I wrote that at five in the morning on my way to bed. I was just playing my guitar and I just thought of the line, ‘I’m a dark horse’. When I was a kid, I always remember them saying, ‘Oh, have you heard about Mrs Penguin from the Co-op? She’s knocking off Mr Jones. Oh, she’s a dark horse.’ It was always that sort of thing. I was brought up knowing that dark horse was a phrase like that. So I thought, ‘I’m a dark horse. Okay, I’m running on a dark racecourse,’ but that just cracked me up. I thought, ‘No, I can’t use that. It’s crummy.’ Then, the next day, it was still on my mind and I thought, ‘A dark racecourse? It may be silly, but it’s so silly, it’s fantastic, because that’s the way it is. I’m a dark horse, but I’m running on a dark racecourse, you know.’ What else do you expect? I was just born into it. Don’t blame me, I’m a victim of circumstance.
That album I made called Dark Horse was on Apple and distributed by Capitol. What I did was I wrote the song and then we were forming that company and my business manager said to me, ‘We’ve got to have a name for the company,’ and I couldn’t think of one. I had been thinking of so many different company names and he said, ‘How about one of the song?’ So I said, ‘Oh, ‘Dark Horse’, That sounds good.’ Most people thought I called the album Dark Horse after the company but it was the other way round. I called the company after the song.
Harrison recorded an early version of ‘Dark Horse’ at Friar Park in November 1973, playing guitar, bass, and drums. A second demo featured just guitar and vocals, which he intended to build upon for the album.
However, he was under pressure to complete projects with Ravi Shankar and Splinter, as well as his own album and rehearsals for the impending North American tour. Eventually he decided to re-record the song with his live band in Los Angeles on 31 October 1974.
‘Dark Horse’ is the old story. ‘Mr Penguin’s poking Mrs Johnson from the Co-op.’ ‘Oh really! Who’d have thought that – he’s a bit of a dark horse isn’t he?’ I didn’t know ’til later the other idea of a dark horse – the one that wins that nobody has put any money on. I’m a bit thick really.
The pity with ‘Dark Horse’ – the song – was that I hadn’t finished the record when I had to go to the States to rehearse the band for the American tour in 1974. So I taught the band the tune and we recorded it ‘live’; and by that time I had no voice, so it’s a shouting, hoarse (!) version of it, while the other remains unfinished.
I Me Mine
On the inner sleeve of the album, Harrison made reference to his new partner Olivia Arias with the words “Hello Los Angeles OHLIVERE”. She is also credited beside ‘Dark Horse’, her contribution listed as “Trinidad Blissed Out”.
Actually, the album — there was only the one cut called ‘Dark Horse’ that I was singing with a hoarse voice, and that was because at the time I was rehearsing to go on the road and I was losing my voice very quickly, and I hadn’t completed the studio version of ‘Dark Horse’. I had almost finished, so I decided, well, as I’m gonna do this live with the band, I’ll rehearse the band and also then we’ll just do it like a live take of the song and use that as the album cut, but actually I just listened to it the other day and I think it’s great. I love it. I wish I could sing like that more often, like Louis Armstrong.
Press conference, Los Angeles
‘Dark Horse’ was released as a single in the USA on 18 November 1974, with ‘I Don’t Care Anymore’ on the b-side.
The single reached number 15 on the Billboard Hot 100, and 19 on the Cash Box Top 100.
It was issued in the UK on 28 February 1975, coupled with ‘Hari’s On Tour (Express)’, but did not chart – Harrison’s first single not to do so.
A live performance of ‘Dark Horse’, recorded at Japan’s Osaka Castle Hall on 11 December 1991, appears on Harrison’s Live In Japan album.