Harrison released six albums under his own Dark Horse label from 1976 to 1992: Thirty Three & 1/3, George Harrison, Somewhere in England, Gone Troppo, Cloud Nine, and Live in Japan. Although many of these albums were not commercially successful, they nonetheless represent the period of Harrison's recording career when he was not bound by previous recording contracts negotiated by others as part of the Beatles. As such, these under-appreciated albums represent an interesting snapshot of the artist when he had complete artistic freedom.
This DVD was originally included as a bonus disc in the deluxe box set of the same name. It contains four major sections: a 10-minute overview of Dark Horse Records, seven music videos, four tracks from Live in Japan, and three short musical and video montages from the movie Shanghai Surprise.
Each video segment is introduced by excerpts from various interviews. You have the choice to turn off these introductions and play the whole DVD continuously, but I found that I learned quite a bit of background by watching them.
When in the Beatles, George was considered the quiet, serious one. Certainly that stereotype was strengthened in the post-Beatles period as Harrison, more than the others, eschewed the public spotlight. The 35 minutes of videos from the Dark Horse period upend that stereotype, as some are actually quite funny. The DVD includes several videos before the MTV era. The earliest one is This Song, which is a funny take on the court system based on Harrison's own experience of being convicted of 'unconscious plagiarism' in the He's So Fine/My Sweet Lord case. In a mock courtroom, jury members stand up and play sax, the bailiff slaps his billy club to the beat, and the stenographer tickles the ivories on an electronic keyboard.
Crackerbox Palace is another funny one. Directed by Monty Python's Eric Idle, the hilarity and unusual characters are reminiscent of the better portions of the Magical Mystery Tour. Faster presents clips of Formula One racing, one of Harrison's hobbies, interspersed with Harrison playing guitar in the backseat of a car.
Harrison introduces the video for When We Was Fab with the classic line, "You couldn't make an ex-Beatles record without having Ringo, could you?" The video features appearances by the ringed-one, adding to the humor of the video, as well as playing drums. The video for This is Love probably epitomizes MTV-style excess a bit too much. The video is shot in a gorgeous tropical environment, with apparently lots of Harrison's friends and family; the camera moves around so quickly, however, it was difficult watching it without getting a headache.
LIVE IN JAPAN
Twenty minutes of footage from Harrison's 1991 tour of Japan with Eric Clapton is one of the highlights of the DVD. In this footage, we see how tight Clapton's band is, how restrained Clapton's guitar playing is, and the incredible talent that Harrison has, especially on slide guitar. It shows a happy Harrison delivering a version of Cloud 9, more funky and bluesy than the studio version. The song features Harrison's incredible slide guitar work. Given that few have probably seen Harrison lay into a solo outside of his appearances on the Ed Sullivan show with the Beatles, I found the footage of his guitar solos mesmerizing. No stranger to excellent solos, Clapton rips a brief solo in Devil's Radio and then raises the bar once more during a blistering solo in Taxman. The existence of this footage suggests that a future release of a Live in Japan DVD is possible, and I would encourage those in such positions to make this long wait end and release the complete show.
The disc closes with about ten minutes of three songs featured in the Madonna/Sean Penn movie Shanghai Surprise. Mostly this material is clips from the movie interspersed with Harrison singing in front of a microphone at the studio. Hottest Gong in Town features a snippet from the movie of Harrison playing a slick 1930s lounge singer.
The attractive booklet contains essays about Dark Horse Records by Harrison's wife Olivia, the origin of the Dark Horse logo, and Harrison's music by music critic David Fricke.
I certainly enjoyed watching the videos; it reminded me how much I liked the creativity of some of those early music videos. The Live in Japan segments are quite revealing. The major downside of the DVD is that it is very short (1 hour and 15 minutes of content) for a stand-alone DVD, priced at $20. The DVD is also unnecessary for those who bought the box set. Nevertheless, Beatles fans who have never appreciated this era of George Harrison's career may find this collection worthwhile.
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