Monday, July 14, 2008

George Harrison 2: All Things Must Pass

For his first real solo album, George came bursting out of the gate with a multi-record boxed set to prove to the world that his talents hadn’t been realized to their utmost potential. Granted, one of the three discs consists of pretty simple instrumentals, but compared to the down-home qualities of the other three’s 1970 solo output, All Things Must Pass is a natural progression from the sophistication of Abbey Road. And, after having been kept on a short leash for John’s concurrent album, Phil Spector got his big chance to really go nuts with a Beatle in the studio.
Oddly enough, despite George’s status as the “mystical one” who dragged everyone to India, the strongest musical tone throughout is country-and-western. Looking at the credits on the inside cover of the box we see such names as Bob Dylan and Pete Drake, and the first notes suggest a Nashville influence. The sultry “I’d Have You Anytime” welcomes us in with lyrical help from Dylan, deep in his own Nashville phase. “My Sweet Lord” follows, the first really overt religious number in George’s repertoire. It would not be his last. “Wah-Wah” was allegedly written the day he walked out of the Get Back sessions; while he’d explained that the title is a euphemism for a headache, it’s also the effect pedal we hear near the start of the song. It’s a great tune, with all those guitars chiming along, horns blaring, and what sounds like a car driving off at the very end. “Isn’t It A Pity” closes this perfect album side, starting so gently and carrying us away with the slightest variations on the same chords.
“What Is Life” is another classic; when he wants to, he can praise the Lord without being preachy and still get played on the radio. His version is still the best of “If Not For You”, as the arrangement is much more delicate than Dylan’s or anyone else’s. “Behind That Locked Door” is very country on the surface, but is a sweet love song to a sad friend. “Let It Down” is 1970 Rock done correctly without being dated. He’d tried this with the Beatles, but John and Paul either couldn’t or wouldn’t learn it, and it’s their loss. “Run Of The Mill” gently takes us out of the second side, with his usual jumpy time changes. Another great end to another great side.
“Beware Of Darkness” rises like the sunrise, and is just as invigorating. The guitar solo really shines, underneath that haunting arrangement. “Apple Scruffs” is fairly Dylanesque, and not just because of the harmonica. As grumpy as George could be, it’s clear he did appreciate some of the attention from his fans. “The Ballad Of Sir Frankie Crisp (Let It Roll)” has the most pointless lyrics so far, but the simple chords and the piano work every time. “Awaiting On You All” is a fairly rousing Christian rock number that couldn’t possibly offend an atheist. And while the title track may seem as timely as that year’s headlines, it’s simply an homage to his new friends in The Band.
With three sides in a row resulting in a full hour of great music, we can almost forgive the less exciting remainder. Well, almost; “I Dig Love” just plain stinks, and it’s surprising that Lenny Kravitz hasn’t stolen it yet, as it’s right up his THC-clogged alley. “Art Of Dying” brings us back with its nasty riffing and nightmare strings, but another, inferior version of “Isn’t It A Pity” serves no purpose. “Hear Me Lord” ends the side oddly, with its uncertainty a striking contrast to the happy God songs on the other sides. (This was also shown to the Beatles, and it’s not surprising to know they weren’t impressed with the words. But it’s still a pretty powerful song.)
After all that, he’s somewhat justified in showing off with his buddies on the “Apple Jam” disc. “Out Of The Blue” is kicked open in progress, and while it’s the longest jam it’s still the best. “It’s Johnny’s Birthday” provides some long overdue humor, going right into “Plug Me In”. “I Remember Jeep” has some synthesizer whoops and beeps scattered across it, while “Thanks For The Pepperoni” gets its inspiration from the Chuck Berry riff.
The rest of George’s solo career had to live up to this strong start. All Things Must Pass has only gained more sentimental value, and a worthy investment for anyone who has all the Beatle albums yet is tentative about leaping into the murky waters of their solo careers.
The original CD issue had the first (and best) three sides on one disc, with the rest on the other. The 2001 reissue (and the 2014 Apple Years edition) modified this and beefed it up a bit: the first disc has sides one and two plus new bonus tracks, and the second has sides three and four plus “Apple Jam” in what was supposedly the original sequence before it was shuffled to fit on the LP better. Of the bonuses, the best one is the hokey but sweet “I Live For You”. This is just one of the tunes he’d sat on during the end of the Beatles, and would have been appreciated more in 1970 than “I Dig Love” or the second “Isn’t It A Pity”. “Beware Of Darkness” and “Let It Down” are acoustic demos, with a little modern sweetening in the case of the latter. The backing track for “What Is Life” shows off more mariachi trumpet that was thankfully wiped from the final mix, and “My Sweet Lord (2000)” is no replacement for the original.
While slightly delayed by the COVID-19 pandemic, the Harrison Estate approved a deluxe overhaul of the album for its golden anniversary. Dhani Harrison supervised a modern remix of the album, pulling down some of the walls of sound and bringing out George’s voice in most places. Once again, sides one and two made up one CD, while the other four sides (in the original order) filled a second. A third disc was devoted to a day’s worth of demos recorded with Ringo and Klaus Voormann—some of which sound more like early takes with a lot more musicians involved—while a fourth replicated the Beware Of Abkco! bootleg of solo demos recorded the day after. Among the tracks left in the fabled bullpen: the Elvis pastiche “Going Down To Golders Green”; “Dehra Dun” and “Sour Milk Sea” from early 1968; “Window Window” from 1969; the sublime lament “Nowhere To Go”; Dylan’s “I Don’t Want To Do It”; and future LP track “Beautiful Girl”. A fifth disc of “session outtakes and jams”—which was included as the third disc in the cheaper of the expanded editions—provided some variety on familiar songs. (Fans who’d benefitted from the material world could have sprung for an “uber box” that also included more detailed session notes, a copy of a pamphlet by one of George’s gurus, a bookmark carved out of one of George’s trees, and scale replicas of the gnomes on the cover.)

George Harrison All Things Must Pass (1970)—
2001 remaster: same as 1970, plus 5 extra tracks
2021 50th Anniversary Edition: “same” as 1970, plus 17 extra tracks (Super Deluxe adds another 30 tracks)


  1. When I first heard “My Sweet Lord”, I just thought it was a good song. Then, they released “What Is Life?”, and I was just blown away by its power. It’s still my favorite of his songs – but I interpret it as a simple love song, like “Here Comes the Sun”. The balance of the two main LP’s is uniformly excellent, although I initially found tracks like “Behind My Locked Door” and “Let It Roll” a little dull. I have favorites of both the “Wall of Sound” tracks (“Art of Dying”, “Wah-Wah” “Isn't It a Pity #1”) and the more intimate tracks (“Isn't It a Pity #2”, “Apple Scruffs”, “If Not For You”).
    But wait a minute. You really like “Ram”, but you think “I Dig Love” “stinks”? I detect a slight inconsistency there, friend. It’s a silly, throwaway song, and George probably knew that it is. I think it’s great that he put this goofy, lighthearted bit of fun in the middle of the album, sequenced right in-between the heavier statements of the title track and “Art of Dying”. It would be the last time he expressed his sense of humor on an album for quite a long time.
    As for the 30th anniversary bonus tracks, I think that I like the slightly enhanced “demo” of “Let it Down” better than the album version. This is one case where the “Wall of Sound” overwhelms the message of the song. Of course, I was totally thrilled with the early mix of “What is Life”. As for the remake of “My Sweet Lord” – well, it sounds very much like it belongs on “Brainwashed”. A relaxed, homey, feel, like that album. Of course, contrasting his 1970 vocal with his 2000 one indicated that his voice had lost its flexibility. He was starting to get really sick, so that can be forgiven.
    There are only two things that mar the album. One, of course, are the stupid jams at the end of the album. Unfortunately, no one in the Beatles’ management or EMI Records was about to tell any of the Beatles that any of the extraneous shit that they recorded was not necessarily good enough to release. If George had left them out, the album would have been cheaper, too. Oh well – no one had to play them, and I’m sure most people, like me, did do so only one.
    The other is “Awaiting on You All”. Despite being good musically, George gets a bit annoying with his preaching in the second person in the first two verses. Then, he goes over the line in the third, with his unnecessarily obnoxious dig at the Pope. I can certainly understand why George would be angry at the pre-Vatican II Catholic Church of his youth. Here, however, he comes off as nasty, petulant and ill informed. He may have thought he was being iconoclastic, but, in the end, he copped out by not printing the words to that verse on the lyric sheet. Oh well. At least, it seemed that he developed more of a sense of humor around the topic by the time he got to “P2 Vatican Blues”.

    1. "I Dig Love" is filler. I never liked it. He had better songs ("I Live For You" for one), and didn't include them. Given the choice between this and "Monkberry Moon Delight"...
      As for the jams, I really like the sound of "Out Of The Blue", and "I Remember Jeep" is more interesting to me now that we know it's actually from May 1969, and was almost released as a Plastic Ono Band track called "Rock Peace".
      Always good to hear from you!