For casual fans (and the terribly uninformed), George Harrison was a second-tier member of the Beatles—a member whose contributions only became essential when he wrote “Here Comes The Sun.” For a mid-level fan, and rock writers everywhere, he was an indispensable member of the band who regularly contributed stunning, lesser-known songs like “Long, Long, Long” and “For You Blue.” They discuss how he almost single-handedly introduced Eastern music into the Western pop sphere and organized the first rock benefit concert, the Concert for Bangladesh. They note how his surly charm and acidic wit often matched John Lennon’s, how his gift for melody—when encouraged—could be on par with Paul McCartney’s. But too often these laudatory claims would all come all in reference to All Things Must Pass, Harrison’s historic triple album and first proper solo release, from 1970. It’s a masterwork—and unquestionably his best complete effort post-Fab Four—that’s filled with beautiful, wise and spiritual songs like “My Sweet Lord,” “What Is Life,” “I’d Have You Anytime,” and five more album sides’ worth of goodness. There are other albums, too, though; George’s genius doesn’t stop there. To honor the depth and breadth of his catalogue—from the bonafide classics to the lesser-known gems, here are the 20 best solo songs by George Harrison. Just like the man who created them, these works are lovely, mischievous, otherworldly, complex and too often fly under the radar.
20. “Dream Scene”
Harrison was asked to create the soundtrack for the 1968 film, Wonderwall, a trippy, psychedelic movie starring Jack MacGowran and Jane Birkin. This allowed him to flex his compositional muscles while providing a creative outlet outside of the Beatles, who were at their bickering nadir. “Dream Scene” is the standout; an astral, Indian-influenced instrumental that goes from whimsical to nightmarish. It’s the perfect accompaniment to the magic-mushrooms visuals of the scene, and evidence of a different side of Harrison’s talents.
19. “I Don’t Care Anymore”
Released as the B-side to “Dark Horse” in 1974, “I Don’t Care Anymore,” details a time in Harrison’s life he referred to in his autobiography, I Me Mine, as “a bit of a bender.” The lyrics reference a woman who is presumably married—during this time Harrison was linked to Krissy Wood (Rolling Stones guitarist Ronnie Wood’s wife), as well as Maureen Starkey, Ringo’s wife—and provides a rare instance within Harrison’s solo catalog of a love song not directed toward a higher power. Recorded in one take, “I Don’t Care Anymore” sounds it—but there’s something special in its intimacy and shambolic, country feel, capped off with Harrison’s laryngitis-laced vocals.
18. “Miss O’Dell”
“The war” mentioned in “Miss O’Dell” refers to the crisis in East Pakistan that eventually led Harrison to organize The Concert For Bangladesh. Harrison was contemplating this when he wrote the song in 1971 while waiting for his assistant and close friend, Chris O’Dell, to come visit him at his rented home in Los Angeles. O’Dell was the ultimate insider in the late-’60’s and early-’70’s, starting at The Beatles’ Apple Records before working her way into the various circles of Bob Dylan, the Rolling Stones, Derek & The Dominos and more. Much more light-hearted and loose than its somber companion “Bangla Desh,” his uncontrollable giggling halfway through is guaranteed to bring a smile.
17. “Rocking Chair In Hawaii”
Throughout his life, Harrison would escape to Hawaii and even owned a house and 63 acres of land on the island of Maui. This luau-infused blues off of 2002’s posthumous Brainwashed sonically encapsulates the laid-back feel of his favorite island and provides a languid, lecherous vocal performance. Harrison sings, “If you want me woman, please don’t act so shy / If you want me woman, please don’t pass me by / I love those sideways glances / Your shoulder and your thigh.” You can practically taste the Mai-Tais.
16. “Sue Me, Sue You Blues”
In 1970, Paul McCartney sued Harrison, John Lennon and Ringo Starr in order to legally dissolve the band, effectively removing new manager Allen Klein. Disputes over management (Lennon, Harrison, and Starr had wanted Allen Klein while McCartney wanted his father-in-law Lee Eastman) were the final nail in the coffin for the group. McCartney distrusted Klein who had screwed The Rolling Stones by giving himself the rights to most of their pre-1970 catalog. It was a nasty and painful affair, one that Harrison laments wryly in this bluesy, bottleneck guitar number off of 1973’s Living In The Material World. Over a thumping beat, he turns the affair into an acute version of the dosey-doe singing, “You serve me and I’ll serve you / Swing your partners / All get screwed / Bring your lawyer and I’ll bring mine / Get together and we could have a bad time.”
15. “This Song”
“Sue Me, Sue You Blues” wasn’t Harrison’s only ode to his legal troubles. “This Song,” a four-minute send-up to the lawsuit he lost over the three-note infringement of “My Sweet Lord” on The Chiffons’ 1963 hit “He’s So Fine,” is the ultimate manifestation of one of the most beloved aspects of Harrison’s persona—his uncompromising practice of not giving a shit. Turning the annoying incident into a joke—that’s Monty Python’s Eric Idle interjecting, “Could be ‘Sugar Pie, Honey Bunch’—No, sounds more like ‘Rescue Me!’”—Harrison has the last laugh. Enjoy the ridiculous music video and Harrison’s beautiful perm.
14. “Got My Mind Set On You”
After a five-year recording hiatus, 1987’s Cloud Nine reasserted Harrison as an artist of note. The Jeff Lynne-produced album hit No. 8 on the Billboard 200, enjoyed a warm critical reception and yielded Harrison’s first No. 1 single in 15 years—a little-known song originally recorded by Rudy Clark called “Got My Mind Set On You.” Insanely (sometimes maddeningly) catchy, the song exploded, even leading to a “Weird Al Yankovic” parody entitled “(This Song’s Just) Six Words Long.” It hit No. 1 in the U.S. the week before The Beatles were to be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, making Harrison one of very few inductees to have an active single on the charts—let alone a chart-topper—at the time of induction. The success was due in part to Harrison letting his son, Dhani, pick the album’s first single. Fitting, considering this album finds Harrison in peak dad-mode, complete with possibly the dorkiest album cover of his career.
13. “Living In The Material World”
Living In The Material World was Harrison’s second solo effort to hit No. 1 on the Billboard charts (All Things Must Pass being the first), and the title track acutely illustrates what Harrison was about at this stage in his life—spiritual enlightenment and fulfillment in spite of his superstar status and all that came with it. As he explains in I Me Mine, “The material world is everything which is gross, physical, or material as opposed to the subtle, astral or casual.” Both elements are at work in the rollicking title track as Indian-inflected interludes foil boogie-woogie sax, Harrison’s signature slide and a winking nod to his former band. “Met them all here in the material world / John and Paul here in the material world / Though we started out quite poor / We got Ritchie on a tour.”
12. “Mama You’ve Been On My Mind”
Released in conjunction with the Martin Scorsese documentary George Harrison: Living In The Material World, the collection Early Takes: Vol. 1 is a windfall. It’s a peek into the mind and process of one of the most beloved musicians of all time. The acoustic, intimate recordings highlight the warmth and wisdom in Harrison’s vocals, and the spiritual feel in his fingers. A long time super-fan and friend of Bob Dylan, Harrison loved to cover his work, most notably “If Not For You,” on All Things Must Pass. This recording of “Mama You’ve Been On My Mind” matches—if not surpasses—that track, as a wise and weathered Harrison effortlessly stakes his own claim on a classic, becoming the perfect surrogate for Dylan’s words once again. The only reason this isn’t higher on the list, is that Harrison didn’t write it.
11. “Behind That Locked Door”
An achingly beautiful country waltz clearly inspired by Harrison’s time hanging out with The Band in Woodstock, “Behind That Locked Door” appears on the second side of All Things Must Pass, and is one of two songs about his beloved Bob Dylan (the other appears later on this list). “Please forget those teardrops / Let me take them from you” Harrison sings over Pete Drake’s heartbreaking pedal steel guitar. It’s a poignant send-up to friendship, love and the support that Harrison was generously offering Dylan, who had been recovering from his motorcycle accident and getting ready to play his highly-publicized comeback show at the 1969 Isle Of Wight festival. It’s a testament to Harrison’s skills as a songwriter, but also his character and legacy as a person.