50 Years Later: Revisiting Arguably The Greatest Beatles Solo LP: George Harrison’s ‘All Things Must Pass’

With 50 years of hindsight, the all-around lavish nature of George Harrison’s All Things Must Pass (released 11/27/70), seems like nothing so much as destiny. Consider the confluence of circumstances surrounding its release: with music having become the bellwether of culture by 1970, this greatest of all the arts had ignited a corresponding elevation of commerce that allowed for expansive packaging like this three-LP box set. And that business boom correlated with the broadening (and deepening) of creative freedom: musicians were no longer relegated solely to membership in their respective bands and instead were collaborating in the cross-pollination of the so-called supergroup phenomenon. All the way around more rather than less was the rule. 

Add in Harrison’s status as a former Beatle by this time and it only stands to reason his first real solo album (after two instrumental works on the group’s Apple label) would look, sound, and feel like a watershed in both personal and societal terms. And yet, even the man himself had some second thoughts on his efforts, remixing the album for 2001 reissue, adding tracks to the original sixteen song-oriented cuts and updating the already striking cover art in line with changing times. Such intimate retrospect can’t help but reconfigure more general perceptions of the album, most conspicuously contemplation of the essential nature of All Things Must Pass.

Simply put, the album might well have been condensed into a powerhouse single LP that would still retain the vast scope of  Phil Spector’s production as a direct reflection of the spiritual nature of much of the material. Such distillation would leave the jams unreleased (or included with the subsequently expanded reissue); no doubt “Plug Me In” and “Thanks for the Pepperoni” allowed the participating musicians (former Traffic member Dave Mason as well as a fledgling Derek and The Dominos, among many others) a chance to flex their muscles, get limber in advance of formal recording and/or decompress from same. But, apart from the notable similarity of the early portions of “Out of the Blue” to the Bobby Keys-led sax segments of the Rolling Stones’ “Can’t You Hear Me Knockin’,” (from Sticky Fingers, recorded during the same general period as George and company did), there’s little to distinguish the performances.

In a similar vein, the truly substantial tunes that spread over the two LPs in the original set could easily have been consolidated and perhaps even re-sequenced for as much as or even greater impact. Appearing in the setlist during August 1971’s The Concert for Bangladesh  ratifies the worth of “Awaiting On You All,” “Beware of Darkness,” “Wah Wah” and “What Is Life.” The gentle-hearted “Isn’t It A Pity” radiates a genuine generosity of spirit that mollifies the severe attitude in “Art of Dying,” even as this title tune would make a much better conclusion to any track sequence than that latter cut. And copyright lawsuit aside, while “My Sweet Lord” might make an entrancing opener, the song George co-wrote with his friend Bob Dylan, “I’d Have You Anytime,” would serve the same purpose and perhaps in superior fashion. (The latter’s own version of “If Not For You” predates this one in its inclusion on New Morning released earlier in the fall this same year).

In this new format, then, almost half the remaining tracks would be excised. For instance, sweet as Pete Drake’s pedal steel sounds on “Behind That Locked Door,” it’s cannot camouflage the tune’s lack of depth. Likewise, Harrison’s own distinctive slide guitar manages to cut through his famed co-producers ‘Wall of Sound,’ as well John Barham’s massive orchestrations, but there’s no denying the lightweight nature of “Apple Scruffs,” “I Dig Love” and “Ballad of Sir Frankie Crisp (Let It Roll).” 

Quite possibly the egos involved, as well as some misplaced respect/reverence for the iconic figures involved here, precluded some discerning editing. And that’s reasonable because, after all, how much frank and free-flowing dialogue could occur within a circle of participants including Slowhand a/k/a Eric Clapton (‘Is God’), the studio savant who oversaw epics Ike & Tina Turner’s “River Deep Mountain High” and the Righteous Brothers’ “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin’,” among others? And that’s not to mention the artist at the center of the project, understandably (over?) eager to utilize a clutch of original songs his famous former band would not fathom?

Regardless, in shortened form or not, George Harrison’s All Things Must Pass is right in line with his legacy as a member of the iconic Liverpudlian quartet as well as an artist on his own terms. Notwithstanding the eminently forgivable overworking of himself circa 1975 and Extra Texture (Read All About It), the late guitarist/songwriter/humanitarian never embarrassed himself or his group (at least publicly). On the contrary, this early effort of his may contain more substance than any of the solo works of his peers in the Fab Four, contemporaneous and otherwise.

 

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