the fact that after several years at the height of his powers Stills is now suddenly a washed-up with nothing left to say. While clearly a major step downwards from the wonderful and much under-rated first album on CBS (simply titled 'Stills' - you can tell how creative an album a Stills solo record is by how bland the name is!) 'Illegal Stills' is a step down from such massive heights that even a half-dose of the usual Stills spirit still packs more wallop than most period records. Though I was as disappointed as everyone else when I first bought this album (and it didn't help that I bought 'Stills' the same day which rather over-shadowed it!) I've actually come to respect if not quite like this album's laid-back groove which is less intense than the usual Stills formula but often as beautiful. Very little here is truly bad and much of it is charming - and still offers the sort of playfulness that few other singer-songwriters of the age were offering: Stills singing in French for his new French wife Veronique Sanson, another Latin language song, a rallying cry against another world recession, a song of support to a Vietnam Vet left dying and forgotten in a hospital ward and an acoustic blues. Only by Stills standards would such a collection seem bland or boring - perhaps we were just spoilt for too long by too many of the highest quality releases. Had this been as low as Stills' solo career had gone I'd have still been impressed - the problem is that most future LPs won't even fare this well (though I must confess to a soft spot for the unusual 'disco confessional' sequel 'Thoroughfare Gap').

After all, talent never just disappears overnight (although later Stills records 'Right By You' and 'Man Alive' gave it a very good go!) Like 'Stills' it's lovely to hear Stephen in such a loved-up frame of mind for once and pouring out love songs without the stings in the tails or the soul-bearing that goes with his usual heart-broken love songs; the trouble is that without that tension taking place in his life Stills just can't find any to bring to his music anymore and too much of this records soars where in the old days it would have pounced and spat out feathers while veering from one emotional extreme to another. Without the fire burning in Stills to push the envelope as far as it will go (because, after all, what else was there for Stephen to do after playing to the biggest crowds in history as part of CSNY in 1974?) Stills finds himself sounding more and more like every other artist around in 1976 (this is easily the most Leo Sayer/John Denver/Eagles of solo CSNY LPs, soft rock that's offensive in its very inoffensiveness). However it's hard to put your finger on what doesn't work. Though Stills himself admitted to being disappointed in the album afterwards and reckoned he didn't work hard enough on it compared to past records that isn't actually the problem - it's all well played, often exquisitely song (this is the end of the period when Stills can really sing like an angel, rather than an angel whose been out on the booze with lots of cigarettes) and the production is excellent and sumptuous, multi-layered and carefully planned (though a little more raw grit wouldn't have gone amiss). The songs too aren't bad as songs - a little too heavy on the love theme perhaps but 'Buyin Time' and 'Soldier' in particular are credible and brave on paper, rallying cries in the old CSNY 'town crier' tradition which suggest that even if Stills did write this album while staying at home as a family man, at least he was reading the paper. No the problem seems to have come from the two together - this production and the slick performances are great on the love songs, but there are just too many of them for variety's sake. Equally hearing the songs that ought to stand out played with the same levelled production values as the other songs means that even the songs that deserve to stabnd out don't. You only have to compare 'Buyin' Time' (which was clearly written in an evil mood - 'America the dream is lost and it's killing me and you!') - with what CSNY would have done with the song years earlier, teeth bared and gnashing as if this was the most important thing in the world; Stills just sounds as if he's venting his anger before heading back to read the rest of his paper quietly. Equally Stills' second cover of his partner Neil Young's songs (attacked as sabotage but actually done as a 'favour' to keep his old friend's work in the public eye during his slight fall from grace in the mid 70s and the 'doom trilogy') 'The Loner' shows off everyone of Stills' talents in turn (it's wildly inventive, has a completely new riff, a singalong chorus, a much more 'organised' construction and a passionate lead vocal and strong guitar solo-ing) except one: the passion and authenticity that Neil brought to his original version (on his debut album 'Neil Young' in 1968 - how I'd have loved to have heard a 'Buffalo Springfield' era version of this tune with the best of both worlds!)Equally, even with the language barrier, you can tell that earlier 'Latin' songs like 'Pensamiento' and 'Guacanga De Vera' clearly mean something to Stills by the way he attacks them; 'No Me Nieges' could have been about anything the way Stills sings it here (actually it's another of his more revealing lyrics, certainly for this album - as most of Stills' lyrics that need a translator tend to be - about how Stills needs to be 'misunderstood' or both halves of a relationship will be left 'alone and crying'; the literal translation is 'I Do Not Snow' so make of that what you will!) Also there's a cracking song in 'Circlin' somewhere, with some great edgy harmonics work, some snarling guitar work on a riff that stalks its prey like a wolf and a witty lyric about finding yourself repeating the same old bad habits - but also a much repeated Eurovision-style chorus that just takes all the 'juicy bits' out of the songs ('Illegal Stills' appears to have been put through a stariner before being put back in the bottle).

Perhaps the ultimate reason 'Illegal Stills' 'fails' as a solo Stills record is that it's not really a Stills solo record at all. There's a joke amongst fans that this is instead 'Donnie Dacus' best solo record', which is a witticism so spot-on I wish I'd come up with it. Donnie was a Los Angeles guitarist that Stills had befriended during the late Buffalo Springfield years after his band The Yellow Payges played support with them at a Beach Boys show. Stills must have been struck by how similar Donnie was to the Springfield's Richie Furay - he was straightforward, could sing really well and had a composing style that was uncomplicated and easy to connect to (whereas even back then Stills tended to go for the 'epic'). Figuring that CSNY would never get back together again after their heavy split of 1974 (much more serious than most of their previous splits had been) and with Manassas having split for good in 1973, Stills may have been looking for his own mini-Springfield to put together to take out on the road (though with Stills very much in charge this time, without the clashes that came from working with Neil Young). Dacus (seen with Stills on the back cover, just to underline how crucial he was to this record) was undoubtedly talented as adds some lovely harmonies to this record, sweetening the edges of Still's voice and co-writing some of the better tracks with his new friend. The pair clearly have a blend and a bond and it's a shame for both of them they never worked together again (Instead Dacus joined the cast of Hair and one of the last line-ups of Chicago in 1978, when Stills went back to working with Neil later in the year and - against all the odds - CSN the year after). However there's a line crossed somewhere along the way which makes fans a little uncomfortable. Donnie doesn't just sing a bit when he's needed - he's there nearly all the flipping time, even taking the lead vocals on songs like 'Midnight In Paris' 'Closer To You' and 'Ring Of Love'. Having heard some of his other songs (though there aren't that many out there) it also seems fair to say that the songs he wrote with Stills have much more of a Dacus flavour than a CSN one: respectable, likeable, sometimes beautiful but in truth not that memorable. Had Stills been starting out as a fellow young wannabe this partnership could have worked well - but after hearing Stills working in tandem with such names as Furay, Crosby Nash and Young nearly anyone would sound like a come-down. It doesn't help either that Dacus seems to be doing most of the donkey-work on this album, with Stills content to add a few bits and pieces and pass on his knowledge and words of wisdom to his younger, hungrier friend rather than light the way. Stills may have his name and likeness on the brew of the bottle label but he's just the 'brandname' on this record, the same way that Ronald McDonald doesn't really cook all the burgers at McDonalds (or at least he doesn't at mine - I looked and anyway clown shoes would be a hazard in a fast food chain) and the same way that half the celebrities using L'oriel actually have really posh hairdressers they go to every week and they really aren't worth it at all.

Perhaps that's also the reason why, unlike almost every other Stills record solo or otherwise, there isn't really a theme at work here. Or at least actually there's several: Stephen in love, Stephen gets cross and Stephen feels guilty, with 'The Loner' somehow joining all three. But that's kind of the problem here - at his best Stills is one of the most dazzling multi-layered writers going. There are so many layers at work in a song like 'Suite: Judy Blue Eyes' that it would take me a whole other book to unravel them all and something tells me even then I wouldn't get close to what Stills really meant the day he wrote it. Love in the Stephen Stills world is frightening yet fascinating, repelling yet compelling, full of the greatest joys that life has to bring and biggest deepest chasms when something goes wrong. On this album love is what hangs in the air when you visit Paris (something of a cliché, that), where true happiness is a 'ring of love, surrounding you and me' (again not the most original thought in the world) and a 'pot of gold with a silver lining' (the blues-song-that-isn't 'Stateline Blues') which is surely true only if you happen to own a lot of anonymous MOR 1970s singer-songwriter albums and/or are a pixie (who said the artist formerly known as Prince first then, I heard you!) We've heard Stills pour his heart out so many times, agonising over his mistakes and guilty over his indiscretions and a whole album in 1975 of how much he longed to be a daddy and yet feared being up to the task that it's rather a jolt to be back in a world where love is all nice, all the time (with the exception of 'No Me Neigas', the only song that point to something deeper - though even then, typically, Stills hides it behind a translated lyrics only a few of his fans ever understood in the days before the internet and dodgy translator apps). Even the songs where Stills gets cross - the slow burn of 'Soldier' and the fiery rant of 'Buyin' Time' only sound angry to the same sort of extent that singer-songwriters usually get angry; this is a member of CSNY for heaven's sake, then band who used the word 'passionate' more times than a Masterchef contestant about to go out in the first round.

As for the cover of 'The Loner' that just shows up what's 'missing' from this album - Neil's lyric is elusive, fragmented, confusing. Even after hundreds of playings I'm not quite sure what it means - and yet at the same time I do because the emotion of the performance is so clear: this is a man whose hurting and doesn't quite understand himself why he has to be so separate from people, even at the cost of his own happiness. Stills 'gets' his partner's work better than just about anyone else around (they have much more in common than people think - which is why they fight as much as they do) - but Stills is one of those people who 'forgets' an emotion he isn't currently feeling and is too authentic to fake: this would have been a killer cover song to do in an earlier period when Stephen felt as equally afraid and lonely and distant as Neil did in 1968 when writing this; but in 1976 loneliness is a distant memory and this record can't come close to matching the intensity of the original, even if technically speaking it's probably better arranged and performed. You wonder why Stills chose it when he did - surely 'I've Been Waiting For You' 'I've Loved Her So Long' or even 'Heart Of Gold' would have been a better choice at this point in Stephen's life. That lack of intensity is what's most costly about this record overall in fact - good as all the ingredients are this bottle just doesn't have a strong enough flavour and however good the method, however worthy the ideas, however carefully the ingredients have been picked if there's no taste there's no real point. Even at his worst and most provocative Stills was never an ordinary singer-songwriter up until this point - he always had something up his sleeve, a little bit of emotion or a stunning complex twist right where you least expected it; this record isn't bad it just plays things so safe it never gets a chance to show off how much Stills can do. 'Illegal Stills' isn't anywhere close to being illegal or even illicit, that's it's problem (though 'Bland Stills' probably wouldn't have sold as many copies to be fair).

It's worth reminding you, though, that this poor little record really isn't bad. Reading some of the reviews of this record, both at the time and in the decades since, you'd have thought Stills had burnt the American flag upside down whilst pledging his allegiance to the Spice Girls the amount of flack he's taken about this record. Honestly it's not that bad - it's a lot better than the horrific over-produced 'Right By You' (which actually has some promising songs you just don't get to hear) and the even more horrific under-written 'Man Alive' (which has some truly terrible songs, however well intended or well performed) and a lot less boring than 'Stills Alone'. There's nothing here likely to give you a headache or bore you to tears like that trio of unfortunate records to come - it's just that instead of a fiery Stills we get one that fizzles (Hey 'Fizzle Stills' - there's a better name for it!) Heard individually you can really see the worth in the individual songs that gets lost when heard all together (this is another of those CSN solo records weaker than the sum of it's parts) - 'Buyin' Time' is restless and troubled, like a cloud hanging over the rest of the record of bad times to come if people don't take heed an do something soon; 'Soldier' is a gloriously biting song about one of Stills' favourite subjects, abandoned Vietnam Vets who went from heroes to zeros in the eyes of the American public even though it wasn't often their choice to declare war (the idea of the soldiers fighting a harder, tougher war when they get home is well handled, with Stills' anger menacing rather than biting for once); 'Midnight In Paris' may be a clichéd song in the extreme, but it's a clichéd song by a songwriter who has every trick of the trade at his fingertips and is both pretty and smart; the dreamy 'Different Tongues' fails only compared to past glorious Stills orchestral weepies - it still has a certain power and charisma behind it's romantic outpourings and pleadings for honesty and a sharpness that (just about) cuts through the lush backing; 'Closer To You' has a delicious organ part and a lyric that sounds as if it at least started as a decent song, full of another favourite Stills theme about 'hiding' your real self behind a 'reserve', 'within walls'; finally 'Circlin' ought to sound grand - there's a terrific riff, a strong band performance and the central theme about messing up yet again has led to some real triumphs in the past - the fact that it just sits there and doesn't do anything shouldn't get in the way of the fact that the ingredients for a great song are there - it's just that the chef forgot to turn the oven on so they never coalesce (or, if you like, the malt-in-a-bucket-about-to-become-beer tastes great, but mother nature hasn't mixed the ingredients together yet). If this album had received the greatest plaudits of Stills' career then no doubt I'd have been scratching my head the other way (and personally mailing everyone I could find a copy of 'Stephen Stills Manassas' as proof of how great Stills could be) -  but given that everyone hates this album's guts (dregs?) I simply can't bottle it up any longer: there's a lot of great music here, not just as great and not as much of it as was there in the past. After so many past successes an album as so-so as 'Illegal' was always going to struggle (it would be a different story if Stills were to release something this good now I fear), but it is a vintage that's aged particularly well (remember time is only water that we drink) and may be worth revisiting after all.

'Buyin' Time' is the album in a nutshell. I love this little song which is so Stills, tying up a lyric that's despairing and depressed and is throwing in the towel while the music can't resist being happy, forcing the music on to  the warmth of a classic singalong chorus that only Stills can write. It's very of its times too, both celebrating the fact that Nixon is gone out the White House and that American youth has 'won', whilst simultaneously telling us that it's not over yet - that there's still so much work to do. Recorded two recessions ago, Stills' lyric sounds shocked - how can a country so rich and powerful ever fall on such hard times? - whilst using the witty metaphor of the lending and borrowing doing nothing to solve the actual problem, merely 'buying time' until we end up going through this whole cycle all over again (Stills feels compelled to compare it to recessions past too - 'It happened once before you know in 1932 - but now there's so many more of us!') Stills sounds to me as if he's reaching back further than a mere capitalist diatribe here though and is commenting on the 'death' of the 60s dream despite all the victories taking place in the age: he even starts the song off by quoting from the Loving Spoonful whose hippie songs of 1965 in many ways started the hippie era ('Unless you believe in magic - there ain't much that youy can do' he sighs), peaking with the aggressive line 'America the dream is lost - and it's killing me and you!' The backing half-supports this, with the weary shrug of a great organ part from Jerry Aiello and a Latin America salsa of the sort Stills always did so well, caught somewhere between gospel and blues, which is restless and fiery, swaying about this way and that throughout the song as if trying to take control back by swiping at the main heavy rock beat. But it never quite does - instead the momentum of a capitalist system is too strong and the song just keeps trundling on like it always does, with no changes made. That all results in a terrific song - but sadly it makes for a lousy recording as - the organ and piano part aside - there's just no life to this track, which sinks under the weight of a top heavy performance and a chorus harmony that comes with ready-made cheesy grins that are just 'wrong' for this song. Had Manassas performed it, with all their genre-bending, salsa-loving funky rhythms 'Buyin' Time' would be stupendous - instead your heart sinks as you realise that this is the closest that 'Illegal Stills' ever comes to a 'classic'. Still, overlook this song at your peril - it's a bit of a breakthrough for Stills in this period.

As, in a rather different sense, is 'Midnight In Paris. This song is Stills at his most dewy-eyed and love-lorn, his most openly naked love song without any of the usual 'you make it hard' style twists and turns. His wife Veronique was French and - Europhile as he was at the time - much of their courtship took place in Paris, the 'city of love' (though from my experience the 'city of high prices' might be closer to the mark). Stills slightly alters his career tradition of singing his most open lyrics he doesn't want anyone to hear in a foreign language - but this time it's a lovey dovey verse written in pidgin-French for his new bride (That second verse in full: 'We waited for months, I came from afar, I will tell you about music if you tell me about you, if you want to feel how real this is then dance with me, we'll open another bottle...' or something like that anyway, thanks to Le Allan's Le Musique Archiver and their mascot Le Maxamillion Le Chant Chien for the translation!) However, this being Stills he can't quite bring himself to see the world from another person's perspective totally and if you took the lyrics away this would sound like another of those Stills Latin songs, with a slightly slower variation on his usual rhythms that suddenly explode into a funky samba in the chorus. He also can't quite write this sort of a song, which is where co-writer Donnie Dacus enters in earnest, singing the entire first verse without warning (so that the first time you hear this song you're busy checking the label to check they haven't printed the vinyl up with the wrong album) and the song is much closer to his natural laidback mellow groove than Stills' usual more restless, energetic style. Stills puts on a good show - as he says in his ever entertaining sleevenotes for his solo albums it took hours of painstaking work to get the French pronunciation right, though he still sounds a tad uncomfortable - but once again the track isn't quite as loose and flamboyant as it should be. After all this is Paris, the city where anything should goes - but Stills sounds as if he's stuck in Luton, with a stiff and heavy performance where again Jerry Aiello on piano fares best. This song also contains one of the either best or worst lines of Stills' career depending on what mood you're in: 'I'm a little funky, been wearing out my shoes - but don't mean anything unless I'm dancing with you!', although some of the other English lyrics are better, Stills backing in the glow of ordinary moments, sheltering with his beloved in a French park 'while the rain came down'. The very Stills line that he's 'wound up like a clock that's too tight' as he waits for his beloved to appear, lost in a strange foreign land where he feels very self-conscious is a great opening to any song and would perhaps have made a better composition than the rather puppy love lyrics of the bulk of this track.

The dreamy 'Different Tongues' picks up on the same mood - Stills still feels out of place in the world of his new wife but it doesn't matter because love can overcome the language barrier. However, Stills is more concerned about something deeper, the doubts and fears and darker side that always seems to scupper his more intense relationships in the past. The language barrier is just a smokescreen really - what he's concerned about isn't whether his wife can understand what he says but what he means, what drives him and where he's coming from. Stills is often at his best when he's at his most vulnerable and he's rarely been more vulnerable than here with a lyric that on the one hand says 'well you ought to know me well enough by now' and on the other acknowledges that he can't expect others to know him when he doesn't even understand himself yet. A lovely string arrangement flows in from nowhere to make this the most passionate, delicate love song since 'To A Flame' six years earlier (both share a similar melody too) - but alas yet again that's where the comparisons end. You just knew on that song that Stills meant every line and every turn of the strings cut like a knife. The recording of 'Different Tongues' is merely lovely-dovey and that's not anywhere near as convincing. Stills also uncharacteristically chickens out of going all the way after his excellent opening, turning the song into yet another romantic love poem where he gets upset at the thought of being 'all alone' and a rather patronising lyric where he suggests to his lover that asking for help like this is a good thing and she ought to try it sometime (knowing Stills she's been crying out for help too but he's been too busy turning his own into 'art' to listen!) The result, then, is a slightly uncomfortable listen, with a production that again is a little heavy and weighty for what should be a delicate feather of a song and a growl of a vocal that doesn't come close to expressing just how personal this song was to Stills - but there's a highly promising song underneath it all that too often gets written off.

'Soldier' is another of the album highlights, a song that starts off mocking to another salsa beat before suddenly growing into a heartfelt assault as Stills' heart bleeds for the very same veterans CSNY once tried so hard to bring back home without fighting. Stills consider the young strong men sent to fight as the archetypal American hero - brave, brawny and dashing - with the wrecks he's seen of veterans sent home, phsyically and mentally scarred for life. Where the world once seemed at their feet, now they're just 'stuck in a hospital ward, living in a wheelchair'. Stills reckons the Vietnam war was 'easy' - they were told where to shoot and didn't have to think and thought they had the backing of their country. The real 'war' starts now, struggling to overcome the changes in their lives alone in a world that simply doesn't trust them anymore. The chorus cries out 'soldier soldier', usually the rallying cry that means the cavalry are coming to help and it's all going to be ok - but the cry falls eerily on an uncomfortable note that shouldn't be here and the realisation hits you: this time the soldiers are lone and no one is there to rush to their aid. 'Was anybody with you when you felt your body die?' challenges Stills, 'The shell of a man' that the authorities 'hide; because it's bad for their propaganda. Like much of the album, a slightly sluggish performance doesn't offer the power that Stills on his peak form might have delivered and once more Jerry Aiello's wonderfully mocking jazz chords are the highlight of the backing track, but this time things are better for two important reasons. One is that this song suits being so claustrophobic and weighty - the other is that Stills turns in a stunning guitar solo (rare for this album) which ratchets up the tension nicely, starting as a whisper and growing into an angry snarl that hurls itself at the walls of its musical prison before sinking, wearily, back down to Earth again. This song is clearly a step under a song like 'For What It's Worth' on a similar theme, but the most reluctant political writer of CSNY had a real way with songs like this, speaking up on behalf of the underdogs, and this is a much overlooked song from Stills' canon.

Side one ends with the rather busy re-make of colleague Neil's 'The Loner'. The major differences are a whole new riff (which Stills, whose only just moved from England, compares to the theme tune to TV show 'Crossroads', though it doesn't really sound like that to me) which is to Stills what the original was to Young: it's brittle, relentless and far more rocky, getting by through sheer turbulence and power whereas Neil's is more piercing and goes straight to the jugular. The mass harmonies and salsa rhythms also turn this into much more of a 'brotherly' song than Neil's version from 1968, which sounds almost proud about the title character's ability to remove himself from the influence of all people. The difference too is that between the music styles of the two eras: Stills' version borders on noisy for the soft rock year of 1976 whereas it still pales in comparison to the rootsier year of 1968 (for which Neil actually doesn't go as far as some of his peers might have done at the time). The cover should work - the main thing that Stills and Young have in common is a sense of vulnerability and a mixed ability at social interactions (a similar shyness that's solved by Stills by taking charge and by Young by staying away and leaving when things get messy - he's definitely an #INFJ in the Myers-Briggs types with the loudest and most thorough 'door slams' of them all, whereas Stills reads more like an ENFP, opposites but not by too much). Neil sounds at times as if he genuinely hates people and would much rather be on his own - Stills though just mis-reads and mis-understands them and needs the social interaction (that's perhaps why he keeps returning to CSNY but Neil rarely does) which of course changes the tone of a song like this one. When Stills sings 'step aside, open wide - it's the loner' in his own head he may be opening the door for Neil, looking at it from the outside in and offering a hand of friendship to a friend whose only now beginning to slowly get back on his feet (that offer will backfire, though, with the ill-fated and quickly dissolved Stills-Young Band getting together mere weeks after this record's release date). Many fans say that they hate this cover because it shows such blatant disregard for Neil's original, or to some of the 'Crazy Horse over CSN' cronies it's evidence of why CSNY were never as good as Neil's other band. However I like this cover version a lot which does exactly what a good cover song should do, looking at the song afresh from an entirely new perspective without losing complete touch with the original sentiment. However in this case the original is still very much best.

Onto side two, which isn't quite as strong as the first. Stills opens with an acoustic blues song which is normally a place where he'd excel. But 'Stateline Blues' sounds like the sort of thing The Eagles would call 'the blues', it's a quick stepping finger-snapping blues with a daft lyric about a gamblin' man (Fancy Dan) whose always coming up trumps. The narrator looks on aghast as Fancy Dan keeps betting his money, sure from experience that his luck's going to run out sometime and he's bound to come a cropper, but amazingly he never does. It's hard to know what Stills meant by this curio track - was it written as a joke? A homage to old blues days? or just a finger exercise to keep his playing in shape? At a fraction under two minutes it's one of Stills' shorter songs and the fact that most of those two minutes is taken up the repetitive chorus 'a pot of gold and a silver lining' (repeated six times within those two minutes - every twenty seconds or so, even the worst jingles don't do that!) It's nice to hear Stills stripped down to the basics and his acoustic playing is as good as ever even if his vocal sounds a tad distracted - but ironically just as the album's production sorts itself out the song isn't worth the effort invested into it! Also, why is this song a 'blues'? It's certainly the happiest on this album!

The sweeping Aiello organ and samba beats that dominate this album are back again on 'Closer To You', which starts with a whole verse of Donnie Dacus before Stills finally gets to sing on his own song. My guess is that Donnie wrote the generic verses ('Have you seen the ;ladies passing by? They don't seem to notice that I'm lonesome and I cry!') and Stills the grittier chorus which again returns to the distances between people (the much more desperate sounding 'I just want to be closer to you - I don't want to be alone!') It's the single best chorus on the album and features a very Stills combination of bluesy guitar, latin rhythms, flamenco flourishes and a gospel organ and yet still ends up turning out rather rock and roll ish. There are some lovely moments across this track - the moment the chorus sweeps back in quieter, sadder and slower after the solo as if Stills is saying 'no, really - that was just the pop trappings to get this song on the radio, I do mean this!' is one of the best moments on the record. But there aren't enough of them and once again only Jerry on that overworked organ part sounds as if he got the memo about what the song is really about, circling the other almost dementedly happy players with a swirling cloud of sorrow that's about to sweep the lovers off their feet the minute they lose touch with what they really feel. Stills also gets in another dig at capitalism in the second verse (the second half of this song sounds like an entirely different song in fact), where 'bright lights are shining in front of me - but all I see at night is clockwork deception'; that removing yourself from a society that tells you making money is the only reason to live gives you a chance to see how much more life has to offer. Stills has a 'positive energy' by the third verse, having recharged his batteries (in Paris?) and is ready to pass on the 'message' of what life is really about all over again (though typically Stills calls for life to 'bring on the ladies' rather than both genders!) Like much on this album there's a great song in here somewhere but it seemed to get kind of lost in translation (which is kind of apt for a song about getting lost in translation when you think about it!)

'No Me Neiges' is the most Latin song on perhaps Stills' most overtly Latin album as he returns to the music of his youth to pour out his heart on a song that veers from English to Spanish throughout. As ever with Stills and his foreign languages, he appears to be pouring his heart out - though the title is in French (and translates as 'No Snow On Me', weirdly) as if to point out that this is yet another song written in Veronique's direction. However much of this song is in Spanish and translates as follows: And if you do not understand me, I'll leave you alone and crying, And what you get what you happened, As dear or not as you may want, Do not let me miserable, And if you come from your heart we still can feel, Listen to me listen my dear love, and we pair will feel love throughout our lives (our thanks to our Spanish sister site Hallano's Musica Archivo - our thanks to their special mascot Maxa Da Canto Perro for this translation!) Stills is already worried about a relationship that seemed so perfect just a year and an album before (sadly the marriage won't last and will be all over by 1978) and sounds like one of those 'daggers drawn' flamenco flourishes rather than the introspective doubt-ridden songs that usually make up Stills' Latin lyrics. Stills basically declares that he'll never ever turn away so she's stuck with him and had better learn how to cope with him good and bad. 'It may not mean much to you'# he sniffs huffily, but it clearly means a lot to him. Though not a match for other similar Stills songs in the Latin vein - it's all a bit closer to what other songs in this vein sound like ie Ricky Martin without Stills' own characteristics thrown in the melting point - it's another song that might have sounded great recorded for any other album but this one; here it just all sounds a bit wet. For once Stills is great on form with his lyrics - it's another one you can understand just from the passion of his singing - but the rest of the band don't quite 'get' it and even the reliable Jerry is hopelessly miscast on this song with a sweeping string synth string part that's icky and not all part of the very real drama unfolding on this song. Stills talks in the sleevenotes about how proud he was that the bunch of musicians nailed all the beats but to me that's what ruins this song - the band are at least a take away from playing this song fluently and by Stills standards muck up every '#full stop' the music has to offer. Me No Comprende.

'Ring Of Love' is one of the weaker album tracks too. This is effectively a Donnie Dacus solo piece, with Stills only popping up on the chorus and it's a clichéd song about love gone bad and then gone good. Everything's going to be fine now, though, because everyone is surrounded by a 'ring of love' that will protect them forevermore, which suggests the pair have been listening to a bit too much of Johnny Cash. There's a chorus that stands out from the verse simply by virtue of not doing what you think it will (staying on the aggressive 'push' long past the point most songwriters would have gone back to the verse, like the terrific rush of adrenalin at the end of Manassas song 'It Doesn't Matter' and almost certainly Stills' contribution, alongside the characteristic 'boom...dum dur da dum' drum riff that follows). However too much of this song is just 70s singer-songwriter schlock about a couple falling in love so hard they'll never fall out of it again, which Stills can usually do better standing on his head. It sounds rather like wishful thinking too given the torture of the other lyrics on the album. Apparently Dacus didn't want to sing lead on this song but Turtles stalwarts Flo and Eddie (who appear on loads of 70s albums including 'All Things Must Pass') were hanging round the studio and talked him into it while Stills looked on, adding the hard-to-hear lower harmony part.

'Illegal Stills' needs a strong closer and Stills was characteristically worries that he didn't have one, until late on in the album sessions Stills feverishly wrote a first draft of 'Circlin', later finishing it off with the help of bass player Kenny Passerelli (who happened to turn up for work early that day). Recorded afresh when most of the usual musicians for this album had been sent home, it's a song that could have been another great one - especially if performed 'as live' like Stills at his best usually is. However, once again 'Circlin' is a song that's intriguing rather than powerful, with an arrangement that switches too quickly between the funky verses with some delightful philosophy about doing things over and over because you haven't learnt to overcome your mistakes ('There's very few that can face themselves or each other alone') and the singalong poppy chorus that seems very out of place ('Feet where are you going when you're circlin?') Sensing that he's treading on established territory, Stills even quotes from Joni Mitchell's 'Circle Game' at one stage which raises an interesting point - is this song not just about Stephen and Veronique but possibly about Stephen and Graham Nash? (That's who Joni wrote her song for, after the pair's split in 1971). Stills introduces the song by addressing...someone ('Can I tell you a story?' before adding self-deprecatingly 'It ain't too long') before turning in a lyric about being sorry for past bad behaviours. The performance too leaves much to be desired, with guitars in the left right and middle apparently turning up at random and only Passarelli's nicely funky bass adds a touch of menace to a song that badly needs it. However, what could have been a great guilty rant ends up becoming just another flimsy pop song which is such a shame - even more than normal for this album this is the 'one that got away' and for once on these style of songs the fact that the song structure is caught in a 'trap' where one leads always to the other in an endless circle isn't clever so much as irritating - these parts need to come from two entirely separate songs!

Sadly an album that to some extent is just treading water by Stills' standards ends with the far from positive message 'I'm just circlin'. That's this album in a nutshell, Stills repeating old ideas without having as many new ones as usual. However Stills' ideas from the past were always so strong and the few new additions to his repertoire show so much promise that I'm always sad when I see 'Illegal Stills' written off by fans. No it's not Stills' best moment by a million miles and it's far from an album where everything works, but there's some truly excellent moments scattered across this album and some songs that had they been recorded in a different way with a different set of musicians could easily have become amongst Stills' best loved. Not that the problem lies with the band either or the production per se - it's a standard glossy production for the time and there's nothing here that's badly played - it's just that this set of songs doesn't go with this album's texture and the two together shows up the album's weaknesses rather than its strengths. The result is an album that surely isn't strong enough to be the 33 and a third proof promised on the front cover and a brew that needed to go back into the airing cupboard or the distillery for a bit longer, at times too bitter and at others too sweet. But it's a beverage worth returning to and trying again for several reasons: out of loyalty to the old 'brand', out of an understanding that compared to modern productions this actually does sound funkier and grittier than it ever did at the time and because back in 1976 we were so spoilt by first-class Stills releases that anything less than perfect seemed like a giant come-down. Even on auto-pilot, even with a 'guest' singer-songwriter doing so much of the work and even on an album filled with more average songs than before in his solo career, Stills had so much natural talent pulsing though him at the time that there's still more to love about this album than hate. It's not really illegal, not even criminal - it's just not potent enough to get you as drunk as the other stuff.

A Now Complete List Of CSN/Y and Solo Articles Available To Read At Alan’s Album Archives:

'Crosby, Stills and Nash' (1969)

'Deja Vu' (CSNY) (1970)

‘Stephen Stills’ (1970)

'If Only I Could Remember My Name' (Crosby) (1971)

'Songs For Beginners' (Nash) (1971)

'Stephen Stills II' (1971)
‘Graham Nash, David Crosby’ (1972)

'Stephen Stills-Manassas'  (1972)

'Wild Tales' (Nash) (1973)
'Down The Road' (Stephen Stills/Manassas) (1973)

'Stills' (1975)

'Wind On The Water' (Crosby-Nash) (1975)
'Illegal Stills' (Stills) (1976)
'Whistling Down The Wire' (Crosby-Nash) (1976)

'Long May You Run' (Stills-Young) (1976)

'CSN' (1977)
'Thoroughfare Gap' (Stills) (1978)
'Earth and Sky' (Nash) (1980)

'Daylight Again' (CSN) (1982)
'Right By You' (Stills) (1984)
'Innocent Eyes' (Nash) (1986)
'American Dream' (CSNY) (1988)

'Oh Yes I Can!' (Crosby) (1989)

'Live It Up!' (CSN)  (1989)

'Stephen Stills Alone' (1991)

'CPR' (Crosby Band) (1998)

‘So Like Gravity (CPR, 2001)

‘Songs For Survivors’ (2002)

'Deja Vu Live' (CD) (2008)

'Deja Vu Live' (DVD) (2008)

'Reflections' (Graham Nash Box Set) (2009)

'Demos' (CSN) (2009)

'Manassas: Pieces' (2010)

‘Carry On’ (Stephen Stills Box Set) (2013)

'Croz' (Crosby) (2014)
'CSNY 74' (Recorded 1974 Released 2014)

'This Path Tonight' (Nash) (2016)

‘Here If You Listen’ (Crosby)

The Best Unreleased CSNY Recordings
Surviving TV Appearances (1969-2009)
Non-Album Recordings (1962-2009)
Live/Compilation/Rarities Albums Part One (1964-1980)
Live/Compilations/Rarities Albums Part Two (1982-2012)
Essay: The Superest Of Super Groups?
Five Landmark Concerts and Three Key Cover Versions

George Harrison: Non-Album Recordings 1968-2001

'Unknown Delight - The Alan's Album Archives Guide To The Music Of George Harrison' is available to buy now by clicking here!

Non-Album Recordings Part #1: 1968

A rare 'Wonderwall' outtake not used in either album or film, [ ] 'Almost Shankara' starts with more of Aashish Kahn's haunting Sarod, its pained frame of mind perhaps intended to mirror the professor's mental decline during the second half of the film. There's a typically Wonderwallian switch of styles midway through, however, when the sun seems to brighten thanks to some charming sitar, flute and santoor work that's presumably meant to mirror the 'happier' scenes he spies from his hole in the wall. The result is a likeable piece that's clearly a loose early take and hasn't quite joined up all the dots yet, with the blur between the two sections perhaps a little too distinct, but with work the piece  could have been lovely. It may have been cut due to timing reasons or possibly because the 'dum-der-dum-der-dum-dee' 'tah-dah' look-at-me ending 'which this song uses twice) had already been featured in the album track 'Greasy Legs'. 'Shankara', by the way, is another term for 'raga' (a piece of Indian music based around a five note scale) - this piece 'almost' uses five notes throughout hence the title! Find it on: 'Wonderwall Music' (2014 CD Re-Issue)  and 'The Apple Years' Box Set (2014)

Though the finished product is credited to The Beatles, they contribute a grand total of one line to [ ] 'The Inner Light', originally released as the B-side of 'Lady Madonna' in 1968. Legend has it that George was intending this lovely song for 'Wonderwall', possibly as an instrumental in line with the other album tracks, before Paul heard it played back in Abbey Road and said something along the lines of 'we're having that one!' (What's interesting is that John and Paul seem to have already decided to 'allow' George the flipside of that single without knowing what would fill it; my speculation - admittedly not born up by any paperwork or interviews - is that George intended the Wonderwall recording 'Party Seacombe' for the B-side as that song's heavy Western flavour and heavy reverb is much more in line with what The Beatles were recording in 1968 and indeed sounds like a less bluesy version of 'Lady Madonna'). Anyway, that's the reason that an ever so slightly alternate instrumental take of 'The Inner Light' appears credited to George alone as a bonus track o the 'Wonderwall' CD, effectively adding an old friend back where it belongs. The musicians are clearly struggling with the song, given George's painstaking directions at the start  but it's well worth given the beauty already there in the song. In truth this different mix isn't too different: the sarod arrives a fraction early, the flutes in the middle play an ever so slightly different riff and there's a slightly longer fade, with the biggest differences being that  the sarod plays an entirely different improvisation around the 2:12-2:18 and 3:12-3:20 marks. Debate on Youtube suggests that most of this take is indeed the 'same' mix as the one we've always known and loved - however it sounds slightly different throughout to my ears. Find it on: 'Wonderwall Music' (2014 CD Re-Issue)  and 'The Apple Years' Box Set (2014)

Note: though 'In The First Place' is credited to George it's actually a song by The Remo Four intended for the film's opening credits (though not used until the 1990s re-issue of the film) and as such isn't reviewed in full here. However it's a nice atmospheric psychedelic piece that fits well with Wonderwall's sound, especially Tony Ashton's jingle-jangly piano.  

Non-Album Recordings Part #2: 1970

The one lone entirely unreleased song from 'All Things Must pass' is the rather timid sounding [42] 'I Live For You' . With a slighter production than the rest of the album, it hints at the sound that George probably had in his head before Phil Spector got involved and made everything huge. A pretty but pretty inconsequential song by George's standards its one of his last love songs for Patti Boyd's and its simplicity and simply rhymes of 'you' and 'true' every chorus, while heartfelt, seems out of kilter with everything else George was writing at the time. The pedal steel is a nice touch, though, with this song a far more convincing country-rock experiment than 'Behind That Locked Door'. All in all 'I Live For You' is proof that George was generally a good judge of his own best material, but this long lost song still made for a welcome addition to the CD re-issue of 'All Things' in 2000. Find it on: 'All Things Must Pass' (2000 CD Re-Issue Bonus Track and 'The Apple Years' (2014)

George's early acoustic demos were intended to be for Phil Spector's ears only, a rough outline to provide the producer with an idea of what to work with. George assumed that the tapes had been wiped but came across them again while re-mastering the album for re-release in 2000. [29b] 'Beware Of Darkness' sounds very different without being dressed up to the nines and this demo shows more than anything else how much Spector's massive production brought to bear on this gorgeous song of warning and empathy. There's even a slightly different third verse, improved for the record: 'Watch out now, take care beware of soft-shoe shufflers, dancing down the sidewalks, pushing you in puddles in the dead of night". Find it on: 'All Things Must Pass' (2000 CD Re-Issue Bonus Track and 'The Apple Years' (2014)

'Let Your Hurr Hang All Around Me!' [27b] 'Let It Down' also sounds very different, sparse and laidback without the histrionic effects later placed over the top of the song. Even with George straining to reach the notes, though, this song already sounds fully finished, with a held organ note depping for the horn parts and with a second guitar (which sounds more like Clapton's style than George's own) filling in the gaps. Spector was also quick to seize on the contrast between the quieter verse and the chorus, which isn't so pronounced on this version. Find it on: 'All Things Must Pass' (2000 CD Re-Issue Bonus Track and 'The Apple Years' (2014)

[24b] 'What Is Life?' additionally comes in the shape of a backing track, remixed to include an abandoned horn part which played an oompahpah fanfare over and above the part we've always known and loved over the introduction and the main chorus. To be frank its distracting rather than interesting and George was right to get rid of it - but the backing track itself is far more interesting. With all the 'extras' like the vocal and the lead guitar removed you can really hear just what a great song this is: the doubling of the riff between George's guitar and Klaus' bass is very clever indeed, the strings play earlier than one supposes and plays subtlety for a whole verse before being heard, while the layers of drumming and percussion mean that this song is always rolling from one beat to another, perfect for a song all about looking for meaning everywhere it can be found.  Find it on: 'All Things Must Pass' (2000 CD Re-Issue Bonus Track and 'The Apple Years' (2014)

Non-Album Recordings Part #3: 1971

Enjoying the rest after years working hard as a Beatle and basking in the glow of having proved something to the music world, George had planned to take it easy following the release of 'All Things Must Pass' and work a few months later with Ronnie Spector, having rather tired himself out after several lengthy months of work. After all, he'd just released three albums - more than any other member of the band had dared achieve - and that was enough for quite some time! However events bigger than George's career intervened and instead he found himself rush-releasing a single a mere seven months after 'Pass'. [43] 'Bangla Desh' was the brainchild of Ravi Shankar, who despite his reputation as the Western World's most famous Indian was actually born in Bengali, the small region in between India and Bangla Desh and had kept a keen eye on events in his home countries ever since moving to Britain. Just as George was enjoying the release of 'Pass' in November 1970, a ferocious cyclone had ripped through Bangla Desh and killed 300,000 outright - an awful tragedy in itself, but one made worse by the sheer indifference of everyone to the suffering - the 'rulers' of the country from West Pakistan who refused to 'lend their hand' directly and the wider Western world who shrugged their shoulders and barely reported the events at all . Across 1971 the suffering got worse as a rebel movement grew up amongst the citizens to overthrow their rulers - a movement that was often overturned in the most brutal of ways with massacres of thousands and millions more left as homeless refugees (it's worth pointing out that, yet again, this was a political decision upheld by a select few with power - most of the inhabitants of Pakistan were kept in the dark about what the regime were up to and the rest were as horrified as everyone else). Shankar, appalled at the way events were being handled, wanted to do something but realised that the best way of organising help would be through calling on his famous phone book of contactees and getting them to do something. Despite knowing that Harrison even then was publicity shy, he turned to George first, meeting him at his Friar Park house armed with as many clippings as he could find from the papers and asked his friend for support with the line 'I know this doesn't really concern you and I know you can't possibly identify, but something needs to be done'. Their first thought was a benefit concert, staged a week after this single's release in August 1971, but George decided a 'rallying' cry was needed to get the point across and was in the lucky position of being able to get anything on the radio in 1971 as an ex-Beatle following up a #1 record in 'My Sweet Lord'. While not quite the first song/concert for charity (even the profits from the Monterey Pop Festival were given away to the local poor) it's safe to say that Bangla Desh started a trend, not just of musical charity fundraising (George allegedly gave Bob Geldof some tips on what not to do while organising 'Live Aid') but of Western superstars caring (or in some cases sadly only pretending to care) about events that till now everyone assumed could only be controlled by politicians. This alone is an amazing breakthrough in the Western way of thinking - but alas the song itself falls a little flat, too weak and floundering for such a cultural weight upon its shoulders.

That's pretty much the curious first verse of 'Bangla Desh' explained, with Ravi the 'friend' who 'came to me with sadness in his eyes...wanting help before his country dies', a line treated with due reverence and distress. However the next line has always bothered me: 'though I couldn't feel the pain I knew I had to try...' Surely anyone whose ever read or seen anything about the suffering (and the thick booklet from the 'Bangla Desh' concert soundtrack is a good place to start) can't help but feel aggrieved and angry; even back in 1971 when these sort of atrocities occurred 'over there' and were hidden on the news below local celebrities losing a fingernail or some similar non-news, it's still clear that this is 'wrong' - oblivious of who is committing the 'wrong'. Interesting Harrison steers clear of any finger-wagging and also avoids the religious theme many would have been accepting, perhaps guessing that the public wouldn't take to it despite the success of 'My Sweet Lord'  (you can tell he isn't in preachy 'Living In The Material World' mode just yet); just imagine what the post-Primal Scream Lennon would have made of the subject matter - Pakistan would probably have put a price on his head then and there (legend has it that, despite being very sulky with George and Ringo, Harrison was brave enough to make the call and Lennon genuinely considered making it a three-way reunion, until George refused to allow Yoko on stage with him and matters ground to a halt, robbing fans of the only potential three-way Beatles reunion of the 1970s; Paul too, in the process of forming the first line-up of Wings, came very close to making the benefit shoe their debut concert and left George hanging for days, before deciding there was just too much bad blood between them to collaborate on anything so soon).

While heartfelt enough at times - mainly George's near crying upward rushes of music that sound like intake of breath and lines about his confusion and helplessness on the affair - 'Bangla Desh' is a curiously hard song to love. It doesn't demand answers or change, it doesn't weep a lone silent tear for the missing millions of children who never got the chance to grow up as today's charity singles would, it doesn't even feature any of the dozens of 'heavy friends' who'd already agreed to take part in the project barring the ever-present Ringo and Klaus Voormann. Instead its more about George's re-action to the horror - and his call to arms for the public to get involved because of what he's feeling. That would be unthinkable now (the usual grumble during children in need and comic relief nights is that the celebrities who appear could probably solve half of it themselves just on their salaries for the year) , but it makes sense in the context of 1971 when this was new and people just didn't know how to re-act to songs like this. However George is surprisingly clunky in the lyrics, telling people less than even the little they'd have learnt on their news and lines such as 'it sure looks like a mess' actually underplay what a colossal travesty and needless waste of human lives this was. Choosing a slightly sour harmonic bridge and a song that veers wildly between syrupy slow passages and angry hard rocking is also a bad move I think, effectively putting fans who enjoy either side of Harrison's musical nature off at the same time. This is a song that everyone should be uniting behind, the heart of the Bangla Desh concerts. Instead, wheeled out as a closing encore, the crowd are slow to re-act to it and seem unsure what to think - the full impact f the horrors of the Bangla Desh famine coming only with the superb photography used in the booklet, which packs all the punches that this song sadly shies away from making. It's odd, too, that Harrison didn't use a little more of his experience making 'Wonderwall' to prove the point that the 'West' really isn't that far removed from the 'East' as he was the one musician uniquely placed in 1971 to do just that without anyone batting an eyelid- had he got his Western friends to play with Ravi Shankar's pals (and thus drawing on his friend's very real pain) to make this record then it might have been a superb anthem that helped save the world. Instead the single flopped to a disappointing #10 in the UK charts (only #23 in the US) and like the tie-in concert album only raised the money long after it would have done the most good, following complaints about the charities meant to use it and disputes over money with first Apple and then with the Inland Revenue. Still, however badly made, the worth of this song is that Harrison tried at all instead of turning the other way. Released as a single, this track has since been added to the CD re-issue of 'Living In The Material World' (1973)

[44] 'Deep Blue'  is the saddest song in George's catalogue, a sighing weary tune written on the way home from visiting his dying mother Louise in a Liverpool hospital. Like many of George's 1970s songs it's a philosophically resigned composition, sadly acknowledging the inevitable, but unlike any song from the death-extravaganza that was 'All Things Must Pass' George adds for the first time that although this is 'the truth' of how life works, 'the truth it hurts me'. In retrospect this song is important simply because it's the first time George sounds 'fed up' with a religion he sounds on the verge of moving away from circa his last LP 'Brainwashed' (although then again, as George knew only too well, even the biggest believers in a faith system lose it sometimes: the 'test' is the work of whichever deity the believer happens to believe in). Note too the reference to how even the 'sun shining' is 'not enough to make me fell right' - a reference to 'Here Comes The Sun' that adds that this current depression and loss can't be 'laughed at' or escaped from as before; George wants to be there at the end of his mother's life, however hard it is (George' mother Louise was truly mourned in the Beatles fan-base like few other - a remarkable lady who out of all the Beatle parents was genuinely thrilled for her son's success and kept up a stream of correspondence with all the Beatle fans who randomly turned up on her doorstep or wrote her letters down the years right up until the month she died). The backing for this depressing song of guilt over feeling self-pity and feeling guilt over 'the life I'm living' when life is clearly so short is a finger-picking folk song, not that far removed from 'Dear Prudence', hinting at the fact that the sentiments in this song have been sung by generations going back centuries. At the time many reviewers were cruel about this song, seeing it as some unspecific bit of singer-songwriter angst that only millionaires tend to get and attacking it in the context of it's release on the B-side of a single about 'real' suffering. However when you understand the story - that George is being hurt by the first real death of a close family member but doesn't want to sing about the specifics just yet because that would it make it too 'real' (of all the Beatles he's the one who looked most stunned when Brian Epstein died too) - it speaks volumes that George chose 'Bangla Desh' of all singles to pair this song with; George knows what each of those grieving Bangla Deshian families is feeling because he's going through the grieving process himself. One of its creators more under-rated early 1970s songs. Released as the B-side of the above, this track has since been added to the CD re-issue of 'Living In The Material World' (1973)

Non-Album Recordings Part #4: 1973

Proof that George could veer from one extreme to the next comes with the B-side chosen to accompany the earnest prayer 'Give Me Love (Give Me Peace On Earth)'. [56] 'Miss O'Dell' is another song that, like 'Apple Scruffs', paints the late Beatles period in a rosy glow, written about the Apple assistant Chris O'Dell whose timekeeping and organisation had been invaluable during the haphazard years there. Always keen to feature his friends in songs as a sort of 'in-joke' to amuse them and confuse fans, George knew that only the biggest Beatle nuts would know who she was - for those of you who, like me till recently, hadn't a clue she also sang backing vocals on 'Hey Jude', can be seen up top at the Apple Rooftop gig, helped phone up contacts to organise the Bangla Desh shows and after The Beatles split ended up working for AAA favourites The Rolling Stones and Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young. This song is George's jokey way of saying 'thanks' as she prepared to move on (she later sent George a similarly jokey card saying 'The Rolling Stones are something of a comedown after working with The Beatles!') delivered with a joke and a smile that even causes him to get the giggles halfway through. For the record, the line that he's meant to be singing is: 'I'm the only one here whose got nothing to fear from the waves or the night that keeps rolling on right up to my front porch'. Written in a hurry while waiting for O'Dell to turn up to his rented LA house from the local airport, George must have been struck by the similarity to his last song written in such circumstances ('Blue Jay Way', when fog delayed Beatle roadie Mal Evans) and is just as dismissive about the 'locals' while poking fun at both his 'quiet' image and recent Bangla Desh benefit ('I'm the only one here whose got nothing to say about the war or the rice that's going astray on its way to Bombay'). Like 'Blue Jay Way' he pleads with her to hurry up although this time he'll be 'bored to tears' rather than 'asleep' if she doesn't show. Oh and by the way 'Boston 6-9-Double 2' is not George's real telephone number - its most likely a reference back to the Beatles' own 'You Know My Name (Look Up The Number)' and could possibly be the score of the Boston Red Sox baseball team cribbed from the paper he was reading to fill in time (or made up entirely). Silly, but fun. Released as the B-side to 'Give Me Love (Give Me Peace On Earth)', this track has since been added to the CD re-issue of 'Living In The Material World' (1973)

Non-Album Recordings Part #5: 1974

As we've seen with 'Deep Blue' and 'So Sad' in particular, the mid-1970s was a rotten time for George who was rapidly sinking towards depression. Thought too melancholic even for 'Dark Horse',  [66] 'I Don't Care Anymore' was instead released as the B-side of the 'Dark Horse' single. The song opens with a sarcastic rejoinder that the song doesn't 'matter' anyway, which will be familiar to anyone whose heard 'Only A Northern Song' from 'Yellow Submarine' and runs 'OK here we go brothers...we got a B side to make, ladies and gentlemen, haven't got much time now so we'd better get on with it...' Having got it into our heads that this song is a 'novelty', George then launches into one of the saddest songs of his career. Thinking about Patti one last time, George sighs that 'to hold you in my arms once more I'd go anywhere, you know I don't care'. The evidence of this song and the very real emotional crack in George's voice  suggests that George cares very much indeed, however much he tries to cover it up with the comedy twang of a  'jew's harp' and comedy asides. The result is an overlooked song, but one that we're meant to overlook because the sentiment is just too strong for George to deal with. Released as the B-side to the single 'Dark Horse', this track was later sensibly added to the CD re-issue of the album 'Dark Horse' (1974)

The alternate take of [ ] 'Dark Horse' as released in 2014 is far more polished and features an in-tune Harrison vocal! The track has a slightly different arrangement too, with Everly Brothers style harmonies and performed as a solo acoustic folk song until an ooh-ing choir finally arrives in the chorus. Admittedly I don't know this version anywhere as near as well as the finished product but it doesn't seem to have the same 'life' to it somehow - the added embellishments distract and subtract rather than add anything and note-perfect as this version is I actually prefer George's gruffer vocal, so apt for a song about being less than perfect. The one improvement is the lack of the flute lick but without it this song needs an extra...something (though I'm not sure that flute part is it). The ride needs to be a little scarier than this, but a fascinating alternate listen of a great unheralded classic nonetheless. Released on the CD Re-Issue of 'Dark Horse' and the 'Apple Years' box set (both 2014)

Non-Album Recordings Part #6: 1979

Glowing with the warmth of a freshly composed song, George's demo for [88b] 'Here Comes The Moon' is easily the best of the 'bonus tracks' on the Dark Horse set, even more beautiful than the finished product. Without the production gloss 'Moon' sounds even more intimate and personal - perfect for a song inspired by God's lighting effects during a  romantic evening on a Hawaiian holiday and even the slightly muffled quality (it was clearly recorded on a portable cassette) can't get in the way if the song's inner beauty. Well worth seeking out. Find it on: the CD re-issue of 'George Harrison' (1979) and 'The Dark Horse Years' box set (2002)

Non-Album Recordings Part #7: 1981

 [107] ‘Flying Hour’ is the first of the ‘missing’ tracks from the original album line-up. A lovely, lilting song about the importance of living in the present because the past is dead and buried, it would have been one of the better songs. George tells us that whatever great schemes we did in the past, it doesn’t matter because ‘the past is gone’ and worrying about the future won’t cut it either ‘because the future may not be at all’ – all that matters is our state in the present and whether we can be proud of ourselves from day to day. If that sounds like an odd thing for a former Beatle to be saying, it fits in perfectly with George’s attitude at the end of his ‘dismissive’ period (before Lennon’s death makes him – and the world – think about the fab four a little differently) when being a Beatle seemed like an unwanted and unnecessary distraction from the real purposes of family, artistry and religion. The melody to this song could have been better – it repeats itself a little too often for comfort – but there’s plenty of space for George’s trademark slide guitar and a very sweet middle eight that seems to spin the song backwards, as if to contradict his lyrical statement about living in the present. It may be a minor gem, but it’s a gem all the same and it’s sad to see it kicked off the record. Find it on: Intended for the original version of 'Somewhere In England' (1981), this song has only ever been released on the limited edition (and pricey!) deluxe edition of George's book 'I Me Mine' (1981)

[108] ‘Lay His Head’ is a bit more substantial, a moody ballad that sounds like B-side ‘Miss O’Dell’ would have done had Phil Spector produced it to sound like ‘All Things Must Pass’. We’ve already seen George’s ‘subconscious’ at work on ‘Unconsciousness Rules’ and this sounds mightily like the same again, George seemingly talking to himself that ‘who is it in here? You have often thought, but what can I tell you that you don’t know already?’ Luckily George ‘knows’ that his inner self can ‘overcome the pain’, but can’t help feeling sorry for himself. The title comes from a chorus about being lost, that ‘sometimes a man has nowhere to lay his head’, which may well be another Harrisonesque pun if this is indeed George’s ‘head’ (i.e. brain) talking to himself – after all, what do you do with a conscience when you’re meant to be out having fun? I wouldn’t be surprised to learn, too, that this is an older song than it’s vintage suggests: the mood is much more like the dark, uncertain songs from the ‘Dark Horse’ era when George was splitting up with Patti and wasn’t yet sure if he would keep his Friar Park house with all its unhappy memories (and so would literally have no place ‘to lay his head’). There’s a lyrical reference, too, to the idea that ‘even the worst times like this will blow away’ – it’s unusual for George to refer to past lyrics so it wouldn’t surprise me if George junked this whole song and started ‘Blow Away’ (from ‘George Harrison’ again) anew, only reviving it because he thought he had an album to finish in a hurry. A sweet, reflective, mournful ballad, again its not the greatest thing George ever wrote but its highly revealing and deserves better than to have been lost to the world for so long (why on earth wasn’t it added to the CD re-issue of this album in 2000?) Find it on: Intended for the original version of 'Somewhere In England' (1981), this song has only ever been released on the limited edition 9and pricey!) deluxe edition of George's book 'I Me Mine' (1981)

[109] 'Tears Of The World’ is probably the weakest of the four songs that didn’t make the album. Another song about the stupidity of world leaders and how sad the state of world affairs was in the 1980s, this song sounds like one long sigh. Few Harrison songs are quite as downbeat as this one, where ‘war mongers terrorize us all, our leaders heed us to their call...’ and where ‘big businesses are calling every tune, polluting from her and to the moon’. George calls us into action, the same way he does on ‘Save The World’ but more from the heart, telling us that ‘if we deserve saving then we need to be behaving...’, but the cynicism in his voice suggests he’s given up expecting the human race to ever show their better side. An unusually constructed song, with a chorus consisting of one line leading directly on from the end of each verse, there isn’t really a hook to this song which rather drifts past without you noticing. No great loss to the album, this is still better than a good four of the songs that made the record, however. A demo version also appeared - strangely - on the CD re-issue of the '33 and 1/3rd' album for reasons I don't quite understand (sadly it's not that different or that interesting). Find it on: Intended for the original version of 'Somewhere In England' (1981), this song has only ever been released on the limited edition (and pricey!) deluxe edition of George's book 'I Me Mine' (1981)

[110]  ‘Sat Singing’ is another lovely spiritual with a haunting melody that shares a little similarity with ‘Here Comes The Sun’, telling the tale of an unexpected spiritual revelation on an ordinary day while the narrator sits singing on a hill. One of George’s better spiritual songs, it sounds like one of Ray Davies’ ‘tramp’ songs (i.e. ‘Sunny Afternoon’ ‘Sitting In The Midday Sun’) had The Kinks ever gone religious. The third verse, particularly, seems to speak from the heart: ‘Nothing separates my life from that which we have called our goal, it’s all in this external world, as results from deep within my soul’. Note, too, how George repeats his assertion in ‘Flying Hour’ that only the present really matters, telling us how ‘my sense of time has disappeared’, the blissfulness of the religious experience proving to the narrator that time is a worldly, man-made concept. The song ends with George waving goodbye but promising that really ‘I’ll stay forever in your company’. A warm backing track of slide guitar, saxophones, synthesisers and percussions envelopes one of George’s better vocals with a sort of warm mist, enveloping him and keeping him warm, the musical equivalent of glowing. The best song from these sessions bar only ‘Life Itself’ (the song that followed it on the original album for a knock-out one-two religious punch), you wonder why on earth this song was junked in favour of two Hoagy Carmichael covers and why George never returned to the song during the similarly frayed sessions for ‘Gone Troppo’.  Find it on: Intended for the original version of 'Somewhere In England' (1981), this song has only ever been released on the limited edition 9and pricey!) deluxe edition of George's book 'I Me Mine' (1981)

 The demo for [106b] 'Save The World' is slightly less 'mad' than the finished product, sounding more like a quiet Dylan style folk protest than a gonzo production singalong. While hearing the song like this shows off a much prettier tune than expected, the song's lyrics still leave much to be desired and you can see why George tried to 'overshadow' them with so many sound effect pyrotechnics on the finished product. George appears to start a drum machine partway through the song before thankfully thinking better of it and turning it off again. Find it on: the CD Re-Issue of 'Somewhere In England' (1981) and the 'Dark Horse Years' box set (2003)

Non-Album Recordings Part #8: 1982

Asking Olivia for a 'pen and paper' and adding 'that wonky one will do', George gets on with writing and demo-ing his pretty ballad [116b] 'Mystical One'. Like 'Here Comes The Moon' the original version of the song is much sadder, much slower, much folkier, has a much deeper vocal and much more like something Dylan would have written. This George sounds a long way from being 'as happy as a willow tree' and though you miss the production of the rest of 'Gone Troppo' the albun's most thoughtful song sounds rather good in this context. Find it on: the CD Re-Issue of 'Gone Troppo' (1982) and 'The Dark Horse Years' box set (2003)

Non-Album Recordings Part #9: 1985

Though treated as an entirely unreleased song on re-issue in 2009, George's cover of Dylan's [121] 'I Don't Want To Do It!' did receive a limited release on the soundtrack of the film 'Porky's Revenge' in 1985, the third film in an unfunny franchise that was on its last legs. No I don't know what this thoughtful and caring song is doing on the end of a teen comedy about some cheerleaders planning an orgy either - it's not even a Handmade Film! The version added - unnecessarily it has to be said - to George best-of 'Let It Roll' is actually a remix made specially by Giles Martin (son of George) at Olivia's request as George was never happy with the original. Lacking it's author's usual poeticness but with plenty of his legendary grumpiness, it seems odd that a songwriter with so many of his own classics behind him should have chosen this song to cover - even Dylan doesn't seem to think much of the song, having never recorded it himself (the song dates back to 1968 and the era of his 'motorbike accident' - the lyrics certainly seem to tally with the 'feeling' that the accident was n excuse for Bob to hideaway and escape the limelight; George may have been reminded of his own first song, the similarly spiky 'Don't Bother Me'. Easily the weakest song on the compilation, it seems to have been added many to lure unsuspecting collectors - it's certainly odd that George should have passed over it for his earlier 'Dark Horse Years' set where amongst 'Cheer Down' (from 'Lethal Weapon Three') and the similarly grumpy 'Cockamamie Business' it would have made more sense than slotted between the heavenliness of 'Here Comes The Sun' and sad depths of 'Isn't It A Pity?' Find it on: 'Let It Roll - The Songs Of George Harrison' (2009)

Having resisted the urge to appear in his own Handmade Films for some six years, suddenly George couldn't keep away. The 1985 showcase 'Water', which somehow manages to be faintly amusing despite starring very unfunny turns by Michael Caine and Billy Connolly who don't seem to understand the film ethos at all, is the first. Set in a seemingly forgotten British colony in the Caribbean, the local mayor's idyllic lazy lifestyle is interrupted when American companies discover how cheap the water is to buy and begin selling it by the bucketload to their rich friends back home; the bemused islanders don't see a penny. Written by the creators of 'Porridge', Francis and Le Frenais, the film features plenty of their characteristic potshots at authority figures thinking they're in charge when really they're just being childish which must have appealed to Harrison's sense of humour and his own depictions of Earthly greed and the 'material world'. It must surely have tickled him as well to make the first two-way Beatle reunion since Lennon's death (Ringo plays too) during an un-promoted cameo at the end of the film where Billy Connolly's  character basically organises his own Bangla Desh style benefit concert, roping some big names in too. The song  [122] 'Freedom', a reggae-ish protest song with strong Bob Marley overtones written by Billy with Eric Clapton, is exactly the sort of thing that was everywhere in the wake of Live Aid and Band Aid and may well be George's sly dig at the fact he got there first. The song also spoofs The Specials' 1984 hit 'Free Nelson Mandela', although modern Beatle fans might also notice an uncomfortable resemblance to Paul McCartney's woeful 9/11 tribute song of the same name (actually treat it as a comedy parody and it ticks even more boxes than this song!) Sadly the film was the first of the Handmade company's releases not to be an instant hit at the box office (though it did better than some critics often say), meaning that a soundtrack record was never released. Sadly, although extracts from follow-up film 'Shanghai Surprise' made it to CD, this song still hasn't yet and the rare soundtrack album has yet to be released on CD too, where it appears alongside multiple reggae songs by Eddy Grant and two instrumentals credited to George: ''Focus Of Attention' and 'Celebration'. A DVD of the film was released in 2006. Find it on: Water' (Soundtrack Album) (Ariston Records 1985)

Non-Album Recordings Part #10: 1986

George was even less lucky with his next film project 'Shanghai Surprise', an uneasy blur of the Indiana Jones films and 'Help!' which is an uncomfortable watch even without taking Madonna and Sean Penn's lack of acting ability into the equation and became the company's first real flop. Though George sighed for years afterwards about his warring leading pair (who were in love at the start of filming and bitter enemies by the end - press conferences had the memorable sight of George - so usually the one offering the jibes - playing the role of peacemaker) at the time he was incredibly enthusiastic, agreeing to score the soundtrack and appear in a cameo role as a 'nightclub' singer (the only time he gets to dress up in the garb of his favourite period, where he duly looks like a mixture of his heroes Cab Calloway and Hoagy Carmichael). Sadly the songs are all pretty standard film fodder, in retrospect an early indicator of how contemporary-yet-dull 'Cloud Nine' was about to sound. [123] 'Shanghai Surprise' is the best of the three and important enough for a video to be shot of George singing alongside duet partner Vicki Brown (wife of skiffle hero Joe). The track is given a better 'oriental' feel than either of the other and features a nice call-and-answer section ('You must be crazy...crazy!'), but it's all too obviously here to recount the plot of the film to make people go and see it. The odd good line aside ('I'd like to trust you but I've broken my chopsticks!') there's nothing here to catch the ear - it's just a typical tale of hi-jinks in the Far East ('It's a hell of a way to see China!') and the patronising 'Chinese drumsticks' performances soon gets irritating. The only 'surprise' here is that this so many talented people could be involved in a project without any of them saying 'no!' Find it on: The CD Re-Issue of 'Cloud Nine' (1987) and the 'Dark Horse Years' (Box Set 2003)
Oh dear. [124] 'Zig-Zag' must have been fascinating for George to make, recalling an era of the 1930s he loved (its easy to imagine Cab Calloway doing the lead on this) and was reportedly written on-the-spot or as near to it when the director casually told him they'd be shooting in a bar called the 'Zig Zag Club' the next day and did he have any music handy? However this is perspiration not inspiration - George takes the easy route of throwing together all the styles most people associate with the period, links them with the same clunky repetitive riff and restricts the lyrics to simply saying the title over and over. Curiously released as a B-side in 1987 even though the much better title track was handy, this may be a case of George trying to 'teach' his fans about his favourite era, although if it was then it failed on me. Long time ago when we wasn't fab indeed.  Find it on: originally released as the B-side of 1987 single 'When We Was Fab', the song can also be found on the CD Re-Issue of 'Cloud Nine' (1987) and the 'Dark Horse Years' (Box Set 2003)

One final selection from 'Shanghai Surprise', the rooting tooting [125] 'The Hottest Gong In Town' is slightly more thought out and Harrison does a rather good Cab Calloway impression without the song ever being as good as it ought to be. The half-euphemism of the title is spot on, the squeaky trumpets are right on the money and the scat singing is perfect and yet the elements don't add up - this is all too obviously a fan trying to re-create an era and something about it isn't convincing enough somehow. Once again time seems to have been a factor, with this song written in a hurry, which might be why George left it on the shelf in his lifetime, available only on the soundtrack of the film itself (where Madonna annoyingly decides to talk through most of it on the erroneous conclusion that people are actually more interested in the plot than watching an ex-Beatle). At least though you can have fun knowing that George is spending perhaps the most materialistic year of the twentieth century writing and recording what must surely have been the most un-commercial and anachronistic song of the year! Find it on: The CD Re-Issue of 'Cloud Nine' (1987) and the 'Dark Horse Years' (Box Set 2003)

Non-Album Recordings Part #11: 1988

The Wilburys were having so much fun making 'Volume One' that the finished album was reportedly whittled down from twenty or so songs. To date another two have received official releases and were both released, with a few overdubs made by Dhani Harrison and Jeff Lynne, on the 'Traveling Wilburys Collection' set of 2007. The first of these is 'Maxine', a sweet sea-shanty style song that appears to be a 'missing' Harrison composition. The song starts off like a traditional Pentangle style song about a maiden promising to return to the arms of her beloved after an adventure, but never does - later weirder verses, quietly slipped in by George, revealed that she was abducted 'when a saucer landed and someone took her in!' Fame then goes to her head, including a picture of her in the papers atop a llama and the relationship is never picked up, the whole of what could have been a novelty song delivered Monty Python style as if its the most serious thing in the world. Not quite up to 'Care' or 'Light' and presumably cut because three Harrison songs was one too many for a five-way album, but it's still a shame this never made the record and a real shame it wasn't revived to give George a greater presence on 'Volume Three'.  'Like A Ship' is another outtake finished posthumously that appears to be mainly a Dylan song, again with definite vibes of a sea-shanty, turning into a full on rocker for the ear-catching 'Old Brown Shoe' style middle eight. If you can get past Bob's eccentric singing this is actually another really promising number with some lovely slide guitar from George. Find both tracks on: 'The Traveling Wilburys Collection' (2007)

Non-Album Recordings Part #12: 1989

Figuring that the world needed the opposite of cheering up in the late 1980s, George and co-writer Tom Petty decided to write [138] 'Cheer Down' as their contribution to the film soundtrack of 'Lethal Weapon Two' (where very odd it sounded too!) Performed with the same late 1980s production of Jeff Lynne, it's hard to tell just where George's sentiments on this strange song lies - are we to laugh at the narrator for worrying about the crashes shares he can never put right because it's not what life is about, offer him a comforting metaphorical shoulder to cry on or take heart at the fact that the narrator offers to 'love you instead' (Instead of what? Could the narrator only love the character in the song if he had nothing?) It could be that this song is a late religious parable, that its God telling us not to worry and him offering up love instead (if so then it sounds closer to the 'Meher Baba' spiritual gurus so beloved of Pete Townshend and Ronnie Lane than George's usual Hare Krishna God). Catchy without losing its nagging feel of blandness, 'Cheer Down' is far too good to waste on a soundtrack LP and yet sounds out of place on the two soundtrack albums that have tried to salvage it too, neither one thing nor the other. Find it on: 'The Best Of Dark Horse' (1992) and 'Let It Roll - The Songs Of George Harrison' (2009)

Cheery and slightly irritating [139] 'Poor Little Girl' sounds like a 'Cloud Nine' outtake (and certainly features a Jeff Lynne production) although we don't actually know the period when it was recorded. George's guitar is up-centre in the production, along with some synth horns that parrot away behind Harrison throughout, as he sings in a voice caught halfway between empathy and sarcasm. Perhaps with the words of Warner Brothers in 1981 about writing about 'boy-girl' romances to have 'hits', George seems to be half-heartedly giving the label what it wants while ending up the entire genre. The central character is a 'poor little girl' with a 'hole in her heart' in a 'poorly sick world that's all around you' wooed by a 'poor horny boy with one thing on his mind'. A nice chorus with some 'proper' drums and some Beatlesy harmonies from Lynne (quoting Led Zeppelin with its 'whole lotta love' refrain) comes out of nowhere, but like much of 'Cloud Nine' this record is only surface deep and becomes quite repetitive and annoying before the end. Still, this song is too good to stick in a vault for years, finding release only on an obscure compilation and strangely not included in the 'Dark Horse Years' box set, making it one of George's rarer released songs. Find it on: 'The Best Of Dark Horse' (1992)

A return to the sarcastic George of 'Taxman' and a close cousin of 'Blood From A Clone', the damning [140] 'Cockamamie Business' laughs at the stupidity of the 1980s music business while dressing the song up in the decade's finery. It's kind of like an alternate seedier version of The Beatles' Anthology project but at least George has humour enough to laugh at himself too, clamouring to 'put my face on Ed Sullivan' and 'breaking strings on the BBC'. The song falls apart though when George stretches the song out to damn simply everything about the decade that taste forgot lamenting the ecology, politics, economy and even the illnesses of the present climate, which woefully overstretches what at heart is just a very silly song with a peacock-strutting central guitar riff that sounds about to fall over throughout. Alas the song is awfully repetitive (or is that repetitively awful?) and soon gets irritating after six straight repeats of the same cycle without a pause or even a chorus to break up the monotony (or is that the point, making another comment on the staticness of modern music? If so then 'Cloud Nine' is actually one of the period's worst offenders which might be why this era outtake wasn't used at the time...) At least the last verse is worth hearing though, George sighing at how all the flattery can make him 'feel pretty sharp' sometimes and on others' half dead', mirroring Cat Stevens' pleas of the late 1970s that 'I didn't want to be a star, just wanted to play guitar, in this cockamamie business' (For those who aren't of the right age to know the slang, by the way, it's a World War Two American term for 'nonsensical' and a very George Harrison word!) To date, this song too is very rare and has only been released once on the same low-selling compilation (have a dig around the internet though and you'll soon find both of these songs). Find it on: 'The Best Of Dark Horse' (1992)

Non-Album Recordings Part #13: 1990

The closest George ever came to repeating his 'Bangla Desh' benefit concerts came in 1990 when wife Olivia, sickened by the footage of Romanian orphans on the news, asked her husband if there was something he could do about it. The fall of the Communist Bloc in 1989, while received as great news by the capitalist West, was a tragedy for many of the countries Soviet Russia had ruled for so long, effectively leaving a vacuum of power that couldn't be filled. Although the man-made effects were different to Bangla-Desh, the results were much the same - innocent people suffering and many left homeless and close to starvation as the Russians took away their economic input more or less overnight. Wearily George passed on the idea of another all-star concert tour but did agree to put the idea of a special recording to the other Wilburys, the project later expanding to a full 'various artists' LP as more and more of the Harrison's friends got involved. In the end the project became a 'joint effort' between the then-current Beatle wives and widows (Yoko, Linda, Olivia and Barbara) marking the only time they came together for a project without their husbands. Some new songs were recorded by friends like Eric Clapton, Ringo (performing 'With A Littler Help' with a lot of friends) and Elton John, with the most notable pairing coming from two very different heroes of George - 50s guitar star Duane Eddy and Ravi Shankar, eager to repay the compliment after the help George gave him the last time around. Other stars dipped into their archives for the release - including a delightful recording of Paul Simon and George Harrison duetting on 'Homeward Bound' from a 'Saturday Night Live' episode broadcast in 1976 (the pair also sang 'Here Comes The Sun' with Harrison making a fine substitute for Art Garfunkel, but sadly that still hasn't been released to date).  The result was an uneven album with several highlights that deserved to do better, falling down simply because the market in 1990 was saturated with similar products for various good causes - even Beatlefans couldn't afford to support them all. George's one direct contribution to the record was a Traveling Wilburys cover of the Lonnie Donegan skiffle classic 'Nobody's Child', an apt song in the circumstances that some say was Olivia's idea. Strangely, though, her husband didn't sing lead, instead handing vocal duties over to an uneasy blend between Lynne and Petty, who both cope well with the circumstances on a countryfied rockabilly number that isn't a natural fit for either of them. Though intended for the compilation from the first, the track was recorded as part of the sessions for 'Volume Three'. A second cover, of Del Shannon's cover 'Runaway' was a much more Wilburys-style choice and again featured Lynne on lead vocals with George on harmonies alongside him. Good as this  originally unreleased cover is, however, you have to say that it would have sounded even better had Roy Orbison been around to sing it as the broodingly intense song was right up his street (had the band even looked it out to be his 'vocal showcase' on this album before his untimely death?) Find both songs on 'The Traveling Wilburys Collection' (2007), with 'Nobody's Child' additionally found on the 1990 Various Artists compilation 'Nobody's Child: Romanian Angel Appeal' 

Non-Album Recordings Part #14: 1992

One of the great tragedies of the Harrison catalogue is that while rubbish like 'Zig Zag' is widely available very few fans know about the beautiful [137] 'Ride Rajbun' recorded in roughly the same period - 1988 to be exact - and given away in 1992 to a 'various artists' children's album based around the little-seen Jackanory-with-drawings series 'Bunbury Tails'. The story follows that well-worn story of, erm, cricket-playing rabbits, one of whom worshipped a Hindu deity (which makes 'yellow Submarine' seem almost normal!) and was co-written by George with series creator David English (that's him playing the role of 'Katman' in the middle eight). The recording marked the first time his then-fifteen-year-old son Dhani had worked with his dad (that's his high voice on the chorus) and marks the first time he's worked with Ravi Shankar for many years. While Eric Clapton doesn't appear legend has it that George's performance came at his urging - he was a keen cricketeer and was in fact on the real-life 'Bunbury' charity cricket team! Sensibly George steers away from cricket (a game he loathed at school, though Lynne and Clapton's shared passion wore him down and saw him go to a few matches in the late 1980s on) and instead wrote a bouncy singalong children's song about the Indian rabbit 'seeking fame and seeking fortune, 'away from Catman and Attila The Bun'. Rajbun is clearly the 'thinker' of the series and easily the best character, not least for the cute bunny ears sticking out of his turban. Harrison clearly feels some sort of affinity with the odd-bunny-out, such a long way from home and making do in an alien Western World and his 'spiritual journey' in many ways mirrors George's in reverse, away from the spiritual to the material. With a terrific Harrison vocal and the last great Indian performance released in his lifetime (much of the title track of 'Brainwashed' was added by Lynne and Dhani, on his instructions, after his death) 'Ride Rajbun' is a neglected classic, five minutes of gorgeous psychedelia that manages to be profound without going over the heads of its audience and should be your next purchase if you haven't got round to hearing it yet. Little did Beatle fans know it at the time but this little-heralded release - which even the revived Beatles Book magazine never mentioned - would be the last 'new' Harrison song released for some eight years.  Find it on: 'The Bunbury Tails' Soundtrack Album (October 1992)

Around the same time the above was released, George was collaborating with Eurythmics star Dave Stewart on a rather weird 'hoax' project that makes 'Paul Is Dead' from the 1960s seem vaguely sensible. 'Platinum Weird' was Stewart's attempt to 'fool' the modern music industry into believing in a 'false' band he'd set up and had 'reputedly' joined before tThe Eurhythmics hit the big time. The episode was an attempt to see how easily the media could be fooled - and George was a natural participant (others taking part included Mick Jagger and Ringo). Offering his services to record a 'fake' song from the 1970s with Stewart's help (as part of the pretence of the band existing in 1974) he gave his friend the picks of his back catalogue to re-record together. Strangely Stewart went with  [ ] 'This Guitar (Can't Keep From Crying', not one of George's better ideas from the 'Extra Texture' album and the pair duly re-recorded it, slowing the song down a smidgeon and taking a lot of the 'swing' away. The result sounds even darker than the 'Extra Texture' version, with Stewart's guitar offering up howls of pain in the middle and only fellow 'Platinum Weird' star Kara DiaGuardi lightening the mood. After all that the song was left lying around unused until 2006 when Stewart resurrected it and reshaped it to a 'revival' of the 'Platinum Weird' project (which made a lot more sense in the internet age I have to say), although the first time it appeared on something with George's name attached to it came as late as 2014. Find it on: The CD Re-Issue of 'Extra Texture' (1975) and 'The Apple Years' (Box Set 2014)

Meanwhile, George paid a solo tribute to a member of the Wilburys when Dylan decided to celebrate his 30 years in the music business with an uncharacteristically flashy all-star show. The event took place at Madison Square Gardens - the same venue both had played for the Bangla Desh shows - and featured the inevitable Eric Clapton alongside the likes of Neil Young, Ronnie Wood and Byrd Roger McGuinn to name just the AAA stars, with the backing band the entire show Otis Redding's old partners Booker T and the MGs (this is in fact where they meet Neil Young for the first time ahead of a tour later in the decade). Fellow Wilbury Tom Petty performed too, although oddly never appeared on stage with George and didn't sing alongside Bob. Though largely forgotten now that Dylan has clocked up more and more miles on the clock, the event was a big deal at the time and George's performance of 'Absolutely Sweet Marie' with a blistering guitar solo was greeted as one of the show's highlights. A track on the Dylan album inspired by 'Revolver' - 1966's 'Blonde On Blonde' - George sounds as if he's having fun although he tries perhaps a bit too hard to sing the tune the way his friend always sang it, with the same hiccup in his voice and in the deeper tone he usually reserved for home demo recordings. Find it on: The Various Artists set 'Bob Dylan: The 30th Anniversary Concert Celebration' (1992)

 Non-Album Recordings Part #15: 2000

George was particularly fond of his first album and single and while designing the packaging for the 2000 CD re-issue for 'All Things Must Pass' became struck by the contrasts between 'then' and 'now' 9all those sprawling urban developments now crowding out the man and his gnomes on the green pastoral cover). Figuring that the world needed salvation in the 21st century as much as the 20th, George set about re-recording [142] 'My Sweet Lord 2000' with the help of the same backing track but new additions from the likes of Sam Brown (daughter of skiffle singer Joe Brown) and his son Dhani on his first ever credited appearance on one of his dad's records. Unfortunately while the intentions were good and the single was popular enough to be a rumoured inter-millenial #1 (sadly it never happened) there's something not quite about this re-creation, as if a great work of art has just been graffiti-ed on. George's original vocal, all humble awe and innocence, has been replaced by one that sounds like Harrison was messing around doing a George Formby impression and the 'modern' Cloud Nine/Traveling Wilbury slide guitar style, while beautiful, just doesn't hit the spot the way the original part did. Only the addition of a full ending, the way George performed the track in concert, really adds to our understanding of the song, which might perhaps have been better left as a 'straight' re-issue to promote the album instead. Find it on: a CD single released in 2000, the CD Re-Issue of 'All Things Must Pass' (1970) and 'The Apple Years' (Box Set) (2014)

The last song George ;signed off' in his own lifetime (though sadly he died a month before release)  was, typically, a track made for a friend. Jools Holland had become good friends of Paul and George after working on The Beatles' Anthology' as an interviewer. Holland's series of bizarrely successful solo albums featuring his awful plinkety plonk piano solos and the odd big name and loads of people you've never heard of all thrown in together on unsuitable songs were at their peak around the millennium and sold in the millions, for reasons I've never quite understood. [143] 'Horse To Water', which sadly became the only song ever credited to George and Dhani together, is a rare case of a 'guest' not only dictating the song but writing for it, George actually doing a good job at recapturing the bluesy style of his 'Extra Texture' days and his friend's charmless smarm. With George's voice fading as he grew iller, Dhani agreed to play guitar and another guest was brought in to add depth to the vocals - family friend Sam Brown, the daughter of Harrison idol 1950s skiffle star Joe Brown, who squawks her way through George's last moment and generally gets in the way (though at least she's more in tune than Jools' piano). Harrison's last official product comes close to being a disaster, but repeated playings show up what a clever and thoughtful lyric this song has,  one last sigh over the blindness of man to his real purpose in life and how, for all his hard work trying to pass on God's wisdom, George has reluctantly decided that people just don't want to think for themselves. Caught halfway between the seriousness of his religious epics and the party style of his sillier songs, it captures George's duality well and basically shrugs and says 'well if you can't beat them, join them'. I'm intrigued by the lyric's tale of a 'friend...stranded on a barrier reef' after years of sailing down the wrong river; George snaps that 'first he turned on me and then he turned off his nervous system' - is this one last dig at McCartney? Or a reflection on his own confused state of mind circa the mid-1970s full of actions that still haunted him? (or someone else we simply don't know?) With such lines as 'some people thirst for truth but he would like a drink' and the rhyme of 'risky' and 'whiskey' this song is a clever finale, summing up both the serious and comedic side of Harrison and pointing to the fact that all methods of passing on wisdom do the same job in the end. Realising he didn't have long, George requested that the sheet music for this track read not 'Northern Songs' as usual but 'RIP Music Ltd' - celebrated at the time as a typical Harrison embrace of his mortality but actually also a pretty damning comment on the state of music in 2001 as best displayed by the sheer emptiness of this Jools Holland CD. Find it on: 'Jools Holland's Orchestra 'Small World, Big Band' (2001)

'Extra Texture (Read All About It)' (1975)
'Thirty-Three And A Third' (1976)

'George Harrison' (1979)

‘Somewhere In England’ (1981)
‘Cloud Nine’ (1987)
'Brainwashed' (2002)
'Hidden Harrison - The Best Unreleased Recordings'
Live/Compilation/Spin-Off Albums Plus The Occasional Wilbury
Non-Album Recordings 1968-2001
Surviving TV Appearances 1971-2001

Essay: Why The Quiet Beatle Always Had So Much To Say
Five Landmark Concerts and Three Key Cover Songs