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‘Somewhere in England’ had a troubled birth. George Harrison completed the album, the third he had recorded since setting up his own Dark Horse label, and submitted it to Warner Bros in November 1980. They rejected it, claiming that four of the tracks were too laid-back for commercial release, and also finding fault with the front cover design, which showed an image of Harrison superimposed on a map of the British Isles. Wearily he agreed to replace the tracks in question and send them a different sleeve design altogether.
Just as he was about to enter the studio again to finish it, everyone was shocked by the murder of John Lennon. He promptly took an unfinished song which he had started as a backing track, intended for Ringo Starr, who had rejected it because the key was too high for him to sing. After rewriting the lyrics as a Lennon tribute, he recorded it with Starr on drums, Paul and Linda McCartney plus Denny Laine, of the McCartneys’ recently-disbanded Wings on backing vocals, and a string arrangement from Beatles’ producer George Martin. The result, ‘All Those Years Ago’, became his biggest hit single for several years and also the centrepiece of the rejigged and re-sleeved album, issued in June 1981, which peaked at No. 11 (US) and No. 13 (UK).
As with Harrison’s other albums originally released on the Dark Horse label between 1976 and 1987, it was remastered and reissued in 2004 by EMI with bonus material, albeit only one track - an acoustic demo of one of the other songs.
The opening track, ‘Blood From A Clone’, was one of the other three new songs submitted. Warner Bros either didn’t listen to it very hard or shrugged it off, because it must be one of the most angry, anti-record company songs ever committed to tape/vinyl/CD by a major artist. Alongside that infectious, more or less reggae lead guitar and jerky bass is a snarling lyric that lays bare his bitterness against the company for whom he was working, the trendy accountants who wanted him to change endlessly with the times. Revenge on an overbearing record company is sweet. ‘They say they like it, but in the market, it may not go down well’ is one savage line; ‘Could be they lack roots, they’re still wearing jack boots’ is another. The chorus,‘Don’t have time for the music, They want the blood from a clone’, makes it very obvious. But it’s such an infectious song that you have to listen quite carefully, or read the lyrics in the booklet, to get it fully.
‘Unconsciousness Rules’ is more subtly angry. A more poppy song with sprightly lead guitar and backing vocals, playful piano, great washes of organ and an almost jazzy sax sound, it sounds to me like a swipe at some of the more mindless dance music around at the time – ‘You dance at the discotheque, That’s why you look such a wreck’.
Having got all that off his chest, he’s into more spiritual waters next. ‘Life Itself’ could be a love song, or more probably another variation on the religious ‘My Sweet Lord’ theme. A ballad with plaintive vocals and majestic guitar, there’s an endearing simplicity – if possibly a shade too simple – about the lyrics.
Next up was the song to which the album owed its selling power, and chances are it’s the only one you’ll remember unless you’re a diehard George fan. ‘All Those Years Ago’ is perhaps a bit incongruous. For a tribute song it’s surprisingly jaunty and upbeat, although on the other hand it could be argued that Lennon might not have wanted to be commemorated by a funereal dirge. This is anything but. Eastern strings, bouncy bass and piano, and as already mentioned the other three former Beatles plus their producer, all got together to remember their departed colleague: ‘And you were the one they backed up to the wall, All those years ago, You were the one who imagined it all.’ It manages to be wistful and celebratory all at once, no mean feat, and is undoubtedly one of the strongest songs here.
Next comes one of two songs by Hoagy Carmichael, ‘Baltimore Oriole’. I find this rather out of place. Much as I might like the song, George Harrison recording songs from the jazz age doesn’t really sound right in this context. That smooth synth-keyboards and saxes intro might be all right for the likes of George Michael, but not here.
However the other George redeems himself on ‘Teardrops’. I’ve got minor reservations about the lyrics – ‘I’ve had my share of crying buckets full of teardrops’ sounds rather amateur, somehow – but otherwise the song and arrangement compensate in what is one of the album’s highlights. An intro of pounding bass guitar, tinkling synths (reminiscent of an incredible, and woefully-overlooked minor hit from 1980 by The Motors, ‘Love and Loneliness’, a great favourite of mine), a sweep down the piano keyboard, and rattling tambourine alongside a sturdy drum beat, take you into a very infectious chorus. And some good, uniquely Harrisonesque slide guitar appears later on. This was the second single from the album, but sadly never became a hit.
Unhappily, the remaining four tracks aren’t really quite up to standard. ‘That Which I Have Lost’ is the best of a not so brilliant bunch. There’s a countryish shuffle with some attractive acoustic guitar picking as well as a touch of nifty electric work on the instrument, but the song is nothing special to start with. The low-key ‘Writing’s On The Wall’, a doomy philosophical lyric, starts off very quiet and low-key, and sounds for a while as if it’s about to build into something really special, but never does. Another Hoagy Carmichael number, ‘Hong Kong Blues’, opens with an oriental gong (well it would, wouldn’t it?), and is quite spirited with some fairly jaunty guitar and horns, but like ‘Oriole’, sounds rather out of context.
Finally, ‘Save The World’ is another of those sincere ecological songs that could have been so much better if only the chorus wasn’t so mind-numbingly obvious. ‘We’ve got to save the world, Someone’s children they may need it’ - well, yes, and the message comes across – images of birds and wildlife destroyed to keep some millionaires employed are sentiments that you can hardly argue with – and this was over thirty years ago (I almost said ‘all those years ago’). A few well-chosen sounds effects, like cash registers, the sound of a crying baby and of approaching gunfire, are edited in at intervals. It’s halfway towards being great, and certainly worthy in idea, but a songwriter of Harrison’s calibre might have expressed it rather more subtly. His lyrical gifts were clearly on the wane, and he could have done with a collaborator to sharpen the words up.
As a bonus track, 'Save The World’ reappears as a basic demo with just acoustic guitar. Frankly, I’d have been happy had the rejected tracks been reinstated instead. ‘Sat Singing’, ‘Lay His Head’, ‘Tears Of The World’ and ‘The Flying Hour’ can all be tracked down if you look on YouTube. They are certainly no worse than anything that made it to the final cut, and in one or two cases, they are arguable better than one or two of the weaker songs you will find on the album. ‘The Flying Hour’ is particularly good, and interestingly it was co-written by Harrison and guitarist Mick Ralphs, who was at the time with Bad Company and had previously been a member of Mott The Hoople.
Included is a 12-page booklet, fronted by the original rejected design, which includes all the lyrics, personnel credits and photographs. One is of Harrison at the mixing desk with his son Dhani, then only a toddler, on his knee, and another shows him with percussionist Ray Cooper at the Tate Gallery, standing in front of a 1967 abstract painting by Mark Boyle. The same can be seen in the 1981 release front cover behind Harrison’s head [added by me below, alongside the once-rejected design now reinstated for the CD].
For a fan like me, there are enough good Harrison songs to make it worth owning. Having said that, the general view among fans and critics remains that despite the highlights it’s not one of his stronger, more consistent albums. Recommended if you’re already a fan, but certainly not essential.
Disc #1 Tracklisting
1 Blood From A Clone
2 Unconsciousness Rules
3 Life Itself
4 All Those Years Ago
5 Baltimore Oriole
7 That Which I Have Lost
8 Writing's On The Wall
9 Hong Kong Blues
10 Save The World
11 Save The World