‘Bangla Desh’ was a single released by George Harrison in 1971.
The first rock charity single, Harrison intended ‘Bangla Desh’ to raise awareness for refugees from the country following the 1970 Bhola cyclone and the Bangladesh Liberation War.
It must have been in 1971 when I was in Los Angeles doing the Raga soundtrack album. Ravi [Shakar] was talking to me and telling me how he wanted to do a concert, but bigger than he normally did, so that he could raise maybe 25,000 dollars for the starving in Bangla Desh. He asked if I could think of some way of helping, say for instance for me to come on and introduce it or maybe bring in Peter Sellers… something to help, anyway.
Then he started to give me cuttings from magazines and newspapers, articles on the war and the poverty and I began to learn what it was about, and I thought, ‘Well, maybe I should help him do it.’
The Beatles had been trained to the view that if you’re going to do it, you might as well do it big and why not make a million dollars.
I Me Mine
Harrison wrote and recorded ‘Bangla Desh’, with all proceeds from the single to go to the George Harrison–Ravi Shankar Special Emergency Relief Fund, care of Unicef.
I got tired of people saying ‘But what can I do?’ Also, the reluctance of the press to report the full details created the need to bring attention to it. So the song ‘Bangla Desh’ was written specifically to get attention to the war prior to the concert. Leon Russell was the one who suggested that I do something in the beginning of the song to try and explain: a slow introduction. So I took his idea and shortened it:
My friend came to me
With sadness in his eyes
Told me that he wanted help
Before his country dies…
My friend was Ravi Shankar. Another thing about Bangla Desh and India was that everybody kept buying rice and shipping it to India but most of it would disappear and the Indian government somehow ended up with it and would then sell it in its government shops. The rest would be shipped back to Indian shops in big Western cities. Very strange.
I Me Mine
In the studio
‘Bangla Desh’ was recorded at Record Plant West in Los Angeles on 4 and 5 July 1971, with Phil Spector producing.
The musicians – who included Harrison’s former bandmate Ringo Starr and Beatles collaborators Billy Preston and Klaus Voormann – all performed for no fee. The song also features two drummers, with Starr joined by Jim Keltner on another kit.
‘Bangla Desh’ was the first Harrison song on which saxophonist Jim Horn worked. Horn went on to become a regular collaborator with the former Beatle.
I first met George in Los Angeles in 1971. He wanted to put some horns on a song he was going to release to raise money for his friend Ravi Shankar. He called Leon Russell and asked him who he could get to write the horn part, and Leon told him to call me. So I went down to the studio – I walked in and I knew I was going to meet one of The Beatles. At that time, I was more or less jaded because I had already worked with so many artists in the music business, but I was still meeting one of The Beatles, and I was excited about it. George was very, very gracious, very businesslike, and wanted to get all this stuff done properly. He asked me if I was aware of what was going on over there and explained the whole story to me about Bangladesh and Ravi his friend. It was a real turning point for me, because we were doing something for a cause through one of The Beatles.
While My Guitar Gently Weeps, Simon Leng
‘Bangla Desh’ was released by Apple on 28 July 1971 in the USA, and two days later in the UK. The b-side was ‘Deep Blue’.
The single peaked at number 23 on the US Billboard Hot 100, and 10 on the UK singles chart. It was also a top 10 hit in Canada, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Sweden, and Switzerland.
‘Bangla Desh’ was included on the 1976 compilation The Best Of George Harrison. A remixed version appeared on the 2014 reissue of the Living In The Material World album.