Monday, February 3, 2020

The Albums of 1970: George Harrison: All Things Must Pass

Release Date: November 27, 1970


Drums and Percussion: Ringo Starr, Jim Gordon, Alan White
Bass Guitar: Klaus Voormann, Carl Radle
Keyboards: Gary Wright, Bobby Whitlock, Billy Preston, Gary Brooker
Pedal Steel Guitar: Pete Drake
Guitars: George Harrison, Dave Mason, Eric Clapton
Saxophone: Bobby Keyes
Trumpet: Jim Price
Rhythm Guitars and Percussion: Badfinger

Produced by Phil Spector and George Harrison

Side 1: I'd Have You Anytime; My Sweet Lord; Wah-Wah; Isn't It a Pity

Side 2: What is Life; If Not For You; Behind That Locked Door; Let it Down; Run of the Mill

Side 3: Beware of Darkness; Apple Scruffs; Ballad of Sir Frankie Crisp (Let it Roll); Awaiting on you All; All Things Must Pass

Side 4: I Dig Love; Art of Dying; Isn't it A Pity (version 2): Hear Me Lord

Side 5: Out of the Blue: It's Johnny's Birthday; Plug Me In

Side 6: I Remember Jeep; Thanks for the Pepperoni

The 2001 Reissue features extra tracks and demos with a slightly different song order.

Recorded over the summer/fall of 1970, George Harrison's post-Beatles solo album is nothing less than a powerhouse of triple vinyl. Like his former band mates (even more so), Harrison had a burst of creativity following the demise of the Fab Four. While the art pop of McCartney and the proto grunge of Plastic Ono Band were both bold artistic statements, All Things Must Pass was a far more ambitious work, spiritual, philosophical, and epic in the best possible sense.

The release of "My Sweet Lord" in November of 1970 as the first single got a strong response from the public, hitting number one on both sides of the Atlantic. It became one of the more popular songs of the 1970s, credited with being a natural extension of The Beatles philosophy with its pan-religious message, fusing elements of Hinduism, Judaism, and Christianity. Ringo's drumming that comes in halfway through and the use of slide guitars built up a wondrous tapestry of sound to fill the airwaves. 

Similar in sound to "My Sweet Lord" with its flurry of guitars and reverb, 
"What is Life" also was another top ten single released in February of 1971. Often considered a love towards a woman and God, the recurring idea is devotion:

What I feel I can't say
But my love is there for you anytime of day
But if it's not love that you need
Then I'll try my best to make everything succeed.

Bob Dylan also has a presence throughout All Things Must Pass, a co-writer of the opening track "I'd Have You Anytime" and "If Not for You." Bob was possibly the subject of "Behind That Locked Door." By most accounts Harrison and Dylan were good friends and inspired each other. A year later they would perform onstage together in the Concert for Bangladesh.

Dylan included a soulful version of "If Not For You" on his New Morning LP in 1970, while Harrison's version is more symphonic. "I'd Have You Anytime" starts the album on a pleasant note and was probably good enough to be a single. Inspired by Dylan's shyness and his hiatus from touring, "Behind That Locked Door" encourages Bob to engage with the world again, the country western twang mirroring Dylan's country influenced records of the time.

"All Things Must Pass" was rehearsed by The Beatles in 1969, but a lack of enthusiasm from his band mates prevented a proper version from being recorded (but the harmonies from the demos are outstanding). A cosmically wise song inspired by the roots music of The Band, it would become an anthem for Harrison in the years to come. Maybe a little over produced, but the power of the song' s ethos remains. 

Like the other post-Beatles releases of 1970, the fallout from the breakup casts a shadow. Although a few years before The Beatles disbanded, it became a dirge for the end of an era:

Isn't it a pity,
isn't it a shame
How we break each other's hearts, 
and cause each other pain
How we take each other's love
Without thinking anymore
Forgetting to give back
Isn't it a pity

Hypnotic, melancholy, and beautiful, "Isn't it a Pity" has proved an endearing hymn of sorts, the sound of catharsis captured on record.  A maybe unnecessary reprise on side four is more stripped down and less effective. 

"Wah-Wah" was written after Harrison stepped out on the Let it Be sessions, signaling his frustration at being in the shadow of Lennon/McCartney for all those years. If I had to pick an underrated track it would be "Run of the Mill," an angry lament on the end of a friendship. The wall of sound and dramatic use of horns works perfectly and adds to the heightened sentiments. 

The 2001 release included an acoustic version of "Let it Down." A passionate love song that's almost Wagnerian in the hands of Spector, more tender and resigned as a quiet acoustic number.

The tone takes a more serious tone on the second disc. "Beware of Darkness" and "Art of Dying" both deal with mortality and having a focused mindset.

In the midst of the record are some outliers and curiosities. "The Ballad of Sir Frankie Crisp (Let it Roll)" was about the former owner of George's Friar Park estate who had captured his imagination. Ghostly and hypnotic, the song links Victorian mysticism with counterculture's interest in the supernatural. "Awaiting on You All" playfully satirizes the materialistic nature of modern Christianity. The acoustic track "Apple Scruffs" was a shout out to all the fans gathered outside Apple Studios.

"I Dig Love" recalls "Love You To" from Revolver, but much funkier. "I Live for You" made it on to the 2001 release, another country rock tune featuring the slide guitar. "Hear Me Lord" is a plea for forgiveness. Perhaps the most gospel influenced of all the selections, Billy Preston worked closely with Harrison on seeing it to completion as an appropriate closer to the second disc.

The third disc known as "Apple Jam" consists of almost all instrumentals. They all sound great when turned up loud on the stereo. Apple Jam allows the audience to join in on the fun, a freewheeling ambush of electric music.

One of the great rock albums of the era, All Things Must Pass improves and and deepens in meaning with each listening.

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