Saturday, August 20, 2011

40th Anniversary of The Concert of Bangladesh (August 1st, 1971)

On August 1st, 1971, George Harrison, along with several other luminaries from the Rock music world, performed two concerts, one in the afternoon, and one in the evening, for the people of Bangladesh. It was the first charity benefit concert of its kind, anticipating such events as Live Aid in the 1980's. George was joined by Ravi Shankar, Eric Clapton, Ringo Starr, Bob Dylan, Leon Russell, Billy Preston, Apple group Badfinger, long time Beatle friend and bassist, Klaus Voorman from Hamburg, and several other musicians.

This month marks the 40th anniversary of this momentous event in music history. I remember seeing the original concert film back in the 70's, with my best friend, Eddie Ford, in a movie theater in Cedar Rapids, Iowa.



George's friend and mentor Ravi Shankar approached him about performing some kind of benefit concert for the people of Bangladesh, who had suffered immensely in war and widespread famine- "my friend came to me/with sadness in eyes/he told me that he wanted help/before his country died (from the song, Bangladesh; see more lyrics below)."


George rallied a group of star musicians, many of them future inductees into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

George also attempted to have Paul and Linda McCartney and John and Yoko Lennon appear, which would have constituted a Beatle re-union; but the McCartneys declined, and the Lennons backed out. Some have said George wanted John to appear, but not Yoko; and that is why the Lennons did not appear.

Ringo did show up and performed his top ten single (#4), It Don't Come Easy, which was written with the help of George.

Eric Clapton, struggling with heroin addiction, performed at the show. He was George's best friend, and had recently released his magnum opus, Layla and Assorted Love Songs, with its searing single, Layla- which was a passionate love song directed at George's wife, Patti Boyd. Eric did not perform any of his own music, but instead provided lead guitar work for the concert.

Bob Dylan showed up, and played a set of his songs. Whereas the other musicians besides George had only one song, Dylan performed six. George brought him out and introduced him in the middle of the show to huge applause.

Leon Russell performed a medley of the Rolling Stone's Jumping Jack Flash, and the 1950's hit, Young Blood.

Billy Preston enjoyed one of the highlights of the evening, with a rousing rendition of his song, That's the Way God Planned It, which added to the spiritual atmosphere already created in the concert by the religious nature of George's songs. I like that his gospel song was not a Jesus-and-me song, but emphasized loving your brother [and sister] as being the “way God planned it (see lyrics below).”

Indeed, re-watching the performances this morning in preparation for this blog was a spiritual experience for me, lifting my heart to the Lord. I had tears as I felt the Holy Ghost flood my heart watching these moving performances from 1971.

George himself was at the top of the pop music world at the time, having brought what is in my mind still the best solo Beatle album, All Things Must Pass. His album had been number one on the charts, as well as his spiritual single, My Sweet Lord. George for the moment was enjoying the most critical praise and successful solo career of any of the Beatles after their break up. His intense spirituality and devotion is expressed beautifully in My Sweet Lord and Beware of Darkness. While My Guitar Gently Weeps conveys pathos and is performed with much feeling. His Beatle hits, such as Something and Here Comes the Sun, lend credibility to the view of one music scholar who suggest George by 1969 was already a better songwriter than the Rolling Stones. Indeed, George Martin, the Beatle's producer, would later regret he did not give George more space on the Beatle records. George was often relegated to only one or two songs per album, living as he did in the shadow of the towering genius of Lennon and McCartney.

George's song, Bangladesh, is no doubt one of the best songs he has ever written. The lyrics and music are so intensely passionate. George acknowledges “although I could not feel the pain, I knew I had to try/and now I am asking all of you to help us save some lives..." What a beautiful expression of true empathy; of course, we cannot feel exactly what people suffering such horrid circumstances feel; but we can have compassion and do what we can.

The concert for Bangladesh was a wonderful event, which was an expression of spirituality and altruism on the part of the artists who performed there.

Billy Preston's song performed in the concert, That's the Way God Planned It, has lyrics that beautifully sum up the essence of the event:

How men be so greedy
When there's so much left
All things that God's given
And they all have been blessed...


Let not your heart be troubled
Let mourning sobbing cease
Learn to help one another
And live in perfect peace

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

Set List for the Concert of Bangladesh

Bangla Dhun - Ravi Shankar
Wah-Wah – George Harrison
My Sweet Lord - George Harrison
Awaiting on You All - George Harrison
That's the Way God Planned It – Billy Preston
It Don't Come Easy – Ringo Starr
Beware of Darkness - George Harrison & Leon Russell
While My Guitar Gently Weeps - George Harrison
Medley: Jumpin' Jack Flash/Young Blood – Leon Russell
Here Comes the Sun - George Harrison
A Hard Rain's A-Gonna Fall – Bob Dylan
It's Takes a Lot to Laugh, It Takes a Train to Cry – Bob Dylan
Blowin' in the Wind – Bob Dylan
Mr. Tambourine Man - Bob Dylan
Just Like a Woman – Bob Dylan
Something - George Harrison
Bangla Desh - George Harrison

You can purchase the CD of the concert here; the DVD of the concert, here.


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