George Harrison – Bangla Desh

When the Beatles broke up I’m sure everyone was looking at John and Paul but George was the one who made the most noise at first. This was right after his masterpiece album All Things Must Pass.

George wrote this song and it describes the plight of the people of Bangladesh, who were fighting for independence from Pakistan. It was to raise awareness for the millions of refugees from the country formerly known as East Pakistan, following the 1970 Bhola cyclone and the outbreak of the Bangladesh Liberation War.

Harrison learned about it from his friend and Sitar player Ravi Shanker. He wrote the song for the Concert for Bangladesh, a fund raiser he helped organize with Shankar that was held at Madison Square Garden over the course of two shows on August 1, 1971. Performers that helped out were Bob Dylan, Badfinger, Eric Clapton, Ringo Starr and Leon Russell.

The song was released three days earlier to promote the event and start raising money for the cause… Harrison then performed it during the concert as an encore at both shows. He held the first rock benefit show which was years before Live Aid.

It was released as a non album single and it peaked at #23 in the Billboard 100, #13 in Canada and #10 in the UK in 1971.

From Songfacts

The country of Bangladesh was known as East Pakistan until March 26, 1971, when it declared independence. This triggered a war with Pakistan, which ruled the country to that point. Many in the area had died during a massive cyclone in November 1970, and the war was ravaging the country once again. Refugees, many Hindu, fled to India by the millions.

Outside of South Asia, this wasn’t a major news story, but Harrison’s efforts brought it to the forefront, especially in America. For many, this song was the first time they heard the word “Bangladesh.”

This was the first charity single by a major artist, and the Concert for Bangladesh was the first benefit concert on this scale. Harrison pulled a page from John Lennon’s playbook by making it a multi-media event, with a single, concert, album and film all pulling to help the same cause. It was a remarkably ambitious undertaking that has yet to be duplicated on this level, although Live Aid, which was associated with the single “Do They Know It’s Christmas?,” was broadcast with a global footprint to an enormous audience and had a much greater impact.

This song charted and got a lot of airplay when it was released, but it quickly vanished because it’s locked to a specific event and sung in the present (so many people are dying fast). Of George Harrison’s hits, it’s the one you’re least likely to hear on any playlist.

George Harrison is the only credited writer on this song, but Leon Russell, who performed at Concert for Bangladesh, gave him some help, suggesting the opening lines that set up the story (“My friend came to me with sadness in his eyes”). Russell most likely played piano on the track.

The title is officially “Bangla Desh,” but has also appeared as “Bangla-Desh” and what has become the common spelling of the country’s name, “Bangladesh.”

Harrison recorded this song with producer Phil Spector, who worked on Harrison’s solo album All Things Must Pass in 1970.

George Harrison was careful not to take a political position in this song, instead staying focused on the suffering. In this way, it was the model for most charity songs that came after.

The song and the concert were pulled together in about five weeks. The concert album wasn’t released until December 20, 1971, and the film didn’t appear until March 23, 1972. The album won the Grammy for Album of the Year at the 1973 ceremony.

Harrison was in London producing the Badfinger album Straight Up when he pivoted to organize the Concert for Bangladesh. Todd Rundgren took over as producer to finish the album, which includes the hits “Day After Day” and “Baby Blue.” Badfinger served as part of the backing band for the concert, and their lead singer, Pete Ham, joined Harrison to perform “Here Comes The Sun.”

Getting the money earned from this song and the related relief efforts to the right place proved challenging. The IRS audited The Beatles’ Apple Records during the ’70s, which prevented a lot of money that was raised from getting to Bangladesh. $2 million was sent through UNICEF in 1972 before the audit; $8.8 million was finally sent in 1981. Harrison kept doing good deeds through his Material World charitable trust.

Bangla Desh

My friend came to me
With sadness in his eyes
Told me that he wanted help
Before his country dies

Although I couldn’t feel the pain
I knew I had to try
Now I’m asking all of you
Help us save some lives

Bangla Desh, Bangla Desh
Where so many people are dying fast
And it sure looks like a mess
I’ve never seen such distress
Now won’t you lend your hand
Try to understand
Relieve the people of Bangla Desh

Bangla Desh, Bangla Desh
Such a great disaster
I don’t understand
But it sure looks like a mess
I never known such distress
Please don’t turn away
I want to hear you say
Relieve the people of Bangla Desh

Relieve the people of Bangla Desh

Bangla Desh, Bangla Desh
Though it may seem so far
From where we all are
It’s something we can’t reject
That suffering I can’t neglect
Now won’t you give some bread
Get the starving fed
We got to relieve Bangla Desh

Relieve the people of Bangla Desh
We got to relieve Bangla Desh

Now won’t you lend your hand
Try to understand
Relieve the people of Bangla Desh

Author: badfinger20 (Max)

Power Pop fan, Baseball fan, old movie and tv show fan... and a songwriter, bass and guitar player.

41 thoughts on “George Harrison – Bangla Desh”

      1. I ran into one of my old work associates, who is working the vax clinic and we chit-chatted for a bit. It was nice to get out and get into the real world for a bit.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Yes…all I go right now is work/home/grocery store…that is basically my world. I’ve got out though quite a bit after around July…but I didn’t go a lot of places to begin with…
        We have had a couple of band practices and that was nice.

        Liked by 1 person

      3. Oh we have fun playing…we were going to play a spring festival last year but that got killed…we have a good time though just playing.

        Liked by 1 person

  1. Fine song. Funny, I remember hearing of the concert for Bangladesh when I was a little kid but don’t remember ever hearing this song on radio though it apparently was a hit in Canada. we can only imagine what George would be doing both creatively and charitably, these days had he survived like Paul and Ringo.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. This one is probably my least known Harrison hits. It’s only been the last few years that I started to listen to it. I can’t remember hearing on the radio back in the day.

      Like

  2. George to my mind just seemed so pure of heart, but also had enormous musical talent. I can see why Dylan was so drawn to him and remained a great friend of his. The fact George was the first to do a benefit concert of this sort is not surprising given what sort of guy he was.
    Great article Max!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thanks Matt. Yes he was a caring soul. Not the most open…that would be John…good or bad but caring yes…it would be George. Unselfish and spiritual would be two good words.

      Like

      1. John went pretty political etc and I don’t blame him during that time of the Vietnam War, but George always seemed to be the instigator of learning about Eastern music, customs and expanding their musical teachings and understandings.
        I like your description of him.

        Liked by 2 people

      2. I doubt he will be forgotten given some magnificent albums and singles post Beatles. Also, I think his instigation and leadership to get the Traveling Wilburrys Record Vol 1 happening will cement him as a Great. Not to mention his involvement with Dylan’s 30th and the Bangladesh concert.

        Liked by 1 person

      3. Oh yea…hmmm burning that wouldn’t be so bad! In fact that is a good idea!

        LOL that is funny…up

        Like

      4. He did lol
        I watched this magnificent interview (again) between Daniel Schmachtenberger and Brett Weinstein. Daniel said: ‘Online dating and internet porn is to intimate relationships what Facebook and Twitter is to tribal bonding’.

        That gets to the crux of our problems at least how I see it

        Like

  3. The most under-rated guitar player of that era. His leads made sense, and actually went with the song. Most of the other players from that period just noodled around. His stuff had a purpose.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes he played for the song and not just to hear himself play. When he learned slide…he remade himself. I’ve tried and I cannot replicate his tone.

      Like

      1. Nor can I, and I play a 1980 Epiphone Casino, like George used, through a Fender tweed amp. I could never get the slide thing down. I did own a Vox AC 30 decades ago, and that’s the closest I got to the Beatles sound.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. I did get a 12 string Danelectro and refitted it with tuners and a new pickup…I can get that 12 string Rick sound of his early days… that is the only one I can come close to.

        Like

      3. I had a Ric 12 for a while and it was hard to keep it tuned. I could play maybe 2 songs without my hands cramping up. Some of the old Sears guitars from the early 60s were made by Danelectro. A friend of mine plays with the Novas and uses that funky looking Danelectro bass. Our band The American Classics stopped playing about 2 years ago after being together for 20 years. Two of us played in The Orphans back in the 60s and our drummer played in The Coachmen back then. We are now in negotiations to start back up.

        Liked by 1 person

      4. Oh that Longhorn Bass… I like those.

        They are cheaper guitars but I didn’t want to shell out 2500 for a Rick for a few songs I wanted to record…this one has that sound.

        That is cool that you are starting back up. We are starting to get together more…it’s a lot of fun.

        Like

      5. One other thing about the 12 string. McGuinn of the Byrds used a compressor on his Ric. I tried one and it definitely gave it that jingle-jangle tone. Our bass player uses a “Kay” bass with a floating bridge and one lipstick pickup. It weighs about 3 lbs. It’s the same one he bought back in 1963. I believe it was made by Danelectro.

        Liked by 1 person

      6. I think they have compression built in as an electronic now in the bass. I do use it on mine.

        I have seen Kay guitars before.

        Like

  4. It’s a nice tune and, yes, I guess it was George’s hit many people forget!

    What’s even more impressive to me is how George pulled the Concert for Bangladesh together. I seem to recall reading somewhere he did not know whether Dylan would attend – apparently, until the moment Mr. Zimmerman walked on stage.

    Clapton, who at the time of the concert was in the throes of heroin addiction, still somehow managed to play guitar – sounds like a miracle to me!

    I think my personal highlight of the film is when George teams up with Pete Ham for “Here Comes the Sun.”

    Liked by 1 person

    1. You hit it for me…George and Pete were both gentile souls and it was nice to see them play that song together and it sounded really good.

      John Lennon was going to join but George said no to Yoko and that pissed John off.

      Yes getting Clapton at that time was dicey because of his addictions….Dylan….I’m glad he showed up…I guess both of them did it for George.

      Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s