Harrison had sung about God and faith, since the heyday of The Beatles. His biggest solo hit, ‘My Sweet Lord’, was a direct plea to God, and elsewhere on All Things Must Pass he explored his feelings further – on ‘Beware Of Darkness’, ‘Awaiting On You All’, ‘Art Of Dying’, and ‘Hear Me Lord’. He did, however, avoid bombast and religion overload by the sheer number of songs included on the album – a veritable deluge of songs, some dating as far back as 1966.
By the time he came to record its successor, religion was front and centre of Harrison’s purview. And although there were several songs left over from All Things Must Pass, Harrison chose to start afresh with Living In The Material World; none of its songs was written before 1970, with the majority being new compositions.
Harrison had taken a year out from the public eye after The Concert For Bangladesh was released in December 1971. “I wouldn’t really care if no one ever heard of me again,” he told Record Mirror in April 1972. “I just want to play and make records and work on musical ideas.”
It was obvious to anyone who knew George that he was seriously stressed. I think it was most likely the daunting task of attempting to match the extraordinary artistic and commercial success of All Things Must Pass. Added to that was the stress of litigation in connection with ‘My Sweet Lord’, and I believe George and Pattie were having problems in their relationship. They are not amongst my happiest memories of working with him. His stress, the causes of which I think I understand much better now than I did then, sometimes made him short tempered and irritable. As orchestral arranger and music director working with session musicians at the time, I felt that George’s stress was negatively affecting the working atmosphere in the studio.
Behind The Locked Door, Graeme Thomson
Living In The Material World finds Harrison at the crossroads of fame, finding celebrity and global hits unable to appease his self-doubt and bring inner peace, just as John Lennon had on ‘Help!’ eight years before.
From my point of view, the material world is not necessarily just down to money or gain or wealth or power, but material in the sense of the physical… the physical world as opposed to a spiritual world. So the material world is where we live. We live subject to the laws of relativity; which is good and bad and up and down. I wrote a song called ‘Living In The Material World’ and it was from that I decided to call the foundation the Material World Foundation. Most people would think of the material world as representing purely money and greed and take offence. 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.
With the exceptions of ‘Sue Me, Sue You Blues’ and ‘Try Some Buy Some’, the publishing royalties for the songs on Living In The Material World were assigned in perpetuity to Harrison’s charity the Material World Foundation.