Over the past few decades there have been hundreds, if not thousands of bootlegs of the Beatles and each member’s solo work, to the extent that it was as if almost anyone could simply walk off the street into Apple Studios and make copies of just about every demo and multi-track that took their fancy. Early Takes: Volume 1 is a collection of demos and other material Harrison recorded before, during and after his seminal debut All Things Must Pass, and was released the year after Martin Scorcese’s excellent 2011 documentary. Of the ten tracks here, six are from the aforementioned LP, one from 1973’s Living in the Material World, plus a couple from his less successful 1976 album Thirty Three & 1/3. When Phil Spector was brought in to produce All Things… much of the propinquity, not to mention intimacy of Harrison’s work was hidden by that big, bombast ‘wall of sound’ Spector was famous for. Here Harrison sounds far more naked, even vulnerable at times, thus offering the listener a far more personable glimpse into the man’s creative process.
Things get off to a great start with an early take (the first take in fact) of “My Sweet Lord”, Harrison’s famous song of praise and spiritual pleading. And offers a faint window in what Harrison might have originally intended the song to sound like before Spector got his hands all over it. The gorgeous “Run of the Mill” reveals Harrison’s love of Bob Dylan, likewise his convincing cover of Dylan’s “Mama You’ve Been On My Mind”. Included is a wonderful version of “I’d Have You Any Time”, with Eric Clapton, and is fairly close to the version released on All Things… His interpretation of The Everly Brothers’ “Let It Be Me” has a spiritual yearning to it, as well as the country blues of “Woman Don’t You Cry For Me”.
There is a delightful early take of “Awaiting On You All”, which sounds nothing like the version that was recorded for All Things Must Pass, with its ‘Moses from the Mountain’ production. The demo of “Behind that Locked Door” is simply charming, and will always manage to direct a little sunlight into anyone’s living room on a winter’s day. A stripped down version of “All Things Must Pass” highlights Harrison’s voice in all its fragile beauty. The LP ends with an acoustic demo of “The Light That Has Lighted the World”, which is appropriate really, considering George’s pious pursuits and what I would call I quiet religious longing. I guess they didn’t call him the ‘spiritual Beatle’ for nothing. But if that’s what got him through the night, and helped him to create magnificent music, then that’s OK as far as this poor atheist is concerned.
Most of the tunes on here are absolutely exquisite, while Harrison’s talent comes across with a certain gentle humanity lacking in many of today’s modern songwriters (or maybe I just don’t get out enough).
Giles Martin (the son of George Martin) has done a superlative job in compiling and mastering this album. And at just over 35 minutes it doesn’t test the listener’s patience, the way some anthologies do. In fact it’s the opposite. Because there is a warmth and closeness to these recordings which manage to bring one closer to the man himself. Unfortunately there is little information regarding the recordings themselves, in terms of where and when they were recorded. But minor quibbles aside, Early Takes Volume 1 is what I would describe as an essential purchase for not only the ‘I need to own everything diehards’, yet anyone who simply loves great music.
As a postscript, I would like to retell a story that was told to me by someone while I was on Hamilton Island, where Harrison used to own a property, and where he no doubt stayed to get away from it all every now and then. Apparently one night he turned up at a particular night club which was situated on the main drag where he was told that under no circumstances would he be allowed to enter the premises wearing a pair of thongs (thongs are a kind of Australian footwear in case you don’t know). Now we’re talking about an ex-Beatle here, but the bouncer was adamant. No shoes, no entrance. What did George do? He went back to his place put on some shoes then went back to the nightclub where the same bouncer let him in no questions asked. I reckon that sounds like someone who was pretty down to earth if you ask me. Which is a sentiment that immediately comes across through his songs, not only those presented on Early Takes, but throughout his entire career. A sad loss indeed. Not just for the music industry, but for his family and humanity as a whole.