George Harrison - All Things Must Pass - Classic Albums - Reviews - Soundblab

George Harrison - All Things Must Pass

by Howard Scott Rating:10 Release Date:1970-11-27
George Harrison - All Things Must Pass
George Harrison - All Things Must Pass

As I sat down to try and write something enlightening about a 48 year old album generally regarded as one of the best ever, I had to wonder, how many people reading this review actually lived through Beatlemania? I firmly believe that if you didn’t, you can listen to all the music, read all the books, and watch all the old Youtube videos, but you will never fully appreciate or understand the phenomenon that it was.

That isn’t meant to sound haughty, it's just that it was such a unique and transformative experience that I think you kind of had to be there. When the Beatles played the Ed Sullivan show in February 1964, I was eight years old and sitting transfixed in front of a black and white television with the rest of the country. I knew music existed, but nothing quite like what I was hearing. The three-part harmony of “She Loves You”  flipped a switch in my head that permanently and completely turned on a love of music, and especially rock and roll (much to my parent’s chagrin). I am sure it was the same for thousands of kids older and younger than me.

For the next six years, the Fab Four not only rewrote all the rules for how music was composed, played and marketed, but their contributions to the culture of the world remain immeasurable. Fashion, art, the use of psychedelic drugs and life as we previously knew it were all upended. The music matured at a breakneck pace, and introduced genres never before imagined. As I say, I think you had to be there.

In April of 1970, when the Beatles announced they were about to cease to exist as a group, we all feared a giant hole in our collective psyches was about to appear that would never really be filled again. I can remember girls in my junior high school halls crying their eyes out when they heard the news. It was like someone had died. I think in some small way, it was yet another nail in the coffin of our collective and highly endangered innocence.

With all this considered, it was like a renewal of hope when George Harrison released “All Things Must Pass” in November of 1970. It had been obvious with Harrison’s later contributions to the Beatle’s albums that he was coming into his own as a songwriter, but no one saw this coming. Harrison had always been the member who seemed most ill at ease as a Beatle, and the ability to escape the Lennon-McCartney shadow obviously agreed with him. The three-disc compilation was a cornucopia of sound that touched on a multitude of styles. There were the required rock songs like “Wha-Wha” and “Let It Down” which I believe is one of his most beautiful but underappreciated offerings. Folkier tunes like “If Not For You” (penned by Bob Dylan) and the title tune were embellished with orchestral backgrounds that only Phil Spector could create.

There were hits such as “My Sweet Lord”  and “Beware of Darkness” that meshed seamlessly with musical masterpieces such as “Awaiting on You All” and “Isn’t It A Pity” to create two vinyl albums completely devoid of filler.  The third disc in the package was called “Apple Jam” and consisted of four cuts of just what the title described: instrumental sessions (other than “It’s Johnny’s Birthday”) put together by some of the finest players in the world. Just imagine a jam session where the three main guitar players were Harrison, Eric Clapton, and Dave Mason. It is not easy to fathom.

The fact that the cast of players on the undertaking was basically an All-Star team of late sixties rock certainly didn’t hurt its overall quality. Aside from the previously mentioned maestros, Ringo, Peter Frampton,  Delaney, and Bonnie Bramlett and their band, Apple signee Badfinger, a young Phil Collins, Beatle collaborators Billy Preston and Klaus Voormann and countless others all contributed. They combined with co-producer Spector to bring forth what is often considered the best work any of the four Beatles would release in their solo days. While the actual roster of musicians has always been mysterious and fluid, it is safe to say that it was the best of the best.

Another notable player on ATMP was Quiet George’s slide guitar. His use of the instrument made several cuts unique for the time and lessened the effect of them being Beatle-esque. Harrison had already made different guitars his trademark while with the Beatles. His rosewood Telecaster was a favorite for years, and the fact that he possessed the first Rickenbacker 360/12 the company released also gave him a signature sound. The slide was usually a country western staple until it appeared on “All Things”, and it has been more prevalent in rock ever since.

“All Things Must Pass” went to the top of the charts all over the world when released, and stayed there for numerous weeks. Critics fawned over it from every continent where music was played, and even the world’s harshest critic, John Lennon, said it was “All right”. He also added that he thought it went on too long!

One of the last projects Harrison did before he died was a re-issue and remaster of the album in 2001 for a 30 year anniversary compilation. Five songs were added, and the sequencing on Apple Jam was rearranged. The reissue was an instant commercial success, debuting at number 4 on the Billboard album chart, and left Capitol Records with egg on their face when they underestimated its popularity. They soon found themselves with a tremendous back order for the album that probably somewhat stymied its initial sales numbers. In their defense, a reissued album had never been so successful, again.

New pressings for a fortieth anniversary edition were released on Record Store Day in 2010, and another for a boxed set in 2014. The 2010 album is especially prized since all issues were numbered from 1 to 7000 and sold on one special day. 

As it is with all things Beatles, whether or not “All Things Must Pass” is the best post Beatle work by any of the four is always up for debate. ”John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band” is high on the list as a competitor. Lennon’s album was released shortly after Harrison’s and was also Spector produced, but that is all they had in common, in my humble opinion. While George was laying out his positive vision for inner peace and a path to serenity, Lennon’s work, while a fine album in its own right, was basically a soundtrack to the primal scream therapy he was undergoing at the time. It is the work of a very unhappy man trying to make sense out of the scrambled world he found himself in. It is a fascinating work, but not the best he had to offer. If Lennon had not been taken from us just as he was getting back in the game, I believe some of his best work would have followed. “Double Fantasy” gave us a quick taste of a songwriter in a much more stable, and happy, place.

Sir Paul’s “Band on the Run” is another album some consider the best. No one can argue McCartney knows his way around a tune, but his lyrical content has often bordered on the inane, and I believe the quality of the bandmates he surrounded himself with weren’t always as top shelf as he deserved. His wife’s background singing alone was a bit of an albatross around his neck.  “BOTR” would probably be considered a landmark for anyone else, but its always been my opinion that Paul did his best work with the Beatles.

The exact opposite can be said of Harrison on “All Things Must Pass”. In his later years, Harrison scatologically quipped that album was the result of someone who had been constipated for years suddenly having a liberating bout of diarrhea. It must have been a one-time affliction since his work would never reach the same heights again.

“All Things Must Pass” allowed us to bask in the glow of the immense talent and superior songwriting that had emanated from the Beatles while we were coming of age in America, and for that, this is one lifelong Beatles fanatic who will be forever grateful. Lennon might have thought the dream was over, but George prolonged it just a bit longer.

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