George Harrison’s 1976 hit “Crackerbox Palace,” the second single from his Thirty Three & 1/3 album, is one of those vaguely worded songs (Sample lyric: “Sometimes are good . . . sometimes are bad. That’s all a part of life”) that could be just about anything. It’s a happy little tune that you could project just about any happy thoughts onto while you hum along.
In actual fact, the song was written about his visit to the Los Angeles home of the great Beatnik comic, Lord Buckley, after a chance meeting with Buckley’s former manager George Grief in France. Harrison was a big admirer of Buckley (as was Frank Zappa) and thought the name of his house would make a great song title. The song includes references to both George Greif (“I met a Mr. Greif”) and to his Lordship (“know that the Lord is well and inside of you”).
Monty Python member Eric Idle directed a promo film for “Crackerbox Palace” that was shown on SNL (along with another for “This Song”) that featured Neil Innes (in drag and in other weird costumes). Harrison appeared—as himself and as “Pirate Bob” his sea-shanty singing alter ego—on Idle and Innes’ BBC Rutland Weekend Television, on the show’s Christmas special.
A compilation of Harrison’s bits on the ‘Rutland Weekend Television’ Christmas special
George Harrison’s exotic soundtrack to Joe Massot’s swinging 60s cinematic head trip Wonderwall was the first solo Beatle project (that is if you don’t count Paul McCartney’s 1966 soundtrack to The Family Way, which was credited to The George Martin Orchestra). 1968’s Wonderwall Music is all over the musical map—delightfully so—with songs ranging from classical Indian ragas to jaunty nostalgic-sounding numbers to proto-metal guitar freakouts. It’s a minor classic, I wish more people knew about it. I’ve long been an enthusiastic evangelist for this album, sticking tracks on mixed CDs and tapes for quite some time. Even avowed Beatlemaniacs tend to have missed out on Wonderwall Music. It’s a real overlooked gem.
George Harrison recording with Indian classical musicians in Bombay, 1968. Harrison Family Trust
Harrison’s principle collaborator for the Wonderwall soundtrack was orchestral arranger John Barham who transcribed Harrison’s “western” melodies into a musical annotation that the Indian musicians in Bombay could work with. Barham was a student—and collaborator—of Indian sitarist Ravi Shankar who had introduced him to the quiet Beatle. Barham—who would soon go on to compose the soundtrack to Alejandro Jodorowsky’s psychedelic western El Topo and contribute to Harrison’s All Things Must Pass—played piano, harmonium and flugelhorn, and acted the role of orchestral arranger on certain tracks.
With Barham, Ringo Starr (under the pseudonym “Richie Snare”) and Eric Clapton (here credited as “Eddie Clayton) along with some session musicians, and a Liverpool band called the Remo Four, Harrison recorded the “English” portion of Wonderwall Music in December 1967. The Indian classical musicians were recorded the following month in Bombay. Peter Tork from the Monkees played an uncredited banjo part that was used for a cue in the movie, if not on the record. It was released on November 1, 1968, just a few weeks before the White Album and was the very first release on Apple Records. It’s probably not too much of a stretch to call it the first “world music” project of a major rock musician. If it’s not the very first, it is certainly among the very first of its kind (and Harrison spent a considerable sum out of his own pocket to underwrite the expense of recording in Bombay). But Wonderwall Music‘s far too quirky to be considered strictly a world music album. Some of it sounds like the New Vaudeville Band after they’ve drunk lots and lots of coffee. Some of it sounds, not surprisingly, like psychedelic instrumental Beatle outtakes.
There are a lot of great tracks on Wonderwall Music, but the one I want to highlight first is “Ski-ing” a two-minute long sonic SCREAMER wherein Eric Clapton and Harrison come up with the blueprint for the Buttlhole Surfers’ guitar sound back when Paul Leary was just a tyke.
As every fan of the White Album knows, the Beatles wrote a whole mess of top-notch songs during their 1968 retreat with Maharishi Mahesh Yogi in Rishikesh. George Harrison’s “Sour Milk Sea” was one of them. This rough but lovely version of the song comes from the much-bootlegged “Esher tapes,” a collection of demos for the White Album recorded at Harrison’s house after the band returned from India. It sounds like all the Fabs are playing on this run-through:
“Sour Milk Sea” didn’t make it onto the White Album: Harrison gave the song to Jackie Lomax, the former lead singer of the Merseybeat band the Undertakers, who was one of Apple’s first signings. According to rock historian Richie Unterberger, this was the only time Harrison gave away one of his songs (i.e., without releasing his own version) during the Beatles’ career. On the Harrison-produced single—Lomax’s solo debut—released in the summer of ‘68, the band consists of George, Paul, and Ringo with Eric Clapton and pianist Nicky Hopkins (who played with both the Beatles and the Stones) sitting in. Not bad for a first single. And check out the pipes on Jackie! The boy could sing.
Wrote Sour Milk Sea in Rishikesh, India. I never actually recorded the song—it was done by Jackie Lomax on his album Is This What You Want. Anyway, it’s based on Vishvasara Tantra, from Tantric art (‘what is here is elsewhere, what is not here is nowhere’): it’s a picture, and the picture is called Sour Milk Sea—Kalladadi Samudra in Sanskrit—‘the origin and growth of Jambudvita, the central continent, surrounded by fish symbols, according to the geological theory of the evolution of organic life on earth. The appearance of fishes marks the second stage.’
Well, that’s the origin of the song title—but it’s really about meditation[...] I used Sour Milk Sea as this idea of—if you’re in the shit, don’t go around moaning about it: do something about it.
George Harrison’s 1966 trip to India was a major catalyst in the development of the Beatles’ sound, and pop music was forever changed by his sitar tutelage under Ravi Shankar. However, all the talk about the musical, spiritual and yoga training tend to obfuscate the real historic legacy of Harrison’s journey—selfies!!! The quiet Beatle captured some really beautiful scenery (as well as his lovely face), using a fisheye lens to clever effect. Frankly, I’m a little surprised Instagram hasn’t pushed for a nostalgic fisheye comeback—who doesn’t like a little psychedelic bulge to their selfie?
“Basketball Jones” was a song/routine/character from Cheech & Chong’s 1973 Los Cochinos (“The Pigs”) record. The original album cover had a secret compartment where you could see how they smuggled pot, sandwiched in their car door. I bought this LP at a garage sale when I was about ten years old and just starting to get into comedy albums. I only half understood the idea of what “drugs” were at the time, I’m pretty sure, so I can’t imagine that a Cheech & Chong album made much sense to me at such a tender age. But I loved the routine “Basketball Jones” by Tyrone (as in “tie your own”) Shoelaces & Rap Brown Jr. H.S. and would go around singing the musical part of it like ten-year-olds do.
The song is about teenage Tyrone and his love of basketball sung in a falsetto voice by Cheech Marin. It’s catchy as hell, but small wonder, dig the backing band: George Harrison, Klaus Voorman, Carole King, Nicky Hopkins, Tom Scott and Billy Preston. The Blossoms with Darlene Love, Ronnie Spector and Michelle Phillips were the backing cheerleader’s voices.
“George Harrison and those guys were in the next studio recording, and so Lou (Adler) just ran over there and played (it for him). They made up the track right on the spot.”
Producer Lou Adler:
“That was a wild session. I probably called Carole (King) and told her to come down, but with Harrison and (Klaus) Voorman—I didn’t call and say come in and play. Everyone happened to be in the A&M studios at that particular time, doing different projects. It was spilling out of the studio into the corridors.”
The “Basketball Jones” animation is by Paul Gruwell and was made in 1974. This cartoon has also made some impressive Hollywood cameos over the years, in Robert Altman’s California Split (which was never released on VHS due to Columbia Pictures refusing to pay royalties on the song, Altman had to cut the music—but not the animation—for the DVD); Hal Ashby’s Being There (it’s what Chauncey Gardiner is watching in the limo); and in the 70s underground comedy Tunnel Vision. It was parodied in a 2011 episode of The Simpsons (”A Midsummer’s Nice Dream”) guest-starring Cheech & Chong.
There exist a series of music videos of a life-sized, hand-made marionette of George Harrison. He sings songs like “Pisces Fish” and “Someplace Else” while strumming the guitar, banjo and ukulele. As a teen, I constructed a puppet of a blue cat wearing sunglasses and taped it singing “Land Down Under” by Men At Work, so when I laid eyes on this lovingly obsessive tribute to the Dark Horse himself, I immediately felt a kinship with whomever was responsible for its creation.
While I was not able to get in touch with the puppeteer, I did some digging and found that her name is Jenn, she has over 35 years of experience as a puppet builder and performer, and it took her six months to complete the George Harrison Marionette.
Originally, ‘George’ was going to be much smaller…more the size of a traditional marionette (2 to 3 feet tall). Because of the complicated animations I had to build for the unique eyes, eyelids, and mouth, the size of ‘George’s’ head ended up being life size.
The puppet is is fully clothed in a store-bought two-piece suit, though Jenn notes she had some trouble finding non-leather, vegetarian-friendly men’s dress shoes. You Harrison fans will notice that the electric guitar used isn’t accurate, which is due to the fact that this was such a low-budget production. At $80, the tiny Dark Horse Records lapel pin on ‘George’s’ jacket was the single most expensive item used in the project.
A lot of love and nitpicky detailing went into this project to give ‘George’ a realistic appearance both in looks and movement. His hands are completely pose-able thanks to an eternal ‘skeleton’ of stiff wires in his fingers. This enables him to mimic any playing position. His hands are also rich in detail, with knuckles, veins, and palm lines sculpted into them. The LP record cover of ‘Living in the Material World’ was used to insure his hands were correct to size. I was adamant about having him be portrayed as himself, as a solo artist, instead of the far more common representation one sees of ‘Beatle George.’
The puppet is modeled off of late ‘80s/early ‘90s Harrison, a period when he was absent of facial hair and prone to wearing blazers. This era was chosen so ‘George’ would have the option to sing selections from the Traveling Wilburys catalog.
I admire Jenn’s devotion and peaceful attitude. She acknowledges that a 6-foot tall puppet—or puppets in general—may not be everybody’s cup of tea, but if it does happen to be your mug of Earl Grey, then this is just the tip of the iceberg:
‘George’ is wonderful company…a bit quiet though, and seems perpetually content. He is definitely a ‘presence’ in the room, which some might find disturbing (in a spooky sense) while others may find it charming. The few people who have been able to see him in person have noted this.
The video for “My Sweet Lord” features a behind-the-scenes look at how the marionette works; ‘George’ is operated Thunderbirds-style, meaning there are no electronic elements used, and a total of fifteen strings control his movements:
Jenn also filmed a music video for “Life Itself” as a bigger production with multiple camera angles, even creating storyboards. The final product has candles and moody lighting, very much in the style of the early days of VH1:
In May of 1969—a full eleven years before Paul McCartney baffled his fans with the goofy electronic experiment “Temporary Secretary”—George Harrison released his second solo album, Electronic Sound, consisting of two side-length explorations composed on a modular Moog synth, “Under the Mersey Wall” and “No Time or Space.”
Unsurprisingly, the album barely charted in the U.S. and failed altogether in the U.K.—even in a period as indulgent as the late ’60s, a novice knob-twiddler’s pair of lengthy beepscapes wasn’t going to fly with the masses—and has only been reissued once, in 1996. But as it was one of the first albums ever to feature a Moog exclusively, and because let’s face it, it was made by a Beatle, it remains an item of interest among historically bent electronic music obsessives and Beatles completists. You can hear the entire album below. For whatever it’s worth, I’m a little more partial to side two (a composition that was the subject of a minor controversy), which starts at about 18:44.
The LP was the second release on Apple Records’ “Zapple” imprint. Zapple was intended to be Apple’s avant-garde subsidiary, but it only existed for a few months in 1969 and only released two albums, John Lennon and Yoko Ono’s also very rare Unfinished Music No.2: Life With The Lions being the first. The label was folded by Beatles manager Allen Klein only a month after Electronic Sound’s release—evidently enough was already enough. Harrison himself had much to say about the difficulty of curating a record label in this rare contemporary interview.
Wonderwall is an unusual and beautiful psychedelic Sixties period piece that sees a scientist (Jack MacGowran) becoming smitten by a beautiful model who lives next door to him.
She is played by the ever so gorgeous Jane Birkin...
Wonderwall is probably the ultimate “swinging London” film and what a pedigree it has. The featured Anita Pallenberg and Dutch design collective The Fool (who art-directed the film and were well-known for their work with The Beatles) in cameo roles. The film’s two primary sets (the apartments of the scientist and the model) were designed by Assheton Gorton who’d been previously nominated for a BAFTA for his work on Michelangelo Antonioni’s Blowup (another film in contention for “most Sixties film.”)
The soundtrack was by George Harrison and featured Ringo Starr, Eric Clapton, some top classical Indian players in Bombay and an uncredited banjo performance by Monkee Peter Tork. There is one song called “Ski-Ing” that features one of the single most ferocious guitar riffs that Eric Clapton ever laid down and most of his biggest fans have never even heard of it.
Made in 1968 by first time director Joe Massot (who would later direct the Led Zeppelin concert film The Song Remains the Same and worked on the psychedelic western Zachariah with the Firesign Theatre), Wonderwall was released on DVD in an elaborate package by Rhino in 2004 that now goes for top dollar to collectors.
The International Society for Krishna Consciousness’s (Hare Krishnas’) Bhaktivedanta Manor estate in Aldenham, Hertfordshire, England, opened its memorial to George Harrison, “A Garden for George,” to the public in May.
Forty years ago George donated the property to ISKCON, intending it to become “a place where people could get a taste of the splendor of devotional service to the Supreme Lord,” and it has been in constant use as a Gaudiya Vaishnava temple. He began studying various Hindu spiritual paths in the mid-‘60s and eventually embraced the Hare Krishna movement. ISKCON’s founder, A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, was a close friend of his.
Following George’s death in 2001, a garden was created on the Bhaktivedanta Manor grounds in his memory, but it was private until this year. His widow Olivia Harrison said at the public opening, “I am grateful to the devotees for honouring George in the form of a garden. A manifestation in the material world of which he would be very proud.”
George was an avid gardener, first at Kinfauls, the home he bought in Surrey in 1964, then at the massive, woefully neglected Victorian neo-Gothic Friar Park mansion in Henley-on-Thames that he got for a screaming deal (£135,000) in 1970, rescuing it from demolition. As every Beatle fan knows, he wrote “Here Comes the Sun” in Eric Clapton’s garden and dedicated his autobiography, I Me Mine, “to gardeners everywhere.” Following the Beatles’ break-up, George cleared away much of the weeds and overgrowth at Friar Park himself, restoring and improving on it for many years. With a team of ten gardeners he meticulously planned out the landscaping of the 36-acre garden, incorporating the plants he loved, like jasmine, miscanthus malepartus, maples, birches, ferns, grasses, Japanese anemones, kirengeshoma, hydrangeas, zebrensis, magnolia trees, and kahili. As a little boy Dhani Harrison thought his dad was a professional gardener.
Friar Park was the property shown, complete with an assortment of garden gnomes, on the cover of George’s solo triple album All Things Must Pass in 1970, which contains a tribute to the mansion’s first owner, “Ballad of Sir Frankie Crisp (Let It Roll).” It was also used as collateral for the financing of the Monty Python film Life of Brian after EMI Films withdrew funding. Python Eric Idle described his friend’s generous action to author Peter Doggett as “the most anybody’s ever paid for a cinema ticket in history.” You can see Friar Park and the incredible grounds in the video Eric Idle directed for Harrison’s “Crackerbox Palace” in 1976.
George wrote in I Me Mine (1980):
I’m really quite simple. I don’t want to be in the business full time, because I’m a gardener. I plant flowers and watch them grow. I don’t go out to clubs. I don’t party. I stay at home and watch the river flow.
The memorial garden at Bhaktivedanta Manor is the second major horticultural tribute to George in the U.K. Local Henley politician, John Howard, clearly not a fan, rejected the idea of a large memorial in his town not long after George’s death. He bitchily toldThe Henley Standard, “He was a recluse and never let anyone have access to the gardens of Friar Park which used to be open to the public. We don’t really want to sting the people of Henley further. The ring of trees with a memorial in the centre will be enough.”
In 2008 Neil Innes’ wife Yvonne and Olivia designed a gorgeous memorial garden for George for the annual Chelsea Flower Show, “From Life to Life, a Garden for George.” He had loved attending the famous flower show each year. The garden had four sections representing four stages in George’s life: the Liverpool Garden, the Psychedelic ‘60s Garden, the Contemplative Garden, and the Afterlife Garden. Red bricks from Liverpool and a bicycle Olivia found that was identical to the one from a childhood photograph of George were used in the first stage. Wild grass from Friar Park was incorporated into the design. Mary McCartney, Ringo, Barbara Bach, Lulu, George Martin, and the Queen attended the opening.
The Psychedelic ‘60s Garden portion of From Life to Life, A Garden for George, designed by Yvonne Innes
Olivia wrote in her introduction to the reissued I Me Mine in 2003:
I might have said, “Oh, your bit of the garden looks great,” to which he would reply, “It’s not my garden, Liv.” It was his way of reminding himself that we are pure Spirit, and that the Spirit is in every grain of sand, belonging to everyone and no one; that nothing is “mine” and that the “I” we all refer to must be recognized as the little “i” in the larger scheme of the universe. George was tired of all the I Me Mines of this world, including his own.
George talking about his post-Beatles life, including gardening, on Good Morning America, 1981, below:
Here we find a couple of shaggy hippies playing a bit of tennis. They are not dressed for the occasion, to say the least. Dylan’s form on his serve (possibly a smash—he’s positioned in front of the baseline) looks quite all right, while Harrison’s forehand looks a bit desperate. Both men are playing right-handed.
Rikki Farr (co-promoter): “One moment I shall treasure for the rest of my life was at the 1969 Isle of Wight Festival. We had been trying to convince The Beatles to get back together and play, but it never quite came together. What did happen, though, was a kind of spontaneous superstar jam session in the afternoon at a mock Tudor house where Bob Dylan was staying.
The Beatles came down to watch the show, but in the afternoon they all got together in the house and I saw on stage the most incredible supergroup you could imagine. Dylan, The Beatles, Eric Clapton, Jackie Lomax, all just jamming. Ginger Baker would get off the drum stool and Ringo would step in. Eric Clapton would take a solo, and then George Harrison would take the next one. It was amazing.
Al Aronowitz (journalist in Dylan entourage): Dylan then invited The Beatles to a game of tennis on the Forelands Farm courts. “I’ll play on condition that nobody really knows how,” quipped John and, as Bob and John teamed up against Ringo and George, Pattie Harrison giggled, “This is the most exclusive game of doubles in the world.
From 1964 to 1970, George Harrison and Patti Harrison (Boyd) lived in a house in Surrey, England that they painted psychedelically with a little help from their friends. The home, known as Kinfauns, was quintessentially hippie with its Indian-influenced interior and a giant trippy mandala mural, a creation of the Dutch art/music collective The Fool, framing the fireplace. Imagine a Haight-Ashbury crash pad for millionaires.
The Harrison’s cosmic hideaway was the setting for Beatle songwriting sessions and the recording of demos for the White Album. It was also a hangout for George’s musician buddies, including Mick Jagger and Marianne Faithful, who famously painted a message on the side of the house that read “Mick and Marianne were here & we love you.”
In 1969 Patti and George were arrested in their home for possession of a small chunk of hash. The Drugs Squad chose the day of Paul McCartney’s wedding to Linda Eastman to launch a raid on the Harrison home. The bust resulted in a huge media event - an absurd outcome for an inconsequential amount of smoke. But at least we know where the inspiration for the artwork may have originated.
Beatle George Harrison died ten years ago on November 29, 2001.
Below, you can watch the entire historic Concert For Bangladesh performance featuring George Harrison, Bob Dylan, Eric Clapton, Ravi Shankar, Leon Russell, Ringo Starr, Billy Preston, Badfinger, Jesse Ed Davis, Klaus Voorman and Mother of Invention Don Preston.
Harrison walks onstage at 22 minutes in—after a fiery opening set by Ravi Shankar—and the supergroup (led by bandleader Leon Russell) launch into his blistering anti-Macca number “Wah Wah,” one of the best songs on his sprawling All Things Must Pass album.
(You might not want to wait too long to watch this one, who knows how long this is going to last on YouTube…)