George Harrison could be decidedly prickly about the past and didn’t always like to talk about the days ”When We Was Fab.” But in 1987, he released what turned out to be his final solo album, ”Cloud Nine,” the only one of his post-Beatles efforts to consciously evoke his old foursome’s glory days, and it seemed to open him up to talking freely and graciously about his old band’s glory years. EW’s Chris Willman spoke with him then, in a lengthy interview that was excerpted in the Dec. 14, 2001, issue of Entertainment Weekly. Here are additional portions of their conversation, most of which have not been published until now:
What was the collaborative process like with the Beatles? The White Album, for one, has been described as a compilation of four solo albums.
Yeah, I read that. It may be true in a way, but a lot of them are like that, as well; it wasn’t just the White Album. A lot of the time it was John’s doing his tune and we’re backing him up, and occasionally I’d do my tune and they’d back me up. There were moments, of course, when it’d all fit together and everybody’s contributing. On loads of them, like ”Rubber Soul,” it was very much a group effort. And even through to the last one, ”Abbey Road,” there’s things on there with the harmonies of ”Here Comes the Sun King” and that whole medley of tunes on the second side which took a lot of effort on all of our behalves, to learn harmonies and all our bits.
The White Album did have a lot of strain. I was feeling really quite good when we started it, because I’d just come out of three months of heavy meditation in the Himalayas, and I came back to the world feeling quite good. But there were all kinds of strange things starting to happen. John and Yoko had just got together, so she was sleeping under the piano all through the [recording of the] album, which was a bit weird.
Were you consulted at all about the Beatles’ reissue CDs?
I don’t think so, but I shouldn’t say I wasn’t… I read they criticized George Martin for putting [the early albums] out in mono, but they were only ever in mono. Because we hated those stereo versions that came later. A lot of people to this day have got ’em where you can turn it on one side and just hear the voices and turn it on the other side, and it’s the backing track, and that is really a mono mix — but the voices were separate, and they would put them together when they mastered it.
In an article from the 1970s, when the writer described an ELO song coming on the radio, you said, almost dismissively, ”Sounds like the Beatles.” Now, irony of ironies, you’ve ended up working with Jeff Lynne.
That’s one of the reasons why I tried to get Jeff Lynne, because he knew about… Okay, most people knew about the Beatles, but he really knew about ’em. And I was looking to work with somebody who would know my past and not disregard that, but who I would also respect, as a writer and producer. But it is a bit ironic, I know.
I think in those days I was a bit sensitive to all that kind of stuff, having just got nailed in court for the other song [”My Sweet Lord” and its similarities to ”He’s So Fine”]. Every song I listened to on the radio sounded like other stuff, and yet I had to go through that hassle.
Having been in the music and film businesses, do you find that it’s worse in the record biz, or vice versa?
The film business is more ruthless than the record business at its worst. [Laughs]