@RebelYellJSWGC: George Harrison Out of the Box

Is it possible for a #1 record to be a Rebel Yell?  As this blog has defined that term, is it therefore possible for a #1 record to be music that is at once:

  • Primitive
  • Folk
  • Sacred
  • Ritual
  • Classic
  • World

Let’s flip it around: is it likely that a song can simultaneously resonate with all six of those qualities and still go to #1 – and once it has gained such popularity, can it still by definition be a song of rebellion?

That question came to my mind last week as the estate of George Harrison, the former “quiet Beatle”, released a digitally re-mastered box set of his records from the years framing that iconic band’s breakup.

Reviews have been mixed, but mostly focused on how much of the digitally re-mastered material hasn’t been previously available – the dollar driven value add for the collectors who still buys such things as CDs and box sets – and how George’s solo career compares to that of the other Beatles, both together and apart.

With that latter comparison, critics frequently point out the inconsistency in all the Beatles’ solo careers, but particularly those of John Lennon’s and George Harrison’s due to the self-conscious political and spiritual striving that made their efforts so autobiographical.  However, in Lennon’s case, critics – and, indeed, the public at large – seem to be more forgiving.  Short shrift is made of John’s self-indulgences on the Wedding Album and other hard to listen to experiments with Yoko: they gain a polite chuckle, like an embarrassing adolescent photo no one takes seriously when assessing an admired adult’s accomplishments (such as the song Imagine).  However, George’s case seems to be just the opposite: short shrift is instead made of his biggest hits – My Sweet Lord and Give Me Love dismissed in an easy sentence or two – in order to focus more on when his efforts to marry art and faith came off either fumbling or heavy handed.

For example, writing for the Chicago Tribune, Mark Caro warned that the current box set “has the effect of making you feel closer to Harrison and his struggles, even as you can be put off by the proselytizing, finger-pointing and wallowing that permeates.”  Caro further advises the listener “you're best off curbing your own judgmental side and appreciating the beautiful playing” as opposed to listening to the lyrics, which he calls “relatively dreary”, “relatively mopey” and “relatively miserable” (for Mr. Caro's full review, please see http://trib.in/1sNmQfl).

John was probably the proselytizer par excellence, so why is George singled out for this alleged offense?

Might it be because that, for all his proselytizing, John’s was still a primarily secular message in, to and for a secular society, while George dared to paddle against that current and give deference to the divine?  The “quiet Beatle” was arguably far less the proselytizer than John with his often strident political voice, and even at his most religious George remained relatively ecumenical (although not Hindu, I often sing Give Me Love as a prayer in my own faith).  Therefore I can only conclude that the difference – not in their individual songs’ popularity, but in how the popularity of those individual songs is regarded in context of their larger body of work – is because George committed the offense of explicitly embracing the sacred in an increasingly secular society.

Perhaps the unspoken, unacknowledged, but nonetheless palpable offense taken by so many listeners at that embrace – critics and the general public alike – is part of the reason why the sacred is a required element for someone’s music to be a counter-cultural, Rebel Yell.

Yes, that is the question: was the quiet Beatle, in his embrace of the sacred, more of a rebel than the ardently iconoclastic John?

If so, then perhaps George’s biggest hits can still be a music of rebellion, and perhaps have remained so despite their popularity.

It is possible for a #1 record to be a Rebel Yell.

That's my conclusion, but what are your thoughts?  If you disagree, definitely want to hear why; if you agree, equally want to hear your recommendation of further examples for listening.

But before you embark on your response, I invite you to again consider the six qualities of a Rebel Yell (as defined by this blog site) that preface this post, and listen to the following George Harrison links on YouTube:

My Sweet Lord  

Give Me Love (Give Me Peace on Earth) 

I hope you enjoy, and look forward to hearing from – and listening with – you!


@RebelYell is 1 of 3 streams of tweets and blogs from Good Counsel.  To learn more, follow me on Twitter or visit the "Read Me" page at goodcounsel.squarespace.com