Monday, August 1, 2011

Help Us Save Some Lives: The Concert for Bangladesh 40 years later

  - The Concert for Bangla Desh
George Harrison w/ various artists
The Concert For Bangladesh
Rating: ****

It might be hard for some people to believe when there was a time when a thing like a benefit concert didn’t exist. In 1971, there was a lot going on in the United States. Around this time, however, there was something going on that the country barely knew about it. It turned out that a country called Bangladesh was in need of help. In 1971, George Harrison and Ravi Shankar did just that. On August 1, 1971, Harrison and Shankar organized a benefit show at the Madison Square Garden in aid of the people in Bangladesh. 40 years later, the Concert for Bangladesh still has relevancy.
            It was around July of 1971 when George Harrison was approached by his good friend, Ravi Shankar. Shankar told Harrison about a terrible thing that was happening in Bangladesh. The Bangladesh Liberation War was happening and it lead to a massive refugee problem in India. At the time, Harrison was producing an album by rock band Badfinger. Like the Beatles, Badfinger was signed to Apple Records. This new album, Straight Up, was the band’s third under the Badfinger name (fourth if you include the one album they did as the Iveys called Maybe Tomorrow). Harrison had produced and recorded a few tracks for the album along with Beatles engineer Geoff Emerick. Harrison can even be heard playing slide guitar on “Day After Day”. With this, Harrison organized a benefit concert. Harrison tried inviting all of his former band mates from the Beatles. Harrison asked John Lennon to do it and he agreed…until there was an argument when Lennon’s wife, Yoko Ono, wasn’t allowed to participate. Paul McCartney turned down Harrison as well, thinking it was a bit strange given that the band had split a year ago. Ringo Starr ended up performing. Harrison even invited the members of Badfinger to be in the band. As for the rest of Harrison’s band, it was filled with all stars: Eric Clapton, Billy Preston, Jim Keltner, Jesse Ed Davis, Leon Russell, Bob Dylan, and various others.
            Not too many people know that there were actually two concerts that day on August 1. There was an afternoon show and an evening show. The first half of the show was a 16 minute sitar piece by Ravi Shankar. When George and the rest came out, the audience went nuts. There are some differences in the two performances. There were songs that were only played at the afternoon show (“Awaiting On You All”, “Love Minus Zero/No Limit”, and “Hear Me Lord”). The evening show was a bit shorter without those three songs. In the Dylan set, “Mr. Tambourine Man” replaced “Love Minus Zero/No Limit”. Two songs in the Dylan set also swapped places (“Blowin In The Wind” and “It Takes A Lot to Laugh, It Take a Train to Cry”). Also, “Something” swapped places with “My Sweet Lord” (which was towards the end in the afternoon show) in the evening show.  Confused? Look below.

Afternoon show
1.      Wah-Wah
2.      Something
3.      Awaiting On You All
4.      That’s The Way God Planned It
5.      It Don’t Come Easy
6.      Beware of Darkness
7.      While My Guitar Gently Weeps
8.      Jumpin Jack Flash/Young Blood
9.      Here Comes the Sun
10.  A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall
11.  Blowin’ In The Wind
12.  It Takes a Lot to Laugh, It Takes a Train to Cry
13.  Love Minus Zero/No Limit
14.  Just Like A Woman
15.  Hear Me Lord
16.  My Sweet Lord
17.  Bangladesh

Evening show
1.      Wah-Wah
2.      My Sweet Lord
3.      That’s The Way God Planned It
4.      It Don’t Come Easy
5.      Beware Of Darkness
6.      While My Guitar Gently Weeps
7.      Jumpin Jack Flash/Young Blood
8.      Here Comes The Sun
9.      A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall
10.  It Takes a Lot to Laugh, It Takes a Train to Cry
11.  Blowin’ In The Wind
12.  Mr. Tambourine Man
13.  Just Like A Woman
14.  Something
15.  Bangladesh

            According to sources, $243,418 was raised at the concert. With the sales of the album, even more money was raised for Bangladesh. By 1985, a reported $12 million dollars had been raised but some of it was tied up in an escrow account. There were rumors of the money not getting to Bangladesh in time, which former Beatles business manager (and in the early 1970’s, manager for all the Beatles except Paul) Allen Klien denied. However, Klien was well known for stealing money from his acts.
            No matter how much the concert made, the Concert for Bangladesh was the blueprint to all other benefit concerts such as Live Aid, Farm Aid, Live 8, and various others. George Harrison probably didn’t know that something like Bangladesh would start off a series of other concerts like it. For Harrison, he was just helping a friend. Now almost ten years after his death, Harrison’s memory lives on through his work with the Beatles and by himself. The Concert for Bangladesh is probably one of the greatest concerts ever held.  

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