The background

1973 was a year of flux for Harrison. His marriage to Pattie Boyd was in terminal decline, largely due to his repeated infidelities, mainly an affair with Ringo Starr’s wife Maureen.

He had demons, he had battles. He found life difficult. To have absolutely anything and anybody you want, in every area, for a sensitive person there has to come a time when you question it. He felt he had to make choices then, and everything did become a bit more polarised. The temptation, the temptation… it’s the Oscar Wilde thing. He found the extremes of experience very difficult, very frustrating. Very. He wanted to pursue both paths. He wanted to pursue spirituality, but he also loved and really enjoyed being a wealthy, famous and beautiful human being, and everything that that offered as well. It is unresolvable.
Pattie Boyd
Behind The Locked Door, Graeme Thomson

Harrison was certainly no stranger to promiscuity and drug taking, yet such behaviour presented a compatibility issue with his deepening religious conviction. Harrison spoke about the dilemma during a 1977 interview:

We have to do what we can do. The main thing is we can make an effort, you know. I think that’s what really counts. What you feel in your heart and what effort you can put into it, counts. I think if you do something and you don’t really like doing it, then you’re a hypocrite about it. In a way, we all have desires; we must learn either to fulfill the desires or terminate the desires. If you can do it by being celibate and it’s easy to handle, it’s okay. You can either lose certain desires you had when you were younger or the thing that you have to watch, particularly the sex and things like drugs, too, the problem is, you can go, ‘Oh, well I’ll just have a bit and then I’ll be fulfilled.’ But it doesn’t work that way. First, you have a bit and then you want more and you want more and more.
George Harrison
Crawdaddy, February 1977

This dichotomy was brought to the fore when Eric Clapton, from whom Pattie left George in 1974, alleged in the press that Harrison had been more interested in meditation and chanting than in her.

If I’m reading what you’re saying, you’ve been reading those interviews with Eric Clapton saying about my ex-wife, Pattie, that we hadn’t – I brought it up, I don’t mind being personal – because I was always meditating. The point is to have a balance between inner life and the external. Again, with relationships with people, it never works if one person is into it and the other isn’t; it’s difficult on both sides. Usually if a fellow’s on smack his girlfriend either has to leave him or get in on it; it’s like that.
George Harrison
Crawdaddy, February 1977

Harrison’s friendship with Srila Prabhupada, the founder of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON), strengthened during this time. In February 1973 Harrison bought Piggott’s Manor in Hertfordshire, England, and donated it to ISKCON to be used as their base in the United Kingdom.

Oh yeah, I’m living in it [the material world]. But people interpret it to mean, money, cars, that sort of thing – although those are part of the material world. The material world is like the physical world, as opposed to the spiritual. For me, living in the material world just meant being in this physical body with all the things that go along with it.
George Harrison
Crawdaddy, February 1977

This was the backdrop of the recordings sessions for Living In The Material World. Although the album is Harrison’s most devotional, it is often unfairly characterised as overly pious and proselytising. Indeed, it remains an often overlooked gem, emerging as it did from the shadow of Harrison’s twin triumphs in the early 1970s: All Things Must Pass and The Concert for Bangladesh.

George was under stress during Living In The Material World. I felt that he was going through some kind of crisis. I think it may have been spiritual, but I cannot be sure. I felt an austere quality was entering his songs.
John Barham
While My Guitar Gently Weeps, Simon Leng

Despite the album’s reputation, Harrison’s new songs were not all devotional. On ‘Sue Me, Sue You Blues’ he cast a wry eye over The Beatles’ legal issues since their split, and his own run in with lawyers after ‘My Sweet Lord’ was alleged to plagiarise The Chiffons’ ‘He’s So Fine’.

Hold the block on money flow
Move it into joint escrow
Court receiver, laughs, and thrills
But in the end we just pay those lawyers their bills…

Although Harrison was weary of the ongoing legal travails over The Beatles’ legacy, he cast an affectionate look back at their origins in the wryly amusing title track:

Met them all there in the material world
John and Paul here in the material world
Though we started out quite poor
We got Richy on a tour
Got caught up in the material world…
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