"Songs by George Harrison" bonus discs

In 1988 and 1992, two books were issued by the British company Genesis Publications titled Songs by George Harrison. Each of the two volumes was released as a 2,500-copy limited edition. (These books are of no relation to the 2009 compilation CD Let It Roll: Songs by George Harrison). These two volumes each featured watercolor paintings by Wales-based artist Keith West, images which aimed to illustrate the lyrics of many of Harrison’s compositions. Each volume contained an afterword written by Harrison. Volume One had a foreword by Jeff Lynne and a middleword by Elton John; Volume Two contained a foreword by Ringo Starr and a middleword by Harry Nilsson. Each volume was hand-crafted in a three-quarter leather binding and came in a Solander box. Each volume came with a bonus disc (offered in vinyl and CD formats) which contained four rare Harrison recordings apiece.

I have not had the pleasure of holding these books in my hands. However, I have been able to listen to the eight audio tracks from the two bonus discs.

Four of these eight tracks were songs that were omitted from Harrison’s 1981 album Somewhere In England, reportedly at the insistence of Warner Brothers. The disc from Volume One contains “Sat Singing”, “Lay His Head”, and “Flying Hour” from this subset; the disc from Volume Two contains the other one, “Tears of the World”. The reported reason for the omission of these songs from Somewhere In England was that they were too downbeat. Ironically, the lovely “Sat Singing” and the agreeable “Flying Hour” are easily more upbeat than many of the songs that were kept on that album. On the other hand, “Lay His Head” and especially “Tears of the World” are of a more downbeat nature, which would have helped them to fit in well on the album, considering the album’s generally bitter tone. Another Somewhere In England-related track is the demo version of “Life Itself”, on which Harrison played all of the instruments. This version is actually prettier than the finished version on the album, though it does not make the listener see the song in any new or different way.

The track “Hottest Gong In Town” is a swinging 1930’s-style jazz delight that Harrison recorded for Shanghai Surprise, the wretched 1986 Sean Penn and Madonna film which Harrison executive produced. Rounding out these eight tracks, each disc features one live performance recorded in Washington, D.C. in 1974. On the disc from Volume One, the live track is “For You Blue”. This bluesy rendition of the Beatles song is very well-played instrumentally, particularly by bassist Willie Weeks, though Harrison’s voice sounds as road-worn as it reportedly was. The live track from the Volume Two disc is “Hari’s On Tour (Express)”, the instrumental from the Dark Horse album. This performance has a more organic sound than the studio version, with Harrison’s slide guitar making a stronger impression.

Notes: A few of these tracks have turned up in other places. “Lay His Head” was the B-side of Harrison’s 1987 #1 single “Got My Mind Set On You”. A remixed “Tears of the World” was a bonus track on the 2004 CD reissue of Thirty-Three and 1/3. “Flying Hour” is available for download on the mp3 version of Somewhere In England.

Bonus disc track listings:

Songs by George Harrison, Volume One (Genesis SGH 777) 1988

1. Sat Singing (recorded March 1980)
2. Lay His Head (recorded April 1980)
3. For You Blue (recorded live in Washington, D.C., December 1974)
4. Flying Hour (recorded March 1978)

Songs by George Harrison, Volume Two (Genesis SGH 778) 1992

1. Life Itself (demo version, all instruments by George Harrison)
2. Hottest Gong In Town
3. Tears of the World
4. Hari’s On Tour Express (recorded live in Washington, D.C. in 1974)

Rarebird's George Harrison Reviews