I remember the summer of 1982 as being perhaps the hottest summer ever. It was the year before my senior year of high school. The intensity of my mixed emotions couldn't have been stored in a cow-sized caldron. Part of me was rightfully looking upon the upcoming year as reaching the pinnacle of my Roseville public education experience. No longer the clumsy underclassman, I now was a senior, and thus all those youngsters below had better heed all the wisdom from my grizzled experience, all my omnipotent creeds. Another part of me was absolutely paralyzed with terror. Within the next year I was going to have to decide what came next, where I would be heading in a mere year's time. Shock my vargas Henry, it's time to pull up the old boot straps.
One day I meandered down to my local record store and plopped down my hard-earned allowance (I was in charge of providing entertainment for the family) on George Harrison's new LP, Gone Troppo. Harrison's solo career at that point was rapidly reaching a point of irrelevance. Merely being an ex-Beatle was no longer good enough to guarantee that tons of people would automatically buy his albums. Which was too bad really because most of his late-70's work is much more rewarding than his huge selling successes from earlier in the decade. His more popular early 70's LPs like All Things Must Pass and Living in the Material World are dogged by an oppressive solemn dogma as if George felt it was his duty to preach to the unconverted.
By the end of the decade Harrison finally was beginning to demonstrate the serenity and comfort his religion had given to him through blissful melodies peppered with his distinct slide guitar work and more confident vocals. 33 1/3 and the aptly titled George Harrison contain far and away the best music George ever wrote. Two of the finest songs from these two albums, "Beautiful Girl" (a gorgeous melody accompanied by some of his best lyrics) and "Blow Away" (ditto) should be required listening for anyone who has a heart. Those two songs along with "My Dark Sweet Lady," "Your Love is Forever," and "True Love" (the Cole Porter song George delightfully makes into his own) are in the short rotation of songs in my own piano repertoire that I bang out whenever I feel frustrated.
Harrison unfortunately followed those two efforts with the disappointing Somewhere in England which is full of bitter diatribesagainst things ranging from radio executives who no longer played his type of music, to John Lennon's murderer, to all those destroying the planet. When the album was unsuccessful he could have become even more bitter but thankfully that wasn't the route he chose. Gone Troppo is George letting his long hair down and having fun with the music. The cover art and inner sleeve are done mostly in bright colors. The liner notes are full of inside jokes and good humor (there even is a recipe for how to make cement). There is something about the artwork that combines with the bright music that conjures up a Greek summer day. The album simply oozes sunny skies. And it was his poorest selling LP to date, almost immediately relegated to the cut-out bins, receiving little media attention (at least most of his previous albums had received negative reviews rather than nothing at all). Still it remains one of my favorite summertime LPs, perhaps the happiest music I've ever heard.
The churning guitar/synthesizer notes on the opening track "Wake Up My Love," suggest a burning urgency as if this music has something to say. The song masterfully leaves it ambiguous to whom it is directed at. Is it a woman? Is it God? Is it George's heart itself? Whoever it is, George has the right answer, all he has to do is let the love into his heart. "Too much darkness gets me crazed."
There are several other superlative tracks from the wise "Unknown Delight" "Sweetest innocence and free/God has given you the key/To the hearts of everyone/that comes in sight of you;"to the delightful "Dream Away" (which was used in Terry Gilliam's terrific movie Time Bandits). The LP also contains George's ultimate masterpiece, the seductively sublime "Mystical One." This is the song that helped me endure my disappointing senior year of high school. It to this day speaks volumes to my heart. It expresses a certain inspiration that flashes through occasionally expressing a sense of awareness that can't quite be conveyed by words. "I know something so dear to me/Beyond words beautiful feeling in my soul/Sounds I've heard like humming birds in a dream." Whenever I feel sad I listen to the song and it uplifts me to another place, another time.
Gone Troppo is the most heavenly Mediterranean viva voce music ever written by an inspired soul who is expressing his heart for art, not for commerce. And to this day it remains an LP I can't quite get out of my system.