‘Extra Texture’: The Many Layers Of George Harrison’s 1975 Classic
Among the most underrated albums in his discography, ‘Extra Texture’ is George Harrison’s ‘soul record.’
Following George Harrison’s unhappy tour of North America in late 1974 he returned home to Friar Park in January 1975, telling Derek Taylor, “When I got off the plane and back home, I went into the garden and I was so relieved. That was the nearest I got to a nervous breakdown. I couldn’t even go into the house.”
Three months later, he was back in Los Angeles to record a new album; it was to be his last under his Apple Records contract with EMI. He was also in LA to attend to business for his record label, Dark Horse, and the company’s recent signings – Stairsteps, Henry McCullough, and Attitudes.
Splinter, another Dark Horse artist, was booked into A&M’s studios on La Brea Avenue in Los Angeles but they, for various reasons, could not make the session and so George decided to use the time to record the album that became Extra Texture (Read All About It). Among the musicians that helped to make this one of George’s most sustained emotional statements were many old friends, including Gary Wright, Jesse Ed Davis, Klaus Voormann, Tom Scott, and Jim Horn.
Another old friend who played on almost the entire album is drummer Jim Keltner, who had formed Attitudes with the brilliant Canadian keyboard player David Foster, who plays piano, organ, synthesizer on Extra Texture and contributed some string arrangements for “This Guitar (Can’t Keep from Crying),” “The Answer’s at the End,” and “Can’t Stop Thinking About You.” Attitudes’ Paul Stallworth, shared the bass playing duties with Voormann on the LA sessions, along with George himself.
George laid down the basic tracks for the new songs he had written, starting on April 21 and finishing on May 7, 1975, beginning with “Tired of Midnight Blue” and “The Answer’s at the End.” On May 31 the overdubs began. This included George revisiting a song called “You” that he had begun recording in London during early February 1971 with Ronnie Spector for a proposed Apple solo album that was being produced by her husband, Phil Spector. In Los Angeles, Jim Horn came in to play the sax solo and other instrumental parts were added. There’s also a reprise of the song appropriately entitled “A Bit More of You” on the album.
Trumpeter Chuck Findley, who played in George’s touring band, joined saxophonist Tom Scott for horn overdubs on Harrison’s gorgeous tribute to Smokey Robinson, “Ooh Baby (You Know That I Love You),” and “His Name Is Legs (Ladies and Gentlemen).” The Legs in the title is “Legs” Larry Smith, the drummer with the 1960s group, The Bonzo Dog Band that were so influential to folks like the Monty Python comedy team. The basic track had been recorded at Friar Park the previous year during the sessions for George’s Dark Horse album.
George’s Smokey-inspired song is not a track that stands apart from the majority of the rest of the album, as you might expect. Extra Texture is George’s “soul record,” one where he both bares his soul and takes a more soulful approach to the songs than he had done on much of his solo material to this point in his career. And while it is melancholy in places, it is also a very beautiful record, one that stands the test of time.
There is arguably no song more beautiful on the record than “The Answer’s at the End” that was inspired by George’s home at Friar Park. The Victorian Gothic mansion in Henley-on-Thames, Oxfordshire was built in the 1890s by Frank Crisp, a City of London solicitor and enthusiast for microscopes, on what was the site of a 13th Century friary. Both the house’s interior design and the gardens reflected Crisp’s love of whimsy and eccentricity. It was above an entrance-way in a garden wall that George found the inscription, “Scan not a friend with a microscopic glass. You know his faults, now let his foibles pass. Life is one long enigma, my friend. So read on, read on, the answer’s at the end.”
It’s one thing finding such an inspirational text (one that George apparently was mindful of during some of the difficult times as the Beatles were breaking up) but it’s quite another to be able to put it to such a lovely melody. It’s a track that benefits greatly from a lovely David Foster string arrangement, but most of all from his brilliant piano playing. (Is it George’s greatest, most overlooked recording?)
“This Guitar (Can’t Keep from Crying)” was written by George in response to some of the criticism he received during his 1974 North American tour and came out as a single in December 1975. Almost inevitably, it’s compared with “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” and it is unsurprising that it does not come up to the standard of George’s 1968 anthem. But, imagine for a minute that there had not been the former song. “This Guitar” would be viewed entirely differently. In any case, it’s an excellent song, benefiting from Foster’s piano playing and string arranging skills. George’s slide guitar is to the fore, which in itself is something of a rarity for Extra Texture.
George re-recorded “This Guitar (Can’t Keep from Crying)” in 1992 as a demo for Dave Stewart, who plays electric guitar on it. Ten years later, Ringo overdubbed drums and Dhani Harrison added guitar and Kara DioGuardi vocals for Stewart’s Platinum Weird project and it is included as a bonus track on the re-mastered album.
“Can’t Stop Thinking About You” is another soul song and, while some have dismissed it as “pop,” they are missing the point. There’s nothing wrong with pop, and there’s nothing at all wrong with this song, which despite its soul-like feel is still quintessential George with the harmony chorus and backing vocals that have a hint of All Things Must Pass about it. Perhaps most surprising is this song never made it as a single release.
The other obvious single is “You” and it was released two weeks ahead of the album’s release. Despite it being picked as BBC Radio 1’s “Record of the Week” in the UK, it could not peak higher than No.38. In America, it just made the Billboard Top 20, where it stayed for two weeks. “You” features Carl Radle and Jim Gordon and was recorded in February 1971 shortly before they began working on the second, aborted, Derek and the Dominos album.
When Extra Texture (Read All About It) came out in America on September 22, 1975, and two weeks later in the UK, it failed to receive universal acclaim – in fact just the opposite. People, and critics are people too, harbored high expectations of any George Harrison release. And, as is all too often the case, they based their judgments on what had gone before, not what they were listening to at the moment of writing their review.
Reviewers also have another issue to contend with: a lack of familiarity. Editors need reviews churned out quickly and without the level of listening that so much music needs. This album is no exception; it is a grower, one that has stood the test of time far better than many of George’s contemporaries from the middle years of that strange decade – the 1970s. Nonetheless, it still made No.8 on the Billboard album chart and was No.16 in Britain.
If you’ve overlooked this album in the past, then you will not be disappointed when you give it a listen… and remember, once is never enough.