The long-awaited follow up to the one-two punch of All Things Must Pass and The Concert for Bangladesh, Harrison’s second solo album Living in the Material World held the number #1 in the U.S. for five weeks (knocking off McCartney’s Red Rose Speedway) and #2 in the U.K. Ironically, the soundtrack to Starr’s film That’ll Be the Day kept him out of the top spot in the U.K.
The only light numbers were “Give Me Love” and “Don’t Let Me Wait Too Long.” There were three other up-tempo (if not light-hearted) tracks, the best being his acerbic take on the Beatles break up court case, the funky “Sue Me Sue You Blues,” a worthy companion piece to “Taxman,” this time aimed at Paul McCartney, although the Concert for Bangladesh was tied up in its own legal woes as well.
The record’s overall somber tone was, in fact, because the record labels and U.S./U.K. governments wanted such big cuts of the Concert of Bangladesh profits that there was barely anything left over for the people the shows were intended to help. The dark mood was announced by a creepy cover featuring a hand holding an Indian medallion. With its red and black hue, it looked like an image out of a horror movie.
The minor key same-ness of the songs was exacerbated because Harrison had decided he was ready to go it alone and produce the album without Phil Spector. Interestingly, Lennon had made the same choice with his 1973 offering, Mind Games. Either both former Beatles learned from the teacher at the same rate, or Spector’s madness had been accelerating and alienated them both.
The quiet mood was also due to the fact that Harrison was just trying to chill himself out. Ultimately he was forced to cover the taxes for the Concert of Bangladesh with a million pounds out of his own pocket, a rough price to pay when all he had been trying to do was a good deed. Between that and his ongoing litigation with McCartney, he needed his religion to keep perspective. So he wrote low key spiritual songs in the hopes of creating the mindset he wanted to attain.
He had never been shy about imparting the wisdom he felt he had gathered, and from the start he had been railing against the material world. In the 1964 movie A Hard Day’s Night, he surprised everyone with the naturalism displayed in his solo vignette. With an offhand, laidback confidence, he destroys the arrogance of a pompous advertising executive and his phony cover girl. Many of Harrison’s subsequent album tracks promoted a similar perspective, from “Think for Yourself” to “I Me Mine.”
As he had recently masterminded the biggest album and biggest concert of the decade thus far, no one dared critique or reign him in. Thus, glowering like Rasputin, he put out an album of downbeat songs with titles like “The Lord Loves the One (Who Loves the Lord).” To many, it began to look like Harrison thought he was almost a saint himself, “the light that lighted the world.” The backlash would soon gather steam.
Material World’s songs were good, they just needed to be mixed with a wider variety of moods and tempos in order to create a classic album. (The “Give Me Love” b-side “Miss O’Dell” would have been a great addition, but it was perhaps a little too similar to “Don’t Let Me Wait Too Long.”)
The same year, Harrison played on Cheech and Chong’s #15 hit “Basketball Jones,” and he would soon befriend the Monty Python troupe. Comedy had always been another technique of his to transcend life’s annoyances, and by the late 1970s, after getting pummeled by the critics for self-importance, Harrison would learn to synthesize his comedic and spiritual sides, and leaven his lectures with humor and happy tunes.
But meanwhile, Material World is a fine mellow album to relax to. I’d even go so far as to say to fall asleep to, which sounds disparaging but really is not, as we all sometimes need something good to help us fall asleep once in a while.
Along with “Give Me Love” and “Don’t Let Me Wait Too Long,” other stand out tracks include “The Day the World Gets ‘Round” which he wrote the day after the Bangla Desh concert, the aforementioned “Sue Me, Sue You Blues” and “The Light That Has Lighted the World,” and “Try Some By Some.” The latter tune was a single he wrote for Ronnie Spector. When it didn’t do well on the charts, Harrison slowed it down and put his own vocals on it.