George Harrison’s debut solo album was the soundtrack of the 1968 film Wonderwall, directed by Joe Massot and starring Jane Birkin, Jack MacGowran, and Iain Quarrier.
The album was credited to George Harrison & Band/Indian Orchestra, and was written and produced by Harrison. It was also the first album released on The Beatles’ label Apple, with the catalogue number was SAPCOR 1.
The album was produced by Harrison, and recorded in England and India between November 1967 and February 1968. Harrison continued his burgeoning interest in Indian music, recording with local musicians in Bombay in early 1968. The album marked the end of Harrison’s songwriting in the Indian style, although he subsequently collaborated with Ravi Shankar.
In the studio
I worked with Indian musicians at the EMI/HMV studios in Bombay. Mr Bhaskar Menon (later to become the head of EMI worldwide) brought a two-track stereo machine all the way from Calcutta on the train for me, because all they had in Bombay was a mono machine. It was the same kind of huge machine we used in Abbey Road; they’re called STEEDs. I’ve got one in the kitchen now – the one that we recorded ‘Paperback Writer’ on. I came back and added a lot more in Abbey Road, and put the music on the film.
Harrison’s search for Indian musicians was aided by sitar player Shambhu Das, and HMV’s head of A&R, Vijay Dubey.
He had a serious musician’s ear for recognizing a number of major Indian instruments. Each evening, George would return to the Taj Mahal hotel and spend his time making notes about the instrument he had heard and the sounds they were capable of making. He was an incredibly hard worker and took this very seriously. It was a kind of immersion for him into the folk music of India.
Wonderwall Music, 2014 liner notes
Wonderwall Music also contained contrasting Western-style instrumentals, such as the honky-tonk ‘Drilling A Home’, a Western-style version of ‘Silent Night’ (‘Cowboy Music’), the Mellotron-led experimental ‘Greasy Legs’, and the acid rock ‘Ski-ing’, which featured Eric Clapton on guitar under the alias Eddie Clayton.
George told me he’d like me to play on something, or we’d write something as we went along… You know, it was very experimental, and it was good fun.
George Harrison: Living In The Material World
The non-Indian tracks also include drums by Ringo Starr (pseudonymously as Ritchie Snare on ‘Party Seacombe’), and performances by Liverpudlian group The Remo Four.
We recorded backing tracks at Abbey Road to accompany certain points in the film. George had timed it all with a stopwatch: ‘We need one minute and 35 seconds with a country & western feel.’ Or, ‘We need a rock thing for exactly two minutes.’ Nothing was really written. We’d talk over ideas he wanted, play something, and he’d say, ‘That’s good, keep that. I like the piano there.’ It was very experimental. There were different tracks with different atmospheres, and a few different sessions. The Indian musicians were recorded in Bombay. At another session he used Eric Clapton, who did a great riff on ‘Ski-ing’. I heard he borrowed a five-string banjo from Paul McCartney for Peter Tork to use!
Uncut, May 2020
The Western-style recordings were made at EMI Studios, Abbey Road. Harrison often visited Twickenham Film Studios during the film’s editing to check with Joe Massot that his music was suited to the scenes, and the correct length.
I had a wind-up stopwatch and I viewed the film to ‘spot-in’ the music with the watch. I wrote the timings down in my book then I’d make up a piece, record it and when we’d synch it up at Twickenham, it always worked. It was always right.
Wonderwall Music, 2014 liner notes
The Wonderwall Music tracks are mostly instrumental, apart from some vocals by Indian musicians. Harrison worked with orchestral arranger John Barham, who also collaborated with Harrison on All Things Must Pass and Living In The Material World, and on releases by John Lennon, Yoko Ono, and Apple artists Billy Preston, Jackie Lomax, and Radha Krshna Temple.
Also contributing to a session was The Monkees’ Peter Tork, although his performance was only heard in the film.
I’d met George when he was visiting Cass Elliot in Los Angeles, and I was dating Cass’s sister, Leah. Later, the Monkees met the Beatles in England, and he invited me to his house. He played the sitar and said: ‘I’m working on a soundtrack album, I’d love to have you play a little banjo.’ … I played for 45 minutes, George said, ‘Thanks very much,’ and we went our separate ways. And I did not get paid. George said: ‘We’ll figure that out later.’ He knew that the honour itself was payment enough!
The Guardian, 2017