After the break-up of the band, it could also be argued that their competition between one another was dramatically increased. While Starr and Harrison often appeared on the latter two’s solo records, the four were each striving toward solo career chart dominance in their own ways. Perhaps best referred to as George Harrison’s ‘Dark Horse’ period, the quiet Beatle became one of the early success stories in the post-Beatles world. Unhibited by his bandmates, Harrison produced some of the finest records of all time.
Thus, Harrison’s work was equally as special both in and outside of The Beatles, but for the purpose of this article, we’re only going to focus on songs from his solo career. Here are ten of the finest in descending order.
# 10 –‘Rocking Chair In Hawaii’ – ‘Brainwashed’ – (2002)
Much to the heartbreak of the world’s artistic community, George Harrison passed away in November of 2001. Almost exactly a year later the following winter, ‘Brainwashed’ was released – George Harrison’s final studio album. Widely praised by critics, the collection is a beautiful look into some of the most wonderful work of the Beatle’s career. Finished by his son, Dhani Harrison, ‘Brainwashed’ is an album every George Harrison fan should own.
While there are many excellent tracks on the record, there is one deep cut that stands out as particularly lovely. The second to last song, ‘Rocking Chair In Hawaii,’ is a song that finally saw completion after originally being demoed during the ‘All Things Must Pass’ era. It’s a brilliant song. It has Hawaiian island-style vibes, but it also employs delta blues execution and lyricism. The culmination is unbelievable. George Harrison sounds like a tropical Robert Johnson!
# 9 – ‘Dream Away’ – ‘Gone Troppo’ – (1982)
In 1981, Hollywood director Terry Gilliam, previously famed for ‘Monty Python and the Holy Grail,’ set to creating a film called ‘Time Bandits.’ The premise was a young boy who gets plucked from his bedroom by a group of time-traveling dwarves to journey across space and time seeking adventure and treasure. Nowadays, ‘Time Bandits’ is a bit of a cult classic, and it’s also hard to find a copy of.
George Harrison was instrumental in ‘Time Bandits’ actually getting made. He believed in the project so much that he mortgaged his office building to help fund it. (Gizmodo did a great piece on this and the creation of the film here.) Due to his direct involvement, Harrison lent a track to the finale of the film, ‘Dream Away.’ The song is a silly tune, one that incorporates a bunch of lyrics that seem to be in Pig Latin or something akin to it.
Hence, ‘Dream Away’ is an unconventional song for an equally unconventional film. It’s so splendidly carefree and fun, however, that one can’t help but look back on it with immense fondness. ‘Dream Away’ is the best of George Harrison cutting loose and having a good time with his music.
# 8 – ‘Dark Horse’ – ‘Dark Horse’ – (1974)
The titular track of 1974’s ‘Dark Horse’ is a fascinating entry in George Harrison’s catalog. “You thought that you knew where I was and when, but it looks like they’ve been fooling you again,” Harrison sang in the opening lines of ‘Dark Horse.’ “You thought you had me all staked out, but baby it looks like I’ve been breaking out.” The song, of course, is Harrison alluding to the public’s notion that he was the “dark horse” of the post-Beatles solo careers.
Everyone expected Lennon and McCartney to find great success in their solo careers. Put simply, they dominated most of The Beatles’ catalog to begin with. When George Harrison broke out solo, he put together an unbelievable amount very high quality content in a very short amount of time. ‘All Things Must Passed’ was even distributed as an entire box because of this.
In 1974, ‘Dark Horse’ marked Harrison’s fifth studio album in less than five years – all of which were highly redeemable in their own unique ways. Hence, the title track of ‘Dark Horse,’ is, in a way, Harrison’s victory lap. It’s not only an excellent song, it’s a declaration of independence and relevance.
# – 7 ‘Got My Mind Set On You’ – ‘Cloud Nine’ – (1987)
Is there anything more wonderful than George Harrison dancing about a room with animatronic taxidermied animals? No, there really isn’t. ‘Got My Mind Set On You’ has one of the best music videos in the post-Beatles catalog. It’s spectacularly joyful, and Harrison is in perfect form. ‘Got My Mind Set On You’ isn’t just infectiously catchy, though, it also boasts a terrific production and composition.
When listening to the song, sit back and take notice of the small details. (In order to do this, you may not want to watch the animatronic animals…) The intricacy of the track is especially interesting. There are brass sections, layered electric guitars, and the extended version even includes a notably excellent guitar solo that closes out the track.
(It’s worth mentioning that ‘Got My Mind Set On You’ is technically a cover of a 1962 song. It’s one of those tunes that has become synonymous with Harrison, though, and it would be a disservice to not include it here. He made it his own.)
# 6 – ‘When We Was Fab’ – ‘Cloud Nine’ – (1987)
Speaking of terrific music videos, musical complexity, and George Harrison’s 1987 album ‘Cloud Nine,’ it’s very much worth showcasing another song from the collection. ‘When We Was Fab,’ a retrospective on Harrison’s time with The Beatles, is an absolutely invigorating track. Co-written and produced by Jeff Lynne, both the lyrics and the production techniques of ‘When We Was Fab’ are designed to instill nostalgia of The Beatles’ heyday.
‘When We Was Fab’ also harnessed some of the finest talent in the music industry for both its creation and promotion. Ringo Starr, Jeff Lynne, and Ray Cooper all performed on the track. In the music video, Elton John and Paul Simon make cameos, and it’s often been rumored that Paul McCartney was either in the walrus suit or part of a passing crowd. It’s a very special part of Harrison’s catalog that deserves its place here on this list.
# 5 – ‘This Song’ – ‘Thirty Three & ⅓’ – (1976)
In 1976, George Harrison departed Apple records to fully form Dark Horse Records, his independent label that would continue to release his music for several decades to come. If the early 70s were Harrison’s metaphorical ‘dark horse’ era, the mid to late 70s were certainly the fruition of the hard work he put into creating his label during that time. ‘Thirty Three & ⅓’ was the first album to see a release on Dark Horse Records, and it’s a very loose, bombastic album. Harrison’s performances feel organic and enthusiastic, perhaps even more so than his previous outings.
‘This Song’ is a great track that often gets overlooked in Harrison’s catalog. It’s a parody of the ridiculous nature of music copyright law and the court cases that follow in suit. We see this even today. For example, Led Zeppelin’s long ‘Stairway to Heaven’ copyright court case that was only recently finalized. (In Led Zeppelin’s favor.)
# 4 – ‘What Is Life’ – ‘All Things Must Pass’ – (1970)
In truth, one could likely fill this entire list with songs from ‘All Things Must Pass.’ (One would likely also double the length of this list by doing so.) The album is a rarity music culture: it’s a perfect album. ‘All Things Must Pass’ is a masterpiece into which George Harrison poured his heart and soul after the break-up of The Beatles. ‘What Is Life’ was the second single debuted off the album.
One of the reasons ‘All Things Must Pass’ is such a good record is because a slew of huge names were involved in its creation, but none of them showboated across its soundscapes. (Which one may find very surprising, since the King of Showboating, Phil Spector, did co-produce it.) ‘What Is Life’ combines a complex descending guitar riff, the insight of Harrison’s songwriting style, and Phil Spector’s ‘wall of sound’ production to craft an unforgettable tune. (Heck, even Eric Clapton’s acoustic guitar is jam-packed in there.)
# 3 – ‘Give Me Love (Give Me Peace On Earth)’ – ‘Living In The Material World’ – (1973)
In 1973, Harrison abandoned the intense sonic landscapes of Phil Spector’s production. Instead of the ‘wall of sound,’ Harrison began to employ increasingly more minimalistic approaches to production as he self-produced. Smack dab in the middle of the ‘dark horse,’ period, Harrison found terrific commercial success doing this. ‘Give Me Love (Give Me Peace On Earth)’ opened his 1973 record ‘Living In The Material World’ in this fashion.
When ‘Give Me Love (Give Me Peace On Earth)’ was released as a single, it bumped Paul McCartney’s Wings off the Billboard Top 100’s number one slot. (Wings was charting for the tune ‘My Love.’) It’s a sparse acoustic track that’s backed by a fairly minimal band and some of Harrison’s most vivid lyricism ever. The slide guitar performance is especially excellent, and Harrison’s acoustic chops shine through on ‘Give Me Love (Give Me Peace On Earth)’ and the rest of its subsequent album, ‘Living In The Material World.
’# 2 – ‘My Sweet Lord’ – ‘All Things Must Pass’ – (1970)
‘My Sweet Lord’ is one of George Harrison’s most enduring works, and for very good reason. Serving as the second track on the first side of ‘All Things Must Pass,’ ‘My Sweet Lord’ is perhaps George Harrison’s enduring spiritual legacy. As we all know, he was most certainly the most spiritual of the fab four. This only intensified in the years that followed, and ‘My Sweet Lord’ is a jaw-droppingly beautiful ballad to God.
The beauty of ‘My Sweet Lord’ is that it’s surprisingly are religious. Yes, the song is about the “Lord,” but the God in which Harrison sings to is left to interpretation. Harrison explored many religions and spiritualities in his life, and ‘My Sweet Lord’ is a reflection of his openness. The song takes influence from Christianity, Judaism, Hinduism, Buddhism, and is rooted deeply in a Hare Krishna mantra. In the spirit of George Harrison’s whole life and career, ‘My Sweet Lord’ brings people together.
# 1 – ‘All Things Must Pass’ – ‘All Things Must Pass’ – 1970
‘All Things Must Pass’ was released as a box-set album in 1970. A year earlier during the recording of ‘Let It Be,’ John Lennon and Paul McCartney shot down a song that George Harrison was proposing for their new album. The Beatles had a democracy of sorts that required each band member to sign off on each song. It’s fair to say that Lennon and McCartney, while geniuses in their own right, were ridiculous to shoot down the song that George Harrison proposed.
That song, ‘All Things Must Pass,’ was the title track of that highly celebrated album a year later. It’s not just one of the best songs George Harrison ever wrote. It’s not even just one of the best songs a Beatle wrote in their solo career. It’s one of the best songs of all time. ‘All Things Must Pass’ is a haunting, spine-tingling excursion through some of the most gorgeous lyricism, production, and composition Harrison ever released. As such, it’s most deserving of its place at the top of this list.
“Sunrise doesn’t last all morning; a cloudburst doesn’t last all day. Seems my love has up and left you with no warning; it’s not always going to be this grey. All things must pass; all things must pass away.”