My friend came to me
With sadness in his eyes
He told me that he wanted help
Before his country dies.
Although I couldn’t feel the pain
I knew I had to try
Now I’m asking all of you
To help us save some lives
The lyrics tell the story. Ravi Shankar came to his friend, George Harrison, to tell him about the troubles in Bangladesh. He asked if the former Beatle had any ideas on how to help. The meeting led to the superstar benefit concerts, at Madison Square Garden, in the summer of 1971. Among the musicians Harrison recruited were Eric Clapton, Ringo Starr, Leon Russell, Billy Preston and Bob Dylan.
Today is the fiftieth anniversary of the release of the concert album. The concert itself and all surrounding it was a success. It raised millions of dollars. It also set a standard and a roadmap for future benefit shows.
But, how does the music itself hold up after fifty years? We’ll focus on the rock music portion of the show.
The concert began with Harrison opening with three tunes from his “All Things Must Pass” album. He seemed a bit nervous since it had been five years since his last live performance. Plus, he had never been the frontman for a band. While the songs were nothing memorable, it was a decent warm-up for what was to come.
Billy Preston next took the lead with his upbeat jam on “That’s The Way God Planned It.” It was highlighted by Preston stepping out from behind his organ and dancing at the front of the stage. This was one of the greatest moments of Preston’s long career.
Next came Ringo’s performance of “It Don’t Come Easy.” Starr had more than a little issue with remembering the lyrics. Another lowlight was the Beatles’ classic “While My Guitar Gently Weeps.” The guitar duel between Harrison and Clapton might have been more exciting had Eric remembered to bring the correct guitar to the show.
The concert kicked it up more than a notch when Leon Russell performed a ten-minute set of “Jumpin’ Jack Flash/Youngblood.” It got the sell-out audience off their feet and set the tone for the rest of the concert.
The first Harrison highlight was an acoustic version of “Here Comes The Sun”, done with Pete Ham from the band, Badfinger. It looked like George was over his nervous spell. This was an excellent version of the Beatles classic from “Abbey Road.”
Talking about nerves about performing in front of a huge audience, Bob Dylan was next. It took a lot of convincing from Harrison to get Dylan to do the show. In fact, they weren’t certain he was going to show up until showtime. But, when he got there, he put on an outstanding and memorable five-song set of his early classic tunes. Included in the set were “Mr. Tambourine Man” and “Blowin’ In The Wind.” The set ended with Harrison and Russell helping out on “Just Like A Woman.”
The concert ended with Harrison’s best performance of the night. It started with a moving and powerful version of “Something” followed by the rousing encore of “Bangla Desh.” Harrison left the stage as the song came to a close, while the all-star band finished up to a cheering audience.
Listening to the album after five decades, you’ll find the music remains strong and exciting, with a few misses. The ones that are great more than make up for some of the mediocrities. There are so many memorable moments that on this fifty-year anniversary, we can honor the event, the musicians, and, of course, the music.
Related Post: A Day in the Life of George Harrison
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