I’ll be honest with you: I had never ever heard of this obscure British release from the 1960s by Lord Sitar that was reissued on Record Store Day this year.
Fortunately, one of my music collecting Beatle-fan buddies clued me into it (thanks again, Frank!) saying that it was rumored at the time of its release to possibly be George Harrison playing Sitar on this album — or that Lord Sitar was somehow connected to the quiet Beatle.
Lord Sitar does in fact cover the Fabs’ “I Am The Walrus,” “Eleanor Rigby” and Harrison’s “Blue Jay Way.” And Harrison is mentioned on the liner notes as the driving force establishing the Sitar as one of the premier sounds of the then-new-and-still-emergent “psychedelic” music trend.
It’s all rather groovy in a swinging 60s sort of way…. I mean, the liner notes sort of say it all: “One track of note which could have almost have been written for Sitar is ‘If I Were A Rich Man’, which takes the listener on a round trip from India to Tijuana Brass country and back ending on a traditional Indian raga.”
They forgot to mention that the song is from Fiddler on the Roof, a musical about Russian Jewish country folk being pushed out of their homeland by the Tsar at the turn of the 20th century.
Hmm…. George Harrison covering Fiddler on the Roof??
Hmmm… My inner dubious-likelihood-o-meter jumped up to 11 the moment I heard that song… time to dig a little deeper… more on that soon…
Anyhow, this lovely British import reissue of this obscure Parlophone release is a fascinating slice of ever-so-groovy swingin’ mod-a-go-go London with Sitar taking the melodic lead on period psychedelic pop hits such as The Who’s “I Can See For Miles,” and The Monkee’s “Daydream Believer.”
Yes. The Monkees. Of course. When one thinks of swingin’ London and Sitars, doesn’t everyone immediately think of The Monkees??
Ok, so this set isn’t exactly an authentic Ravi Shankar experience, but it IS very much a snapshot of a time and place.
My friend Gary summed it up perfectly when I played him a track today: It sounds like the fake James Bond-in-India soundtrack music from The Beatles’ Help movie.
Lord Sitar is on EMI’s fine Parlophone label (the same label The Beatles recorded for, by the way, possibly lending more credence to the Harrison theory) and the pressings are beautiful, thick, probably 180-gram emerald and dead quiet green vinyl.
The color vinyl ties to to the song “Emerald City,” no doubt.
Whatever it is, Lord Sitar’s album is a bunch of lighthearted fun.
If you are looking for optional instrumental music to your Herb Alpert records and want something equally fun and unusual, Lord Sitar may well be your cuppa tea.
And who knows? Maybe, just maybe, it might be George Harrison playing for your psychedelic entertainment.
Well, actually it turns out to be someone who actually practiced WITH George Harrison at one point. If the Wikipedia (and some other sources around the Interwebs) is accurate, Lord Sitar is one Big Jim Sullivan, a much in-demand session guitarist who learned Sitar in the early 60s and released this and one other album of Sitar-based music in the mid-60s as part of a attempt by the label to cash in on the instrument’s then hugely popular sound. Sullivan apparently played on Harrison’s soundtrack to the 60s mod-psychedelic film Wonderwall — this music could also be a partial alternative soundtrack for that film — as well as records by The Walker Brothers, Donovan and David Bowie.
Well, now you do!