Taylor’s Turntable: From The Quarrymen to the Lifetime Achievement Awards
Columnist Taylor Ysteboe on George Harrison’s Grammys honor.
It’s the question to end all questions. The king of questions. The one question to rule them all.
John Lennon or Paul McCartney?
My answer? George Harrison.
And this year, the Recording Academy agrees with me because they gave Harrison the Lifetime Achievement Award. The Lifetime Achievement Award has given this honor to artists who “have made creative contributions of outstanding artistic significance to the field of recording" since 1962, starting with Bing Crosby. Though he was honored at the private Recording Academy’s Special Merit Awards on Saturday, Harrison was also recognized at the 57th Annual Grammy Awards on Sunday. Harrison was honored along with the Bee Gees, Buddy Guy, the Louvin Brothers, Wayne Shorter, Pierre Boulez and Flaceo Jiménez.
But praise the Lord that Harrison is finally recognized. McCartney was honored in 1990. Lennon was honored in 1991. Starr, well, he hasn’t been honored yet, but that’s all right because he’s just Ringo. And the Beatles as a whole were honored last year. So it’s about darn time that Harrison receives the proper recognition.
He was certainly more than “the Quiet Beatle.” As the youngest of the lads, he was the underdog, and we all love a good underdog story. Harrison rode the same school bus as McCartney when they were kids, and Harrison joined the Lennon-led Quarrymen when he was merely 14 (I certainly wasn’t joining a soon-to-be world famous band at 14) as the lead guitarist. For a short period, Harrison even changed his name to Carl Harrison as a tribute to rockabilly legend Carl Perkins. By 1960, the band rebranded themselves to the name we all know and love.
Even though “Lennon and McCartney” has such a nice ring to it, Harrison soon began to sign his name at the end of his own compositions. He wrote his first song, “Don’t Bother Me,” while he was sick in bed in 1963 just to see if he could even write lyrics. In hindsight, the song’s lyrics are simplistic and raw, but it matched the boys’ suit-and-bowl-cut style in the early ‘60s.
But by 1965, with the release of “Help!” and then “Rubber Soul,” Harrison evolved and proved himself as a talented and versatile songwriter with tracks like the yearning “I Need You” and the snarky “Think for Yourself.”
In addition to perfecting the craft of songwriting, Harrison developed his skill as a guitarist. Due to his growing love of Indian spirituality and culture during the sixties also applied his skills as a guitarist so he could learn sitar, as heard in Lennon’s soulful “Norwegian Wood.”
After “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band,” as the Beatles began to drift apart, Harrison grew stronger as an artist. He, fittingly, fine-tuned his guitar playing in “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” and wrote nimbly in “Something.”
Becoming a more adept musician in the Beatles prepared Harrison to become a savvy solo artist after the band dissolved in 1970. That same year, Harrison released his crown jewel of albums, “All Things Must Pass.” Produced by Phil Spector, who also produced “Let It Be,” Harrison touched spiritual heights with earthly tones in his first solo work.
The next year, Harrison organized the first rock benefit show, the Concert for Bangladesh, creating a mold for future events like Live Aid. Accompanied by other legends like Bob Dylan, Leon Russell, Eric Clapton and Ravi Shankar, Harrison organized the benefit to fund relief efforts for refugees of Bangladesh.
Until his death from lung cancer in 2001, Harrison continued to produce thoughtful albums including “Living in the Material World” and “Somewhere in England.” Harrison constantly sought to layer meaning underneath his notes and emotion between his lyrics.
Most importantly, though, Harrison filled my heart with love and joy, and he provided the soundtrack to some of my dearest memories. He was just making music for himself, but along the way, he gave me gorgeous and layered songs like “Beware of Darkness” and “Within You Without You” because they make me want to discover. Discover what I love about the piece. Discover a new sound each time I listen. Discover emotions that I didn’t know I could feel. And for that, I thank you, George.