What does it sound like?:
George Harrison was liberated when The Beatles finally split up in 1970. It was a moment he’d prepared for. In 1968, disillusioned with the acrimonious recording of The White Album, he travelled to America and recharged his batteries with The Band and Bob Dylan, where he enjoyed a musical respect and equality lacking in his relationships with Lennon & McCartney. He collaborated with Eric Clapton, co-writing Badge for Cream, and accompanied him on a tour with Delaney and Bonnie and Friends, learning how to play slide guitar in the process. He also completed an apprenticeship as a producer, working with Billy Preston, Doris Troy, Leon Russell, Jack Bruce and enjoyed two hit singles with the Rhada Krishna Temple. The final ingredient was Harrison’s recruitment of Phil Spector to produce The Plastic Ono Band’s Instant Karma!
He had a bag full of songs rejected for Beatles records dating back years. Isn’t It A Pity and Art Of Dying date back to 1966 and Revolver. In early 1969, The Beatles chose For You Blue over All Things Must Pass, Hear Me Lord and Let It Down and spent time recording Dig It instead. After becoming a studio band only, Lennon rarely bothered to show up whenever a Harrison song was being recorded and McCartney was often condescending. His anger at continual rejection fuelled more songs such as Wah-Wah and Run Of The Mill. He co-wrote I’d Have You Anytime, picked up If Not For You and was inspired to come up with Apple Scruffs and Behind That Locked Door when he visited Dylan a second time in 1970. Inspired by Billy Preston, he composed devotional expressions of his Buddhism crossed with Gospel in My Sweet Lord, Beware Of Darkness and Hear Me Lord.
The eighteen tracks on the first four sides of vinyl are a heady mix of glorious Pop, Southern Rock, Country, rustic Americana, Blues, Gospel, Folk and Krishna chants, all supercharged by Spector’s Wall Of Sound. The songs are witty, gentle, angry, joyful, mundane, profound, spiritual, loving, mature and immensely powerful. They flow together beautifully. Normally, a double album includes filler and some weak songs but every single track hits its spot perfectly. Their versatility and depth made McCartney’s contemporaneous efforts seem superficial and Lennon’s narrowly introspective. The third piece of vinyl, the instrumental, improvised Apple Jams, invented Derek and the Dominos. Just be grateful, Harrison did not squeeze jams like Thanks For The Pepperoni between, say, I Dig Love and Art Of Dying but considered as a bonus disc, they are really quite pleasant. Critics and the public were equally awed. Despite its exorbitant price and luxuriant packaging, albeit with a self-deprecating photo on the cover, All Things Must Pass was a huge success and outsold Imagine and Band On The Run combined.
Over time, the quality of the songwriting has, if anything, grown in stature but Spector’s production has been a subject of some debate. Harrison’s generosity extended to a cast of thousands being invited to participate. There are twenty-six different musicians officially credited, not including an orchestra, a choir and additional horns. For all the madness that surrounded him, the album needed a Phil Spector to organise all those bricks into a single unit of sound to enable the songs to come alive. Harrison, himself, was an enthusiastic overdubber when Spector was recuperating from a broken arm, sustained in the studio when drunk. Wah-Wah, What Is Life, Let It Down and Hear Me Lord all benefit from his colossal sound, the acoustic guitars throughout are a marvel and he managed to coax from Harrison some of the best ever vocal performances, the outstanding example being the impassioned Hear Me Lord. Even so, he was much too liberal with the reverb, something Harrison wished could be fixed when he was putting together the 30th anniversary edition.
Now, twenty years on, Paul Hicks, with a strong pedigree updating Plastic Ono Band and Goats Head Soup, has the skills and the technology to carry out a remix. The result is intriguing and very different, which takes some getting used to and will undoubtedly divide opinion. It certainly improves the more you listen. The quieter ballads sound wonderful, with individual instruments much more clear, and a greater warmth in Harrison’s exposed and vulnerable voice. Behind That Locked Door, Run Of The Mill and The Ballad Of Sir Frankie Crisp (Let It Roll) are especially lovely, almost matching Hicks’s outstanding work for the Lennon tracks with fewest musical elements. However, the blockbusters such as Wah-Wah and Art Of Dying fare less well, bass heavy with less immediacy than the original blend. It turns out that Spector was a master producer after all, especially when you consider his target listening kit was a transistor radio rather than high specification headphones and hifi of today. The ideal All Things Must Pass is probably a mixture of tracks from the 2001 remaster and this 2020 remix. The joy is both are readily available and you can create your own if so-minded. The Apple Jams are not remixed just remastered.
The gold is in the extras. It’s rare when discs three, four and five are just as good as the album itself, with barely a skip track in ear-shot. The day one demos of fifteen songs are an absolute joy. Recorded with Ringo on drums and Klaus Voorman on bass and some occasional keyboards, Harrison sounds relaxed and happy, singing beautifully. He mainly strums away on his acoustic but does plug in occasionally. It’s much better than the Escher Demos on The White Album remix, showcasing Harrison’s talent and the wonder of his songs perfectly. Apparently, there were thirty songs recorded that day. It’s a pity, executive producer, Dhani Harrison, couldn’t find room for them all. Of the rejected compositions, Om Hare Om (Gopala Krishna) would have fit in very nicely, proving that chanting the same phrase over again but with very slight variations can be captivating.
The day two demos of a further fifteen songs are almost as good. They have been readily available as a bootleg, Beware Of ABKCO, but have never been as clean as this. On this day, Harrison is solo and his camaraderie with Ringo is absent. Still, he sounds as though he’s having fun proving to Spector that he has enough great material for a gargantuan album. The highlight is when Beware Of Darkness is followed by a spine chilling Let It Down, both exquisite melodies sung with real feeling. Interestingly, the vocal to Hear Me Lord, accompanied by an electric guitar, already has a smidgen of echo. Window Window whimsically let’s the world pass by and expresses a real affection for sheds. Writing Nowhere To Go with Dylan might have been cathartic but it was wise to leave it off the album. It is more acerbic than Wah-Wah and features the word ‘prowl’ rhyming with ‘bowel’. Cosmic Empire must be the most cheery song about death. These two sets of demos are not to be kept on a shelf but are to be enjoyed multiple times. In fact, there is enough good quality material here to make you wonder why the third vinyl is a jam and not something more song based. It could have been a quadruple.
The collection of early takes is also of value. Presented in the order in which they were recorded, none of them could described as in a state of undress, just less heavily made up. As the songs arrived fully formed, these performances do not represent works in progress but can be regarded as complete in themselves, for the most part. They, generally, demonstrate that the songs fare better with fewer overdubs and less reverb and include some interesting sidelines. If you are not a fan of Harrison’s newly acquired slide technique, which was overdubbed later, you may well prefer them to those officially released. A version of the 1954 record, Wedding Bells (Are Breaking Up That Old Gang Of Mine) by The Four Aces, is a telling commentary on The Beatles, so much so that both Lennon and McCartney visited it at various points. Towards the end of recording, Harrison indulges in a Bluegrass version of Get Back, illustrating the importance of Ringo’s drum figure in the original. Woman Don’t You Cry For Me is a spritely all acoustic bottle-necked after-thought, a song he kept in his back pocket for six years.
The various bundles start with a two CD set (and LP equivalent) of just the remix, then a 3 CD with the addition of the early takes. To get the two demo days, you need to step up to the deluxe with five CDs and one 5.1 DVD, quadrupling the price. You get a nice scrap book put together by his wife, Olivia, and a poster. If you are willing to fork out a grand, you go for the Uber Deluxe. There isn’t any more music but you get both the vinyl and the CD versions. The book is expanded, with a real piece of oak from Friar Park to use as a bookmark, plus a second book outlining the making of, and Klaus Voorman contributes a nice drawing. There are sixth size replicas of Harrison and the four garden gnomes from the cover photo, a copy of Paramahansa Yogananda’s “Light from the Great Ones”, and Rudrashka beads in individual boxes, all encased in a crate big enough to use as a coffee table.
All Things Must Pass is a total validation of George Harrison as a songwriter, a musician, a Beatle and a human being. He never felt the need to attempt to match it. The slide guitar first unleashed here became his signature sound and its flowing melodies rippled through the rest of his career with many of the surplus songs turning up on later albums. His subsequent professional life was as supportive of others as it was understated for him. Naturally, he had other hits but they seemed of secondary importance to him. He enjoyed playing in a studio with his mates but was just as happy gardening in his stately home, Friar Park, where Sir Frankie Crisp once lived. This remix brings him back into a spotlight he never completely enjoyed but if ever an album deserves a refresh and a re-appreciation it’s All Things Must Pass. The whole package is a real pleasure to listen to from beginning to end, including all the extras but make sure you seek out the Day One Demos to hear him at his most pure.
What does it all *mean*?
All Things Must Pass already takes the prize for the best solo Beatle album. Now, it’s vying for the top spot for best fiftieth anniversary box set with Sgt Pepper.
Goes well with…
A room big enough for a new coffee table and top-of-the-range HiFi.
6th August 2021
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