In the summer of 1971, George Harrison and Ravi Shankar organized the Concert for Bangla Desh to benefit refugees in the newly-independent country of Bangla Desh (formerly East Pakistan), which was ravaged by war and natural disasters. The logistics were simple: they invited some friends to come and play. Ringo Starr was in the stage band. Bob Dylan made his first concert appearance in two years; Eric Clapton played, too, deep in heroin addiction. Leon Russell led the stage band. Paul McCartney declined to appear. John Lennon decided not to, after originally agreeing to Harrison’s condition that Yoko Ono stay away.
Two shows were presented at Madison Square Garden in New York on August 1. Forty years ago this week, the soundtrack album from the concerts was released.
Like Harrison’s All Things Must Pass a year before, The Concert for Bangla Desh covered three vinyl albums. Top tracks from the album include full-band versions of “My Sweet Lord” and “While My Guitar Gently Weeps,” along with “It Takes a Lot to Laugh, It Takes a Train to Cry,” sung by Dylan and backed by Harrison, Starr, and Russell.
The Concert for Bangla Desh reached #1 in the UK and #2 in the States. In March 1973, it won Album of the Year at the Grammys, beating out an impressive list of nominees, including Nilsson Schmilsson, American Pie, the Broadway cast soundtrack of Jesus Christ Superstar, and [lastfm link_type="artist_info"]Neil Diamond[/lastfm]‘s Moods. The album and the concert film raised millions of dollars for UNICEF, although the money was tied up in tax litigation for years. If you buy a copy today, the proceeds still go to UNICEF.
Here’s the trailer for the 2005 DVD release of the concert film, which came out originally in 1972.