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Beatles Rarity of the Week – “Dark Horse” (acoustic demo)

Posted by on February 25, 2013 at 6:00 am.

Welcome to the Beatles Rarity of the Week. In recognition of the seventieth anniversary of the birth of George Harrison, lead guitarist of The Beatles, I’ve rounded up something I hope you will find enjoyable for the occasion.

1974 was a challenging year for George with his marriage to Pattie Boyd coming to an end and a lot of despondence over many of the critics’ opinions toward his previous album Living In The Material World. While it was undoubtedly a huge commercial success, it was being criticized for the overabundance of Hindu spirituality in the music. Keeping himself busy through the hard times, George made plans to begin his own record label. It was to be called Dark Horse after a recent song he’d composed. He also planned by year’s end to be the first Beatle to tour North America since the Beatles stopped touring in 1966. He put a band together for that very purpose that included his friend Billy Preston, Robben Ford, Willie Weeks, Jim Keltner, Tom Scott and others. He even planned to record an album, also titled Dark Horse while rehearsing with the band in preparation for the tour. In hindsight, George may have pushed himself a bit too hard. Between the problems in his personal life and arrangements for his new record label, George found himself down to only three weeks to get the album recorded and rehearse the band. The tour was to be named after the planned album as the Dark Horse Tour and was scheduled to kick off on November 2nd, 1974, but at the beginning of October, there was still lots to get done.

Unfortunately, the long rehearsals while simultaneously recording the album took it’s toll on George’s vocal chords and he developed laryngitis during the album sessions and shortly before the tour began. Despite the setback, George completed the album in time for the tour. However, his voice on the record was not at it’s best, particularly on the title track, and it was also problematic throughout the tour.

Even through these difficulties, George’s Dark Horse album fared well on the American Billboard album charts, remaining in the top 10 for 5 weeks and peaking at number 4. The cleverly written lyrics of the title track seem to have a few possibilities as to who they are directed toward: critics of his previous album, Pattie or even John and Paul – all of these are good guesses. For BROW this week I’m offering up a demo of the song recorded earlier than the master and played only by George singing to his own acoustic guitar accompaniment. His voice is in better form here, making this quite an enjoyable listen. I hope you like it too.

George Harrison - Dark Horse (demo)

George Harrison, Live in Atlanta, Nov. 28, 1974

George Harrison, Live in Atlanta, Nov. 28, 1974


Here are some Amazon links to read more on, or purchase, some music related to this post:

1) Dark Horse – 1992 CD remaster of original 1974 Apple LP, featuring title track “Dark Horse.”

2) Live in Japan (Hybr) – 2004 Hybrid 2-CD/SACD of original 1992 2-CD concert footage in Japan with Eric Clapton band. Includes live version of “Dark Horse.”

3) More Amazon links for any of your favorite Beatles-related music: The Beatles, John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison and Ringo Starr.

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  • Anna says:

    His voice is so much better here! I love this version!

  • Dale True says:

    This is indeed a great version of Dark Horse. My comment is more about the Living In The Material World album. In those days, critics’ harsh reviews could really damage an album release or even an artist’s career. I always thought it was George’s best solo effort. All Things Must Pass certainly has its highlights, but I listen to LITMW far more often.

  • Lou says:

    “It was being criticized for the overabundance of Hindu spirituality in the music.” Well if the shoe fits. For me, religious fanaticism — whether on the right or the left — is BORING. And that’s my problem with a lot of George’s solo work, including LITMW. It’s boring to be preached at. I think George’s reputation with “the critics” benefitted tremendously because his chosen faith was liberal approved (embracing a non-white, non-western faith), and the music press was left leaning. And I say this as a diehard liberal myself. Critics to this day tend to fawn over George with platitudes about how much depth he showed as an artist. I doubt they would do that if George had become a Mormon or a Southern Baptist. It’s an interesting dynamic to consider.

    Anyway I hope Dark Horse was not about John and Paul. I mean, come on. After the great success of ATMP, why keep moaning about how John and Paul held you back. But then George did have a pretty big chip on his shoulder so maybe it is.

    That 1974 tour — and his voice giving out — must have been traumatic since he pretty much never toured again, right?

    • Happy Nat says:

      Touring: Not in North America anyway. There was the tour 1991 in Japan with the Clapper’s band, and some scattered television appearances on VH1, SNL, etc.

      As far as LITMW goes, while I won’t argue the point that it is boring to be preached at, it is really all how you look at it. For the most part, I like the music. In the end, that is really all that matters to me.

  • Chip says:

    What a great recording! I’m going to sit patiently by the computer waiting for the rest of the demos to appear on the site. I know we’ll be in for a treat if they’re anything like this.

    One of the best posts since I’ve been around. Thanks!

  • Michael says:

    I’ve always liked the ‘Dark Horse’ album, laryngitis and all. This obviously makes us wonder how it would have sounded with his voice in top shape.

  • Ron says:

    This is just great. I always assumed Dark Horse was simply a commentary on George knowing that people thought of him that way. After all, if he were permitted to have
    More songs on Beatles records, he’d of had them. Thus the 3 lp set of All Things Must Pass. Paul has said George was ‘peaking’ when The Beatles dissolved. I doubt the others, even Pattie, would have been critical of him, but who knows…Did any interviewer ever ASK George the impetus for the song and label?

  • Lizmary says:

    Apart from the awful cover of “Bye Bye Love”, I think that content-wise the “Dark Horse” album stands among his best productions. It’s a pity he never thought of re-arranging and re-recording “Dark Horse” (which is ok anyway), Simply Shady” and “So Sad” and reissue the whole album again. It would have been worth it!
    I think it could still be done, taking the Live Japan “Dark Horse” rendition which is excellent, fixing his voice in the first part of “Simply Shady” and powering the arrangement a bit for both “Simply Shady” and “So Sad” which deserve it. Unless he already has good alternate versions of them.

  • Bubbabob says:

    Playing catch up here, working my way backwards through these rarities. This one is great, arguably better than the th released version. I love that album in spite of the muddy production and Harrison’s strained vocals. Hope this makes it on a future “Early Takes” volume.
    Finally, thanks for this site. This stuff is incredible!

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