There were five years between the release of George Harrison’s 1982 album, Gone Troppo, and Cloud Nine that came out in the first week of November 1987. It’s an album co-produced with ELO’s Jeff Lynne – he also co-wrote three of the tracks – and is a serious return to form, including as it does, ‘Got My Mind Set On You’ that became George’s third No.1 single in the US; it reached #2 in the UK.
We bet many of you think George wrote ‘Got My Mind Set On You’; it is a song that George completely makes his own, whereas it was originally released by James Ray. It became George’s first No.1 for 15 years, and having stalled at No.2 in the UK, it spent 4 weeks there, kept from No.1 by T’Pau’s ‘China In Your Hand’. James Ray, who was just 5 feet tall, recorded Rudy Clark’s ‘I’ve Got My Mind Set On You’ in 1963 and it made No.10 on the Billboard R&B chart and No.22 on the main Billboard bestseller list.
George’s version of ‘Got My Mind Set On You’ was the closing track on Cloud Nine, his eleventh solo album, which came out a week after the single. George had begun recording the album in January 1987 and, along with Jeff Lynne, it features many of the former Beatle’s musician friends, most of whom had played on some of George’s earlier albums.
There’s Eric Clapton on the title track, as well as ‘That's What It Takes’, ‘Devil's Radio’ and ‘Wreck of the Hesperus’. Elton John plays piano on the latter two tracks, as well as ‘Cloud Nine’. Gary Wright, who had been in Spooky Tooth, and had a very successful solo career in America, plays piano on ‘Just For Today’ and ‘When We Was Fab’, as well as co-writing, ‘That's What It Takes’ with George and Jeff Lynne. Drummers include Ringo Starr and another of Harrison’s long-time friends, Jim Keltner, along with Ray Cooper helping out on percussion.
The other big hit single from the album was ‘When We Was Fab’, a song title that when said with a Liverpudlian accent can only be referring to one thing; for that matter said with any accent it can only ever be referring to the Beatles.
It’s a perfect evocation of those heady days of Beatlemania when those loveable Mop-Tops, the Fab Four, ruled the world and we all thought they would go on forever. George co-wrote the song with Jeff Lynne, shortly before the two of them formed The Travelling Wilburys with Tom Petty, Bob Dylan and Roy Orbison.
According to George, "...until I finalized the lyric on it, it was always called 'Aussie Fab'. That was it's working title. I hadn't figured out what the song was going to say ... what the lyrics would be about, but I knew it was definitely a Fab song. It was based on the Fabs, and as it was done up in Australia there, up in Queensland, then that's what we called it. As we developed the lyrics, it became 'When We Was Fab'. It's a difficult one to do live because of all the all the little overdubs and all the cellos and the weird noises and the backing voices."
Not for one minute should anyone think Cloud Nine is an album of just two hits and a bunch of filler. The quality of the songs is great throughout. Standouts include, ‘Someplace Else’, which could easily have come from All Things Must Pass; the same thing could be said of ‘Just For Today’ a beautiful song that is made even more so by an exquisite, trademark, Harrison slide guitar solo.
Credit is due to Jeff Lynne for his production skills. Lynne had been, so obviously, inspired by the Beatles during his time with Electric Light Orchestra – just as Take That were inspired by ELO on their ‘comeback’ album, Beautiful World. It’s part of what makes music so affecting; how generations of musicians pass on to the next things that will continue to make us feel better about the world in which we live.
Cloud Nine made the top 10 in America, Britain, Australia, Canada, Norway and Sweden. The cover of the album features the first American-made guitar that George owned, a 1957 Gretsch 6128 “Duo Jet” that he bought in Liverpool in 1961; Harrison called it his "old black Gretsch". He had given it to his long-time friend, Klaus Voormann who kept it for 20 years, having left it in Los Angeles where it had been modified; Harrison asked for its return, had it restored and used it for the cover shoot for both the album and single (photographed by Gered Mankowitz).
On the reissued album are some bonus tracks, including ‘Zig Zag’, the b-side of ‘When We Was Fab’ that was written by George and Jeff Lynne for the film Shanghai Surprise. Also included is the title track from the film that features Vicki Brown on vocals, with George. Vicki Haseman was originally in The Vernons Girls, a Liverpool group that had been friends of the Beatles; she later married English singer and guitarist, Joe Brown - another dear (and local) friend of George’s. Vicki tragically passed away in 1990 from breast cancer.