George Harrison - Soul Man
by John Blaney
Mega Dodo/Paper Jukebox ISBN 978-0-9544528-7-2 (book)
They always called him the quiet one, but of course, he wasn’t. Not really. Quiet ones don’t write songs like “Taxman,” “Piggies” and “Bangla-Desh.” Quiet ones don’t organize monstrous star-studded benefit concerts for events that the western world is trying not to pay attention to. Quiet ones don’t… well, you get the picture. Calling George the Quiet One is easy, because he didn’t talk much. But maybe that’s because he wasn’t asked the right questions. Or because he placed all his answers in song.
Soul Man is not the first book to document the recorded works of George Harrison - it’s probably not even the 1,001st. It is, however (and in no particular order), the best looking, the best informed and the most eminently readable.
Initially, if you so choose, you can focus your attentions on the discographical aspects with which each chapter begins, the Who, What and Where of the sessions and song selection, and the gorgeous color photos of the cover, label and inserts. In which case, every album, single and side project with which Harrison busied himself outside of the Beatles between 1968 and 1979 is here.
But the real meat of Soul Man lies in author Blaney’s text, an anti-biographical biographical spread that gives every release all the time and space that it deserves; digresses down the diversions that most historians either gloss over or ignore; and, most important in a book like this, physically demands that you listen to the records that you’re reading about, while you’re doing the reading.
Blaney is not afraid to point out Harrison’s failings, as and when they occur. But neither is he loathe to buck the popular wisdom and deliver his own opinions when they’re needed - his summary of Electronic Sound, for example, is spot on, even if it would have been interesting to read his take on its influence (or otherwise) on John and Yoko’s subsequent offerings.
The accumulation of detail and data likewise appears faultless, while Soul Man’s chosen chronology erases the most obvious comparisons with Bruce Spizer’s The Beatles Solo on Apple Records tome, by giving us Dark Horse as well, all the way up to Harrison’s decade-ending eponymous offering, and the accompanying “Faster” 45. Presumably a second volume will fill in all that was to follow, and it can’t be published soon enough.
There are so many Beatles books now that there really can’t be much left to write about any of them - and that includes Bert (of John, Paul, George, Ringo and… stageshow fame), of whom a biography is apparently in preparation now. It is refreshing, then, to find a book that peels back all the name-calling and nonsense, the hindsight-fueled criticisms and trendy reinterpretations, and documents instead the details of the one thing that we all agree the four (or five… Bert’s records were brilliant) of them did quite well.
And if that means you’re going to spend the rest of the week walking round with “Your Love is Forever” stuck in your head, then that just makes it even more worthwhile.