Saturday, December 30, 2017

30 on the 30th: Cloud Nine and "That's What It Takes"

Well, it's my birthday; I'm 49 years old. Looking forward to hitting the half-century mark in just a year's time, I'm wondering a lot about how I got here, and where I'm going to go, and whether I have the strength or time or resourcefulness to get there. And so, of course, in a mystical coincidence that George Harrison himself wouldn't have been surprised by in the least, I end this journey through albums of 1987 that still mean a lot to me 30 years on with a beautiful, reflective, wise, and ultimately upbeat work that was released late in the year, one that I listened to endlessly as winter settled in all around me towards the end of my first semester at BYU: Harrison's awesome Cloud Nine.

I wasn't a huge Beatles fan as a kid, but I heard them; they formed part of my earliest rock and roll consciousness, listening to the radio and being overwhelmed by music from these bands and performers that, in later years, I'd come to recognize as giants. Of the solo work by the individual Beatles, I probably was more likely to identify something by McCartney or Lennon than Harrison. I really didn't know much about him, truth be told. But then this album hit, and "I Got My Mind Set on You" was all over the radio, and I had to give it a listen. And what an ear-opener it was. By turns jangly and smooth, atmospheric and blusey, echoing all of (what I later came to recognize as) Harrison's loves from rockabilly to Indian mysticism, I adored it. Most of all, I guess, I loved how song after song struck rueful, introspective, but never despairing tones. This was an album that owned up to the passage of time, the passing away of things--yet kept its eyes focused straight-ahead nonetheless. In the decades since 1987, as small triumphs and smaller tragedies have piled up and shaped me, this album's sounds have meant more to me all the time.

How to pick one song off it? I'll go with "That's What It Takes," a song I can't find any live recording of anywhere, but whose sound--with Eric Clapton and Harrison trading guitar solos, and Gary Wright's keyboards, under Jeff Lynne's direction, providing a dreamy synthetic undercurrent throughout--is one of the greatest pop creations I've ever heard. "Don't let it stop / never fade away" indeed.

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