Nine years after George Harrison wrote “Here Comes the Sun” in the midst of workaday Beatles-spun drudgery, he penned its sequel of sorts in a Hawaiian paradise with family, waves and whales on the horizon.
One evening on the island of Maui, Harrison, his wife Olivia and son Dhani were enjoying a typically stunning sunset — and were greeted by a big, full moon. Blown away by the sight of Luna, Harrison and fellow vacationer Stevie Nicks grabbed acoustic guitars and workshopped a nocturnal ballad: “Here Comes the Moon.”
This state of mind resulted in his most peaceful album, George Harrison, which turns 40 today (Feb. 14). On gems like “Love Comes to Everyone,” “Blow Away” and “Soft Touch,” he sounded happier than he’d been in years.
Other songs, too, were wafting in from the rainforest air — which seemed to turn a new leaf for Harrison. “Soft-Hearted Hana” was a goofy ode to the copious magic mushrooms going around. “Your Love is Forever,” a droning, ambient love ballad to Olivia, practically invented Cocteau Twins. He tracked the songs with L.A. soft-rock pros — multi-instrumentalists Gary Wright and Steve Winwood, Fender Rhodes player Neil Larsen — who nailed the luxurious vibe.
The results don’t get as much play as agreed-upon classics, such as All Things Must Pass or Cloud Nine, but George Harrison conjures an intoxicating world all its own. In honor of the 40th anniversary of George Harrison’s self-titled, here’s a track-by-track retrospective of the original album.
“Love Comes to Everyone” George Harrison’s breezy, commercial opening track is free of his more difficult lyrical topics: divorce, familial loss, grappling with God. Instead, “Love Comes to Everyone” is his sweet, optimistic Theory of Everything. Rather than sounding generic or sappy, Harrison sounds like he earned his day of leisure. “Knock and it will open wide,” he insists. Steve Winwood responds with his sunny little Moog solo.
“Not Guilty” A White Album-era outtake that the Fabs attempted 102 times before tossing it in the bin, “Not Guilty” didn’t see the light of day until 1979. It’s a swipe at Paul McCartney, then viewed by the other three as the studio autocrat. “No use handing me a writ / While I’m trying to do my bit,” snaps Harrison; no wonder the Cute One stuffed this one under the rug. The kinder, gentler George Harrison version goes down easier; Neil Larsen’s languid electric piano cools the burn. Sometimes it’s better to let old grudges go.
“Here Comes the Moon” The most precious jewel of George Harrison, “Here Comes the Moon” evokes a long Hawaiian night. A photo from its bedroom writing session sums it all up: George, topless with his acoustic guitar, Stevie Nicks’ pigtailed head down writing lyrics, their restaurateur friend Bob Longhi hanging loose. “We were all night birds,” remembered Nicks. “We just hung out and wrote and sang and talked.” From that all-nighter came this little prayer for a God-given “little brother to the Sun” to appear. Yes it does, and here it comes.
“Soft-Hearted Hana” A parody of the 1920s ragtime standard “Hard Hearted Hannah,” “Soft-Hearted Hana” is a goofy interlude about tripping on psilocybin mushrooms. It’s classically George, combining his hero Bob Dylan’s poetic mind-trips and his mates Monty Python’s logic-free humor. “Seven naked native girls swim seven sacred pools,” he reports from a sky-high POV, his “legs like high-rise buildings.” Although “Soft-Hearted Hana” frustratingly breaks the sublime spell of “Here Comes the Moon,” it’s a treat to hear Harrison get this silly.
“Blow Away” In 1970, Harrison bought Friar Park, a crumbling neo-Gothic mansion due to be demolished. As he dealt with the Beatles’ implosion and subsequent divorce from Pattie Boyd, he was slowly restoring the old bones to their Victorian glory. “Blow Away,” a bouncy No. 16 single on the Billboard Hot 100 about silver linings, explores life as home renovation: “Cracks and leaks, the floorboards caught rot / About to go down, I’d almost forgot.” Get to the chorus, though, and “Blow Away” is an irresistible, sustained grin in the face of life’s tribulations. The effect is of your shoulders dropping about three inches, your lungs finally exhaling.
“Faster” A sensual type who took a huge bite out of life, Harrison had developed a host of extramusical hobbies by 1979: gardening, film production, Formula 1 racing. The latter even got its own rip-roaring song, “Faster,” which pays tribute to Jackie Stewart, Ronnie Peterson and other drivers he’d recently befriended. In a generously “all-in” gesture, he even donated the single’s funds to a late Swedish driver’s cancer fund. Harrison sounds wholly engaged in “Faster”; ever since he attended the British Grand Prix at 12, motorsport was one of his most authentic loves. One curl of his slide guitar and you’re off to the races.
“Dark Sweet Lady” George Harrison is partly a celebration of the singer’s marriage to Olivia Trinidad Arias, an A&M Records secretary he met in 1974. At the time, Harrison was at a crossroads, acting like a religious scold on his Dark Horse tour while indulging in mountains of bad behavior. Arias, a true seeker who studied meditation under a guru before she ever met Harrison, became his drama-free foil. While writing his self-titled album, Harrison’s bride asked him to write a song in a Mexican style, as per her partial ancestry. He picked up the nylon-string guitar he played on the Beatles’ “And I Love Her” — and wrote this Latin-inflected ballad for his new love.
“Your Love Is Forever” In a 2017 Billboard interview, Olivia opened up about the transportive nature of “Your Love Is Forever.” “I think about somewhere we were,” she said. “It was beautiful and warm and there was no pressure and no angst.” She was referring to their dawning love in Maui, which was captured on this narcotized, oceanic ballad. “Sublime in the summertime, warm and lazy,” sings Harrison slackly, as if viewing his surroundings through a sun-bleached lens. The appealingly dated mix cranks up the synths and chorus to extraordinary effect, making the Harrisons’ real-life affair sound like a dreamy, half-recalled memory.
“Soft Touch” In preparation to write George Harrison, Harrison repeatedly listened to All Things Must Pass, his 1970 solo debut that he arguably never topped. While woodshedding material in the Virgin Islands, he took the horn outro of “Run of the Mill” and flipped it into its own song, “Soft Touch.” Lyrically, it’s mostly of a piece with the rest: “My whole heart is melting,” he sings, as if he hit the jackpot of earthly satisfaction. But there was another important inspiration: his infant son Dhani. “I’d changed some of the words so that it became more about my baby boy,” he later revealed.
“If You Believe” This co-write between Harrison and close collaborator Gary Wright isn’t his most inspired moment. “If You Believe” is just a quick, disposable burst of optimism to send listeners off the island. “I like the sentiment of it, but it’s a bit obvious as a tune,” Harrison even smirked to Rolling Stone. Still, it’s hard to begrudge him a perky victory lap. “Everything has been happening nice for me,” said Harrison while promoting George Harrison in 1979. “My life is getting better all the time.”
On his self-titled album, inner tranquility and outer splendor were one and the same.