Thirty-four years ago this week, George Harrison’s “This Song” was wrapping up an 11-week run on Billboard Hot 100 that had taken it to Number 25. (It had reached Number 28 in Cash Box, and went all the way to Number 7 on WLS.) It was a chart comeback for Harrison, nearly two years since he scored a widely heard single (“Dark Horse”), and the album he released in 1975, Extra Texture, had been a critical disaster even though it sold fairly well. Harrison’s new album, Thirty-Three and One-Third, a reference to his age at the time, got good reviews compared to Extra Texture and Dark Horse, even as it failed to match their performance on the album chart. “This Song” also featured a brief audio appearance by Harrison’s friend, Eric Idle, who also directed a video for the song. The video was shown when Harrison appeared on Saturday Night Live in November 1976. I can’t embed it, but you can watch it here.
But “This Song” is not the song I want to write about today.
During that same week, 34 years ago this week, Harrison’s new single debuted on the Hot 100, just two spots below “This Song.” “Crackerbox Palace” would eventually reach Number 19 in Billboard, 17 in Cash Box, and 15 on WLS. It, too, came with a video, co-directed by Idle and Neil Innes, which premiered on SNL that November night, and I can’t embed it either. Go here.
I am not a musician, and despite years in radio, I am not expert in studio trickery, so as a result, I can’t imagine how Harrison made that song sound like it does. His distinctive guitar surfaces like a slick silver fish from a deep sea of bass guitar and wah-wah pedal, pushed now and then by a horn riff that would reappear on dozens of disco records. The lyric, as George told an interviewer, is about how the world is a sad place, but also a silly one. The Wikipedia entry for the song indicates that it’s based mostly on a 1975 encounter between Harrison and George Greif, former manager of British comic Lord Buckley, of whom Harrison was a fan growing up. (There’s more about the making of the song and the video here.)
Where “Crackerbox Palace” came from and how it got to be that way doesn’t really matter, though. It’s on my Desert Island list because every time I hear it, I get lost in it, lost not only in the sound but also in the associations that come with it from the winter of 1977, and how it was to be 17 and feel like you had almost everything you wanted, and what you didn’t have, it was only a matter of time before you got.
Recommended Reading: Ken Levine tells another radio tale, about his mid-70s stint at TenQ in Los Angeles, where he worked a weekend shift while his day job was head writer on M*A*S*H. You might want to read it after you read this at Clicks and Pops. You’ll need something to heal your broken heart.