Had he not sadly passed away in 2001, today would have been George Harrison’s 69th birthday.
Though he was always overshadowed by the overwhelming songwriting prowess of John Lennon and Paul McCartney, his post-Beatles work was, in a lot of ways, the most varied and eclectic of his former bandmates’ work. (That’s not to put down his contributions to the Beatles, as many of his songs — including “While My Guitar Gently Weeps,” “Here Comes the Sun,” “Something,” and “Taxman” — are among the greatest rock tunes of the era.)
Perhaps because he always had to navigate the choppy waters of his old band, Harrison always played well with others away from the Beatles. Some of his best work came in the context of collaborations, from his work with the Traveling Wilburys to his sit-down with Bob Dylan in 1968.
Over the course of a Thanksgiving weekend, Harrison visited Dylan at his home in Woodstock, New York, to write a handful of tunes. One of the results was “I’d Have You Anytime,” which became the opening track on Harrison’s landmark 1970 solo album All Things Must Pass.
That song was recently re-recorded by actress Evan Rachel Wood for the just-released Amnesty International benefit compilation Chimes of Freedom: The Songs of Bob Dylan. (Wood has a previous Beatles connection, having also starred in Julie Taymor’s big-screen fever dream Across the Universe in 2007.)
According to Dylan, the creation of “I’d Have You Anytime” was one of the more rewarding experiences of his long and winding career. “[Harrison] was a giant, a great, great soul, with all of the humanity, all of the wit and humor, all of the wisdom, the spirituality, the common sense of a man and compassion for people,” Dylan said. “He inspired love and had the strength of a hundred men. He was like the sun, the flowers and the moon, and we will miss him enormously. The world is a profoundly emptier place without him.”
In honor of Harrison’s birthday, check out the exclusive video of Wood performing “I’d Have You Anytime,” filmed especially for the occasion.
In 1977, Harrison talked extensively about his unusual collaboration with Dylan nine years prior. "I was with Bob and he'd gone through his broken neck period and was being very quiet, and he didn't have much confidence anyhow — that's the feeling I got with him in Woodstock," he explained. "He hardly said a word for a couple of days. Anyway, we finally got the guitars out and it loosened things up a bit. It was really a nice time with all his kids around, and we were just playing. He sang me that song and he was, like, very nervous and shy and he said, 'What do you think about this song?' And I'd felt very strongly about Bob when I'd been in India years before — the only record I took with me along with all my Indian records was Blonde On Blonde. I felt somehow very close to him or something, you know, because he was so great, so heavy and so observant about everything. And yet, to find him later very nervous and with no confidence."
In addition to his albums with the Traveling Wilburys, his film production company (HandMade Films famously funded Monty Python-related projects like Life of Brian and Time Bandits), and his charity work, Harrison also churned out an impressively eclectic array of solo projects over the course of his post-Beatles career. It ranged from huge radio-friendly work (his 1987 cover of Rudy Clark's "Got My Mind Set On You" topped the Billboard Hot 100) to remarkably challenging experiments (his final album, the posthumously released 2002 record Brainwashed, was as sonically adventurous as anything that came out that year).
What's your favorite George Harrison moment? Let us know in the comments.
Read more on EW.com:
George Harrison's sister is writing a book about him
'George Harrison: Living in the Material World' doesn't always penetrate the quiet Beatle, but Martin Scorsese's two-part HBO documentary is a fab nostalgia trip
The Best Beatles Songs, 25-1
The Beatles remasters: EW's review