❉ An appreciation of the spiritual Beatle’s most grounded 70s album.
“Shifting the focus from functional to familial, Harrison opened himself up to the joys that collaboration could offer him. Beneath the guitar hooks and tousled hairstyles that made their way to the public, came a Northerner every bit as committed to laughing at the world as he was praising it.”
Extra Texture (Read All About It) may be George Harrison’s most technically accomplished album, but it is also something greater. Free from the demons that robbed him of his edge and voice during the fiery Dark Horse tour, one of the more difficult tours of his life (exorcised in excoriating fashion on World of Stone), Harrison re-emerged from the doldrums to offer something more secular and soulful for his audience. Trading his devotion for a higher being he couldn’t convince others to embrace for the exhilarating immediacy of the electric guitar, Harrison’s newest work offered light relief from the pious, spiritual elegies that had alienated listeners, capturing the doctrinal spiritualist in a world that had failed to latch onto the message Ravi Shankar left for them.
With Extra Texture (Read All About It), Harrison released his most immediate album of the decade, as well as his greatest portrait of himself as guitarist. Without shackling himself so wholeheartedly to an ideology as he did on Dark Horse, Harrison swooped in and out of the tracks on a jaunty album decorated by dreamlike saxophone soundscapes, embracing the soul idiom that once followed him down the Hamburg streets. Dark Horse – with all of its woes, weaknesses and whims – was nothing but a bad memory in 1975.
Harrison had fallen out of touch with the world that had once gifted him riches, rewards and love. Cocaine, the rock star’s drug of choice in this period, had a less than salubrious effect on Harrison, as he divided much of his intellectual energy between salvaging his voice between concerts and contemplating a future only a divorced husband can contemplate. Worse than that, the reviews -once automatically reverential towards a solo Beatle – had awoken him to the changing tides of the seventies. Returning to his domestic sanctuary, Harrison’s worst moments awaited the musician as he wandered from the astral plane to the garden plains of Friar Park. “When I got off the plane and back home, I went into the garden and I was so relieved”, Harrison recalled, “…that was the nearest I got to a nervous breakdown. I couldn’t even go into the house.”
Such was his determination to distance himself from the music of yesterday, Harrison plunged into the mantras inscribed all over his Friar Park Garden, finding solace from the writings Frank Crisp left to him:
“Scan not a friend with a microscopic glass
You know his faults, now let his foibles pass
Life is one long enigma, my friend
So read on, read on, the answer’s at the end.”
Channeling the words to suit his means, Harrison composed one of his most compelling melodies, plastering the listener’s ear with deep, mahogany-hued tones from David Foster’s shrill string and piano arrangements. Legendary sessioneer Jim Keltner sat in on drums, leavening the guitarist’s doleful worldview with his limber, light grooves. Even the coruscating This Guitar (Can’t Keep From Crying) – the record’s rawest, most naked track by some measure – is lightened by way of its Sixties-style shuffle, recalling the patterns, precisions and poses left by Richard Starkey.
This stylistic choice, regardful of a bygone audience and era, was not unintentional: the lyrics, title and guitar hooks were written as some sort of continuation of Harrison’s beloved 1968 ballad While My Guitar Gently Weeps. However, this track lacks the propulsive Eric Clapton licks that dominated The White Album original, for better or worse.
Guests wander in and out of the booth with welcome abandon: Manfred Mann’s Klaus Voorman lays down some vulnerable bass on the album’s more revealing moments; Ronnie Spector duets with the Beatle on the sprightly album opener; while Harrison vacates the microphone almost entirely for Bonzo Dog Doo Dah-Band drummer Larry Smith on the telling His Name Is Legs (Ladies and Gentlemen). Shifting the focus from functional to familial, Harrison opened himself up to the joys that collaboration could offer him.
Beneath the guitar hooks and tousled hairstyles that made their way to the public, came a Northerner every bit as committed to laughing at the world as he was praising it. By the time Harrison’s friend Eric Idle’s comedy team Monty Python set out to make the excellent Life of Brian in 1979 (a story every bit as acidic, elegiac and liturgical as any Harrison himself would write), it was The Beatle who bankrolled the project out of his own pocket. (With Harrison having produced the Pythons’ 1975 single Lumberjack Song at Friar Park, George’s next album, 33 1/3 would further the Python/Beatles links, with Idle contributing a vocal cameo on This Song and directing the album’s promotional films)
In the past, Harrison might have dismissed the fulfillment of family as a spurious notion, favouring the more immediate nature of a Fender guitar for his comforts. Here, the ex-Beatle takes a more pragmatic philosophy, plastering himself in the wonders of love. Though a dense record in certain corners, Extra Texture boasts three of Harrison’s most astonishing post Beatle love songs. There’s the shimmering You, a punchy melody reprised on the jauntier B-side; there’s Can’t Stop Thinking About You, the guitarist’s most impassioned confession of love since Something; and then there’s Ooh Baby (You Know That I Love You), the songwriter’s succinct appraisal of The Miracles’ soul tinted ballads.
Attention is mostly devoted to the richly textured arrangements: the ponderous synthesizers that pad out the kaleidoscopic Grey Cloudy Lies; the thunderous barrel house pianos that drench us so completely on the somber Tired of Midnight Blue; or the myriad of saxophones that shoot through the triumphant A Bit More of You with choppy, clear purpose and practice. The slide guitar-already a studio mainstay of Harrison’s by the mid seventies- carries more resolute flavours, injecting some much needed ballast on the wilful, weighty The Answer’s At The End, decorating one of the most detailed vocals Harrison ever committed to tape.
Whether or not this will be remembered as Harrison’s most thoughtful record remains to be seen, but Extra Texture (Read All About It) – splattered from head to toe with a musicality, freshly built from the bad experiences touring taught him – remains his richest experience in sound, capturing a musicality from the very riches religion had given him. And yet, Harrison did more than that. Through his passion, persistence and practice, he offered God a voice that was unique to him and him alone. It was soul – and how!
❉ George Harrison: ‘Extra Texture (Read All About It)’ was originally released on 22 September 1975 in America (Apple SW 3420) and on 3 October in Britain (Apple PAS 10009) The album was remastered and reissued 22 September 2014, as part of ‘George Harrison: The Apple Years 1968–75’ (Apple/UMC 0602537913879).