Bangla Desh (song) - Release


At Harrison's urging, Capitol Records, Apple's distributor in the United States, set all four of its manufacturing plants to producing copies of the "Bangla Desh" single; one-sided, white label promo discs were also rushed through to ensure immediate radio play for the song. For the US picture sleeve, designer Tom Wilkes chose a suitably topical image, incorporating headlines and text from New York Times articles about the Bangladesh crisis. The articles made mention of vultures being the "happiest creatures" amid the chaos in Dacca, and India's "wait and see" policy regarding events in East Pakistan. (The latter position would be directly altered by Anthony Mascarenhas' exposé, Prime Minister Indira Gandhi later admitted, leading to Indian troops finally entering the fray on 4 December.) The front of the picture sleeve was topped with the line "(We've Got to Relieve)" before the words "Bangla Desh", leading a number of publications to include the parenthetical text as part of the official song title. Boxed off at the foot of the front sleeve were details of the George Harrison−Ravi Shankar Special Emergency Relief Fund (care of UNICEF's New York headquarters), to which proceeds of the single would go and further donations were encouraged. The back cover of the US sleeve was taken from a UPI news agency photograph − an "emotional" image showing a mother comforting her starving child. This photo was also used in the aid project's magazine advertising campaign, as well as for the front of the single's picture sleeve in Denmark and Japan.

Backed with the highly regarded "Deep Blue", the "Bangla Desh" single was issued on 28 July in the United States (as Apple 1836), with a UK release following two days later (R 5912). It achieved considerable, though not spectacular, commercial success: number 10 in Britain and number 23 in America. More importantly, though, as Shankar noted years later, now "the whole world knew the name of Bangladesh". Harrison's single attracted an impressive amount of airplay in the days leading up to the concerts, and lent the relief project an authentic social and political significance. A Bangladeshi academic, Professor Farida Majid, would later write: "To the utter consternation of Nixon and Kissinger, George Harrison's 'Bangla Desh' hit the chart. It was a thrilling moment in the midst of all the sad news emanating from the battlefront. Even the Western journalists covering the civil war in East Pakistan were not yet using the word 'Bangladesh'."

Despite the song having been a sizeable hit − and its status as the first-ever rock 'n roll charity single, a decade plus before Band Aid and USA for Africa − "Bangla Desh" has been mostly ignored by record-company repackagers since 1971. Over a period of 40 years, the studio version has received an album release only on the 1976 compilation The Best of George Harrison, the CD format of which has yet to be remastered since the early '90s. (The 2005 re-release of the Concert for Bangladesh album contains Harrison's live version of "Bangla Desh", and the remastered studio recording was belatedly included with this reissue, but only as an iTunes-exclusive download in July 2011.)

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