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Oh, Not Him Again!—George Harrison’s Extra Texture

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It must be difficult to imagine, in our digital age, for people who haven’t had the experience, what it is to hold an album cover the size of a laptop and interact with it while the music plays. Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band was a visual book that you opened and pondered, read the lyrics on the back, read the picture on the front, wondered about Paul’s OPD shoulder patch in the middle, and considered the hints of his death. The package was a major part of the message.  Those of us who were lucky enough to sit there with those documents are now historians of an experience that no longer exists.  What a gap between the LP of Sgt. Pepper’s and the download of Sgt. Pepper’s!

What Became of the Letters?

Harrison’s Extra Texture (Read All About It) is one of those interactive albums that you hold.  You have to go to the vinyl shop to get it and you have to listen to it on a turntable to get it, cover in hand.  There are tons of things going on in this package, a McLuhan experience for the listener/viewer/feeler.  There is extra texture, literally.  The album cover’s surface feels like a basketball, the letters are cut out, and in the negative space peeks through Harrison.  Draw out the sleeve and you have the caption “OHNOTHIMAGEN.” I thought, and I assume most of us thought, initially, that it had something to do with Lennon’s Plastic Ono Band and “Imagine.”

Instead, it’s Harrison’s self-deprecating notion of himself—“Oh, not him again.” It’s George Harrison, the good friend and mentor of the Monty Python crew. All of that’s difficult to get in a download of just music.

A Successful Flop

So what do you get when a former Beatle lines up some of the best musicians available in 1975, carefully creates a package, records ten original songs, one being a comment on his own Beatle hit—“While My Guitar Gently Weeps”—and presents an album that is certified gold within two months? A flop, apparently. 

Extra Texture made it to eight on the US charts and sixteen in the UK, not too bad—but not too great either. Right? Many of the critiques were harsh. He was emerging from an off-voice tour and he was not a golden boy of the new era.  Somehow the result was considered a flop.

Discarded Apple Core

Extra Texture  is the last studio album Apple ever produced and it remains—as of 31 May 2013—unremastered, ignored in the vaults, along with Dark Horse. Harrison’s work from these dying days of Apple, the final echoes of Beatle heydays, is his worst...and his best. His albums are derided, he’s booed on stage, the Dark-Horse voice is vilified, and he is breaking up with his wife, Pattie Boyd. So what’s the number-one criticism of the album? It’s downbeat. 

Isn’t that a ridiculous reason to dismiss an album during such times?  It’s downbeat. Really? Imagine Robert Johnson’s chances of getting by the critics with his work. I’ve heard the album a couple hundred times and I cannot actually say I find it down at all, at least in a  spiritual sense, and if it is—what then? Are we to dismiss it for that reason? Let’s excise those Beatle tunes that may be considered downbeat and see what we end up with. Exactly—this is not a criterion for criticism.

Read On

When we listen to Extra Texture for its musicality, for its lyrics, for its overall voice, we may find it listenable enough, even the dark lyrics of “World of Stone”:

We may disagree
We all have the right to be
In this world made of stone
Such a long way to go
Such a long, long way from home

And we may disagree
We all have the right to be
In this world made out of stone
It's such a long, long way to go

The message? We are in a corporeal world with life in it; we all have the right to live until we die. Depressed yet?

Harrison’s “World of Stone” accompanies such other dark songs as “The Answer’s at the End.” Here we have a song telling its listeners, among other things, to read on to the end, that’s where the answer is:

Scan not a friend with a microscopic glass
You know his faults, now let the foibles pass
Life is one long enigma, my friend
So read on, read on, the answer's at the end

Don't be so hard on the ones that you love
It's the ones that you love we think so little of
Don't be so hard on the ones that you need
It's the ones that you need we think so little of

Dark? A song that tells people to live?

 I encountered Extra Texture in 1976 as an early teen and I thought it was as close as I had come to encountering a new Beatles album since Band on the Run. Put the two together, with Lennon’s work and one or two of Ringo’s songs, and you may have one of the greatest Beatle albums imaginable.  Ringo already had eight songs that charted on the top 100 by 1975.  The Beatles were all still a factor, but Harrison was underestimated.

Ten Original Tunes

George’s ten original songs were worked out with some pretty fine musicians, some of whom you may recognize: David Foster,Gary WrightJim KeltnerJesse Ed DavisKlaus Voormann , Paul StallworthLeon RussellTom ScottNicky HopkinsJim Horn,Jim GordonCarl RadleBilly PrestonWillie WeeksAndy NewmarkLegs Larry SmithRonnie Spector, and  Norm Kinney.

Only a lucky few are going to ever have the experience of holding the original Extra Texture in their hands while the album plays, but the songs stand up on their own—no textural complement necessary. If you were lucky enough to have heard it the original way, you’re an historian. Let us know what it was like.

AH

George Harrison Early Takes Volume 1

http://georgeharrison.com/