George Harrison: Extra Texture (1975)

George Harrison is my favorite Beatle. I own everything he’s done. The day one album was released, I walked across town to buy it. I’m also a tough critic.

I remember being very excited about the release of this album.  It was the follow up to Dark Horse, a critically panned album, but one I liked very much.  When I put Extra Texture on the turntable and listened to the end of Side two, I thought, what the fuck is this?

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To say I was hugely disappointed would be an understatement.  What was George thinking? Side one opened with “You,” a sterling, upbeat track.  Meaty guitar, horns, great melody.  The song wouldn’t chart very high (number 20), but it was the most obvious commercial single George had released in years.  Only later did I learn that George had written and produced the track for Ronnie Spector, who had passed on the song.  George used the instrumental track and added his vocals, a second drummer and the excellent sax solo by Bobby Keys.

The only other uptempo song on the album was “This Guitar (Can’t Keep From Crying)” a sort of sequel to his more famous song from the White Album.  This song was also released as a single, but failed to chart.  It has taken me forty-plus years to warm up to this song.  I found it rather dreadful at the time.  The comparisons to it’s famous cousin are quite fair, which enhances the distance in quality between them.  The song itself might have been serviceable but the arrangement was pretty weak.  Harrison plays acoustic guitar and slide guitar, the solo is left for Jesse Ed Davis.  The guitar playing feels uninspired, it certainly sounds rather pedestrian.  The song has too much keyboard, it drowns what should have been another guitar song.  Even the bass wasn’t really a bass guitar, it was an ARP keyboard bass, played by Harrison.  I hate giving this song such a lousy review, but it deserves it. Another forty years from now I’ll probably love the song.

When he was recording the album, Harrison had finished his underwhelming 1974 Dark Horse tour of America.  Harrison had laryngitis and could barely sing some nights.  He rearranged some of the music and lyrics of his well-known songs, and had Ravi Shankar and Indian musicians as the opening act.  The reviews were pretty negative, and Harrison would never tour America again (He only toured once more, with Eric Clapton in Japan).  Those reviews and the audience’s reception to the Indian music (tepid at best), further removed Harrison from the view of having to give the public what they wanted. He would give them what he wanted.  Harrison was also trying to launch his Dark Horse record label at the time and under tremendous pressure to be all-things-successful to everyone.

To ease his many demands, he recorded the album in Los Angeles, instead of England.  It is a shame that he didn’t soak up more of the sounds happening in America at the time. A soulful album, why didn’t he recruit some actual R&B players and backup vocalists?

Harrison’s songs on Extra Texture were introspective and somewhat melancholy.  Upbeat pop hits? No way.  What Harrison delivered was soulful and drenched in R&B.  Harrison had earned the freedom to do what he wanted.  Extra Texture was the last album released on Apple Records, for any of the ex-Beatles.  They were each free agents and would sign with non-Capitol Records labels.  The former Beatles were now free of their own record company.  Extra Texture does not have the Apple logo, but it does include a drawing of an apple eaten down to the core.  Harrison’s own wit.

After almost 45 years, my views on this album have undergone some change. Five years after All Things Must Pass, Harrison returns with a set of songs from deep instead, not acoustic guitars jangling, but mature and soulful piano arrangements. The album is not his best, not his worst, just very underrated.

Side one

“You” – 3:41 See the comments above. This is one of his most underrated songs.  The songs Harrison would give away or attempt to give away (Spector, Ringo) were some of his more creative and commercial songs.

“The Answer’s at the End” – 5:32  This song would have fit on All Things Must Pass, it’s a mid tempo song, akin to this theme on that album.  The arrangement is a bit dense here, lots of keyboard and strings.  Stepping back, it’s a beautiful song, mellow and sweet melody.  George at his soulful best.  A trimmed version might have gotten some airplay.

“This Guitar (Can’t Keep from Crying)” – 4:11 See the comments above.

“Ooh Baby (You Know That I Love You)” – 3:59  Another gorgeous song, aching with soul. He includes horns, nice touch.  Very tasteful playing,although he held back on the guitar, but not the electric piano.  Tom Scott and Chuck Finley are great on the horns.  Play this song some night with the lights low and a honey.

“World of Stone” – 4:40  Another mellow, keyboard-drenched song.  If you listen with fine speakers or headphones you will pick out instruments buried in the mix.  The song shifts gears near the mid-point, and then back again.

 

Side two

“A Bit More of You” – 0:45  A short reprise of the longer song on Side one.

“Can’t Stop Thinking About You” – 4:30  Another slow/mid-tempo song, with keyboard and strings.  A nice song, but you get the feeling you’ve already heard three or four with the similar groove.

“Tired of Midnight Blue” – 4:51 A slight change of pace. A bit of a different rhythm, a little more guitar upfront in the mix, which is nice to hear over the many keyboards.  On this album, George is more the songwriter, aiming for more meaningful and emotional songs. He clearly focused on arrangements and bringing in David Foster, Gary Wright and Nicky Hopkins for the keyboard battery.  This is a pleasant song, I just have no idea what it is about.

“Grey Cloudy Lies” – 3:41 Very similar to “Beware of Darkness” from All Things Must Pass.  A nice melody and fine arrangement, but it does not shift out of the familiar style of generally most of the songs on the album.  George puts a lot of effort into his vocals and the songs give him an emotional pallet, but he often buries his vocals in the mix.  I have no idea what he was writing about.

“His Name Is Legs (Ladies and Gentlemen)” – 5:46  This is a Ringo-type party song to end the album, giving thanks to everyone.  The song is more upbeat than the last few. Again, he buries his vocals so it is hard to understand what he is singing.  This song settle into a repeating groove, and is a bit too long.  Legs Larry Smith was a Harrison friend.

Bonus song: “This Guitar (Can’t Keep From Crying)” re-recorded version.  Stripped down, cleaner vocals and dirtier guitar.  Superior version.

 

So, where does this album rank in the Harrison legacy?  I would put it in the middle, better than all but one later album, but after his earlier albums.  Harrison clearly didn’t want to be a rock and roll star, and on this album downshifted to middle-of-the-road territory.  He would have been happy sitting in a piano bar singing most of these songs, and that’s okay.  His next album would be more upbeat and cheery, although not a lot of rock and roll, more pop than rock.

Extra Texture was an album he had to make, it was a point in his life where he stepped back from ex-guitar playing Beatle, and focused on song composition and a bit more vocal expression.  Unfortunately, he sort of got stuck in the same pattern of song and production mix.  He felt the piano, organ and synthesizer would carry the load for these songs, the guitar was pushed to the background.

Ultimately, this is an album where he grew and stretched, even if the public didn’t really notice.  After 45 years, these songs have more to offer than at first glance.


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