Fifty years ago this Sunday, August 1st, 1971,George Harrison staged The Concert for Bangladesh, the first of its kind large scale all-star benefit, which paved the way for the likes of Live Aid, Farm Aid, Live 8and the Concert for New York City.
The two shows -- Sunday afternoon and evening -- were held at New York's Madison Square Garden to raise money for the refugees from East Pakistan (now Bangladesh) at the request of his friend, Indian sitar virtuoso and a composer Ravi Shankar.
Harrison rounded up Bob Dylan, Eric Clapton, Billy Preston, Leon Russell and Badfinger. Clapton, who was addicted to heroin, agreed to participate but only if Harrison would supply drugs.John Lennon was invited, but without Yoko Ono. He reportedly agreed, but then argued with Yoko over it and backed out.Paul McCartney declined in the wake of The Beatles' acrimonious breakup the year before. And Ringo Starr crashed the party. And even though Bob Dylan agreed to perform, no one knew if he would show up.
Harrison performed eight of his songs live for the first time that day, including The Beatles' "Something," "While My Guitar Gently Weeps" and "Here Comes the Sun." "Wah-Wah," "My Sweet Lord," "Awaiting on You All" and "Beware of Darkness" came from his first post-Beatles solo album, 1970'sAll Things Must Pass. The song "Bangladesh" was written specifically for the event. Ringo debuted "It Don't Come Easy" and flubbed the lyrics.
A three-record set of the show was released later in 1971 and won a Grammy for Album of the Year. It's been reissued several times since, most recently 10 years ago as a digital download.
The album included the first officially released live material from Bob Dylan.
A documentary film of the concert opened in 1972 and has since become available on video and DVD. (Crowd noise from the film was used by producer Jack Douglas on Aerosmith's cover of "Train Kept A-Rollin'.")
The two concerts initially raised $243,000, which was handed over to UNICEF. By 1985, nearly $12 million in proceeds had been earmarked for Bangladesh. However, the money was tied up for more than a decade because concert organizers had neglected to seek tax-exempt status.
Sales of the album and DVD continue to benefit the George Harrison Fund for UNICEF.
Songs played at The Concert for Bangladesh
- "Awaiting on You All"
- "Beware of Darkness"
- "While My Guitar Gently Weeps"
- "Here Comes the Sun"
- "Hear Me Lord"
- "My Sweet Lord"
- "That's the Way God Planned It"
- "It Don't Come Easy"
- "Jumpin' Jack Flash" into "Young Blood"
- "A Hard Rain's A-Gonna Fall"
- "Blowin' in the Wind"
- "It Takes a Lot to Laugh, It Takes a Train to Cry"
- "Love Minus Zero/No Limit"
- "Just Like a Woman"
- "Mr. Tambourine Man"