It was mostly recorded at the tail end of 1980, and finished the following year. Its long gestation was painful for Harrison, who was struggling to find relevance and space in a rapidly changing music industry.
In spring 1977 he recorded a track, ‘Mo’, to celebrate the 50th birthday of Warner Bros’ Mo Ostin. Harrison evidently held the label executive in high regard, with the song demonstrating his loyalty to the man who had signed him after relations with A&M broke down in the mid-70s.
The loyalty was not unconditional, however, and did not always flow both ways. Somewhere In England holds the dubious honour of being the first album by a former Beatle to be rejected by a record company.
I think he felt sidelined by everything that was going on. It was the rise of the machine, and there was a real sea change in popular music. Soft Cell, Depeche Mode, he felt that was all at the opposite end of the spectrum and he was railing against it. I don’t think he was disillusioned, I just think he was sad about what was going on around him. ‘What am I doing? I don’t feel a part of contemporary music.’ The lyric [of ‘Blood From A Clone’] was basically anti-machine, anti-manufactured pop star song.
Behind The Locked Door, Graeme Thomson
Warners did consider releasing the original version of the album, going so far as to creating test pressings before it was axed. Those pressings, many of which found their way into collectors’ hands, contained four songs – ‘Flying Hour’, ‘Tears Of The World’, ‘Lay His Head’, and ‘Sat Singing’ – axed from the final release.
The original running order had ‘Hong Kong Blues’, ‘Writing’s On The Wall’, ‘Flying Hour’, ‘Lay His Head’, and ‘Unconsciousness Rules’ on side one, and ‘Sat Singing’, ‘Life Itself’, ‘Tears Of The World’, ‘Baltimore Oriole’, and ‘Save The World’ on side two.
To placate Warners, Harrison dusted down ‘All Those Years Ago’, changing the lyrics in the wake of Lennon’s assassination. He also recorded the new songs ‘Teardrops’, ‘That Which I Have Lost’, and ‘Blood From A Clone’ – a withering critique of Warners. It remains notable that the rejected set of songs was arguably stronger than those which were ultimately released.
You remember the big fuel crisis [of 1973]? The bottom dropped out of the economy and that affected all kinds of businesses, the record business included. And they were firing a lot of staff and they were trimming down all the artists they had, and there was a general confusion that seemed to be going on. And it was like the program planners for the radio stations seemed to be having more control, the disc jockeys were just mouthpieces. And I think I mentioned to you, which I think you already put in the paper, about the fact that somebody said to me on a survey, ‘How do you get a hit record…?’
That kind of thing got me a bit pissed off. In fact, there was one point, on the album before Troppo, which is called Somewhere In England, I wrote this song which was a bit of an attack on that situation, which was called ‘Blood From A Clone’:
“They say they like it, but now in the market
It may not go well because it’s too laid back
It needs some oom-pa-pa, nothing like Frank Zappa
Not New Wave, they don’t play that crap
Try beating your head on a brick wall
Hard like a stone
Don’t have time for music
They want the blood from a clone”
That’s how I felt and that was good to get that off my chest. But by that time, I’d not made a record for a few years. I was relaxed and cool about everything, and I was just doing all these other things. It’s not as if I was out of work or anything like some people who have to just keep doing the one thing. I was always in the studio over that time, writing songs and just putting them down on demos, just having fun.
Harrison’s sense of being at odds with record industry fashions was typified by his decision to record not one but two Hoagy Carmichael songs – ‘Baltimore Oriole’ and ‘Hong Kong Blues’. Carmichael’s golden years as a songwriter were in the 1930s and 40s, and Harrison had been a fan since childhood.
As for Hoagy Carmichael, I’ve been nuts for him since I was a kid. I cut his ‘Hong Kong Blues’ on Somewhere In England, and there’s still a few more of his I wouldn’t mind doing, like ‘Old Rocking Chair’. Maybe one day – not just yet, but one day when I get a bit older – me and Eric [Clapton] can sing ‘Old rocking chair has got me…’
George Harrison: Reconsidered, Timothy White