Monday, 15 April 2013

Dave Davies and George Harrison: Parallel Lives Part II

Both were the youngest members of the band and the lead guitarists. They may even have played the same guitar.

Dave says:
‘Somebody had loaned me a custom-built Guild guitar that had once been owned by George Harrison. In those days we carried our own instruments and when we arrived at the airport in LA all the bags arrived except for that guitar.’ Dave went on to buy a Gibson Futurist, aka the Flying Vee, for $200. I think the moral of this tale is ‘Don’t lend Dave your guitar.’

And they loved their guitars:
In Kink, Dave writes of a girlfriend:
‘She was terribly jealous of that guitar, the way I held it, the way I cared for it. She always thought I loved it more than I did her.’

George told Beatles Monthly:
‘I believe I love my guitar more than the others love theirs. For John and Paul, songwriting is pretty important and guitar playing is a means to an end. While they're making up new tunes I can thoroughly enjoy myself just doodling around with a guitar for a whole evening. I'm fascinated by new sounds I can get from different instruments I try out. I'm not sure that makes me particularly musical. Just call me a guitar fanatic instead, and I'll be satisfied.’

It seems that Dave and George had similar attitudes when working with others to create a song. The result was more important than who did what.

Two quotes from Dave illustrate this:
Lola was written in a similar way to You Really Got Me. We got together in Ray's front room, and Ray had the basic idea of the song, the skeleton idea … and I just started playing E in the bottom position, moved it up to A, leaving the E string open and in the chord. Ray said, 'Ah, that's great. Let's put that in as well.' [As a songwriter] Ray has a very firm idea about what he wants to do, and I try to accommodate him as best I can, but I think in certain areas, on certain songs, there's a lot more collaboration than people realise. Although Ray and I don't get on particularly well, there's a lot of empathy and unspoken energy that goes toward the finished product.’

'I think a rock 'n' roll record should start off being a song and should end up being a song. I think that everything around it should be complementary to it, or help it to evolve, rather than get in its way. I've always tried to keep that in mind as a guitar player. Rather than say, 'Let's start with the guitar and a 16 bar solo.' It's the song that's important, and the individual parts add to it.'

Rolling Stone founder Jann Wenner described George Harrison as:
‘a guitarist who was never showy but who had an innate, eloquent melodic sense. He played exquisitely in the service of the song.’

‘George Harrison and I were once in a car and the Beatles song You Can't Do That came on, with that great riff in the beginning on the 12-string. He goes, "I came up with that.” … He said, “I was just standing there and thought, I've got to do something!” That pretty much sums him up. He just had a way of getting right to the business, of finding the right thing to play. That was part of that Beatles magic – they all seemed to find the right thing to play.’

This is true of the Kinks too. Ray knew that he could rely on Dave to play something apposite and in tune with the spirit of the song. To me, it seems that although George and Dave weren’t writing as prolifically, they used their energy and creativity to contribute to the compositions. They understood what Aristotle meant by ‘The whole is greater than the sum of its parts.’ For some reason, I’ve always had that quotation backwards, that the sum of the parts is greater than the whole.

I’m sure they experienced similar frustrations when their songs did not make the final album cut, with both only allowed a couple of songs per LP. In the case of the Beatles, this was instrumental in the decision to split.

In 1969, McCartney told Lennon:
‘Until this year, our songs have been better than George's. Now this year his songs are at least as good as ours.’
Thanks, guys.

This is certainly a situation that Dave could relate to. In Kink, he tells of occasions when a song of his would be slated to appear on an album, then mysteriously disappear at the last minute. Thanks, bro. Whether this was the result of Ray’s insecurity or a real belief (as with Lennon and McCartney) that his songs were better, we’ll never know.

Now I’m thinking that one reason Dave’s songs didn’t get released might be that he was reluctant to fight his corner. I know it seems unlikely given his reputation as a battler but perhaps Dave lacked confidence in his own ability. I say this because the three songs I want to consider here in relation to George’s aren’t even indexed in Kink although he mentions She’s My Girl, another song recorded but not released. Or did Dave fail in advocacy of his songs because they were products of his pain at the time and too personal?

By the late 60s/early 70s, both George and Dave have reached a pinnacle of sorts. I’ve chosen to highlight three of their songs from this time to try to showcase what’s so special about their writing. It actually makes me angry that Dave’s songs get so little recognition from a wider public (or even from Dave) when so many less deserving talents reap so many rewards. Was it ever thus? I’ve already trashed most modern music in my first blog and don’t want to come across as reactionary but everything seems so generic and formulaic these days – the same beats, the same rap interlude (I really enjoy getting aggressively harangued by a sexist man), the same inane lyrical content, the same tiny scrap of a melody, repeated endlessly. I know there are exceptions but even today’s modern-day ‘rock’ bands all seem to be one-trick ponies recycling soundalike riffs from yesteryear in a completely pedestrian manner (Arctic Monkeys, Kasabian, the Kaiser Chiefs, etc.). Ok, enough with the rant already.

Immediate, fresh, beautifully heartfelt, Dave’s strange pronunciation of the double rs in sorrow and tomorrow adds to the poignancy of his vocal, which is wistful, yearning, the verse resigned:
I wish that you'd have known/ Of all the plans I had in store for us/ Laughing, dancing, travelling the world on our own
the chorus raging:
And this man, he weeps tonight/And his head is bowed with sorrow/But what can you do, sitting there/And you let him cry tomorrow/Yes, you'll let him cry tomorrow/Yes, you'll let him cry tomorrow
Both this and Mindless Child of Motherhood were B-sides, the former paired with Drivin’, the latter with Shangri-la. I’m not debating that both A-sides are great but I actually think the B-sides are better. At least one deserved to be an A.

George’s songs suffered a similar fate. 
Plaintive, mournful, Dave sounds like he might actually weep singing this. Simple and effective, imbued with pain and hope, this was only available on acetate until the 2011 Hidden Treasures album.
Cause you're living with a man/Who will find no understanding/Do you mind if I laid down and cried?/Do you ever know the way/That I feel for you each day?/So are you ready girl?/Are you ready?
Asked whether he can feel the frustration in the songs on Hidden Treasures, Dave replies:
‘In a way, but after all these years it has a charm because of that. I couldn’t stand listening to it at the time. Is Are You Ready? on it? I love that song. I hated it for years. It’s about Sue again.’

When Dave sings, it doesn’t sound like a typical Kinks record at all. His voice is instantly recognisable and his songs have a totally different feel. I think that’s a good thing, much as I love Ray, because it adds to their appeal. This reminds me of the Byrds. Dave’s compositions seem to spring from raw emotion, which he can no longer contain, and so releases in a burst of cathartic song. I wish I had the know-how to describe the musical phrasing, time signatures and everything in this amazing song. There’s a very good high-quality version on YouTube in which you can hear all the things I can't express. Dave is angry and despairing:
How long must I travel on/To be just where you are?/Mindless child of motherhood/You have lost the thing that's good
I love it even though I have no idea what the phrase ‘mindless child of motherhood’ means. It doesn’t matter.

Delicate intro, then each time George sings the title, the guitar lets loose with a cry of its own, a strangled sob if you like, each slightly different to the last, before a sustained solo and final burst of wailing. Eric Clapton played lead guitar on this although he wasn’t credited on the album.

Wiki facts: 136 on Rolling Stone's list of the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time, 7 in the 100 Greatest Guitar Songs of All Time and 10 in the Beatles 100 Greatest Songs. A Guitar World poll in February 2012 elected it the best of Harrison's Beatles-era songs.
But still not deemed good enough to be released as a single.

George explains the genesis of the song:
‘I wrote While My Guitar Gently Weeps at my mother's house in Warrington. I was thinking about the Chinese I Ching, the Book of Changes... . The Eastern concept is that whatever happens is all meant to be, and that there's no such thing as coincidence - every little item that's going down has a purpose. While My Guitar Gently Weeps was a simple study based on that theory. I decided to write a song based on the first thing I saw upon opening any book - as it would be relative to that moment, at that time. I picked up a book at random, opened it, saw 'gently weeps', then laid the book down again and started the song.’
I look at the world and I notice it's turning/While my guitar gently weeps/With every mistake we must surely be learning/Still my guitar gently weeps

Follows a similar pattern to While My Guitar – a pretty guitar introduction, matched by the more insistent, louder guitar refrain that follows. This song is really optimistic and open, the tone reminscent of Dave’s song Wait till the Summer Comes Along. Dave’s supposedly down but still looking on the bright side. George says:
‘Here Comes the Sun was written at the time when Apple was getting like school, where we had to go and be businessmen: 'Sign this' and 'Sign that'. Anyway, it seems as if winter in England goes on forever; by the time spring comes you really deserve it. So one day I decided I was going to sag off [bunk off] Apple and I went over to Eric Clapton's house. The relief of not having to go and see all those dopey accountants was wonderful, and I walked around the garden with one of Eric's acoustic guitars and wrote Here Comes The Sun.’
Little darling, it's been a long cold lonely winter/Little darling, it feels like years since it's been here/Here comes the sun/Here comes the sun, and I say/It's all right

Something (1969)
Finally George scores an A-side but having said that, the song was still originally handed to Joe Cocker, who released it first.
There’s a build of momentum, a gradual ascent, the guitar parts adding colour and texture before the peak of the bridge, which arrives like a tiger bursting through a paper hoop.

Wiki facts: The Beatles version topped the US Billboard charts and went top five in the UK. Covers by over 150 artists (including Elvis Presley, Frank Sinatra, James Brown, Shirley Bassey, Tony Bennett and Eric Clapton) make it the second-most covered Beatles song after Yesterday. Harrison’s favourite take on the song was apparently James Brown's, which he put on his personal jukebox.

The song's lyrics were taken from the title of a song by fellow Apple artist James Taylor, Something in the Way She Moves, and used as filler while the melody was being developed. The song's second line, ‘Attracts me like no other lover’ was the last to be written; during early recording sessions for Something, Harrison alternated between two placeholder lyrics: ‘Attracts me like a cauliflower’ and ‘Attracts me like a pomegranate’.
George's delivery is impassioned:
You're asking me will my love grow/I don't know, I don't know/You stick around and it may show/I don't know, I don't know/Something in the way she knows/And all I have to do is think of her/Something in the things she shows me/I don't want to leave her now/You know I believe and how
George tends to consider the bigger picture; Dave considers the actual picture; Ray is examining a flaw in the frame but more of Ray's delectable talent in a later blog.

Philosophy and religion
Dave and George both embraced yoga, became vegetarian and developed a mutual interest in Hinduism, Indian deities (My Sweet Lord was written in praise of Krishna but the singing of Allelujah allowed it to appeal to Christians) and Eastern religions and philosophy in general but, as usual, this blog is already too long. At the Satsang weekends, Dave emphasises inclusivity and although his beliefs might be based on Eastern concepts, he also calls on ‘Master Jesus’ and sings a version of Hare Krishna, in which everyone participates. George says:
‘All religions are branches of one big tree. It doesn't matter what you call Him just as long as you call.’
I don't think it could be put any better than that and it seems a good line to end on.

[Dave covers Give me Love (Give Me Peace on Earth), which has been released on the tribute album Songs from the Material World: George Harrison.]
[Another blogger also considers some of these similarities.]

[Thanks to KindaKinks site and Wikipedia.]


  1. Great post, first of all! I am happy to see someone exploring the parallels between Dave and George.

    Some extra info you may like: there are four gurus featured on the cover of Sgt. Pepper - Babaji, Lahiri Mahasaya, Yukteswar Giri, and Paramhansa Yogananda. Each one was the other's master, with Yogananda being the first major Hindu swami to come to the United States. His book, Autobiography of a Yogi, was one of George Harrison's favorite books, and he regularly gave out copies of it to his friends.

    Anyway, forgive the long background on that. Yogananda and his forerunners all praised the words of Jesus Christ, even referring to Jesus as a guru. This is not frequently talked about, but Hinduism holds a pluralistic view towards other religions, that they are all viable paths to know God, as that wonderful George quote of yours highlights.

    Last tidbit: Meher Baba, a Persian mystic with good knowledge of Zoroastrianism, Christianity, Hinduism, and Islam, was contemporary to Yogananda, also coming to the West to spread his message. He, too, had notable disciples in the rock world: Pete Townshend and Faces bassist Ronnie Lane.

    Again, lovely entry!
    Alex DiBlasi and Alexa Altman

    1. Hi there,
      Thanks for reading. Glad you enjoyed it. I wanted to spend more time on the similarities in their spiritual journeys but am a bit of a spiritual philistine myself (a picknmix Catholic). It was really interesting to me to learn more about George in particular as I didn’t know that much. I knew that about Hinduism – it’s so much more accepting. I think that’s Dave’s philosophy as well so it’s natural that he would embrace it. Thanks for your input.

  2. Excellent writing and research on my favorite musicians. I wish people had imagined what Lennon advised instead of all those double-dares. Now artists like Steve Vai and Morgan Freeman are keeping hives, protecting the bees because no one in government quite got what - you know - Dylan was saying, prizes be damned. Anyway, great blog, will read further often.

    1. Thanks for reading and your comments. Really appreciate it.