The Meaning Behind “Crackerbox Palace” by George Harrison and How a Hipster Comedian from the ’50s Inspired the Title

George Harrison is known by many for the profound, questing nature of his songwriting. But he also often displayed a whimsical side that showed that he didn’t ever take himself too seriously. “Crackerbox Palace,” a Top-20 hit for Harrison in 1976, managed to touch on both extremes in his artistic arsenal.

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What is the song about? And how did a chance meeting inspire it? Let’s find out about how George Harrison happened upon “Crackerbox Palace.”

A New Label and a New Acquaintance

George Harrison had formed his label Dark Horse Records in 1974, but wasn’t able to record anything on it until his contract with EMI ran out. 33 1/3, the album Harrison released in 1976 that included “Crackerbox Palace,” would be the first release on the Dark Horse label that would be used exclusively for Harrison releases in the future.

Harrison recorded the album at a studio he had built on his Friar’s Park estate in England. And he served as a host to his bandmates, who actually lived on the grounds while the record was being made. That collegial atmosphere worked its way into the record, one of the gentlest and most good-natured of his career.

In terms of “Crackerbox Palace,” which would be chosen as one of the singles for the record, it came from a chance encounter that Harrison experienced. He was in Cannes, France for a music festival, where he happened upon a man who managed a comedian from the 1940s and ’50s named Lord Buckley.

Buckley had appealed greatly to Harrison during his heyday, which is probably why the ex-Beatle started pressing this former employee of the hipster comedian Buckley for information. It led to the revelation that inspired “Crackerbox Palace,” as Harrison recounted in his autobiography I Me Mine:

“So I was talking with this guy, George Greif, in France, about Lord Buckley, and he said Buckley lived in an old beaten-up house in Los Angeles which he called ‘Crackerbox Palace.’ I thought ‘Ah, that sounds like a song’ and wrote it down on a cigarette pack. I came home and wrote the song.”

Once the idea for the lyrics was in place, Harrison came up with a clever arrangement that hints at reggae without quite committing to it. Saxophonist Tom Scott adds some quirky flavor to the open spaces within the song. And, as usual, Harrison’s slide guitar notes, bending and branching out in unexpected directions, are a major part of the proceedings.

What is “Crackerbox Palace” About?

Harrison basically used the title “Crackerbox Palace” as a jumping-off point for a quirky little tale about growing up without ever losing connections to one’s roots. He also adds some sly commentary about how those roots can tend to be stubborn about letting go at times: Do what the rest all do / Or face the fact that Crackerbox Palace / May have no other choice than to deport you.

But for the most part, Harrison paints it as a benign place, one that welcomes the narrator into the fold with love. That narrator, like Harrison himself, seeks answers: I looked around for someone who / Would help reveal my heart. In the final verse, he name-checks Mr. Greif (and what a fortunate meeting to find somebody whose last name rhymes with life) and portrays him as the one who helps the narrator get clarity.

That clarity comes in the final repeat of the chorus with the line Know that the lord is well and inside you. It’s a sentiment expressed many times over in George Harrison’s body of work. But perhaps never did Harrison put that message in a package so lighthearted as he did with “Crackerbox Palace.”

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Photo by Steve Morley/Redferns

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