Pristine, Restored Footage of George Harrison & Bob Dylan Rehearsing “If Not For You” at the Concert for Bangladesh (1971)

“Dylan… was real­ly into the whole idea of it for the refugees.…” says George Har­ri­son over the restored footage above from 1971’s Con­cert for Bangladesh. The qui­et Beat­le’s scouser lilt will sure­ly tug at your heart­strings, as will Har­ri­son and Dylan’s care­ful rehearsal take of “If Not for You,” a song they did not end up play­ing togeth­er dur­ing the con­cert. It’s a sig­nif­i­cant shared moment nonethe­less. As fans know, “If Not for You” became a key­stone song for both artists at the turn of the 70s.

Dylan wrote the song the year pre­vi­ous as the first track on his 1970 New Morn­ing, a record crit­ics her­ald­ed as a return to form after the panned dou­ble album, Self Por­trait. Har­ri­son him­self sat in on a ses­sion for the song and record­ed a “lan­guid ear­ly ver­sion,” notes Bea­t­les Bible, “at Columbi­a’s Stu­dio B in New York.”

The track is “thought to be Har­rison’s first record­ed instance of slide gui­tar,” a tech­nique that would char­ac­ter­ize the sound of his dou­ble debut, All Things Must Pass. His pres­ence arguably helped shape the direc­tion of Dylan’s record­ing, which Dylan him­self would lat­er describe as “sort of Tex-Mex.”

Har­rison’s album, released in the same year as New Morn­ing, fea­tures his — per­haps bet­ter known — ver­sion of “If Not for You,” a song that has been cov­ered dozens of times since. (All Things Must Pass also fea­tures a 1968 col­lab­o­ra­tion between Har­ri­son and Dylan: name­ly, the open­ing track, “I’d Have You Any­time.”) It’s a song that seems to sum up the two musi­cians’ con­tent­ment with their mar­riages and lives at the time. The per­for­mance, though only a sound­check, pro­vides “an inti­mate glimpse,” crit­ic Simon Leng com­ments, “of the warm friend­ship between two major cul­tur­al fig­ures at a point when both were emo­tion­al­ly vul­ner­a­ble.”

On one hand, the Con­cert for Bangladesh was a world-his­tor­i­cal event, pro­vid­ing inspi­ra­tion for Live Aid and oth­er sta­di­um-sized ben­e­fit shows. “In one day,” as Ravi Shankar put it, “the whole world knew the name of Bangladesh.” NME called it “The Great­est Rock Spec­ta­cle of the Decade” and Rolling Stone’s edi­tors described “a brief incan­des­cent revival of all that was best about the Six­ties.”

But on the oth­er hand, in moments like these, we can see the con­cert as a turn into a more mature, sen­si­tive sev­en­ties. “Instead of cry­ing ‘I want you so bad,” wrote Ed Ward in his 1970 New Morn­ing review, Dylan is “cel­e­brat­ing the fact that not only has he found her, but they know each oth­er well, and get strength from each oth­er, depend on each oth­er.” In the take at the top, Jack What­ley observes, Har­ri­son and Dylan “spend the entire song look­ing at each oth­er, as if they’re singing about their own rela­tion­ship.”

via Laugh­ing Squid

Relat­ed Con­tent:

George Har­ri­son “My Sweet Lord” Gets an Offi­cial Music Video, Fea­tur­ing Ringo Starr, Al Yankovic, Pat­ton Oswalt & Many Oth­ers

Bob Dylan’s Famous Tele­vised Press Con­fer­ence After He Went Elec­tric (1965)

How Bob Dylan Cre­at­ed a Musi­cal & Lit­er­ary World All His Own: Four Video Essays

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness

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