One of the Wonders of Pop Music–All Things Must Pass
Pop Culture Released - Apr 23, 2021
George Harrison was tired of being a Beatle. He was tired of working with John Lennon and Paul McCartney, who over the years had rejected so many of his songs. Harrison's frustrations came to a head in 1968, during the acrimonious recording sessions that produced the Beatles' double LP (a.k.a. "The White Album"). Particularly galling to Harrison was Lennon-McCartney's rejection of two of his best songs, "While My Guitar Gently Weeps" and "All Things Must Pass". Only after a heated exchange, did John and Paul relent and agree to record, "While My Guitar Gently Weeps".
That Fall, George Harrison traveled to Woodstock in upstate New York to meet with Bob Dylan's back-up band. Now calling themselves simply "The Band" they had released a critically acclaimed album, called "Music From Big Pink". Harrison loved the honesty of their music, as well as The Band's creative equality that contrasted strikingly with Lennon-McCartney's dominance of the Beatles. At the same time, he began hanging out with Dylan, and wrote a number of new songs, including one he co-wrote with Dylan, entitled, "I'd Have You Any Time". He also began playing guitar again, which he had neglected during the Beatles' psychedelic phase (when he concentrated on mastering the exotic Indian sitar).
Harrison returned to London as the Beatles began working on a follow-up to "The White Album", an ambitious record they would self-produce, that would return the band to its Rock 'N' Roll roots. Interestingly, the recording sessions would be filmed live. As it turned out, the album, tentatively entitled "Get Back", was too ambitious. The band could not deliver on its vision, and between takes squabbled incessantly. Harrison, meanwhile, had recruited a black rhythm-and-blues singer named Billy Preston to audition for the Beatles' fledgling record label, Apple Records. Lennon and McCartney were so impressed with Preston's jazz stylings on the keyboard, that they invited him to sit in on the "Get Back" sessions. It proved to be an inspired decision, as the recording sessions perked up immediately.
However, when the "Get Back" sessions concluded, no one was happy with the results. The songs were a mishmash of styles with nothing of substance to make them sound of a whole. Even their long-time producer George Martin, who was called in to rescue them, could no nothing with the stillborn sessions. Even Paul McCartney who spear-headed the project, had no answers. With Yoko Ono having replaced him as Lennon's soulmate, McCartney was in something of a funk, and did something that was heretofore unthinkable–he threatened to quit.
Meanwhile, McCartney's gospel tune, "Let It Be" was released as a single, and topped the charts, which renewed everyone's belief that the Beatle's magic was still working. However, a year elapsed, with nothing being done about the lifeless "Get Back" session tapes. It was at this point that Harrison suggested they call in famed "Wall of Sound" producer Phil Spector, to see if he could fix what everyone agreed had been a disaster. (Spector was on record as saying it was his dream to produce the Beatles; now would be his chance). He remixed some songs, added strings and brass to others, eliminated a few, and added Lennon's brilliant "Across the Universe" to the playlist, and renamed the album "Let It Be."
In the meantime, Paul McCartney, who had NOT quit, strongly suggested the Beatles return to the studio, put George Martin back in control, and record a new album. The result was their masterpiece, "Abbey Road". Ironically, the best songs arguably were, "Something" and "Here Comes the Sun", both by George Harrison.
Harrison's latest songs, surprised the critics. What would be his contribution on the next Beatles' album? As it turned out, their next (and last album), was "Let It Be", released in conjunction with the "Let It Be" documentary, about six months after "Abbey Road." By that time, McCartney had walked out for good, and was busy recording his first solo album, a clear indication that the most successful pop band in history, was no more.
Having a large backlog of songs, Harrison was free to showcase them on a solo album of his own. He hired Phil Spector as producer, recruited a number of musicians he admired, including Billy Preston, Leon Russell, Eric Clapton (and his supremely talented backup band), Ringo Star, and a friend from the Beatles' Hamburg days, bassist Klaus Voormann, and recorded an ambitious three-disc album that was destined to eclipse all post-Beatles' solo albums. The album was entitled, ALL THINGS MUST PASS.
Of course, a producer as great as Phil Spector, is only as good as the songs he has to work with. Spector had spent the better part of his career working with some of the best songwriters in the business, but was stunned when first learning of the quality–and quantity–of Harrison's backlog of songs. "I went to George's Friar Park home," recalled Spector, "and he said, 'I have a few ditties for you to hear.' It was endless! He had literally hundreds of songs and each one he played was better than the last. He had all this emotion built up when it was released to me.'"
HARRISON'S BACKLOG OF SONGS
Indeed, Harrison had accumulated songs from as far back as 1966 (both "Isn't It a Pity" and "Art of Dying" date from this time), most of which would appear on ALL THINGS MUST PASS. He co-wrote at least two songs with Dylan, one of which, "I'd Have You Anytime", was used as as the album's opening track. Dylan also encouraged him to record one of his newest songs, "If Not For You", which Harrison retooled into a catchy country tune. Also Included were "Hear Me Lord" and "Let It Down", both rejected by Lennon-McCartney during the ill-fated "Get Back" sessions. It was during the "Get Back" sessions that Harrison became so upset with Lennon and McCartney's obtuseness, that he put down his guitar and walked out. He returned to the sessions about a week later, but during his time away composed, "Wah-Wah" and "Run of the Mill" as expressions of his frustration. Both songs would find their way onto ALL THINGS MUST PASS. The Band's influence on Harrison can be heard on "What is Life", which he wrote in London, after having returned from Woodstock.
A new song, "Behind That Locked Door" was Harrison's message of encouragement to Bob Dylan, written the night before the latter's comeback performance at the Isle of White Music Festival. Harrison initially began composing "My Sweet Lord" as an exercise in writing a gospel song, that quickly turned into something surprising (as the song's hallelujah chorus seamlessly evolved into a hare krishna chant).
Another song, "Ballad of Sir Frankie Crisp (Let it Roll)" was a tribute to the original owner of Harrison's Friar Park estate. "Apple Scruffs" was another tribute song, this one written in appreciation of the many Beatle fans who congregated outside the Abbey Road recording studio. "I Dig Love" came as the result of Harrison's experimenting with the slide guitar. "Beware of Darkness" and "Awaiting On All of You" were two more songs influenced by Harrison's interest in Hinduism.
PLETHORA OF NEW SOUNDS
The first song recorded was "Wah-Wah". During the playback, Harrison was shocked at the amount of echo Spector had added, since the performance had sounded relatively dry through his headphones. Klaus Voormann immediately "loved" the sound, as did Eric Clapton; while John Lennon (having dropped in on the session) was reportedly "bowled over." Harrison later said: "I grew to like it."
According to musical biographer, Simon Leng, ALL THINGS MUST PASS represents the completion of Harrison's "musical-philosophical" odyssey, in which his 1966–68 immersion in Indian music found a Western equivalent in gospel music. While identifying hard rock, country, and Motown as influences, Leng writes of the "plethora of new sounds and influences" that Harrison had absorbed through 1969, and now incorporated, including "Hare Krishna chants, gospel ecstasy, and Southern blues-rock."
Recording proved to be a massive undertaking, with a large, ever-growing, ever-changing cast of musicians, the largeness of which Harrison referred to as being on "a Cecil B. DeMille" scale.
Although Harrison had estimated that the album would take no more than eight weeks to complete, it turned out that rehearsal, recording, overdubbing, mixing, and mastering, consumed eight months (January to September, 1970). Part of the reason was Harrison's need to make regular visits to Liverpool to see his ailing mother, who had been diagnosed with cancer. Spector's erratic behavior was another factor. Harrison later referred to Spector needing "eighteen cherry brandies" before he could start work, a situation that forced much of the production duties onto Harrison's shoulders. At one point, Spector fell over in the studio and broke his arm. He subsequently withdrew from the project for "health reasons".
In Spector's absence, Harrison completed the backing tracks and carried out preliminary overdubs. He then sent tapes of early mixes to Spector for a critique. Spector replied by a letter dated August 19. Among his comments were detailed suggestions on how to give "Let It Down" an even bigger sound. Spector also made suggestions about overdubbing more instruments and orchestration on some tracks, while encouraging Harrison to focus on his vocals and to avoid hiding his voice behind the instrumentation.
ALL THINGS MUST PASS was released on November 27, 1970 in the United States, and on November 30 in Great Britain. Apple Records issued "My Sweet Lord" as the album's first single. Discussing the song's cultural impact, one music critic credits "My Sweet Lord" with being "as pervasive on radio and in youth consciousness as anything the Beatles had ever recorded."
Despite being a pricey three-record box set, ALL THINS MUST PASS rose to number 1 on the UK album chart, while "My Sweet Lord" topped the singles chart. In America, ALL THINGS MUST PASS spent seven weeks at number 1 on the Billboard Top LP's chart, while "My Sweet Lord" held the top spot for several weeks on Billboard's Hot 100.
ALL THINGS MUST PASS was awarded a gold disc by the Recording Industry Association of America on December 17,1970, and it has since been certified six times platinum. According to John Bergstrom of PopMatters, as of January 2011, ALL THINGS MUST PASS had sold more copies than John Lennon's IMAGINE and McCartney and Wings' BAND ON THE RUN combined. After Harrison's death in 2011, music critics at TIME magazine rated ALL THINGS MUST PASS as the best and "most Beatlesque" of all ex-Beatles' solo albums.
- END -