The “Listen Again” series was popular enough that your favorite record reviewer has decided to follow the lead of some TV executives and do a spin-off, if you will. In this series we’ll once more examine previously-released albums BUT the platters we will peruse in this particular series will be (Rolling Stone magazine) FIVE-STAR albums. Had George Harrison not died of cancer in 2001 he would have been 68 this month. So, because of that, this time we look at George Harrison’s All Things Must Pass.
As everyone should already know George Harrison MBE (1943 –2001) was an English guitarist, singer-songwriter and actor best known as the once lead guitarist of The Beatles. Harrison usually wrote one or two songs for every Beatles album from With The Beatles onwards including such hits as “Here Comes the Sun”, “Something” and “While My Guitar Gently Weeps”. After The Beatles disbanded, he had additional success not only as a member of the Traveling Wilburys but also as a solo artist, film and record producer. He is listed at number 21 in Rolling Stone magazine’s list of “100 Greatest Guitarists of All Time”.
In fact, by the time of the Beatles broke up, Harrison had tons of unused material (as far back as 1966) which he would eventually release as part of his critically-acclaimed and commercially successful triple album All Things Must Pass that same year (1970). More specifically, the songs “The Art of Dying” and “Isn’t It a Pity” date back to that year. “Isn’t It A Pity” was a tune that John Lennon had once rejected and that Harrison almost sold to Frank Sinatra.
While jamming with Bob Dylan and The Band in 1968 in Woodstock, New York, Harrison picked up more material that would be one day be used on All Things Must Pass. He co-authored “I’d Have You Anytime” and “Nowhere to Go” (also called “When Everybody Comes to Town”) with Dylan and Dylan showed him “I Don’t Want to Do It”. (All these tunes would be recorded during the album sessions but only “I’d Have You Anytime” would make it onto the original vinyl album.
While recording material for The Beatles’ Get back album more future All Things material was born. For example, the future titular track (“All Things Must Pass”), “Hear Me Lord”, “, “Let It Down”, “Isn’t It a Pity and “Window, Window”. In fact, the fragmenting, tense atmosphere inspired another cut, “Wah-Wah”, which Harrison wrote in the wake of his temporary leave from the group.
In 1969 while touring with Delaney & Bonnie he began writing his future hit “My Sweet Lord”. He would also later use D & B’s backing group Friends to create the signature sound to AllThings Must Pass. Before actually beginning to record the record Harrison met with Dylan once more in 1970 where he learned the song “If Not For You” and even played in a famous now-bootlegged session.
It would not be until almost the summer of 1970 that Harrison would actually head into the recording studio to work on the actual album. Phil Spector would be chosen as co-producer. Spector would give the project what some would call “a heavy and reverb-oriented sound” which was actually somewhat typical for a Spector production at the time.
Unfortunately, like others Spector had worked with in the 1960s and 1970s, Harrison would later have regrets. Shortly before his death Harrison said that the album has “too much echo.” It’s unfortunate since Harrison went to a lot of trouble to plan this platter.
In fact, before actually bringing in all the backing musicians and guest artists Harrison sat in the studio and played Spector fifteen demo songs. (These demos were later bootlegged as Beware of ABKCO! mainly because of an alteration made to his “Beware of Darkness”.) As it turned out, several of his tunes would be noticeably reworked or simply left off of the final product.
(To date, the outtakes that have been officially released elsewhere include: “Everybody, Nobody” –really an early version of “The Ballad of Sir Frankie Crisp”, “Beautiful Girl” which Harrison would redo for his later Thirty Three & 1/3 and “I Don’t Want to Do It” which would be included in—of all places–the soundtrack for Porky’s Revenge.) Other material meant for the album (but yet to be officially released) include: “Cosmic Empire”, “Mother Divine”, “Nowhere to Go”, “Tell Me What Has Happened With You” and “Window, Window”. The songs “Gopala Krishna” and “Dehra Dun” simply did not make the final cut and have also never been officially released. Much of the material had Harrison’s spiritual touch to it as he had been inspired by Indian culture and Hinduism early on in his career as a Beatle.
Recording sessions would be both memorable and star-studded. Keyboardist Bobby Whitlock remembers the atmosphere to be very high-spirited and collaborative and told the press that Harrison “included everyone on everything he did because there was enough for all.” Believe it or not, future Yes percussionist Alan White said that John Lennon might even have dropped by long enough to play guitar on “If Not For You”. Another uncredited artist, Maurice (Bee Gees) Gibb was also present at a session brought in by Starr to play keyboards on a version of “Isn’t It a Pity”.
This was a grand gesture in more ways than one: spiritually, morally, philosophically (see the title) and musically (note the list of other musicians appearing here). Put out at the end of the year The Beatles disbanded, this platter proclaims that Harrison had become a heavy mystic and that his post-Beatles career would be successful. While cynics noted that “the presence of the same sanctimoniousness” that “marred his later work”, what saves this set is respect for his audience, a bit of humility and even Spector’s Wagnerian production.
Considered to be his best work, two platters contained his songs while the third, titled “Apple Jam”, was basically Harrison jamming with musician friends. The line-up on this 23-track recording is impressive and includes: Guitarists Harrison, Eric Clapton and Dave Mason; bassists Klaus Voormann and Carl Radle; keyboardists Gary “Dream Weaver” Wright, Bobby Whitlock, Billy (the “fifth Beatle”) Preston and Gary Brooker; Drummers: ex-Beatle Ringo Starr, Jim Gordon, Phil Collins, Alan White and Ginger Baker; pedal steel guitarist Pete Drake, tenor saxophonist Bobby Keys, trumpeter Jim Price, tambourine Mal Evans, backing band Badfinger and orchestral arranger John Barham. The album hit number one in the UK where it remained for two months and performed almost identically in the US. This 1970 release was the first ever triple album by a solo artist and eventually went triple-platinum here in America.
The album’s lead single, put out in 1971, was “My Sweet Lord” backed with “Isn’t It a Pity”. This was—at one point—a worldwide, number one hit. The song promoted awareness of the Hare Krishna movement as well as further use of the sitar. Unfortunately, it also brought Harrison a copyright infringement suit from the people who published The Chiffons’s 1963 hit “He’s So Fine”.
He was sued because of the song’s supposed similarity to the 1963 Chiffons single “He’s So Fine” then owned by Bright Tunes. Harrison denied any intentional wrong-doing but still lost in 1976 as the judge believed that Harrison had “subconsciously plagiarized ‘He’s So Fine’.” (Still, after years of additional legal actions, Harrison would eventually own the rights to both songs before he died.)
Another single from the record, “What Is Life” b/w “Apple Scruffs” would also break into the top ten charts across the globe. Australian pop singer Olivia Newton-John would quickly hit the studio to cover the song. Her version of “What Is Life” broke into the UK top twenty the following year (1972).
(In 1971 she had scored a top ten tune with her cover of Dylan’s “If Not For You” which was arranged almost identically to Harrison’s version. This became her first successful US single reaching number 25. She would later also cover another number from All Things Must Pass, “Behind That Locked Door”.)
Harrison fans music critics would continue to admire the album in the new millennium. In 2000, Harrison personally oversaw the remastering of All Things Must Pass. (This would actually lead to a re-issue project that would one day see all his albums remastered.)
It would not be until the following year (2001) –mere months before Harrison’s death–that the album would actually hit the stores. The re-release was actually put out on Harrison’s Gnohm Records imprint and distributed by EMI. The label name, Gnohm” is a combination of the letters, “G”, “N”, and the Sanskrit “praṇava”. When read together they sound like the word “gnome” which most critics believe is a reference to the artwork of the All Things Must Pass album cover.
Other musicians added to the mix on the remastered version include: harrison’s son Dhani on Fender Rhodes and backing vocals on “I Live for You” and “My Sweet Lord” 2000 version; Ray Cooper on tambourine on “My Sweet Lord” 2000 version and Sam Brown singing additional lead vocals on “My Sweet Lord” 2000 version.
Two of Harrison’s original demos of songs that were originally included–“Beware of Darkness” and “Let It Down” (with overdubs from 2000) were included here. Additionally, bootlegged electric outtakes from the original recording sessions were also included. (Online experts note that “multiple takes of songs from the album appear on a bootleg three-disc box set The Making of All Things Must Pass along with other releases”.)
This CD also contained a partially re-recorded additional version of “My Sweet Lord”. This seemed odd to your favorite crusty chronicler since –somewhere in the Phoenix Philes—there is a taped interview with Harrison and sometimes band-mate and sometimes producer Jeff (ELO) Lynne in which Harrison scoffs at the idea of re-recording any of his classic material and states that there’s “no point” in doing so.
Unlike the original five-star release, the 2001 edition is said to have been mastered “too loud”. Audiophiles claim that this is yet another example of what they refer to as the “loudness war” in remastering during this time. According to them because of “the higher than normal audio level on this CD edition the tops of the loudest audio waves are clipped off”. This flattened “the waves and effectively” added “a new level of digital distortion to the music”.
Harrison took part in Web chats and interviews to promote the remastered release. It was a commercial success and hit number 4 in Billboard’s Pop Catalog Chart. It also charted in Japan, the UK and France and even reignited interest of Harrison’s work in general.
After his death later that same year, the recording returned to the upper area of the previously-mentioned chart. Unfortunately, before the above-mentioned loudness issue could be looked into the original version of the album had been concurrently deleted and the remastered edition of All Things Must Pass was (and still is to date) the only commercially-available CD version of the release. The single, “My Sweet Lord” (Reissue), would not be put out until 2002 but would hit number one in the UK and chart in several other countries as well including the US and Japan.
The following year (2003), the project was ranked number 437 on Rolling Stone magazine’s list of The 500 Greatest Albums of All Time. The Guardian ranked it number nine on the magazine’s list of The Top 100 Albums That Don’t Appear In All The Other Top 100 Albums Of All Time. In 2006 The Official UK Charts company adjusted their records to account for the fact that there had been a postal strike when the album had originally been on the charts.
As it turns out, record vendors would send in paperwork noting how many records had been sold, but due to the strike they could not during an eight-week period back in 1971. The record now reflects that “ All Things Must Pass, which had originally peaked at number 4 (with Simon & Garfunkel’s Bridge over Troubled Water at number one), now has . . . the number one spot for all eight weeks”.
A few years later, in 2009, in an interview on a BBC radio show, tape operator John Leckie told the public that Pink Floyd’s Richard Wright played the organ on the album. No release lists him in the credits.
2010 was the 40th anniversary of the original album. To mark the occasion it was re-issued in a box set of 3 vinyl LPs just a couple of months ago. This edition was a close reproduction of both the album art and sound quality of the original 1970 set.
At the same time, the 2010 digitally-remastered version was made available for download from George Harrison’s official website in “a DRM-free ultra-high-resolution 24-bit/ 96khz lossless format”. According to an online posting this version has about “3 times the digital data rate of a comparable Compact disc and more than 10 times the rate of a high-quality MP3 file”. It is also believed that the audiophiles who were previously concerned about the 2001 reissue would be happy because the 24/96 digital version would “promise greater audio detail and clarity”.
Fans who have heard the high-resolution downloads say that they’re “free of the dynamic range compression and ‘loudness war’ issues that plagued the 2001 remastered edition”. Unfortunately, the 2001 version is still the only commercially-available CD version. Regardless of how much attention you pay to the specifics regarding the individual recording details, no one can deny that George Harrison’s All Things Must Pass/Apple STCH-639 will always be his generally best remembered , most commercially and critically-successful album. It remains a monumental album that also serves as a significant signpost for the 1970s . . . and perhaps, in truth, for decades beyond as well.
My name is Phoenix and . . . that’s the bottom line.