George Harrison’s third release was his first official solo album. When it was released it caused a stir – a three album boxed set? Even the Beatles had not released a set with three discs.
Everything about this album was crazy different.
Of all of the George Harrison albums, this is by far my favorite. He was at the top of his game as a songwriter and musician. It took him five more than five months to make but the album was literally years in the making, as this was his first proper solo album. The songs were earnest, they spoke of his faith, his outlook and were from his heart. Even though producer Phil Spector layered it in sound, the sounds were unpretentious and genuine. I first heard the album in its entirety a few years after its release and was amazed the depth of his songwriting and how beautifully and poignant. His later albums each had highlights but none compare to All Things Must Pass.
Harrison was the last of the Beatles to release a proper solo album. Ringo’s Sentimental Journey was first in 1970, followed by McCartney and then Lennon’s Plastic Ono Band Live Peace in Toronto. None of those lived up to the expectations, especially for McCartney. McCartney’s album had some fine songs demos, handmade and thoughtful. Harrison’s All Things Must Pass blew away the competition and especially got a sour review from big brother Lennon.
Harrison’s boxset had an iconic photo of Harrison with the gargoyles gracing the lawn of his grand estate, plus a large poster inside, capturing Harrison’s inwardly reflective persona. He recruited legendary Phil Spector to co-produce, to give it a huge sound. Later, Harrison would consider Spector’s wall of sound to have buried his songs. Harrison also recruited the best musicians on the scene to play on his album, in stark contrast to McCartney playing all the instruments on his project.
So the story goes, Harrison had built up a cache of songs primarily because he wasn’t
allowed much disc space by the Beatles. Even George Martin considered Harrison’s songs to be of lesser quality that Lennon/McCartney songs. However, even Martin trumpeted Harrison’s Abbey Road contributions. “Something” and “Here Comes the Sun” are indeed, classic songs of any era.
Harrison did have a briefcase of songs ready to go, including a few that the Beatles had tackled but were only rough versions. Some of the songs on All Things Must Pass had been rejected by Lennon and McCartney like “Hear Me Lord,” “Let It Down” and “All Things Must Pass.” The message was clear, we’re not interested.
Harrison stated: “I didn’t have many tunes on Beatles records, so doing an album like All Things Must Pass was like going to the bathroom and letting it out.”
Harrison was also writing, enjoying a highly creative period. Harrison had spent time time with Bob Dylan in upstate New York, and went on tour with Delaney and Bonnie, where he hooked up with Dave Mason, Eric Clapton and members of what would the Dominoes. The music and the vibe of that traveling minstrel show freed Harrison from the straitjacket he felt with the Beatles, where he was clearly a junior partner and was told how to play on Lennon/McCartney songs. The looseness and mix of “American music” was just what Harrison needed at the time.
On tour with Delaney and Bonnie, it was Dave Mason who introduced Harrison to the slide guitar, to play a part on one the duo’s songs. Mason said that moment was what turned Harrison’s guitar style and established what became his signature sound, that he used extensively on All Things Must Pass.
The later part of the 1960’s had also been a spiritual awakening for Harrison, his travels to India and spending time producing artists who infused gospel into their music, like Billy Preston and Doris Troy.
Former wife Patti Boyd said, “He now was free and he realized that that freedom was bringing him so much happiness and joy. He could choose which musicians he would like to play on the album. He was like a child with these great players…He hated being in the spotlight, he was very inclusive.”
Peter Frampton also played on the sessions. He said George know that, he didn’t treat them like session players. “He was sort of egoless, which is strange because he was a Beatle!”
Dave Mason added, “George would say, ‘Here’s a song, let’s start playing it and see what happens.'” Very different from his role in the Beatles.
All Things Must Pass and “My Sweet Lord” occupied the number one position on their respective American charts, a first, for an ex-Beatle.
Let’s look at each of the six record sides as originally released. All songs written by Harrison unless otherwise indicated.
I’d Have You Anytime (Harrison/Dylan) – Most albums start big or with a grand production to get your attention but Harrison did the opposite. This quiet, gentle song lacks the big Spector bombast of sound, instead going for a contemplative love song. One of my all-time favorite Harrison songs.
My Sweet Lord – Everyone knows this song, the big single from the album, with layers of acoustic guitars and backing vocals. It is a thoughtful song on a grand scale. Harrison unfortunately was later sued over the song and spent a lot of money and time in court. Harrison eventually bought the copyright to the song in question.
Was-Wah – A nice guitar-oriented song, overall kind of slight. Spector’s production is messy, the effect of the horns is lost, as well as the chorus of guitars, only Harrison’s layered vocals help out. Written during the Let It Be sessions, Harrison was frustrated as feeling like a hired-hand in the Beatles, as he walked out the recording session and did not return until he extracted some concessions from the group.
Isn’t it a Pity (version one) – The better known of the two versions of this song. Harrison’s slide guitar is nice. Not a bad song but a shorter version would have been more effective. Just my opinion.
What is Life – One of the best tracks on the album. Smart, breezy, well-produced (given the Spector habit of too much). A very nice guitar song, punctuated by horns.
If Not For You (Dylan) – A Bob Dylan cover, not a bad song, a country flavored number that seems a bit out of place on the album, but Harrison’s arrangement makes it fit.
Behind That Locked Door – A song that favors “If Not For You” in style with the country influence. Spector adds the right amount of production, not too much or overpowering echo.
Let it Down – Spector does a fine job with the huge intro, then backing off to reveal a beautifully written song, quiet in emotion with a sensitive Harrison vocal performance. Harrison’s guitar is used in a measured approach to accent just the right places.
Run of the Mill – A beautiful song, that is lost on an album full of similar songs. Smart lyrics and an equally effective arrangement.
Beware of Darkness – A tender song with a nice arrangement that doesn’t smother the vocals or the emotion. Harrison’s slide guitar is spectacular. Spector resists overdoing the sound.
Apple Scruffs – A Dylan-type acoustic song written about the groupies who frequented the steps of Apple Records. Harrison’s guitar, layered vocals, slide guitar solo and harmonica.
The Ballad of Sir Frankie Crisp (Let it Roll) – Smartly, Spector lets this song breathe, it is a folkish song with enough musical sensitivity that the arrangement could not be dense. Harrison’s vocal shines in this very acoustically-flavored song, which was a tribute to the original owner of Friar Park, his country estate.
Awaiting on You All – One of Harrison’s best songs on the set and one of the worst mixes, it’s a mess, way too much echo. The arrangement is fine but the instrumentation is stacked and drenched in echo that it is hard to appreciate. Harrison’s lyrics are very biting, some of his smartest writing.
All Things Must Pass – I’ve give Spector credit for the arrangement and instrumentation on this one. The horns and strings in the background add the right color to this gentle, reflective song.
I Dig Love – One of the few songs in the set not buried in deep echo, featuring Harrison’s slide guitar. A great piano, organ and bass song. The arrangement on this song is superb.
Art of Dying – A blues-rock song with way too much echo. Great horn arrangement and thumping bass line, but the vocals are buried in the mix. Otherwise a fine song but it is Spectorized. Originally written in 1966.
Isn’t a Pity (version two) – The slower, dirge-like alternate version. I like this better than version one. The instruments have the Spector echo but he leaves the vocals alone. This version is superior, it is more understandable and Harrison’s layered vocals shine. The song originated from 1966 around the time of Revolver.
Hear Me Lord – A rocking number to close the album. Harrison’s guitar is upfront in the mix. Spector does help with the arrangements, keeping Harrison’s songs of prayer from getting maudlin. The arrangement on this song is great, going loud was better than quiet.
The third LP was entitled Apple Jam, some in studio jam sessions, instrumentals of mainly Harrison, Dave Mason and members of Derek and the Dominoes, who played on various songs on the album. The songs on sides five and six are written by the participants. Originally, they were just credited to Harrison but on the re-releases the songwriting has been amended. Critics were somewhat harsh on these jams, but rarely do you get a sense of the firepower of musicians like those who played on this album. These were not classics, but interesting and worth including on the album.
“For the jams, I didn’t want to just throw [them] in the cupboard, and yet at the same time it wasn’t part of the record; that’s why I put it on a separate label to go in the package as a kind of bonus,” Harrison said.
Out of the Blue – Heavy blues-rock jam, Harrison with Derek and the Dominoes, along with the horn section of Bobby Keyes and Jim Price. Gary “the Dreamweaver” Wright helps on keyboards.
It’s Johnny’s Birthday – An ode to John Lennon’s birthday on pump organ and distorted vocals, the only vocal on sides five and six.
Plug Me In – Harrison in a blues-rock jam with the Dominoes and Dave Mason.
I Remember Jeep – Harrison, Billy Preston, Eric Clapton, Ginger Baker and Klaus Voorman jam in the studio. This has always been one of my favorites from this album. Eight minutes of great jamming, particularly between Harrison and Clapton.
Thanks for the Pepperoni – A bluesy-rock jam, with Jerry Lee Lewis type piano by Bobby Whitlock. Harrison, Clapton and Dave Mason jam on guitars, with Carl Radle and Jim Gordon making up the backbone. This was Harrison and Mason with Derek and the Dominoes.
Harrison benefited from having an old hand like Spector work with him, even if his ponderous arrangements and mixing tended to bury some of the best aspects of Harrison’s performance and sensitivities of his songs. However, he did help Harrison with a broader sound and his production experience. Listening to demos and alternative versions from other recording sources, gives you the opportunity to hear stripped-down performances. Harrison, while not the distinctively strong voice of either Lennon or McCartney, has a soulful and quite pleasing vocal range, and the songs on this album are nice without the layering and thick production noise.
On Harrison’s next studio album, Living in the Material World, Spector dropped out during production so it was Harrison alone who produced that album, and shed the wall of sound approach that Spector brought to All Things Must Pass.
In 2001, Harrison remastered the collection and included some bonus songs. He also included a colorized version of the photo on the front, replacing the black & white version. The sleeves holding the CDs were fantasy photos that included the impact of urbanism on his estate. Harrison and engineer Ken Scott (who worked on the original album) contemplated remixing the album, possibly removing some of Spector’s wall of sound, but the record company said no. In the end, Harrison added some bonus tracks including a demo and alternate version to give the listener an idea of what was under the layers of sound.
In 2010, the 40th Anniversary of the album’s release, a vinyl edition of the 2001 remaster was released.
In 2014, another remaster was done, in time for the released of his solo work, the CD collection included the additional tracks from the 2001 release.
I Live For You – A song recorded during the All Thinks Must Pass session but not used. Harrison took part of it and overdubbed addition instruments including his son Dhani on electric piano and backing vocals.
Beware of Darkness (demo)
Let it Down (alternate track)
What is Life (backing track)
My Sweet Lord (2000 version) – A partial re-recording of the song, with mostly new instrumentation including his slide guitar track.
The All Things Must Pass Sessions.
Collectors have come into possession of tapes from the All Things Must Pass recording sessions. These are working versions and alternate versions of songs from the album.
A number of other songs were demoed or have working versions, some of which appeared on later Harrison albums, other people’s albums or remained unreleased.
The quality is generally good. I have a copy of this set. There is a lot of repetition in versions that sound very similar but for the fan who is a completest, this is a great collection to have. One of the nice things is you hear the songs without the heavy production touches that Phil Spector applied to the finished versions.
Original Release Date: November 27, 1970
Drums & Percussion: Ringo Starr, Jim Gordon, Alan White, (Phil Collins unused percussion)
Bass Guitar: Klaus Voorman, Carl Radle
Keyboards: Gary Wright, Bobby Whitlock, Billy Preston, Gary Brooker
Pedal Steel Guitar: Pete Drake
Guitar: George Harrison, Eric Clapton, Dave Mason, Peter Frampton (uncredited)
Tenor Saxophone: Bobby Keys
Trumpet: Jim Price
Rhythm Guitars & Percussion: Badfinger
Tea, Sympathy, and Tambourine: Mal Evans
And introducing the George O’Hara-Smith Singers
George Harrison & Phil Spector
EMI Studios, Trident Studios, Apple Studios – London
Original photography by Barry Feinstein