I collect vinyl records—mostly LPs—but recently I’ve been seeking out 45s of songs from my childhood and early adolescence. Between 1978 and 1982, listening to Casey Kasem’s American Top 40 Countdown, broadcast on Z-93 on Sunday mornings, was an important preoccupation of mine. Even when we went to church, I was still often able to catch the last hour or so. I remember rooting for certain songs to be number one on the chart. It was a big deal for some reason.
All that to say I recently picked up a #2 hit song from 1981 called “All Those Years Ago,” by George Harrison. In the wake of John Lennon’s murder in December of 1980, I developed a passionate interest in the Beatles, and this Harrison song was a tribute to his ex-bandmate. In fact, this song was the nearest thing to a Beatles reunion: Paul and Ringo sing and play on it.
I still like the song. One thing I noticed back then, which is still conspicuous today, is that Harrison crams in more words than fit the meter of the song. Consequently, it’s hard to make out much of what he’s saying. Unlike in 1981, however, thanks to the internet, it’s now easy. The song is in part a warm reminiscence written to a departed friend who, the singer hopes, has found a peace in death (“where the spirit free of the lies and all else that we despised”) that eluded him in life.
It’s also a deeply religious song. In the mid-’60s, Harrison, a nominal Catholic, first fell in love with Indian music and Hinduism shortly thereafter. In 1967 all four Beatles went East, to India, to see Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, a trip that ended acrimoniously. (The Maharishi was the subject of Lennon’s bitterly angry “Sexy Sadie,” from 1968’s White Album.) Unlike Lennon, however, Harrison remained a faithful Hindu, and his faith was never far from the surface of his music. In “All Those Years Ago,” Harrison sings,
They’ve forgotten all about God
He’s the only reason we exist
Yet you were the one that they said was so weird
All those years ago…
I can say “Amen” to that! I’m impressed by how freely, openly, and unabashedly Harrison sang about his faith throughout his career—and at some personal expense. I mean, he was still an ex-Beatle, which buys an artist a lot of good will, but his commitment to singing religious songs, no matter how melodic they were, limited his commercial appeal. And rock critics mostly hated his records after his landmark All Things Must Pass album. Aside from a late-career comeback in the late-’80s, Harrison seemed perfectly content to sit quietly on the margins of fame and rock stardom.
Why? Why did Harrison keep on writing and singing songs about his faith when a lot of people would have preferred for him to shut up about it? Because he sincerely believed it. He believed in what he was doing. It was the center of his life. It was for him a matter of integrity: how could he not write and sing about this most important thing in his life?
Integrity. I want to have that kind of integrity when it comes to living out my own faith. If I have experienced the gospel of Jesus Christ as good news—and I have—how could I not talk about it, share it with others, and invite others to experience it? (And I don’t simply mean in my professional capacity as a Christian minister!)
Yes, by all means I wish Harrison had found Jesus on his spiritual journey, but I am inspired and convicted by his example.