Dark Horse (George Harrison album)
Dark Horse is the fifth studio album by English rock musician George Harrison. It was released on Apple Records in December 1974 as the follow-up to Living in the Material World. Although keenly anticipated on release, Dark Horse is associated with the controversial North American tour that Harrison staged with Indian classical musician Ravi Shankar in November and December that year. This was the first US tour by a member of the Beatles since 1966, and the public's nostalgia for the band, together with Harrison contracting laryngitis during rehearsals and choosing to feature Shankar so heavily in the programme, resulted in scathing concert reviews from some influential music critics.
|Studio album by|
|Released||9 December 1974|
|Recorded||November 1973, April 1974, August–October 1974|
|Studio||FPSHOT, Oxfordshire; A&M, Los Angeles|
|George Harrison chronology|
|Singles from Dark Horse|
Harrison wrote and recorded Dark Horse during an extended period of upheaval in his personal life. The songs focus on Harrison's split with his first wife, Pattie Boyd, and his temporary withdrawal from the spiritual certainties of his previous work. Throughout this time, he dedicated much of his energy to setting up Dark Horse Records and working with the label's first signings, Shankar and the group Splinter, at the expense of his own music. Author Simon Leng refers to the album as "a musical soap opera, cataloguing rock-life antics, marital strife, lost friendships, and self-doubt".
Dark Horse features an array of guest musicians – including Tom Scott, Billy Preston, Willie Weeks, Andy Newmark, Jim Keltner, Ringo Starr, Gary Wright and Ron Wood. It showed Harrison moving towards the funk and soul music genres, and produced the hit singles "Dark Horse" and "Ding Dong, Ding Dong". Further to the criticism of his demeanour during the tour, the album was not well received by the majority of critics at the time. It peaked at number 4 on Billboard's albums chart in the US and placed inside the top ten in some European countries, but became Harrison's first post-Beatles solo album not to chart in Britain. The cover was designed by Tom Wilkes and consists of a school photograph from Harrison's time at the Liverpool Institute superimposed onto a Himalayan landscape. The album was reissued in remastered form in 2014 as part of the Apple Years 1968–75 Harrison box set.
– George Harrison, October 1974
George Harrison's third studio album since the Beatles' break-up came at the end of what he describes in his 1980 autobiography, I, Me, Mine, as "a bad domestic year". From the middle of 1973, with his marriage to Pattie Boyd all but over, Harrison immersed himself in his work, particularly on helping the two acts he would eventually sign to his new record label, Dark Horse Records − Ravi Shankar and a hitherto unknown group called Splinter. Business issues related to the Beatles' company Apple Corps were also coming to a head during 1973–74. Harrison, John Lennon and Ringo Starr became embroiled in litigation with former manager Allen Klein, whose removal from Apple helped to conclude the suit launched by Paul McCartney in December 1970 to dissolve the band as a legal partnership. The simultaneous winding down of Apple Corps' subsidiaries left several music and film projects in jeopardy. Having decided to form his own label, Harrison now sought a record company to distribute Shankar's Shankar Family & Friends album, most of which was recorded in California in April 1973, and Splinter's debut, The Place I Love. Another venture that was affected was the feature film Little Malcolm. As executive producer of this Apple Films project, Harrison was working to seal a distribution deal in Europe.
Compounding the pressure, Harrison was drinking heavily and had returned to his drug-taking ways of the 1960s. In I, Me, Mine, he refers to this as "the naughty period, 1973–74". Wounded by Harrison's frequent infidelities, Boyd left him for Eric Clapton in July 1974, having previously had an affair with another of her husband's guitar-playing friends, Ron Wood of the Faces. Both of these dalliances receive attention on Dark Horse, which author Simon Leng likens to "a musical soap opera". For his part, Harrison had taken up with Starr's wife, Maureen Starkey, and with Wood's wife Krissy. While these two affairs were not public knowledge, the UK tabloids became aware of his romance with model Kathy Simmons, a former girlfriend of Rod Stewart and Harry Nilsson. Shortly before Dark Horse's release, Harrison avoided reporters' questions regarding his private life with a suggestion that people wait for the new album, saying, "It's like Peyton Place."
In January 1974, Harrison escaped his domestic problems by travelling to India to attend a ceremony for the opening of Shankar's new home in Benares. During his time in India, Harrison forged a plan with Shankar to sponsor an Indian classical-music concert tour later in the year, known as Ravi Shankar's Music Festival from India, featuring up to eighteen musicians on a wide range of traditional Indian instruments. Before undertaking the European tour in September, the ensemble would record an album, produced by Harrison at his home studio at Friar Park in Oxfordshire. The Music Festival from India was the realisation of a long-held dream for Harrison; as with his dedication to Splinter's The Place I Love, however, the project distracted him from focusing on his own album.
By May, Harrison had agreed distribution terms with A&M Records and was able to formally launch Dark Horse Records. He remained contracted to Apple as a solo artist, like the other former Beatles, until January 1976. After announcing the staging of the Music Festival from India in September, Harrison confirmed that he planned to tour North America with Shankar's orchestra during November and December. Despite his stated aversion to performing live, Harrison thereby became the first ex-Beatle to tour the United States, where the group were still viewed with a degree of reverence. The expectations that this created, together with his commitment to the Dark Horse acts, meant that the pressure on Harrison was immense.
Some commentators suggest that Harrison's abandoning of the spiritual discipline espoused on his 1973 album Living in the Material World was in reaction to the media's sniping, particularly in Britain, at the pious message of that album, as well as a reflection of Harrison's despondency over the failure of his first marriage. The same two issues informed the lyrics to the song "Dark Horse". In addition to supplying the name for his record company, the title references Harrison's emergence as the dark horse among the Beatles, particularly in his unexpected ascendancy as a solo artist to surpass Lennon and McCartney.
Harrison conveyed his feelings on his and Boyd's inevitable split in "So Sad", which he began writing in 1972 and first recorded for Living in the Material World. Leng considers the song to be the antithesis of Harrison's 1969 composition "Here Comes the Sun" in its use of stark winter imagery, reflecting "the temporary death of George's Krishna dream". Harrison's inspiration for "Ding Dong, Ding Dong" came from inscriptions at his Friar Park home, a legacy of the property's original owner, the eccentric Victorian lawyer and horticulturalist Frank Crisp. Harrison later said that the song's exhortation to ring out the "old" and the "false", and instead ring in the "new" and the "true", was a message everybody "in a rut" should apply to their lives when celebrating New Year.
– Author Simon Leng, 2006
He wrote "Simply Shady" during his stay in India. The lyrics address his wayward behaviour and reliance on drugs and alcohol. By contrast, his and Shankar's visit to the Hindu holy city of Vrindavan inspired the devotional "It Is 'He' (Jai Sri Krishna)". Reflecting Harrison's re-engagement with chanting, the song originated from the bhajan he and his companions sang for five hours during their tour of the city's temples.
His musical association with Wood led them to co-write "Far East Man", a rumination on friendship, which the pair first recorded for Wood's debut solo album, I've Got My Own Album to Do. Re-recorded by Harrison for Dark Horse, the song was his first foray into 1970s soul music. "Māya Love" also reflected Harrison's move towards contemporary R&B, particularly funk. Informed by his relationship with Boyd, the lyrics ponder the illusory nature of love within the Hindu concept of maya. Like "Māya Love", "Hari's on Tour (Express)" was a showcase for Harrison's slide guitar playing. A rare instrumental in the artist's post-Beatles catalogue, its title referenced the upcoming tour and Hari Georgeson, one of several pseudonyms Harrison used on other artists' recordings.
Given Harrison's comment that the album resembled a TV soap opera, musicologist Thomas MacFarlane likens Dark Horse to a "drama in two acts". The first act opens with the "Hari's on Tour" instrumental, he writes, before giving way to a run of intriguing "mood pieces" in "Simply Shady", "So Sad" and a reinterpretation of the Everly Brothers' "Bye Bye, Love". Harrison rewrote the latter song to address Boyd's eloping with Clapton. The new lyrics include the lines "There goes our lady, with a-you-know-who / I hope she's happy, old Clapper too", and Harrison's claim that he "threw them both out". "I Don't Care Anymore", a non-album B-side from this period, is a lighthearted song in which Harrison expresses lust for a married woman. The composition blends jug band, skiffle and country influences.
November 1973 basic tracks
Recording for Dark Horse began in November 1973, midway through the extended sessions for The Place I Love, at Harrison's 16-track home studio, FPSHOT, in Henley-on-Thames. As on Living in the Material World, Harrison produced the sessions himself and Phil McDonald again served as recording engineer.
Using the same line-up of musicians as on Material World – Starr, Klaus Voormann, Jim Keltner, Gary Wright and Nicky Hopkins – Harrison taped the basic tracks for "Ding Dong, Ding Dong", which he envisioned as a Christmas/New Year hit song, an early version of "Dark Horse", and "So Sad". Harrison had originally given the "So Sad" to his near-neighbour Alvin Lee to record for the latter's album On the Road to Freedom. Harrison played on the session, which took place in August, as did Wood.
Harrison, Lee and Wood all added lead-guitar parts to "Ding Dong", in the first of Harrison's attempts to build up the song's layers of instrumentation, and so re-create his former collaborator Phil Spector's signature Wall of Sound. Before this, he sent the basic track, along with rough mixes of some of the new Splinter and Shankar songs, to Asylum Records boss David Geffen in Los Angeles, telling Geffen he would see him in March 1974. "So Sad" also received a significant amount of overdubbing, creating what Leng terms a "harrowing encounter", as Harrison expresses his "great despair" at the end of his relationship with Boyd. Keen to ensure the best musicianship for Splinter's debut, Harrison worked painstakingly on The Place I Love and had Wright, Voormann, Lee and Keltner contribute to some of the recordings.
April 1974 with the L.A. Express
– George Harrison, February 1979
Leng finds an uncharacteristic spontaneity in Harrison's work ethic on Dark Horse, as his home and recording base were one and the same. In Leng's view, the discipline of working to a schedule "flew out the ornate windows", as did the artist's usual painstaking approach to his music. After catching Joni Mitchell's concert at the New Victoria Theatre in London, in April 1974, Harrison was much impressed with her jazz-rock backing band, the L.A. Express, led by saxophonist and flautist Tom Scott, and invited them to Friar Park the following day. The ensemble – Harrison, Scott, Robben Ford (guitar), Roger Kellaway (keyboards), Max Bennett (bass) and John Guerin (drums) – recorded "Hari's on Tour (Express)", which became the opening number on the album and the Harrison–Shankar tour, and "Simply Shady".
Having formed a rapport with Harrison after they had worked together on Shankar Family & Friends the year before, Scott stayed on at Friar Park and overdubbed various horn parts onto "Ding Dong" and the two new tracks. Scott later told journalist Michael Gross that he was the first Western musician that Harrison approached to join him on the upcoming tour.
Harrison dedicated the next few months to matters relating to Dark Horse Records, his former band's business affairs, and Little Malcolm. Although the film was tied up in the Beatles' "divorce", as director Stuart Cooper later said of Little Malcolm, it was entered at the Berlin Film Festival in June and won the Silver Bear award. In August, Harrison holidayed in Spain with Kathy Simmons before returning to England at the end of the month for publicity work with Splinter. One of the members of Splinter marvelled at Harrison's ability to work for "24 hours straight" in the studio but they were also concerned about how gaunt-looking he had become.
August–September 1974 at Friar Park
Harrison resumed recording for his album in late August, working through to early September. He recorded with four musicians who had signed on for the upcoming tour: Billy Preston, Harrison's former Apple artist, on keyboards; Scott, who served as band leader on the tour; and the rhythm section of Andy Newmark and Willie Weeks, both of whom Harrison had met while working on Ron Wood's album in July. Newmark recalled that he and Weeks were "completely thrilled" to be invited to play on Dark Horse. He said that Harrison was an easygoing leader who trusted his musicians' instincts and allowed them the freedom to "do our thing".
Harrison taped "Far East Man", "Māya Love" and "It Is 'He' (Jai Sri Krishna)" with this all-American group of musicians. They also recorded "His Name Is Legs (Ladies and Gentlemen)", which Harrison completed the following year for Extra Texture (Read All About It). Around this time, Shankar arrived in London with his handpicked orchestra of Indian classical musicians – an "outstanding" group, writes author Peter Lavezzoli, that included Hariprasad Chaurasia, Shivkumar Sharma, Alla Rakha, T.V. Gopalkrishnan, L. Subramaniam, Sultan Khan and Lakshmi Shankar.
On 23 September, Harrison introduced Shankar on stage at London's Royal Albert Hall for the Indian orchestra's debut performance, before accompanying them on a short tour of Europe. At this point, Harrison still had much of his album to complete, and rehearsals for the North American tour were due to begin in Los Angeles in October. Before leaving the UK, Harrison recorded an interview with BBC Radio 1 DJ Alan Freeman in which he performed "Dark Horse", a snippet of "Far East Man", and "I Don't Care Anymore" on acoustic guitar. The interview was broadcast on 6 December in the UK but delayed until September 1975 in the US, where it was used to promote Extra Texture. According to Scott, Harrison recorded "Bye Bye, Love" alone one night after all the musicians had left Friar Park. In addition to engineering the recording, Harrison added a variety of instruments to his acoustic guitar track, including Moog synthesizer, drums, electric pianos and several electric-guitar parts.
October 1974 in Los Angeles
Rehearsals for the tour began on 15 October. Using A&M Studios in Hollywood as his base, Harrison rehearsed with the tour band on a sound stage at the studio complex. Along with Scott, Preston, Weeks and Newmark, the band included L.A. Express guitarist Robben Ford, Harrison's Concert for Bangladesh horn players Jim Horn and Chuck Findley, and jazz percussionist Emil Richards. Keltner also participated, on drums, but he would not join the tour until late in November. Aside from the Harrison material, selections by Preston and Scott were rehearsed for their spots in the show, since, as at the Bangladesh benefits in 1971, Harrison was keen for other artists to have their moment centre-stage. In a fusion of musical cultures, Harrison, Scott and Richards rehearsed with Shankar's orchestra for some of the Indian-music pieces, and all the musicians, Western and Indian, came together for the Shankar Family & Friends tracks "I Am Missing You" and "Dispute & Violence".
When Harrison arrived in Los Angeles, he was apparently already hoarse, but since industry convention dictated that an artist should have a new album to promote when touring the US, he was obligated to complete Dark Horse. Outside of the daytime rehearsals, Harrison finished off the songs recorded in England, and mixed the album. Horn and Findley overdubbed flutes, and Richards wobble board onto "It Is 'He'". Authors Chip Madinger and Mark Easter write that much of the vocals on Dark Horse were taped at this point – a situation that resulted in Harrison overworking and then blowing his voice in the middle of the tour rehearsals. He was diagnosed with laryngitis. Harrison recorded "I Don't Care Anymore" solo on acoustic guitar, introducing it as an intended B-side.
Although he had intended to finish the version of "Dark Horse" taped at Friar Park with Voormann and Starr, Harrison decided to re-record the song with the tour band, live on the sound stage at A&M Studios. The session took place on either 30 or 31 October, with Norm Kinney as engineer. Leng writes of this performance of "Dark Horse": "Anyone wondering what Harrison's voice sounded like on the Dark Horse Tour need look no further: this track was cut only days before the first date in Vancouver. Although the band sounded good, his voice was in shreds ..." MacFarlane says that the song's new arrangement incorporates folk and jazz influences, and likens this musical fusion to Joni Mitchell's work.
Harrison later admitted he was "knackered" by the time he arrived in Los Angeles, having taken on too much over the previous year. He also recalled that his business manager, Denis O'Brien, had to force him out of the studio, to ensure he caught the plane for the opening show of the tour, on 2 November.
The LP's gatefold cover design was credited to Tom Wilkes and includes photography by Terry Doran, a long-time friend of the Beatles and Harrison's original estate manager at Friar Park. In a 1987 interview, Harrison said the concept and initial design for the front cover was his own work. The cover image partly recalls that of the Beatles' Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band album, and reflected Harrison's admiration for Terry Gilliam's animation in Monty Python's Flying Circus.
The cover shows a 1956 Liverpool Institute high-school photograph superimposed on a watercolour painting, which Wilkes created in response to Harrison's request for an Indian effect. The photo sits inside a lotus flower and is surrounded by a dream-like Himalayan landscape that extends to the horizon. At the top of the image, the Indian yogi Mahavatar Babaji floats in the sky, representing Krishna. As the founding yogi of the Hindu Nath tradition, Babaji introduced Kriya Yoga, which is said to destroy bad karma brought about by past deeds. In the Liverpool Institute photo, a thirteen-year-old Harrison is pictured in the centre of the top row, his face tinted blue; school teachers appear dressed in long-sleeve tops bearing superimposed record-company logos or other symbols. Harrison said he gave the unapproving headmaster the bull's-eye Capitol logo whereas the art teacher, who Harrison liked, received the Om symbol. Wilkes and Harrison disagreed over the inclusion of the Babaji image, which the designer disliked and reduced in size for the LP's initial pressing.
The artwork also reflects Harrison's connection with nature, anticipating his later self-identification as a gardener rather than a musician. The inner gatefold spread contains a tinted photo of Harrison and comedian Peter Sellers walking beside a lake at Friar Park. Around the edges of the photo, text asks the "Wanderer through this Garden's ways" to "Be kindly" and refrain from casting "Revengeful stones" if "perchance an Imperfection thou hast found"; the verse concludes: "The Gardener toiled to make his Garden fair, Most for thy Pleasure." A speech balloon emanating from Sellers reads, "Well, Leo! What say we promenade through the park?" This line was taken from the 1968 Mel Brooks film The Producers, a favourite of Sellers and Harrison.
On the back cover, Harrison is pictured sitting on a garden bench, the back timbers of which appear to be carved with his name and the album title. Similar to Harrison's attire in the outdoor scenes of the "Ding Dong, Ding Dong" video clip, Leng refers to his appearance as resembling the Jethro Tull character "Aqualung". Doran's photo, given the same orange hue as the one inside the gatefold, was also used on some European picture sleeves for the "Ding Dong" and "Dark Horse" singles around this time. Along the bottom of the cover image sits an Om symbol and Harrison's usual "All glories to Sri Krishna" dedication.
Inner sleeve and labels
Dark Horse's inner sleeve notes were handwritten by Harrison on a plane at the start of the tour. Along with the first Harrison-album credit for FPSHOT, his purple pen records various in-jokes while listing the many contributing musicians. He included Boyd and Clapton's names next to "Bye Bye, Love", leading to the incorrect assumption that they had contributed to the track. That song's title is juxtaposed with the words "Hello Los Angeles", while "OHLIVERE" was a reference to Harrison's new lover and future wife, Dark Horse Records secretary Olivia Trinidad Arias. The latter is also included among the title track's musician credits – her contribution being "Trinidad Blissed Out". Under "Ding Dong", Harrison credited Wood's guest appearance to "Ron Would If You Let Him", while Sir Frank Crisp is listed as having providing "Spirit".
Arias's face, in a photo taken by tour photographer Henry Grossman, appeared on the record's side-two face label. A corresponding picture of Harrison appeared on side one. Combined with the sequencing of "Bye Bye, Love" on side one and "Ding Dong" as the opening track on side two, this juxtaposition gave the impression that Harrison's was farewelling Boyd and ushering in Arias.
1974 North American tour
– Ravi Shankar, November 1974
"Dark Horse" was issued as the album's lead single in the US on 18 November. Harrison played the title track, "Hari's on Tour" and "Māya Love" throughout the tour, but due to his delay in completing the album, the new material combined with new arrangements of his better-known songs to produce a setlist that lacked the familiarity expected of a former Beatle. The tour alienated some of rock music's most influential critics, notably Ben Fong-Torres of Rolling Stone magazine. Titled "Lumbering in the Material World", Fong-Torres' article covered the Vancouver and US West Coast stops, ending on 12 November, and was followed by Larry Sloman's reviews of some of the East Coast shows. These articles and Rolling Stone's subsequent album review established what became the "given" view, according to Leng, that the Harrison–Shankar tour was a failure. The majority of critics – or those "without axes to grind", author Robert Rodriguez writes – reviewed the concerts favourably.
The negative press Harrison received stemmed from his decision to feature Indian music so heavily in the concert programme, the tortured quality of his singing voice, and especially his refusal to pander to the Beatles' legacy. The Beatles were represented in the setlist in only "While My Guitar Gently Weeps", "Something" and Lennon's "In My Life". In addition to reworking the arrangements, however, Harrison altered some of the lyrics to reference his deity or his failed marriage in the case of "Something", Harrison's most popular Beatles track. In his pre-tour press conference, Harrison had dismayed some commentators by stating that he would be happy to be in a band with Lennon but not McCartney, and that he preferred Weeks as a bass player to McCartney. When invited to visit US president Gerald Ford in Washington on 13 December, Harrison told journalists that he enjoyed playing with his tour band more than he had being a member of the Beatles.
Dark Horse was released on 9 December 1974 in the United States (as Apple SMAS 3418), two-thirds of the way through the tour. In Britain, where the lead single was "Ding Dong, Ding Dong", the album's release took place on 20 December (with the Apple catalogue number PAS 10008). The UK release coincided with the final show of the tour, at Madison Square Garden in New York. It came the day after Harrison and McCartney signed legal papers known as the "Beatles Agreement", to finally dissolve the Beatles partnership, at the Plaza Hotel.
In the US, Dark Horse received a gold disc from the RIAA on 16 December, and peaked at number 4 on the Billboard Top LPs & Tape chart, although it dropped out of the top 200 after a chart run of seventeen weeks. The album also reached number 4 on the national charts compiled by Cash Box and Record World. In Canada, it peaked at number 42 on the RPM Top 100 in early February 1975.
The title track performed well as a single in the US, climbing to number 15 on the Billboard Hot 100. Issued as a follow-up on 23 December, "Ding Dong" peaked at number 36, which was also an achievement since the late release date meant the song was excluded from prearranged holiday-season programming. In the UK, "Ding Dong" stalled at number 38, making it the first Harrison single to miss the top ten there.
Dark Horse peaked inside the top ten in Austria, the Netherlands and Norway, but failed to place on the UK Albums Chart, then a top 50 list. This was a poor result for a former Beatle, further to Starr's Beaucoups of Blues not charting there in 1970. It was an especially dramatic turnaround in Harrison's commercial fortunes, after his three previous solo releases (including the Concert for Bangladesh live album) had all made number 1 or 2 in the UK. Issued as a UK single on 28 February 1975, "Dark Horse" also failed to chart.
Dark Horse was released on CD in January 1992. The album was remastered again and reissued in September 2014, as part of the Harrison box set The Apple Years 1968–75. As bonus tracks, the reissue includes a previously unreleased demo of "Dark Horse" and the long-unavailable "I Don't Care Anymore". Author Kevin Howlett supplied a liner note essay in the CD booklet, while the DVD exclusive to the box set contains Harrison's promotional video for "Ding Dong, Ding Dong" and Capitol's 1974 television ad for the album.
Dark Horse received some of the most negative reviews of any release by a Beatle up to that point and the worst of Harrison's career. Released amid the furore surrounding his refusal to play "Beatle George" during a tour that was a "whirlwind of pent-up Beatlemania", in Leng's words, it was as if Harrison had already committed "acts of heresy". Rather than having his new work judged on its own merits, it was "open season" on Harrison; another biographer, Elliot Huntley, has written of the "tsunami of bile" unleashed on the ex-Beatle in late 1974.
Under the heading "Transcendental Mediocrity", Jim Miller of Rolling Stone called Dark Horse a "disastrous album" to match the "disastrous tour", and a "shoddy piece of work". In contrast with the praise that the same publication had lavished on Harrison for Living in the Material World the year before, Miller described Dark Horse as a "chronicle of a performer out of his element, working to a deadline, enfeebling his overtaxed talents by a rush to deliver new 'LP product'", and stated: "In plain point of fact, George Harrison has never been a great artist ... the question becomes whether he will ever again become a competent entertainer." The NME's Bob Woffinden derided Harrison's songwriting, production and vocals, particularly on two tracks dealing with his troubled personal life, "Simply Shady" and "So Sad". Woffinden concluded: "I find Dark Horse the product of a complete egoist – no one, you see, is in my tree – someone whose universe is confined to himself. And his guru ... I'll repeat that this album is totally colourless. Just stuff and nonsense."
Writing in The Village Voice, Robert Christgau bemoaned the album's "transubstantiations" and particularly ridiculed the lyrics to "Māya Love", "in which 'window-pane' becomes 'window brain.' Can this mean that pain (pane, get it?) is the same as brain? For all this hoarse dork knows ..." Mike Jahn provided a withering assessment in High Fidelity, saying that the US Food and Drug Administration should arrest Harrison "for selling a sleeping pill without a prescription". Jahn added that only "Ding Dong, Ding Dong" registered with him after three listens, but only due to his incredulity at the lyrics.
By contrast, Billboard's reviewer described the album as "an excellent one" and compared it favourably with Harrison's acclaimed 1970 triple LP, All Things Must Pass. Brian Harrigan of Melody Maker credited Harrison with establishing "a new category in music – Country and Eastern" and lauded his "nifty" slide-guitar playing and "tremendous" singing. Although he found some of the tracks overlong, Harrigan concluded: "Yep, the Sacred Cowboy has produced a good one." Combined with his feature on the tour in Circus Raves, in which he questioned the accuracy of the negative reports about the Harrison–Shankar concerts, Michael Gross described Dark Horse as matching All Things Must Pass in quality, and "surpassing" it at times, thanks to the new album's "clarity of production and lovely songs". Gross highlighted "So Sad" as a "luxurious track" and described "Ding Dong, Ding Dong", "Dark Horse" and "Far East Man" as "all, simply, good songs".
Taken as a metaphor for the album itself, the plea for tolerance inside the LP sleeve – "Be kindly Wanderer through this Garden's ways …" – was ridiculed at the time by some critics. In the 1978 edition of their book The Beatles: An Illustrated Record, Roy Carr and Tony Tyler termed these lines of verse "a self-pitying slab of sub-Desiderata". Carr and Tyler conceded that the playing on Dark Horse was "impeccable", but opined that Harrison's lyrics were "sanctimonious, repetitive, vituperative and self-satisfied"; as for the album as a whole: "One wishes it had not come from an ex-Beatle." Writing in his 1977 book The Beatles Forever, Nicholas Schaffner found some justification in reviewers' sniping at the "shoddy performance" and "preachy, humorless message" on Dark Horse. Schaffner singled out "Bye Bye, Love" and "Ding Dong" for derision, but praised the title track and Harrison's guitar work on "Hari's on Tour (Express)" and especially "So Sad". Schaffner said that neither the album nor the tour deserved the level of abuse it received in some sections of the press. "It was George's turn anyway", Schaffner reflected, "to be inflicted with the poison-pen treatment that the critics had earlier accorded Paul and John. Knocking idols off their pedestals makes for excellent copy."
Retrospective reviews and legacy
|Christgau's Record Guide||C–|
|The Rolling Stone Album Guide|
Dave Thompson, in his posthumous feature article on Harrison's career for Goldmine, wrote that Dark Horse signalled the end of the artist's post-Beatles "magic" and that, rather than being listened to in its own right, the LP had since been remembered for its association with Harrison's record label and the controversial 1974 tour, and for being the first "major Beatle album" to miss the UK chart. Harrison never completely forgave Rolling Stone – which had previously championed his work since 1970 – for the treatment he received during this period. Writing for Rolling Stone shortly after Harrison's death in November 2001, Greg Kot approved of Dark Horse's "jazzier backdrops" compared with Material World, but opined that his voice turned much of the album into an "unintentionally comic exercise". In the same publication, Mikal Gilmore identified Dark Horse as "one of Harrison's most fascinating works – a record about change and loss".
Writing in the 2004 edition of The Rolling Stone Album Guide, Mac Randall said that, in persevering with Dark Horse despite his laryngitis, Harrison "ruins several decent songs with croaky vocals". Richard Ginell of AllMusic highlights "Dark Horse" and the "exquisite" "Far East Man" but rues that, in issuing an album when his voice was ravaged by laryngitis, Harrison eroded much of the prestige he had gained over his former bandmates as a solo artist. Mojo's John Harris describes Dark Horse as "Not pretty ... a tanking long-player", with "Far East Man" the only redeeming track. Paul Du Noyer, writing for Blender, also highlights the Harrison–Wood collaboration, while deeming the album "ragged, unhappy" and indicative of Harrison's "uncharacteristic spell of rock-star excess".
Simon Leng considers Dark Horse to be surprisingly revealing in its disclosures about the artist's personal life, as if the normally private Harrison was sharing these details "with a vengeance". While bemoaning the state of his voice and the "sonic patchwork" nature of the set, Leng comments that both "So Sad" and "Far East Man" were received positively when first released on the albums by Alvin Lee and Ron Wood. The difference in winter 1974–75, Leng continues, was that, by championing Ravi Shankar's Indian music segments during the tour and neglecting his duties as an ex-Beatle in America, Harrison had "committed the cardinal counterculture sin – he had rejected 'rock 'n' roll'".
– Nick Hasted, Uncut Ultimate Music Guide, 2018
Reviewing the 2014 Apple Years reissue, for Uncut, Richard Williams dismisses Dark Horse as an album that "only a devoted Apple scruff could love", while Joe Marchese of The Second Disc describes it as "Harrison's earthiest work to date", containing "many stellar moments". Scott Elingburg of PopMatters opines: "What makes Dark Horse so unique is that, aside from All Things Must Pass, Dark Horse sounds and feels like Harrison is playing music like he has nothing to lose and all the world to gain." Writing for the same publication in 2012, Pete Prown said that, as with Lennon and McCartney solo releases, the album displayed a lack of focus but it remained the target of unfair critical scorn. In Prown's view, the same quality that incensed critics originally – "its sloppy, jammy sound, which would have been heresy in the over-produced '70s" – had since been validated in a pop culture informed by post-punk and grunge, and had lent the album a redemptive "garage/DIY grit".
In his review of the Apple Years box set, for Classic Rock magazine, Paul Trynka writes that "The surprise of this set ... is the albums whose quietness and introspection were out of tune with the mid-70s. Dark Horse … [is] packed with beautiful, small-scale moments." While identifying "Simply Shady" and the title track among the standouts, Trynka adds: "Only 'Ding Dong, Ding Dong' embarrasses …" AllMusic editor Stephen Thomas Erlewine describes Dark Horse as "a mess but … a fascinating one".
In his book on the Beatles' first ten years as solo artists, Robert Rodriguez rates Dark Horse a "near-great" work, like Lennon's Mind Games and Rock 'n' Roll, adding that Harrison's "hot streak" only ended with Extra Texture. Ultimate Classic Rock ranked Dark Horse 31st (out of 63) in their list of the best Beatles solo albums released up to late 2018. In a similar list, Junkee ranks it at number 5, describing the album as a "big, footstomping masterpiece" that has improved with age, and "a work of considerable beauty, held in place by the crushing, excellent titular song".
All songs by George Harrison, except where noted.
- "Hari's on Tour (Express)" – 4:43
- "Simply Shady" – 4:38
- "So Sad" – 5:00
- "Bye Bye, Love" (Felice Bryant, Boudleaux Bryant, Harrison) – 4:08
- "Māya Love" – 4:24
- "Ding Dong, Ding Dong" – 3:40
- "Dark Horse" – 3:54
- "Far East Man" (Harrison, Ron Wood) – 5:52
- "It Is 'He' (Jai Sri Krishna)" – 4:50
2014 reissue bonus tracks
- George Harrison – vocals (2–9), electric and acoustic guitars (1–9), Moog synthesizer (4, 9), clavinet (3, 4, 6), organ (6), bass (4), percussion (4, 5, 6, 9), gubgubbi (9), drums (4), backing vocals (2–6, 8, 9)
- Tom Scott – saxophones (1, 2, 5, 6, 8), flute (7, 9), horn arrangements (1, 2, 5, 6, 8), organ (1)
- Billy Preston – electric piano (5, 7, 8), organ (9), piano (9)
- Willie Weeks – bass (3, 5, 7–9)
- Andy Newmark – drums (5, 7–9), percussion (8)
- Jim Keltner – drums (3, 6, 7)
- Robben Ford – electric guitar (1, 2), acoustic guitar (7)
- Jim Horn – flute (7, 9)
- Chuck Findley – flute (7, 9)
- Emil Richards – percussion (7, 9)
- Ringo Starr – drums (3, 6)
- Klaus Voormann – bass (6)
- Gary Wright – piano (6)
- Nicky Hopkins – piano (3)
- Roger Kellaway – piano (1, 2), organ (2)
- Max Bennett – bass (1, 2)
- John Guerin – drums (1, 2)
- Ronnie Wood – electric guitar (6)
- Alvin Lee – electric guitar (6)
- Mick Jones – acoustic guitar (6)
- Lon & Derrek Van Eaton – backing vocals (7)
- uncredited – female choir (6)
|Australian Kent Music Report||47|
|Austrian Albums Chart||10|
|Canadian RPM Top Albums||42|
|Dutch MegaChart Albums||5|
|Japanese Oricon LP Chart||18|
|New Zealand Albums Chart||29|
|Norwegian VG-lista Albums||7|
|US Billboard Top LP's & Tape||4|
|US Cash Box Top 100 Albums||4|
|US Record World Album Chart||4|
|West German Media Control Albums||45|
Shipments and sales
- When discussing the Dark Horse period in a 1979 interview, Harrison likened his life to the BBC radio drama Mrs. Dale's Diary.
- His friend Klaus Voormann described this time as an obvious "step back" on Harrison's spiritual journey. Voormann also expressed concern about Harrison's cocaine use, saying he "became unreliable".
- Despite dividing music critics, Material World furthered Harrison's standing as the most accomplished former Beatle. According to pop historian Robert Rodriguez, McCartney then usurped Harrison in April 1974, when the singles from his and Wings' 1973 LP Band on the Run belatedly propelled the album and McCartney to a position of commercial and popular dominance.
- He and Boyd saw in the 1973–74 New Year with a party at Starr's Tittenhurst Park home, soon after Harrison had declared his love for Maureen Starkey. In her autobiography, Boyd recalls Harrison telling her at the party: "Let's have a divorce this year."
- Citing a remark Harrison later made to Rolling Stone, music journalist Nick Hasted comments that even in such rare moments of transcendence on the album, "Dark Horse kept confessing ... 'I'm a very poor example of a spiritual person.'"
- Harrison returned from India in early March. That same month, he carried out further recording on Shankar Family & Friends at A&M Studios in Los Angeles.
- Ford recalls that on arrival at Friar Park, at around 1 pm, the musicians were entertained by Boyd until Harrison woke up, at which point the couple "didn't interact and she just disappeared". He says the recording session began at 1 am.
- In June 1974, according to Beatles historian Kevin Howlett, Harrison began recording "Can't Stop Thinking About You" for Dark Horse. The track, which includes contributions from Hopkins, Voormann and Keltner, was completed in 1975 for Harrison's final Apple album, Extra Texture (Read All About It).
- Preston and Weeks also contributed to The Place I Love.
- According to Shankar, rehearsals for the Music Festival from India concerts and the recording of their eponymous studio album took place simultaneously at Friar Park, over a period of three weeks, with Harrison as producer.
- According to Boyd, she visited Friar Park around this time after returning from the US, where she had accompanied Clapton on his 461 Ocean Boulevard tour. She comments that Harrison "looked so sad" and she questioned whether she had made the right choice.
- In his 23 October press conference for the tour, Harrison said he had arrived in Los Angeles "just over a week" before.
- Babaji was one of the four yogis Harrison chose for inclusion on the cover of Sgt. Pepper. He wore a Babaji badge on his shirt or jacket during the 1974 tour.
- Scott, Keltner, Weeks, Horn, Newmark and Richards have each identified "the Dark Horse Tour" as a career highpoint. The fusion of Western and Eastern musical styles in the concerts served as a precursor to the world music genre.
- Starr chose not to come to New York, to avoid being subpoenaed by Allen Klein as the latter sought to retrieve funds he believed owed to his company ABKCO by his three former clients. With regard to loans made to Harrison, Klein sought control of the US arm of the Harrisongs publishing company. Harrison's stopover in New York, including the post-tour party attended by Lennon, was therefore the focus of multiple attempts by Klein-appointed private investigators to serve him with a subpoena.
- Sue Byrom of Record Mirror said that, apart from "Hari's on Tour", side one of the LP was overly reliant on All Things Must Pass-era musical and lyrical themes, and that the album only "kicks off properly" with "Ding Dong". She added: "If the first side had contained the variety and progression of the second, it would be a great album …"
- Recalling the concerts he attended, Schaffner said that fans were drawn to the "exquisite music" being played as the venues filled up – namely, Splinter's The Place I Love. He added: "It sounded like a gorgeous fantasy of what George's album should have sounded like. The opulent production, the jangling guitars, even the silky vocal harmonies, reminded one of the glories of All Things Must Pass far more than did [Dark Horse]."
- Scott complained to Circus Raves that Fong-Torres had overly focused on the tour's opening show, even though the reporter was fully aware of the programme changes they introduced after Vancouver. In a 1975 interview, Harrison said he could accept criticism but it had come from "one basic source" and therefore appeared personal. He recalled that one of the journalists had submitted a favourable tour article in which this writer also stated his opposition to the publication's earlier stance, yet all the favourable comments about the music and the audience's response were removed after he submitted the piece. In Harrison's description, Rolling Stone had "just edited everything positive out".
- Alan Clayson similarly writes of the interest factor of "a non-Beatle, as well as an ex-Beatle in uncertain transition", and while classing the album as "an artistic faux pas", describes "It Is 'He' (Jai Sri Krishna)" as "wonderful" and "startling".
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- Robert Rodriguez, Fab Four FAQ 2.0: The Beatles' Solo Years, 1970–1980, Backbeat Books (Milwaukee, WI, 2010; ISBN 978-1-4165-9093-4).
- Nicholas Schaffner, The Beatles Forever, McGraw-Hill (New York, NY, 1978; ISBN 0-07-055087-5).
- Stan Soocher, Baby You're a Rich Man: Suing the Beatles for Fun and Profit, University Press of New England (Lebanon, NH, 2015; ISBN 978-1-61168-380-6).
- Bruce Spizer, The Beatles Solo on Apple Records, 498 Productions (New Orleans, LA, 2005; ISBN 0-9662649-5-9).
- Gary Tillery, Working Class Mystic: A Spiritual Biography of George Harrison, Quest Books (Wheaton, IL, 2011; ISBN 978-0-8356-0900-5).
- Bob Woffinden, The Beatles Apart, Proteus (London, 1981; ISBN 0-906071-89-5).
- Eoghan Lyng, "George Harrison's 'Dark Horse' at 45", CultureSonar, 21 November 2019.
- Tony Thompson, "51 Disappointing Albums: 'Dark Horse' by George Harrison", Daily Review, 11 May 2020.