“Sometimes you open your mouth and you don’t know what you are going to say, and whatever comes out is the starting point. If that happens and you are lucky, it can usually be turned into a song. This song is a prayer and personal statement between me, the Lord, and whoever likes it.” So said George Harrison about one of his most popular songs, “Give Me Love (Give Me Peace on Earth).”
The song became the single that was released in the US on May 7, 1973, three weeks before the album from which it was taken – George’s eagerly anticipated fourth solo album, Living in A Material World.
George had been busy working on the release of the Concert for Bangladesh album and film, so he did not start work on his follow-up to All Things Must Pass until midway through 1972. Initially, George had intended to work with Phil Spector, but his unreliability added to the delays until Harrison decided to press ahead and produce the LP himself.
Whereas his previous album had featured a large cast of musicians, this time it was a much smaller group that was assembled to record “Give Me Love (Give Me Peace on Earth)” in the autumn of 1972. Aside from George’s wonderful slide guitar playing, which he added early in 1973, it’s pianist Nicky Hopkins that shines on the recording. The rest of the musicians on the song are former Spooky Tooth organist, Gary Wright, old friend, Klaus Voormann on bass, and, stalwart of Joe Cocker’s band, Jim Keltner plays drums.
It’s easy to hear why “Give Me Love (Give Me Peace on Earth)” was instantly popular and has remained one of George’s most enduring songs. It is at once, both deceptively simple, and yet there is complexity in both the sounds and the sentiments expressed in the lyrics. Each instrument is perfectly placed in the mix; Wright’s organ is the bed, Keltner’s drumming gives it a jaunty yet relaxed vibe, while Hopkins, one of the most admired rock pianists of his generation, is the perfect foil to George’s brilliant slide guitar frills and solo (one of his very best).
According to the Billboard review of Living in A Material World upon its release, “Harrison is sure to lure the people,” noting that he had “surrounded himself with some of his studio pals [such as Ringo Starr, Gary Wright, Klaus Voorman, Leon Russell, Nicky Hopkins, and Badfinger’s Pete Ham] on this made-in-London production, which is both introspective and spiritual in nature.”
The album is, of course, way more than just one song and includes some of George’s best writing. The earliest song on the album dates from 1970 – “Try Some, Buy Some,” and it was written in 1970 and originally recorded by Ronnie Spector in February 1971.
“Try Some, Buy Some” and the album’s title track, like many of the songs on the LP, reflect George’s spirituality and includes, “The Lord Loves the One (That Loves the Lord),” and “Give Me Love (Give Me Peace on Earth).” George was inspired to write, “The Day the World Gets ‘Round” following the Concert for Bangladesh in August 1971.
Other songs take a look back at the legacy left by The Beatles, in particular, “Sue Me, Sue You Blues.” But the album reflects George’s desire to be seen as his own man, and not simply as “the former Beatle.” “The Light That Has Lighted the World,” “Who Can See It” and “Be Here Now” all fall into this category.
More conventional love songs like the beautiful, “That Is All” and “Don’t Let Me Wait Too Long” still seem to have a spirituality about them, while more than one critic has suggested that the latter song has all the hallmarks of an early 1960’s song direct from The Brill Building.
As if to reinforce the album’s title and his thoughts about materialism, George donated the copyright for nine of the eleven songs on this album, together with the non-album B-side “Miss O’Dell” to his Material World Charitable Foundation. The charity was established to help counteract the tax issues that hampered his relief effort for the Bangladeshi refugees, and to support other charities of his choice.
The single, “Give Me Love (Give Me Peace on Earth)” was released on May 7, 1973, in the US and two weeks later in the UK. Six weeks after it entered the US chart, George knocked Paul McCartney and Wings‘ “My Love” from the top of the Billboard Hot 100; the only occasion that two former Beatles held the top two chart positions in America. It also reached the top ten in Britain and Canada, and in other singles charts around the world.
Interestingly, Capitol Records who distributed Apple Records in America mastered the single to run at a slightly faster speed than the album version, as in their view it would sound better on the radio.
“Living In The Material World” took its bow in the UK charts on July 7, 1973, having already been a big hit across the Atlantic. It came close to repeating its chart-topping American feat in Britain, making No. 2 on the UK chart, second only to the rock ‘n’ roll compilation soundtrack to the hit movie “That’ll Be The Day.”
The album’s evocative title later lent its name both to Martin Scorsese’s 2011 film about George, and Olivia Harrison’s lavish accompanying book of photos, memorabilia, and reminiscences.
As George later said, “Most people would think of the material world as representing purely money and greed and take offense. But in my view, it means a physical world. It’s the idea that if it is money and greed, then give the greedy money away in the material world.”
As he so often did, George proved himself to be a special human being.