Posted: 11:29 pm Monday, May 8th, 2017
Today in 1969, Beatles guitarist George Harrison’s experimental album Electronic Sounds was released on Zapple records.
It was the second and last project on the Beatles‘ avant-garde imprint Zapple Records, Electronic Sound stands as George Harrison‘s most experimental project, his worst-selling solo album and one of his more controversial ones. But it opened the door for something important.
Featuring but two lengthy experiments on the then-new Moog synthesizer, one for each side, the aptly named Electronic Sound isn’t so much music as it is a swirling journey through imagination and discovery — one that took Harrison as far as he’d ever venture outside of his pop-song comfort zone.
Unfortunately, it arrived just as the Beatles’ money-hemorrhaging business venture Apple was restructured under new manager Allen Klein, and he promptly shut down the Zapple boutique imprint. Couple that with tepid sales — Electronic Sound peaked at No. 191 in the U.S., and failed to chart at all in the U.K. — and it’s perhaps easy to see the album as a best-avoided musical blind alley.
Careful listeners, however, will note that this growing interest at the Moog directly impacted Harrison’s next two projects, both of which stand at the pinnacle of his output. Harrison would contribute memorable synthesizer parts to both “Because” and “Here Comes the Sun” for the Beatles’ Abbey Road, while white-noise experiments — first featured on the 25-minute side-two track “No Time or Space” from Electronic Sound — had a huge impact on John Lennon‘s “I Want You (She’s So Heavy),” also from Abbey Road, and on “I Remember Jeep” from Harrison’s titanic triple-album solo debut, All Things Must Pass, in 1970.
Barry Miles — a friend of Paul McCartney‘s who later wrote the authorized Many Years From Now biography — oversaw the Zapple subsidiary, had been founded back in October 1968. Its only other official release was Unfinished Music No. 2: Life With the Lions, a soundscape recording from Lennon and Yoko Ono. Acetate copies of a third Zapple project, a spoken-word album by writer Richard Brautigan, were pressed — and there were plans for similar releases by Lenny Bruce, Lawrence Ferlinghetti and Michael McClure — but Klein’s intervention brought all of that to a screeching halt.
“The Zapple label was folded by Klein before the record could be released,” Miles later said. “The first two Zapple records did come out. We just didn’t have [Brautigan’s record] ready in time before Klein closed it down. None of the Beatles ever heard it.”
Life With the Lions actually charted higher, going to No. 174 in the U.S. But Electronic Sound, which began with a double-Moog essay called “Under the Mersey Wall,” remains the more listenable album — if only by degree.
Reaction to Harrison’s free-form release ultimately would track somewhere between confusion and outrage: “Electronic Sound,” Ian Inglis wrote in the book The Words and Music of George Harrison, “is nothing more than a random, unmanipulated collection of noises and effects created on his newly acquired Moog synthesizer. To attempt to explain the 19-minute ‘Under the Mersey Wall’ and the 25-minute ‘No Time or Space’ as evidence of artistic exploration, or to describe them as avant-garde or as examples of contemporary musical solidarity, as some critics have suggested is to give the tracks a status they do not deserve. There is no evidence of structure or balance, no statement of direction or intent, no sense of texture or depth to the sounds.”
But searing reviews were the least of Harrison’s worries.
Have a listen….if you can!