Recorded: 5 January – August 1987
Producers: George Harrison, Jeff Lynne
Released: 2 November 1987 (UK), 3 November 1987 (US)
George Harrison: vocals, electric guitar, acoustic guitar, keyboards, synthesizer, autoharp, sitar
Jeff Lynne: vocals, bass guitar, electric guitar, acoustic guitar, keyboards, synthesizer
Eric Clapton: electric guitar
Elton John: piano, electric piano
Gary Wright: piano
Jim Horn: baritone saxophone, tenor saxophone
Ringo Starr, Jim Keltner: drums
Ray Cooper: drums, percussion
Bobby Kok: cello
‘That’s What It Takes’
‘Fish On The Sand’
‘Just For Today’
‘This Is Love’
‘When We Was Fab’
‘Wreck Of The Hesperus’
‘Breath Away From Heaven’
‘Got My Mind Set On You’
Cloud Nine was George Harrison’s eleventh solo studio album, and the last to be released in his lifetime. It was also the first after a five-year break from releasing music, following 1982’s Gone Troppo.
The album was a critical and commercial success, and Harrison topped the charts with the international smash ‘Got My Mind Set On You’. It also yielded the hit singles ‘When We Was Fab’ and ‘This Is Love’.
Cloud Nine was produced by Jeff Lynne, the Electric Light Orchestra frontman who made no secret of his love for The Beatles. Their first collaboration was on stage at the post-Live Aid charity event Heart Beat ’86 at Birmingham’s NEC. Harrison appeared during the encore to lead an all-star cast through Chuck Berry’s ‘Johnny B Goode’.
Afterwards Harrison let it be known that he would like to collaborate with Lynne. The go-between was singer-songwriter Dave Edmunds.
I went to dinner one night with Dave Edmunds, in Marlow. At the end, as we walked down the street to our cars, he shouted back to me, ‘By the way, I forgot to mention, George Harrison asked me to ask you if you wanted to work on his next album.’ I said, ‘What do you mean, by the way!?’ He took me around to George’s the next day. I got to the giant portcullis at the front and Olivia said, ‘George is down by the lake, I’ll take you there.’ He took me into the tunnels and said, ‘Don’t put your hands outside of the boat, just grip with your bum.’ I thought, ‘I like this guy!’ We got talking about what we liked, we had a nice day hanging out, then he said, ‘Do you want to go on holiday?’ OK then! We went to his house in Hawaii, then on to Australia. We landed at the Grand Prix in Adelaide, in the middle of the track in the helicopter, and went around all the pits and had a coffee with all the drivers. It was quite an experience. We went back to this guy’s house at night; he had a shooting gallery with a grand piano in there, and that’s where we wrote ‘When We Was Fab’. It was so much fun to do. We wrote it on one piano, George at the low end, me at the high end. It came out really well. I was so thrilled with all the little puns and innuendos.
Uncut, May 2020
Harrison was not often prone to nostalgia, but Cloud Nine found him embracing his Beatles past. ‘When We Was Fab’ was a playful look back at the Sixties, with a suitably psychedelic sound including sitar, cello, ‘I Am The Walrus’-style backing vocals, and backwards effects.
The single featured artwork by Revolver artist Klaus Voormann, and the video included cameos from Jeff Lynne, Elton John, Neil Aspinall, Derek Taylor, Ringo Starr, Paul Simon, Ray Cooper, and a figure in a walrus costume falsely rumoured to be Paul McCartney.
The roots of the album’s biggest hit, ‘Got My Mind Set On You’, also date back to The Beatles’ earliest days. When visiting his sister in Illinois in 1963, Harrison bought James Ray’s 1962 eponymous album, which contained the song. It was the only one of Harrison’s three US number one singles not to be written by him – the others being ‘My Sweet Lord’ and ‘Give Me Love (Give Me Peace On Earth)’.
Among Lynne’s contributions to Cloud Nine was encouraging Harrison to bring his guitar work to the fore. His 12-string Rickenbacker – a key feature of A Hard Day’s Night back in 1964 – appeared on several tracks, as did his slide guitar.
The revival extended to the cover photograph, which showed Harrison playing the 1957 Gretsch 6128 Duo Jet he bought in Liverpool in 1961.
Harrison had given the guitar to Klaus Voormann two decades previously, but asked for it back.
I’d asked him what happened to the guitar and whether I could have it back, because of its nostalgic value. So he returned it to me, and I had it fixed back in its original form with the original pickup and switches that had been missing from it since he owned it.
Harrison passed the instrument to guitar technician Alan Rogan, who instructed luthier Roger Giffin to rewire the electrics. Rogan also worked on Harrison’s Rickenbacker 12-string, and a 1950s Fender Stratocaster which was refinished in matte black and played in the ‘When We Was Fab’ video.
Two of the album’s songs, ‘Someplace Else’ and ‘Breath Away From Heaven’, were written for the film Shanghai Surprise, which Harrison co-produced.
I never did a soundtrack album, because the film got slagged off so bad and we had such a rotten time with them while making it. I didn’t want to lose the songs, especially “Breath Away from Heaven,” which has nice words—although I haven’t included the lyrics to any songs on this album. I always did before, but I thought that the practice is getting passé. Maybe I’m looking for a few new leaves to turn over.
George Harrison: Reconsidered, Timothy White