George Harrison: Brace for the Obscure (60s rock)! — August 8, 2022

THE GREATEST SONGS OF THE 1960s THAT NO ONE HAS EVER HEARD

545) George Harrison — “Circles”

Unlike The Who’s “Circles”, George Harrison’s “Circles” is no instant party, but rather a haunting and groovy meditation on reincarnation! George wrote the song in Rishikesh and demoed it — with whispered voice and harmonium — at Esher, both in ‘68, but didn’t release it till ‘82.

As it is etched into the Beatles Bible:

“Upon their return from India, all four Beatles gathered at Kinfauns, Harrison’s Esher bungalow. They recorded demos of 27 songs, to be put forward as potential titles for the White Album. . . . One of the discarded titles was ‘Circles’, seemingly recorded alone by Harrison with just an organ accompaniment. . . . One of Harrison’s more philosophical songs . . . . Harrison eventually released a version of ‘Circles’ on his 1982 album Gone Troppo. It was recorded with a full band – including Billy Preston on organ and piano – and with largely different lyrics to those written in 1968.” (https://www.beatlesbible.com/songs/circles/)

Eager was not your grand mother’s bungalow. As Rob Sheffield describes:

“[T]hey met at George’s hippie bungalow in the Surrey countryside, decorated in the grooviest Indian style. . . . On the tape, you can hear them relax in an informal setting – they sit around the living room, banging guitars or tambourines or shakers, breathing in the joss stick. They recline on leather cushions – George and Patti don’t have anything so square as chairs.” (https://www.rollingstone.com/feature/the-beatles-esher-demos-the-lost-basement-tapes-that-became-the-white-album-630425/amp/)

Jordan Runtagh was not impressed:

“‘Circles’ . . . is an exceptionally dreary affair. . . . [that] utilizes what Richie Unterberger evocatively describes as ‘an eerie organ that seems to have been dragged out of a dusty, disused church closet.’ Harrison taped two tracks on the instrument – likely a harmonium – sketching a sparse, almost ghostly arrangement. The mood isn’t brightened by the solemn lyrics, which find Harrison contemplating the cyclical nature of humanity and the Hindi concept of reincarnation in a voice that barely raises above a whisper.” (https://www.rollingstone.com/music/music-lists/the-beatles-revelatory-white-album-demos-a-complete-guide-629178/)

Per owl.apps.net:

“The theme of the lyrics is reincarnation. The composition reflects the cyclical aspect of human existence as, according to Hindu doctrine, the soul continues to pass from one life to the next. . . . While some find it overly gloomy, others recognise the track as a highlight of a generally overlooked album. . . . ‘Circles’ was composed on an organ . . . as most of Harrison’s Indian-inspired melodies since 1966 had been . . . . [Simon] Leng writes of ‘fugue-like keyboard parts’ on the song and ‘bass figures’ that partly recall the works of Johann Sebastian Bach. The song’s lyrical theme is reincarnation, in keeping with Harrison’s immersion in Hindu philosophy. . . . Theologian Dale Allison highlights ‘Circles’ as the only Harrison song to use the term ‘reincarnate’ . . . . Harrison also quotes from the Chinese philosopher and author Lao-Tse, whose work Tao Te Ching inspired his 1968 composition ‘The Inner Light’ . . . . The choruses include the lines from Lao-Tse: ‘He who knows does not speak / He who speaks does not know’ . . . . On the released recording, Harrison concludes with a statement on how to break the circle of repetition: ‘When loss and gain and up and down / Becomes the same, then we stop going in circles.’ Allison interprets this conclusion, and Harrison’s worldview generally, as espousing the need to recognise the illusory nature of the material world, saying . . . ‘opposites are not opposites. To understand that up is down and that gain is loss is to be … on one’s way to escaping from the material world.’” (http://www.owlapps.net/owlapps_apps/articles?id=34611251&lang=en)

Wow, this is no “Savoy Truffle”!

“Friends come and friends go as I go round and round in circles.  Love warms and love colds as I go round and round in circles.  He who knows does not speak.  He who speaks does not know.  And I go round in circles. Life comes and life goes as we go round and round in circles.  He who knows does not speak.  He who speaks does not know as I go round in circles.  Life comes and love goes as we go round and round in circles.”

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Here it is from Gone Troppo:

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