In the studio

Cloud Nine album was recorded at George Harrison’s Friar Park home between January and August 1987. The bulk of the instruments were played by Harrison and co-producer Jeff Lynne.

Cloud Nine took about six months altogether. I’d go down at the weekend and go home the next weekend. Give him a break from me! The basis of some of the songs is just me and George playing. We had a click track and we’d play along, but we had great musicians to do all the overdubs: Jim Horn on sax, Elton John, Eric Clapton, Keltner on drums. Jim was really important.

Jim used to call himself the Stenographer of Rhythm – he would type it all into his machine. It’s kind of a wacky drum sound, but at the time it was different. We put it on a few tracks where we hadn’t put the drums on first. The album was a fantastic success, and George was thrilled. I had a message on my answerphone one day: ‘Hey Jeff, we’ve just gone No 1 in America!’ You could tell he was really chuffed.

Jeff Lynne
Uncut, May 2020

‘When We Was Fab’ initially had the working title ‘Aussie Fab’. It evolved gradually after recording sessions began at Friar Park on 5 January 1987.

Anyway, every so often we took the tape of ‘Fab’ out and overdubbed more, and it developed and took shape to where we wrote words. This was an odd experience for me; I’ve normally finished all of the songs I’ve done—with the exception of maybe a few words here and there—before I ever recorded them. But Jeff doesn’t do that at all. He’s making them up as he goes along.

That to me is a bit like, “Ohh nooo, that’s too mystical. I wanna know where we’re heading.” But in another way it’s good because you don’t have to finalize your idea till the last minute. We put wacky lyrics in the last line of each chorus like, ‘Back when income tax was all we had.’ Another one says, ‘But it’s all over now, Baby Blue.’ It’s tongue-in-cheek and shows how Jeff could assist my muse. To do it live, we’d need the Electric Light Orchestra for all those cellos!

That’s the great thing about Jeff. He wanted to help me make my record. But there’s so much in there Jeff contributed to. ‘Fab’ was a 50-50 contribution, but ‘This Is Love’ was a song where I said, ‘Why don’t you write me a tune?’ So he came down with lots of bits and pieces on cassette, and almost let me choose. I routined that song with him, and we wrote the words together. In fact, he had so many permutations of how that song is, he can still write another three songs out of the bits left.

I think he’s one of the best pop songwriters around. He’s a craftsman, and he’s got endless patience. I tend to feel, ‘Okay, that’ll do,’ and go on, and Jeff’ll still be thinking about how to tidy what’s just been done.

George Harrison
George Harrison: Reconsidered, Timothy White

Harrison and Lynne recorded the backing tracks for 17 songs between January and March 1987, with overdubs completed by August.

Guest musicians

A small number of musicians – mostly previous Harrison collaborators – were invited to contribute to Cloud Nine. Eric Clapton played guitar on ‘Cloud 9’, ‘That’s What It Takes’, ‘Devil’s Radio’, and ‘Wreck Of The Hesperus’. Gary Wright, a veteran of Harrison recordings since All Things Must Pass, played piano on ‘Just For Today’ and ‘When We Was Fab’, and co-wrote ‘That’s What It Takes’ with Harrison and Lynne. Sax player Jim Horn had also played with Harrison since the early 1970s.

Percussionist Ray Cooper, who had previously co-produced Somewhere In England and Gone Troppo, plays on eight of the eleven tracks. Drumming was split between Ringo Starr and Jim Keltner, with Cooper behind the kit on ‘Someplace Else’.

We would play all day and at night George and Jeff would get silly. They were on a roll one night and it was like Monty Python, and out of that came the Traveling Wilburys. I had brought my [E-mu] SP12, my little drum machine sampler. Jeff saw me with the machine and said, ‘You know the problem with drum machines is they don’t swing.’ I started playing a sample I had brought from a record I had just done in Los Angeles with Andy Taylor and Steve Jones. I was playing this groove. In the back of the room, Gary Wright on keys starts playing the chord progression to ‘Got My Mind Set On You’, then George starts singing, Jeff chimed in, and pretty soon we were playing the song. We all flipped out! I laid down my drum track from my SP12, and they all proceeded to overdub on it.
Jim Keltner
Uncut, May 2020

Elton John had performed with Harrison at a Prince’s Trust concert at Wembley Arena on 5 June 1987, where the former Beatle sang ‘While My Guitar Gently Weeps’ and ‘Here Comes The Sun’. For Cloud Nine he played piano on ‘Cloud 9’, ‘Devil’s Radio’, and ‘Wreck Of The Hesperus’.

I remember staying up until eight o’clock in the morning recording and then asking him to play ‘Here Comes The Sun’. And he did, and it was magical.
Elton John
George Harrison, editors of Rolling Stone

The only other guest musician on Cloud Nine was cellist Alexander ‘Bobby’ Kok, who performed on ‘When We Was Fab’. Kok was a prolific session musician and favourite of George Martin, and is believed to have played on Beatles recordings in the 1960s.

Who are some of the players on the new album?

Well, on drums we’ve got Ringo and Jim Keltner, and Ray Cooper plays on one track – Ray being the percussion player who used to be with Elton John. He works for our company, Handmade Films. Ringo plays on about four tracks.

Does he play on ‘When We Was Fab’?

Oh, yeah. I mean, before I wrote the song, or when I sat down to write it, I thought, ‘This one’s gonna start with Ringo going, “One, two, DUHtabumb, DUHtabumb.”‘ That was the intro in my head; that was the tempo it was always going to be…

All the horn parts were played by Jim Horn. That’s his real name, Jim Horn. He played on all those old Duane Eddy things, and he actually did two with me in 1974 (Dark Horse and Extra Texture). He’s very well-known, one of the top sax players in the country. He’s brilliant. He made a few solo albums on Shelter Records back in the early ’70s and now he’s moved from LA to Nashville. A lot of musicians seem to have gone down there because there’s so much work.

Eric Clapton plays on four tracks; I’m sure you could hear him. Eric has the end solo on ‘That’s What It Takes’, he plays on ‘Devil’s Radio’, ‘Wreck Of The Hesperus’, and on the title track. And then Elton John plays electric piano on ‘Cloud 9’ – and he plays piano on ‘Devil’s Radio’ and, I believe, ‘Wreck Of The Hesperus’, also. Just to complete the list of people who’s on it, Gary Wright plays keyboard, the piano, on a song called ‘Just For Today’, which is a song I wrote from an Alcoholics Anonymous brochure. You know that little leaflet they give out to drunkards, to say to try to live through this day, for today only? And he also plays on ‘When We Was Fab’. All the remaining stuff: bass is Jeff, keyboards, Oberheim, is Jeff, and guitars are me and Jeff. All the little twiddly parts that just crop up, like autoharps, is just me and Jeff, and we also do all the backing voices.

Creem, December 1987

Ahead of its release, there were false press reports that Paul McCartney and Julian Lennon would appear on the album.

You know what was happening? Ringo made an album, or was making an album, Paul was going in the studio and started making an album, but then he decided he didn’t want to do it—and I think that was going around, saying that we were all making an album. People thought that it meant we were all making an album together, but we were all making separate ones, although Ringo did play on mine.
George Harrison
Creem, December 1987
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