George Harrison – Living in the Material World

by Gillian Kerner

George Harrison refuted his status as “the quiet one” in his former band, The Beatles, once he introduced Living In The Material World. It was released in the United States on May 30, 1973, and a month later, on June 22, in the UK. The album was Harrison’s statement about the modern world.

The hippie sub culture of the 60’s was slowly becoming background noise and rock and roll  and disco music became more prevalent in the ’70s. Some artists produced one hit wonders for the dance floor while others — like the members of the Beatles — defied the mainstream and created music that displayed great versatility and experimentation. The band’s introduction to Hinduism sparked an interest in Indian culture that stuck with Harrison, whose music displayed self-awareness that appealed to some in the youth culture of the time. (“70s Culture.” 70s Culture – Changes and Events in Seventies Culture. N.p., n.d. Web. 01 Dec. 2016.)

Harrison was born on Feb. 25, 1943, in Liverpool, England. Like his future bandmates, he was not born into wealth. In fact, his father, Harold, drove a school bus for the Liverpool Institute, an acclaimed grammar school that George attended and where he first met Paul McCartney. George’s lack of educational drive soon forged a path to the world of music; he was especially drawn to the music of Elvis Presley. At the ripe age of 14, Harrison purchased his first guitar and taught himself some chords. Soon enough, he caught wind of McCartney’s skiffle group, The Quarrymen, and became curious. As legend has it, after seeing McCartney and Lennon perform, George was finally granted an audition on the upper deck of a bus, where he wowed Lennon with his rendition of popular American rock riffs. It was history after that. (“George Harrison.” Biography.com. A&E Networks Television, 18 May 2016. Web. 01 Dec. 2016.)

Three years before Living In The Material World, Harrison released All Things Must Pass (1970), which was his first solo album after the break up of the Beatles. All Things Must Pass introduced Harrison’s signature sound, the slide guitar, and the spiritual themes that would be featured in future works. Following the commercial success of his first solo album, Harrison put his career on hold for more than a year. During this time, he returned to his study of Hinduism. Earlier, in 1968, all four Beatles travelled to Rishikesh in northern India to study meditation with the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. Although the band later fell out with the Maharishi, Harrison continued his interest in Eastern philosophy. Harrison saw Hinduism as more than religion, but a way of life. During this awakening, he picked up the Hare Krishna and repeated its mantra daily. He believed elevation and joy were to be derived from chanting God’s holy names, such as the former mantra mentioned. In August of 1972 Harrison set off alone for a driving holiday in Europe. He later claimed that during this time he chanted the Hare Krishna nonstop for a whole day. This was described as “preparation” for recording the Living in the Material World album.

This album received immediate praise and was acknowledged as a worthy successor to  All Things Must Pass. It was certified gold by the Recording Industry Association of America two days after release, on its way to becoming Harrison’s second No. 1 album in the United States, and produced the international hit “Give Me Love (Give Me Peace on Earth).Living in the Material World is notable for the uncompromising lyrical content of its songs, reflecting Harrison’s struggle for spiritual enlightenment against his status as a superstar, as well as for what many commentators consider to be the finest guitar and vocal performances of his career.

The 70’s has been dubbed as the “Me Decade” by many historians for good reason. The turbulent transition of American presidencies and other international crises created a sense of introspection and defiance from the people inhibiting this time period. This attitude was epitomized by Harrison in Living In The Material World, as one can assume from the title alone. Although some critics pegged the album as forcibly spiritual, others appreciated Harrison’s “luxuriant rock devotional designed to transform his fans’ stereo equipment into a temple.” (Holden, Stephen. “Living In The Material World.” Rolling Stone. N.p., 19 July 1973. Web. 01 Dec. 2016.)

Musically, Living in the Material World received significant attention during the last phase of production, with the sitar, flute and Zakir Hussain‘s tabla being added to fill the song’s two “spiritual sky” sections. The resulting contrast between the main, Western rock portion and the Indian-style emphasized Harrison’s struggle between physical-world temptations and his spiritual goals.

My favorite track from the album is “The Light That Has Lighted the World,” which was Harrison’s plea for freedom from the confines of fame. In his autobiography, I, Me, Mine, Harrison explains that the lyrics dealt with the “Local boy/girl makes good” phenomenon, where the public initially supports someone who achieves success yet are then disapproving if fame or success changes that person. In this case, the disapproval came from Harrison’s pursuit for a spiritual quest. Listening to “The Light That Has Lighted The World,” the simplicity of these lyrics do not suggest absence of thought, it rather exemplifies the sincerity behind Harrison’s newly found soul.

 

 

 

 

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