It’s the 45th anniversary of the George Harrison album you wish an Irish person would pronounce, Thirty Three & 1/3, so it seemed like the perfect time for Maia Gibbs to look back on what some consider The Beatles’ member’s strongest collection.
The seventh studio album by the English musician contains US top 30 singles such This Song and Crackerbox Palace, and stands as one of the many triumphs in Harrison’s career. Many music critics recognised Thirty Three & 1/3 as a return to form after his poorly received yet memorable work during 1974-1975, highlights being the Dark Horse North American tour with Ravi Shankar.
It was recorded at his Friar Park home between the end of May and mid-September 1976, being released two months later on November 19th. An impressive turnaround considering the album faced many challenges from the change of record label to a bout of hepatitis, proving my devout belief that a sitar can cure any problem, even the inflammation of the liver.
Thirty Three & 1/3 has truly stood the test of time among Harrison’s mammoth discography of 12 solo studio albums and among The Beatles’ 21 solo studio albums, five live albums, 54 compilation albums, 36 extended play singles, 63 singles, 17 box sets and 22 video albums. It really does make you wonder how he managed to fit in all that yoga, restoring of English manor homes and gardening.
"Nearly every one of his songs was made distinctly by him - and you can’t say that about many artists"
This happens to be one of my favourite albums, and I look back on it with pleasure. It’s joyful and nostalgic, offering a sense of summery escapism as the winter nights draw. It’s helped even more by the fact that George is personally my favourite Beatle. His solo work stands out as the best out of the four. He had an emotional intelligence, an innate spiritual awareness and empathy that emanated from his work. Nearly every one of his songs was made distinctly by him - and you can’t say that about many artists.
For example, no song on this album doesn’t have an interesting backstory, which as collector of witty anecdotes I appreciate. See Yourself was inspired by Paul McCartney’s public admission of taking LSD, Pure Smokey was a tribute to Smokey Robinson and Dear One is about one of George’s great inspirations - the author Paramhansa Yogananda. Harrison invented the ‘call-out’ song with It’s What You Value, exposing drummer Jim Keltner for refusing cash payment for Harrison’s 1974 tour, instead requesting a Mercedes sports car as his payment. I once requested to eat a breakfast bar in the middle of my 8-hour shift as a waitress and got told I was asking for too much.The lives of musicians, I guess?
However, my personal favourite titbit is This Song which was written in March 1976 shortly after his appearances in a New York courtroom during his infringement trial for My Sweet Lord. Maybe a song being written about another song, and the music video being a recollection about a trial about whether that song sounds like that other song, isn’t that funny or meta to anyone else, but it makes me smile. Maybe I need to get a life? But even without these insights into the rich and famous, Thirty Three & 1/3 was (and still is) musically impeccable and led to undeniable success.
The album outsold both Dark Horse and Extra Texture in America, peaking at No. 11 on the charts. Upon its release, Billboard said, “[It’s] a sunny, upbeat album of love songs and cheerful jokes that is [George’s] happiest and most commercial package, with least high-flown postures, for perhaps his entire solo career.” Inexplicably, it only made No. 35 in the UK, entering the chart on January 8, 1977, which makes me mad at British people over the age of 44.
"It is among his best solo releases, a record collection staple for any true fan of British music"
Overall, Thirty Three & 1/3 is one of the most consistent high points of any of Harrison’s albums since All Things Must Pass. It is among his best solo releases, a record collection staple for any true fan of British music. With some albums, the backstory is more fascinating than the music, but in this case the songs and performances are inseparable from the remarkable circumstances that led to their creation.
Harrison’s comments on romance, redemption, anger and insight makes Thirty Three & 1/3 a pivotal album in his body of work. It marks George Harrison’s rediscovery of himself, his place in the music industry and spiritual message – and who can’t celebrate that? This is an artefact of the a changing of tides for one of England’s most treasured musical figures. And it’s my pleasure to wish it a happy birthday.
Written by: Maia Gibbs
Edited by: Gemma Cockrell
In-article image courtesy of George Harrison via Facebook.