In 2004, we were presented with The Dark Horse Years 1976-1992, a box set collection that gathered five studio albums and a tentative sounding concert recording that followed George Harrison through a period of commercial and critical rebirth. A fascinating but uneven set, the package left one looming question unanswered – specifically, why wasn’t the initial music Harrison created during the aftermath of The Beatles not given equal attention?
A full decade later comes the reply. The Apple Years 1968-75 serves up Harrison’s first six solo recordings – two experimental instrumental sets and four “proper” albums, one of which has long been sorely underappreciated – to showcase a spiritually imbued sense of pop songcraft.
The instrumental records, Wonderwall Music (1968) and Electronic Sound (1969), have long been dismissed as indulgences. But the former is a real sleeper, a musical kaleidoscope grounded in Eastern instrumentation and inspiration that regularly spins off into a variety of Western pop accents. It is a far more inviting listen today than the primitive analog synthesizer mischief of Electronic Sound (initially released on the short lived Apple offshoot label Zapple).
We won’t spend much time here on Harrison’s first song-oriented record, All Things Must Pass (1970) other than to say to it remains the finest solo album ever issued by a Beatle. Comprised largely of music ignored or unfinished during the Beatles’ final sessions, it is a majestic work in terms of sound, execution and intent. It belongs in everyone’s record collection.
Living in the Material World (1973) sounds as conflicted today as All Things Must Pass sounds resolute. Its appeal is strong, but the spiritual connections seem more obtuse and weighty at times (as in The Light That Has Lighted the World). But there are stunners here, too, like the achingly beautiful awakening anthem Try Some Buy Some and the comparatively whimsical title tune.
In some ways, Dark Horse (1974) is equally stilted, but its sound is looser and leaner. That underscores the hapless domestic upheaval of Simply Sadie and the learned bliss of Far East Man. Unfortunately the scorched vocals of the title song would surface again on a critically lambasted tour to promote the record, Harrison’s only North American concert trek as a solo artist.
If The Apple Years succeeds in nothing else, it helps reintroduce Extra Texture (Read All About It), Harrison’s curiously titled 1975 swansong record for the Apple label. Dismissed as readily as the tour that preceded it, the record is a delight from the start of the brightly orchestrated pop of You to a series of light soul-savvy reveries that culminate in the playful His Name is Legs. The record places the secular and spiritual concerns of Harrison’s music in animated balance to close out The Apple Years in a state of hapless harmony.