In the final days of Apple, George Harrison struck a deal with Herb Albert and Jerry Moss of A&M Records to start his own record label. The label released its first two albums the first week of September 1974. "The Place I Love" by Splinter and "Shankar Family & Friends" both featured heavy Harrison involvement. George's plan was to record for Dark Horse as soon as his Apple contract expired the following year, but he failed to deliver a new album in time and ended up moving to Warner, where Dark Horse became only a custom label for George Harrison product.
The A&M Dark Horse period (1974-1976) gave George the chance to support other artists, and his stamp was on several of the releases. Splinter consisted of Robert Purvis, who wrote most of the songs and Bill Elliot, who actually sang lead on the Apple single "God Save Us" by the Elastic Oz Band. "God Save Us" can only be described as a John Lennon single featuring a guest singer. Splinter's album, "The Place I Love" could arguably be described as a George Harrison album featuring two guest singer/songwriters. Although the songs came from the band, the arrangements sound as if they were lifted directly from a George Harrison album.
In a clever way to give attention to his new record label, George Harrison called his December 1974 Apple album "Dark Horse." The front cover featured a cropped and doctored school picture. The cropping not only allowed it to fit on a 12x12 album cover, but also got rid of Paul McCartney and Neil Aspinall who were in that large group of students. The original picture can be found here.
The doctoring of the image involved giving George a blue tint to make him stand out, and putting tee shirts on some of the people in the front row to show various record label emblems with which George was associated (including the stunning Dark Horse logo of course). There was also the insertion of a bald headed character right in front of George in the center of the crowd with a Capitol Records logo. That man was not in the original picture.
Cropped version of the original picture:
Dark Horse Album cover:
Another feature of the front cover of George Harrison's "Dark Horse" album was a picture of Babaji, the guru that is believed by some to be living in the same body for centuries.
For some reason, the picture of Babaji comes in different sizes.
One key point about the presence of Babaji is that it is yet another example of a subsequent work pointing back to the "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band" album as Babaji was there too, partially obscured by the famous hand, right between Paul's pal William S. Burroughs and comic actor Stan Laurel. This is particularly significant since many people see this cover as a parody of Sgt. Pepper anyway.
Another curiosity about the Dark Horse cover art is the inner gate-fold picture of George walking with someone who frequently intersects with the Beatles mystery. Although the man walking with George is not identified, it is actually Peter Sellers.
The "Dark Horse" album and its simultaneous tour resulted in George receiving some of the worst press of his career, but he continued to sign new acts to his fledgling record label. One signing that raised some eyebrows was that of everybody's LEAST favorite Wings lead guitarist, Henry McCullough. In an interview promoting the "Dark Horse" album George explained that Henry came to him saying, "I don't know if I am a great player or if I can't play at all." George said that he told Henry that this loss of confidence is what happens when you play in a band with Paul McCartney. It wasn't really his playing as much as the fact that Henry never seemed to be in tune during those early Wings concerts that seemed to turn off some fans. That's why it is interesting that Henry chose to keep a false start of one song on his album where he jokes, "You don't have to be in tune for this number." There is no way to know if that comment was aimed at his former employer, but the title of the tune just happened to be "I Can Drive A Car." The most shocking thing about Henry McCullough's album for George's Dark Horse label is that it is an excellent collection of songs.
By this time, George was not as involved in the recording of Dark Horse releases, but he still received a credit on Splinter's second album, "Harder To Live," when they dusted off an old recording that they did with him for the movie "Little Malcolm and His Struggle Against the Eunichs."
George was not available for the band shot on the back cover, so a cardboard version was used.
An interesting song on Splinter's "Harder To Live" album is called "Halfway There." The song uses travel as a metaphor for a growing love relationship, but there is an interesting twist. Although the couple is traveling throughout the verses of the song, they always seem to be only "halfway there" to their destination. It reminds one of the Beatles "Magical Mystery Tour" film where the bus moves all around to different locations, but each time the scene goes back to the magicians, the bus is still at the same location (i.e. 10 miles north on the Dewsbury Road). The chances of there being a real connection between these two items is minuscule, however, if you look at some of the lyrics to "Halfway There" by Robert Purvis, you'll see:
Hitch a ride outside Durham
Takes you straight into Leeds
Well, a quick check on Google maps will tell you that if you do "Hitch a ride outside Durham" and head "straight into Leeds" you could quite possibly find yourself 10 miles north on the Dewsbury Road. Click image below for full size version.
Another act for Dark Horse was named "Jiva" after the sanskrit word meaning "To breathe." This white funk band was apparently recommended to George by Olivia. The opening track, which was also a single, was entitled "Something's Goin' On Inside L.A." Granted the lyrics are open to interpretation and there is a line about "snide remarks" that makes me cringe a little, but I think you will find that something bloody weird was going on in this ditty that is undoubtedly about the fabs.
Something's Goin' On Inside L.A. (Lanning-Hilton-Strauss)
Someone's sittin' down and just about to lazy day it all away
Notices there's somethin' wrong and somethin's goin' on inside L.A.
He pices up on the eyes of someone walkin' thinkin' nothing's true
He says something cosmic's goin' on while Ringo sings his song, "For Only You"
The other three magicians realize the mystery tour is just a game
While healing bruises, licking wounds and trying to comprehend a shipwrecked fame
The lovers of the truth remark regarding what the hell they're gonna do
They say something cosmic's goin' on while Ringo ends his song, "For Only You"
In case you didn't hear it
You can't be any nearer to it
Something's Goin' On Inside L.A.
There's someone layin' money down that can't undo the chains inside his heart
And sometimes acting violently because of someone else's snide remark
The money goes to people into arguing that heaven isn't here
While all the time ignoring that perfection which the lovers see so clear
The pawn shop dealer deals inside has no direction when he's in the street
He has always had a fear of whirling dervishes that knock him off his feet
I'm just talkin' 'bout an ordinary man that tries to crawl inside his life
Who is hung up and brought down and cannot seem to get along without his wife
Now in case you didn't hear it
He can't be any nearer to it
Something's goin' on inside L.A.
You can hear this track on Jiva's Myspace Page.