George played lead guitar and sang in a band called The Beatles. The youngest member of the group, he was initially cast as the “quiet” Beatle. During the 60s, George had a spiritual awakening and became a member of the Hare Krishna movement (a branch of Hinduism). Many of Harrison’s songs after his religious conversion have overtly spiritual themes that could be applied broadly in a monotheistic sense (Harrison, like Aldous Huxley, subscribed to the idea that all major religions emanated from the same source). His music also began to incorporate Eastern themes (e.g., meditation) and sounds, and songs such as “Within You Without You” and “The Inner Light” introduced the Beatles’ fan base (i.e., the world) to new musical and philosophical ideas.
Much has been made of George’s development in The Beatles; suffice to say, like the Monty Python joke, he got better, eventually finding his own voice within the band. His first solo albums were recorded while still a member of the band and were experimental, instrumental efforts; Wonderwall Music (1968) was a deep dive into Eastern and soundtrack music, while Electronic Sound (1969) was exactly what it said it was. When Harrison did finally release a real solo album, however, it was a doozy: the triple-elpee All Things Must Pass (1970). Featuring some songs that Harrison had stockpiled while a member of The Beatles and joined by Eric Clapton’s band, the album re-asserted the notion that George was an underrated and undervalued songwriter. The next year, Harrison organized The Concert for Bangla Desh (1971), featuring Clapton, Bob Dylan, Dave Mason and many others, which would go on to win the Grammy Award.
Subsequent solo albums, unfortunately, re-re-asserted the notion that maybe George wasn’t so undervalued or underrated after all. Living In The Material World (1973), Dark Horse (1974) and Extra Texture (1975) had a few good songs each (well, maybe not so much Dark Horse), but none approached the level of All Things Must Pass. (The same, of course, could be said of Clapton and Derek and the Dominos’ double-album Layla.) In 1976, George began releasing albums on his own Dark Horse records, a subsidiary of Warner Brothers. Thirty-Three & 1/3 (1976) and the eponymous George Harrison (1979) were in line with what could be expected from Paul McCartney and Wings at that stage: a couple of Top 40 hits, pleasant melodies and a few clunkers. Around this time, George also formed Handmade Films, which produced The Life of Brian, Time Bandits, Withnail And I, Mona Lisa and other films.
After the death of John Lennon, Harrison released the generally disappointing Somewhere In England, which featured the tribute, “All Those Years Ago,” and a bunch of crappy songs that probably should have been written about John Lennon too. Gone Troppo (1982) was better (there being but the one direction…), but a lack of commercial enthusiasm kept George quiet until the comeback album Cloud Nine (1987). That record, produced by Jeff Lynne, led to the formation of The Traveling Wilburys with Lynne, Roy Orbison, Bob Dylan and Tom Petty, who recorded two albums.
George Harrison didn’t release another new studio album in his lifetime. He passed in 2001; the following year, Brainwashed (2002) was released. In addition to authorized and unauthorized biographies, Martin Scorcese released a documentary of Harrison’s life, Living In The Material World, in 2011, in which Olivia Harrison reveals that there was a great light present in the room when George’s spirit was loosed from this mortal coil. Not quite the shot-out-of-a-clown-cannon death that I’m hoping for but, um, still pretty cool.