Friday, 5 March 2021

THE GENIUS OF "ALL THINGS MUST PASS" BY GEORGE HARRISON

When The Beatles split in 1970, the question was: which of these masterful songwriters would deliver the finest solo record? John Lennon or Paul McCartney? It turned out the answer was George Harrison.


The roots of All Things Must Pass were planted when Harrison in November 1968 and established his long-lasting friendship with Bob Dylan, while staying in Woodstock. The two wrote I’d Have You Anytime together.

George was quickly stockpiling songs: he had tried to get the other Beatles interested in All Things Must Pass, Hear Me Lord and the beautiful Let It Down, during rehearsals for the proposed Get Back album (later finished and released as Let It Be) but, perhaps thankfully, they didn’t see them as “Beatles songs.” Or it seems Paul McCartney specifically did not, as Lennon soon stated he was more than happy with more George. Whatever.
The foursome did all approve of Old Brown Shoe and Something, as we know, but passed on even attempting All Things Must Pass.

Peter Jackson’s forthcoming Get Back rockumentary (due August 2021) will attempt to show that the last days of The Beatles weren’t all disharmony, and may restore some balance. But, at the time, Harrison had a clear choice: he was writing with Bob Dylan, he’d established new playing partners via his work with Eric Clapton and Delaney & Bonnie, and Phil Spector was “amazed” at the George songs The Beatles were rejecting. Spector also couldn’t believe the sheer number of demos he heard at Harrison’s Friar Park home. “It was endless!” the co-producer later recalled. “He had literally hundreds of songs and each one was better than the rest. He had all this emotion built up when it was released to me.”


Official recording for All Things Must Pass began in May 1970. George called upon his friend Clapton and the other musicians who also played with Delaney & Bonnie, including ex-Traffic guitarist Dave Mason. Clapton wasn’t credited for contractual reasons, except on the third disc in the UK, but he is all over All Things Must Pass. So are future Derek & The Dominos members (and Delaney & Bonnie sidekicks) Carl Radle, Jim Gordon and Bobby Whitlock.Other star contributors included Ringo Starr, Billy Preston, an uncredited Peter Frampton, and bassist Klaus Voormann, artist for the cover of The Beatles’ Revolver and a friend from Hamburg days. Members of Apple signings Badfinger also played acoustic guitars and helped to create Spector’s famed “wall of sound” sonics: on some of the Abbey Road-cut tracks there are as many as five live guitars.

On keyboards, there’s also Procol Harum’s Gary Brooker and Spooky Tooth’s Gary Wright. Classical composer/arranger John Barham was someone Harrison had met via his friendship with Ravi Shankar, and who’d also both played on Harrison’s previous Wonderwall Music.

As well as Ringo and future Yes man (and member of the Plastic Ono Band) Alan White on drums, a young pre-Genesis Phil Collins had a bash on some congas (apparently unused); and Cream/Blind Faith’s Ginger Baker plays on the jam, I Remember Jeep. Harrison flew in Dylan sidekick Pete Drake from Nashville to play pedal steel. Voormann later said, “You could feel after the first few sessions that it was going to be a great album.”

In stark contrast to The Beatles at the end, the recording of All Things Must Pass was characterised by collaboration and an all-comers-welcome philosophy. John Barham opined that Harrison’s preference was always “letting the players find themselves in each song.”


 

The recording together of Clapton and Delaney and Bonnie’s backing band laid the foundations for Derek & The Dominos. “We made our bones, really, on that album with George”, Clapton confirmed in 1990.

The inspiration even flowed on a micro level: Pete Drake was a pioneer of using a talkbox with his pedal steel and Peter Frampton nicked the idea from the ATMP sessions for his mid-70s breakthrough (Show Me The Way).

My Sweet Lord was a masterstroke of sacrament-by-stealth songwriting and a landmark in introducing Eastern philosophies into mainstream Western pop. It also introduced Harrison’s signature slide playing. In his book I Me Mine, Harrison wrote, “I thought a lot about whether to do My Sweet Lord or not, because I would be committing myself publicly and I anticipated that a lot of people might get weird about it… I wanted to show that ‘Hallelujah’ and ‘Hare Krishna’ are quite the same thing.”

The more solemn Beware Of Darkness, although sounding more portentous, is another standout based on Harrison’s devotion to the Hare Krishna tradition. In it he warns of corrupting con men (“soft shoe shufflers”), politicians (“greedy leaders”) and pop idols of little substance (“falling swingers”). All wrapped in a composition of bold originality, harmonic movement from the key of C♯m to D major to C major. 

Art Of Dying, dated back to 1966. His I Me Mine book later revealed an early lyric was: “There’ll come a time when all of us must leave here, Then nothing Mr Epstein can do will keep me here with you.”

The Apple Jam blues-rock improvs of Sides 5 and 6 (in old money) are endlessly listenable and straight-out fun for musos.

Its gushing of creativity even survived troubled times for Harrison: mid-1970 recording was interrupted as he tended to his mother, Louise, back in Liverpool. George’s mother had always been a rock: she had bought him his first guitar, and her fandom of the Radio India programme would help nurture her son’s own sensibilities. As Harrison’s then-wife Pattie Boyd noted about Louise’s death during All Things Must Pass, “All she wanted for her children is that they should be happy, and she recognised that nothing made George quite as happy as making music.” And death would not stop George.

This staggering album was the first triple-album ever. An album of spirituality, honesty, wit and simply great ensemble playing. All majestically conducted by George.

 

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