The Story of George Harrison’s Hit Comeback Album, ‘Cloud Nine’
For most of the ’80s, George Harrison seemed content to let Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr represent the surviving Beatles on the pop charts — but that changed in a big way with the release of his 10th studio album, Cloud Nine.
By the time Cloud Nine debuted on Nov. 2, 1987, Harrison’s solo career had been more or less on hiatus for five years; he hadn’t released a proper album since the poorly received Gone Troppo in 1982, and in the intervening years, he seemed more interested in other pursuits, such as his production company, Handmade Films. Happily for his fans, however, Harrison hadn’t lost the musical bug, and in late 1986, he hired Electric Light Orchestra frontman Jeff Lynne to help supervise the sessions for what would become his wildly successful comeback effort.
Settling into Harrison’s home studio, the duo enlisted a top-shelf corps of musicians to help them bring Cloud Nine to life, including famous friends (Eric Clapton and Elton John), session ringers (drummer Jim Keltner, percussionist Ray Cooper, and sax player Jim Horn) and a former bandmate (Starr). The end result was an 11-song set of some of the loosest, most energetic music Harrison had turned out in years, including the surprise hit “Got My Mind Set on You.”
Released as the album’s lead-off single a little under a month before Cloud Nine arrived in stores, “Got My Mind Set on You” topped the Billboard singles chart in the U.S. and peaked at No. 2 in Harrison’s native U.K., reaffirming his status as a viable recording artist and giving him his biggest hit since “Give Me Love (Give Me Peace on Earth)” reached No. 1 in 1973.
While none of the album’s subsequent singles would achieve similar success — the most successful of the bunch, the Beatles nostalgia number “When We Was Fab,” broke the Top 40 — Cloud Nine attained further significance by presaging a period of renewed creativity for Harrison, who unwittingly founded the Traveling Wilburys when he got together with Lynne, Bob Dylan, Roy Orbison and Tom Petty to record the track that was supposed to be a B-side: “Handle With Care.”
Sadly, although Harrison went on to record a pair of albums with the Wilburys, Cloud Ninewould ultimately remain the last album of new material he’d release during his lifetime. His final studio set, Brainwashed, didn’t come out until 2002 — a year after Harrison succumbed to cancer at the age of 58.
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