Friday 4 July 2008

George Harrison "All Things Must Pass" (1970) (Revised Review 2015; Originally 'Core' Album #42)

'Unknown Delight - The Alan's Album Archives Guide To The Music Of George Harrison' is available to buy now by clicking here!

Where George – with a little help from his gnomes – tells us that nothing is built to last forever, well nothing except great records like this one…

George Harrison "All Things Must Pass" (1970)

Track Listing: I’d Have You Anytime/ My Sweet Lord/ Wah-Wah/ Isn’t It A Pity?#1// What Is Life?/ If Not For You/ Behind That Locked Door/ Let It Down/ Run Of The Mill// Beware Of Darkness/ Apple Scruffs/ The Ballad Of Sir Frankie Crisp [Let It Roll]/ Awaiting On You All/ All Things Must Pass// I Dig Love/ The Art Of Dying/ Isn’t It A Pity? #2/ Hear Me Lord// It’s Johnny’ Birthday/ Plug Me In/ I Remember Jeep// Thanks For The Pepperoni/ Out Of The Blue 

"It will hit you. It will hurt you. Make you sore, and what is more - it is not what you are here for"

The four Beatles all ended the greatest musical adventure ever known with various degrees of confusion and sadness. Paul spent a year refusing to believe that something they had worked for so long for could possibly be over and resented being painted as the bad guy, before shrugging his shoulders and modelling Wings as closely as he could to the  fab four before they were fab. Ringo, at first deeply saddened, found the pill easier to swallow thanks to the acting world that suddenly opened up for him near the end of The Beatles and the fact that the others were still friends enough to grace him with their presence (if only on their own terms). John acted as if the end of The Beatles was the break he waiting for - before becoming more nostalgic than the lot of them. It's George's response that's the most complex and the most telling. While John and Paul both liked to think that The Beatles ended because they said so (Lennon after calling an Apple business meeting in early 1969, McCartney after including an answer stating as much in a questionnaire released as part of the press pack for his first album in April 1970) The Beatles really ended the day that George walked out of the Let It Be sessions and after toying with a few names for the better part of an hour the others admitted it would be foolish to contemplate having a 'Beatles' product without their lead guitarist there. George seemed, at first at least, to be the happiest that the fab four circus was over - he had a whole load of really good songs without enough space on the albums to include them, the release of 'Abbey Road' had brought a mixed press for John and Paul's contributions but almost unanimous praise for 'Here Comes The Sun' and 'Something', whilst George could be, when pushed, every bit as bitter about the Beatles experience and as angry in private as John and Paul were about each other in public.

For decades now George has gone down in history as having had the most to gain from losing The Beatles name and certainly seemed to tire of the fame quicker than all the others (Robbie Williams likes to think he's the Lennon of Take That, but everybody in the know can clearly see that he's the Harrison, with half a foot out the door from day one). However George was of all four Beatles the one who needed if not the fame or the money or even the music the most then the people - losing faithful longterm assistants like Mal Evans and Neil Aspinall was at least as big a wrench for him as losing John, Paul and Ringo. While Lennon and McCartney are off making solo albums with input only from their respective new wives and Ringo's busy crooning big band or country standards with not a Beatle person in sight, which early solo Beatles album is that includes everyone who was big in late 60s history? This one: take a bow Badfinger, Eric Clapton, Phil Spector, Klaus Voormann, Billy Preston - even Mal Evans gets his first ever official credit on a Beatles-made album for 'tea, sympathy and tambourine'. (Its notable that everyone who played on this album who still could appeared on the superlative 2002 tribute A Concert For George—bet there aren't’ many superstars who have friends enough for that 30 years on from a project!) Oh and while we're at it which early Beatles solo album contains the first mention of Beatles fans? This album's 'Apple Scruffs'. George shows several times across the album just why at the age of merely 27 the Beatles was the best apprenticeship any aspiring musician could hope for: he's wiser than wise across this album, having learnt from triumphs and tears along the way, but like all good apprentices is half eager to prove himself in the real world, whilst half realising that never again will he be able to learn quite so much in such a short space of time. While both John and Paul name their first solo records after themselves ('Two Virgins' doesn't count!) note that George even seems to be speaking to the Beatles fans buying this product: yes it was great but, 'All Things Must Pass!' (There's also reportedly some cheeky Beatles digs on the cover with a serious looking George in the middle of four gnomes said to represent the fact that he's 'outgrown' the band!)

When people heard that George was working on this an all-star cast, they wondered seriously if George would ever have the stamina and creativity to make a full album on his own (never mind Ringo!) Harrison has plenty of highlights among the Beatles’ output, especially on some of the later albums and at his best is clearly challenging Lennon and McCartney’s best efforts, but notably his solo LPs during this period were made up of instrumentals, either with Indian instruments (Wonderwall) or weird bleeping noises (Electronic Sounds) to the fore, not songs. With only the two paltry songs a piece on the Beatles’ last two albums to go on, it was a natural conclusion that George had little or no extra material ready after the Beatles’ split and so had had to buy in these extra men (including, in addition to the above, a few new names who'll be around in George's story for many years to come: drummer Jim Gordon, bassist Car; Radle, guitarist Dave Mason, keyboard player Gary Wright, as well as an un-credited teenage Phil Collins, reportedly booked in a hurry to play congas on 'The Art Of Dying' in a hurry whilst in town with the early line-up of Genesis. However George (with Phil Spector's help) is doing what neither John or Paul were brave enough to do: tackling a crowd of people, getting the best out of them, making something as big and massive as the 'old' Beatles sound and yet still firmly stamping his own distinctive sound on top of everything. John and Paul relished the freedom the end of The Beatles gave them by pleasing no one but themselves at first - but George is already eager to bring in other musicians (it was Harrison, after all, who brought Eric Clapton and Billy Preston in to flesh out 'The White Album' and 'Let It Be' respectively). In terms of songs, too, George had been stockpiling a huge quantity of songs for the better part of two years, leaving even such discarded gems as 'Not Guilty' and 'Circles' on the shelf for later years and confounded expectations by releasing not a single album as assumed but a whole triple LP, going one better than even The White Album in terms of running time. 'All Things Must Pass' would have been a success on release for these reasons alone - but it's not just quantity but quality that counts on this album and it's a fan favourite for oh so many reasons.

'My Sweet Lord' is the track that everybody knows and, yes, it's a good 'un with Spector's production magic turning a simple prayer of devotion into a mass singalong. But it's far from the only highlight: 'Wah Wah', a song written the day an angry George got home from walking out of the 'Let It Be' sessions with Paul's criticisms stinging in his ears, is George's best vitriolic rocker. 'What Is Life?' is easily George's best rocker without the vitriol, based around a funky riff and turning the art of asking rhetorical questions about philosophy into a catchy hit single without diluting the intelligence at the core. 'The Art Of Dying' is the best of George's many attempts to put his irritation at the mundanity of life when the whole purpose is to be practising for death into words, George's best song designed to scare. 'Jai Sri Krishna' and 'Life Itself' run it close, but 'Hear Me Lord' is George's best 'religious' song, more about the creation asking its maker for guidance than what the maker will do to people who don't ask or why we should all be doing the same as per later albums. 'Apple Scruffs' is one of George's sweetest songs, a sweet admittance now that the adulation and applause are dying out that it wasn't all bad and that, yes, he really did love a lot of his fans if not as exuberantly as Paul or as intellectually as John. However it's the ballads that are the true gems of this album and of George's catalogue as a whole: George's reputation as the 'wise Beatle' grows almost singlehandedly from this album, which sighs longingly over the short but oh so perfect 'Isn't It A Pity?' (a song so pertinent to the times George sings it twice!) 'Run Of Mill' soothes every troubled soul that's ever laid awake at night worrying about how something they said might be taken with two related sets of wisdom: that there's no excuse to say anything bad because 'everyone has choice when to and not to raise their voices' but at the same time a true friendship will not be lost because of one ill-timed sentence or misguided sentence, only a pattern, because 'no one around you will say they love you today and throw it all away tomorrow!' The title track is the most single powerful song about death and its inevitably bar none, played with a sweet solemnity that somehow manages to be uplifting in acceptance as much as its depressing in realising the fact. 'Beware Of Darkness' is perhaps the greatest unknown song George ever wrote, warning us that those around us are only human, that politicians can be corrupted, friends' minds can be swayed, enemies can make a quick buck and 'the pain that often mingles in your fingertips' - and yet we don't have to be caught out by any of this and that these are effectively 'bricks in the wall' and not the bigger picture. Finally, 'The Ballad Of Sir Frankie Crisp', takes the mottos inscribed into George's new family home and turns it into a parable, a treasure hunt based around knowledge and understanding that's pulled George to this point in time and which still leads him a dance of merriment round his own garden, waiting to find his next discovery. All of these songs are masterpieces and even the rest of the album isn't bad - no not even 'I Dig Love', the closest we come to a 'filler' song on the two main sides of the album (at least it has a good riff, even if outtake 'I Live For You' deserves its place far more!) Many fans have rightly praised the music on this album and it is indeed truly beautiful, but it's the lyrics that make this album - George never sounded so aware, or spiritual or more like a big brother taking it upon himself to steer 'his' generation the way The Beatles together no longer can (again interesting in the sense that John, Paul and Ringo seem to be all but ignoring their 'responsibilities' in that department, the 'Lennon/Plastic Ono Band' being the musical equivalent of 'go away don't bother me - shoo!')

That paragraph did once upon a time, before I got carried away on the re-writes, lead rather neatly onto a discussion of George's house, Friar Park which is dotted throughout this album like a compass. George and Patti had looked long and hard to find a new house after deciding to move out of their Esher bungalow when George fell in love with this Victorian 'folly', built by eccentric architect Frankie Crisp with its multiple rooms, luxurious gardens, a pond with stones just below the surface so that the rperson in the know looks as if they are 'walking on the water' and even - hidden under so many layers of plants that even the estate agent didn't know it was there -  an underground cavern. Crisp had left it in his will to a nunnery, but the order had run out of funds and left the house in a state of disrepair long before they finally moved out of the property in the late 1960s. The house needed a lot of love and attention as well as a lot of money and the estate agents feared they would never sell it - just as Crisp had been criticised in 1875 for making the 'folly' at all, (with 'folly' used in all senses of the word!) However George was a most natural caretaker who seemed to spend also the time he wasn't making this album in 1970 working on the house and gardens, with Patti too falling in love with the place. Crisp's humour meant that all sorts of 'messages' had been left for him to find, many of which will be turned into songs across the next few years: 'Ding Dong Ding Dong' came from a message over the fireplace**, while one of the corridors includes a monk holding a bedraggled frying pan with the inscription 'Two Holy Friars'.  Spirituality and humour: it's as if the two strands of the 'All Things Must Pass' album had been turned into a building and you can see why George should have 'got' this house no one else thought would sell! (As well as the references to the house in 'The Ballad Of Sir Frankie Crisp' George shot the album cover on the lawn and peers back at us from his new hallway windows for the poster included in original copies of the vinyl edition or included in the CD booklet; in later years he kept a ventriloquist dummy there in the same pose, as can be seen in the '2000' CD box set edition of the record!)

Not that all of this record dates from 1970 and the immediate post-Beatles year as so many assume. As a testament to how George’s creative powers were being held back in The Beatles’ days, many of the songs released on this album, notably the title track, Let It Down, Run Of The Mill and Awaiting On You All were in fact submitted and rehearsed – the term is used loosely – for the Beatles’ Let It Be project. However the other Beatles don't sound at all interested - the title track is the only song that came even close to a full rehearsal (with some quite lovely harmonies I have to say) and the fact that Lennon dismissed it while compiling the LP in favour of fluff like 'For You Blue' as well as nonsense like 'Dig It' and the revived 1963 rocker 'One After 909' suggests either that he didn't 'get' the song (to be fair he never 'got' classics Let It Be or The Long and Winding Road either, both of which he hated long after he admitted grudgingly to admiring other 'Paul' songs) or that he got it only too well and was scared by the competition (sadly McCartney passed on it for 'Let It Be...Naked' too). (George’s other song for the project - I Me Mine – was only a last minute decision anyway, included on the album simply because the Beatles had seen a rough cut of the film documentary where George is playing his demo to the others (who look a bit non-plussed) and decided it would be nice to have a finished version to compare it with. Contrary to popular belief, this one track was taped long after the Abbey Road sessions, although Lennon phoned in sick that day and only three Beatles ultimately appeared on it). Had the fab four continued recording these songs for their ’back-to-basics’ project, all four songs would no doubt have been unrecognisable compared to what we get on this album anyway - wild sweeping horns, three sets of drummers and oodles of Phil Spector echo to make the whole thing sound big, as in B I G!

Yes, Spector's production is the part of the album that fans feel least sure of out of all its good points and is clearly not to everyone's tastes - George included, if his rather defensive sleeve notes in the CD issue of this set about Phil 'teaching him the value of the Hare Krishna Mantra' are anything to go by - and at times ('Wah-Wah' 'The Art Of Dying' 'Hear Me Lord' ) do go a little over the top, drowning out George's often fragile and occasionally hoarse voice. Many fans assume that Spector simply steamrollered George's opinions the way he so often did - but I think it might be more down to mischievousness: a response to Spector's part in the no-overdubs policy of 'Let It Be' that so frustrated George, especially on the quartet of songs begun at that project (no overdubs eh? I'll show 'em!!!') By contrast, thanks to its ’no overdub’ policy, Let It Be is the Beatles’ tinniest and emptiest sounding LP since their first, Please Please Me. Personally I rate the album's productions as one of its greatest strengths, with these sad songs that are largely about loneliness and isolation and wondering where to turn and what to do for salvation still sounding BIG thanks to the deep rumbling echo and multi-tracked musicians playing the same riffs en masse. George’s solitary voice (which is about the only thing not double-tracked), is often lost amongst a sea of booming Spector echo, quadrupled criss-crossing guitars and multiple drummers - but that's how it should be: George is still the quiet humble heart of this album, even if all the ripples coming out of it create huge sea waves. It's as if all the lonely scared little narrators of the world have come together and found strength through unity - the very thing The Beatles don't have any more - that gives this album much of its power and majesty and which would have chimed in nicely with George's take on religion of the time (while Buddhism for example is generally a personal, solo belief both Hare Krishna and Sikhism believe more in the power of believers when they 'come together'). Crazed, mood-swinging musicians they might both have been, but Spector and Harrison are otherwise character opposites, with Spector’s harsh aggressive style the antithesis of Harrison’s spiritual love and his love of echo and claustrophobia the opposite of George’s usual loves of sparse backing and honest, vulnerable performances. The two were caught in an un-winnable power-struggle over this album and sadly never worked together again which is a shame - both seemed to be rather good for the other. George’s grand ideas and themes never sound quite this grand ever again, while Spector never sounds this human and thoughtful, no matter how many more ex-Beatles he crams into his overflowing CV.

Despite this record being a source of frustration for George though, both in the writing (which was mainly done in the ugly death-throes of the Beatles’ final days) and the recording (wrangling with Spector), All Things is still a very peaceful album. Despite George’s public image as some meditating superhippie, he spends most of his solo career acting as he did his Beatles’ career – veering from lovely love songs to grumpy rants against whatever section of society was annoying him most that day. All Things isn’t like most of George’s other records: he sounds at peace here pretty much throughout, at one with the world and open to sudden insights about how the world works, even if he does at times get annoyed with people who can’t see past their own bank balance and social status. Other later albums will come in various shades of crossness: see 1981's 'Blood From A Clone' or indeed most of 'Pass's sequel 'Living In The Material World', which largely ignores the advice of this record for a diatribe about mankind's stupidity which harangues everyone for falling short of perfection, George included. By contrast this song's angriest pair of songs simply tell us that 'by chanting the name of the Lord you'll be free' with the biggest dig kept for 'General Motors' and 'Wah-Wah', a song which sounds aggressive but basically says nothing more accusatory than 'I know you're a big star but you don't always have to act it!' The rest of this album is peaceful, despite the Spector production malarkey, ranging from words of wisdom to pretty romantic ballads (the last lot of songs written for Patti, although interestingly the two biggest are either written solely by or co-written with Bob Dylan, not a figure known for his romantic poetry!) Even the album's repeated theme of death always hanging over us (the warning 'Awaiting On You All' the gloomy 'The Art Of Dying' and the comparatively accepting 'All Things Must Pass') isn't the threat over writers would make it out to be: everything comes to a natural end is the real message of this album, else how can new beautiful things start? Gardener George, facing the weeding experience of his life while trying to undo decades of neglect in his garden, may well have realised that statement from his own handiwork: that seeds will grow even where other have died and that the world needs a bit of pruning to stay in shape. The religious content in these songs is definitely there but not overpowering like it can be on George’s later albums (follow-up Living In The Material World springs to mind, beautiful as much of it is…), with George confiding in us his growing collection of ideas rather than ordering us to join him as he does for the next few poorly-received releases. In fact, the few ‘devotional’ songs on this set are often the best, either celebrating life in God’s name on My Sweet Lord (there’s a lot of different deities name-checked too so no one feels left out!), asking for love while admitting faults (Hear Me Lord) or throwaway references to 'Sister Mary' and the like. Many fans, especially those who own 'Material World', assume that George's albums are full of devotional works but actually they tend to be few and far between, a subtext as here rather than the full story. So, religious songs, pieces about death and a search for spirituality and something bigger than Earthly frustrations: All Things Must Pass is almost a confessional singer-songwriter album the very same year that mood was in vogue, but wrapped up in 1970s' other passion for excess thanks to recordings featuring three drummers, three guitarists and four keyboard players per track! How could 'All Things Must pass' not succeed?!

Well, most of this record undoubtedly succeeds and so far exceeded expectations on release in 1970 that George's career never reached such a peak again. However there's one factor that's always seized upon as evidence that 'All Things Must Pass' was just a self-indulgence after all. The 'final' disc on this set, wittily titled 'Apple Jam', features the assembled cast of players let loose on four lengthy jamming sessions (plus one on-the-spot novelty intended to celebrate Lennon's 30th) and left many fans scratching their heads. However compare these jams back to back with the woefully tired-sounding jams on 'Let It Be' bootlegs and its clear why George wanted them out: he was having fun playing with a room full of people who could really play and loved the fact that as he himself was paying for studio time he could be the nice guy and allow the room to goof off as much as they wanted. After years of being told to the note what to play on John and Paul's songs, it must have been a blessed relief and 'I Remember Jeep' especially is a whole lot of fun if you're in the right mood, the only official place where you can hear George and Eric Clapton duelling on electric guitars. Had 'All Things Must Pass' been released today it would have been included as a 'bonus feature', perhaps made exclusive to ITunes or available for free when you pre-ordered the album; unfortunately that sort of thing wasn't around in 1970 so it had to be included as a 'full' album' an equal size and length to the others (which is a shame because it's clearly not meant to be anything more than a frivolous extra). However patrons still had a right to be fuming - in the vinyl age because they had to pay the price of a third disc effectively only receiving two and a 'bonus' album and in the CD age when EMI messed up badly by splitting the album in two, rather than fitting sides one to four together (where they'd have fitted on a disc neatly with three minutes to go) and left the 'bonus tracks' and the 'Apple Jam' nestling comfortably together on the 'extra' disc!

Overall, then, we're running out of superlatives and even the throwaway extra isn't all that throwaway: 'All Things Must Pass' works as both a simply beautiful album and a work of art with something to each us, full of some of George's most gorgeous melodies ('Beware Of Darkness' 'Isn't It A Pity?' and 'Let It Roll' may well be his greatest on that score) and some of his most perfectly crafted, deepest lyrics (heck, everything except 'I Dig Love'!) The production turns what could have been s lightly soggy album into a tour de force, with real power and panache (even if there's a bit much power and panache for comfort at times) and there's a cast of dozens all perfectly suited to the roles they've been given, although none of them get in the way of the fact that there's only one genius in control of this room of madmen producers and often madmen musicians. 'All Things Must Pass' shines most brightly because it contains more undiluted George Harrison than any of his other albums, full of his vision, his thoughts, his beliefs and his voice which battle through the chaos with which this album was largely started and generally made. In retrospect George should perhaps have kept something back to make his next run of albums all the stronger, but no even then sometimes more really is more and there's just so much going on in this album that you can't possibly mistake it for a massive achievement, even with a disc of condiments to go alongside the main dishes. 'All Things Must Pass' remains a remarkable achievement, easily George's most consistent, deepest, moving and most importantly enjoyable of is solo albums, with something there for everyone. Sadly nothing can last forever - a message this record taught us all only too well - and that creativity will fade and fade quickly, far quicker in fact than anyone who bought this album on first release could reasonably have expected. But why should we mind really? You can't improve on perfection and George got about as close with this album as anyone can. Possibly the greatest solo Beatle album of them all, in fact (though its polar opposite, the sparse, brittle and shouty inward looking 'Lennon/Plastic Ono Band', out the same month and also produced by Spector, runs it close).

The Songs:

[20] I’d Have You Anytime is a sweet, understated opener, with George and Eric Clapton going a bit country with some haunting pedal steel added to the acoustic guitars for one of George’s typically modest album openers. Co-written with Bob Dylan, this track doesn’t sound like most songs in either men’s canon, being made up of two simple verses and a middle eight (George wrote the former and Bob the latter) about a gradual, growing love which could be equally suited to a potential partner or God in general. Anyone expecting a song like those by the Travelling Wilburys will be disappointed: despite a similarly perfectly positioned mix, which brings in new washes of colour with every build in every verse, the sound is stately, rather pompous and questioning, as if the narrator is hesitantly unburdening himself of his feelings for the first time, rather than the innocent and fun 50s doo-wap sound of the two musicians’ later band. Still, George was a master at making simplicity sound deep and making depth sound simple and this so-so song is given a wonderful arrangement, with rumbling counterpointing basses suggesting an underlying threat and gentle single-note organ chords offering stability. 

[21] My Sweet Lord is one of those songs everyone knows inside out, so suffice to say it works well as both a commercial singalong with a classic ear-catching riff and as a spiritual call to prayer. It also sounds terribly George-like and couldn’t ever have been written by anybody else (no, the plagiarism court-case of the He’s So Fine publishers doesn’t count – the song’s always sounded like it was modelled on Oh Happy Day to me and sounds nothing like this song at all when you study both closely—what were the jurors thinking?!) The last of the great 1960s songs (in terms of values, ideas and production), it’s a fantastic collection of all the values that had made up that decade’s search for enlightenment – its effectively a re-write of All You Need Is Love with even more emphasis on spiritual rather than sexual love, complete with acoustic strumming and poppy chorus singalongs - and its all the more saddening that songs of this beauty and sincerity were about to get trampled underfoot by a rush of glib and glittering faux pas rock songs in the 1970s.This is also, unbelievably, the last number one that any ex-Beatle would get in Britain until McCartney’s Mull Of Kintyre in 1977 and marks the end of a jaw-dropping era of influence for the four men who’d made the 60s the most influential decade in music (so far, at least). A delightful mix of Western and Eastern religious symbols, with nods to Christianity and the Radna Krishna Temple along the way, this song says an awful lot about finding unity and spiritual harmony across religions in remarkable few words. One long chorus repeated ad nauseum – there’s a guitar solo but otherwise nothing to alter the tone, not even a middle eight – it must be one of the simplest singles to ever make number one in this country. It’s a tribute to George’s talent that its also one of the best.      

[22] Wah-Wah takes the opposite tack and is in danger of over-simplifying this most complex of albums. A noisy gruff guitar riff with only two short verses, this song finds its heady drama from Spector’s overwhelming production and the absolute battlefield of riffs going on behind Harrison’s surprisingly slight vocal. A song about both a ‘foot pedal and a headache’, George wrote it the day he left The Beatles after the argument with Macca you can see in the Let It Be film and Beatle scholars have tried to fire this song up into a scathing put-down in the manner of Lennon’s equally anti-McCartney song How Do You Sleep? ever since it first came out. In truth, though, this is a song without a proper target and its angst only really adds up to ‘you’re giving me a headache’, although the line ‘you don’t hear my sighing’ does suggest George felt the other Beatles were ignoring his talents. One of those songs that’s more about atmosphere than message, this song could have worked equally well as a bare-bones rocker in the manner of Harrison’s Beatles B-side Old Brown Shoe, but by drenching the whole thing in echo Phil Spector somehow makes this very slight song sound mightily powerful, with George’s voice trying to cut through a wash of sound that doesn’t seem to be paying him the slightest bit of attention.

[23a] Isn’t It A Pity? is such an important song in Harrison’s canon that its included in full no less than twice on this album. The first version is more epic and the second slightly rougher and looser, but both do a pretty good job of expressing one of George’s greatest philosophical lyrics. Melodically a simple shrug of the shoulders, the lyrics of this song tries and fails to work out why humans cause each other so much heartbreak and why these often accidental hurts blinds people’s eyes to the beauty in the world. Fittingly this song is wistful in the extreme, especially in the superior first version where George’s vocal sounds on the edge of tears throughout. Cutting through centuries of racism, class wars and countries fighting each other, the song goes on to ask why people are so scared of seeing anybody different from them and why us humans spend so long fighting each other we forget to take in the beauty and wonder of the world in general. There aren’t actually that many lyrics in this song again – two verses is all you get – but the message is clear enough without repetition. Instead, George is content to put most of his feelings into his guitar playing, with one of his best solos on the first version of the song which seems to spend most of its time rolling around the riffs being played by all the many other musicians, knocking on doors and looking for an answer it never quite gets. The long fadeout suits the song’s meditative mood perfectly and doesn’t outlast its seven minute playing time at all. Despite being one of George’s most typical songs, its more than deserving of its status as something of a modern standard among record-loving cognoscenti, with Matt Monro doing a fine, even slower-paced cover version of this song, among other artists.

[24a] What Is Life? puts some funk back into the album again, with a swinging horn arrangement and a catchy, uplifting melody line underpinning one of George’s better songs about devotion. ‘I’m nothing without you’ sings George – although the song is pretty ambiguous as to whether he is singing to wife Patti Boyd or God or both. What could have been one of George’s most delicate love songs takes on a rather new form when underpinned by the crashing double drum attack of Ringo and Jim Gordon and no less than three guitarists, but the fragility at the core of the song remains intact nevertheless. Highlighted by an inventive horn lick, the rather doubting lyric is this time attached to a rather celebratory melody-line, giving the whole song a neat double-twist as the narrator celebrates his long-time love while questioning why on earth they ever got together in the first place! The second single taken from this album, it very nearly outperformed My Sweet Lord in America sales-wise, despite being rather forgotten and neglected in the United Kingdom, a state of affairs this archive site will do its best to try and put right. Put simply, What Is Life? is the poppy George Harrison at his catchy but deep best.

[25] If Not For You is a Dylan cover, chosen from Bob’s more or less contemporary LP New Morning (where in contrast to George's sweetest vocal on the album Bob sounds as if he's gargling jelly while sitting in a working cement mixer). Like many a Dylan cover artist before him, George quickly dispenses with Bob’s wayward and sarcastic delivery and takes this song at face value. The song is remarkably sparse and tender for a Dylan composition, warm and emotional in a way that his songs are usually complex and intellectual, with only the characteristic hurry to get from A to B revealing this as a Dylan track rather than a Harrison one.  Along the way George uncovers a rather urgent melodic edge, which gives the undercurrent of the narrator's fears of losing his loved one ('Without your love I'd be nowhere at all - I'd be lost if not for you'), tinged with a shade of melancholy courtesy of some very Dylanesque harmonica work and some pedal steel. A lovely song in the country-rock mould, it fits this album's themes of quiet moments and even if its simpler than most of George's own work takes on a profundity in context, as if George is stripping away the smaller pictures to reveal the main image: that, in the words of another song, 'All You Need Is Love'. Interestingly the song's intense simplicity couldn't be less like the normal fare by either men - including the future laidback fun of their adventures together in The Traveling Wilburys.

 [26] Behind That Locked Door continues the theme by being, apparently, a Harrisong ‘about’ Dylan, but you wouldn’t really know it from the words or the arrangement, which find the guitarist even further down the long and winding country road. It could be that Dylan is singing about Dylan's 'recovery' form a motorbike accident in 1968 that was really just an excuse for his friend to 'hide' and hang out with The Band without the world and his photographer waiting to pounce on his creations. For years though I wondered iof this song was about Lennon and his primal scream therapy ('Why are you still crying? Your pain has now ceased') or even George himself, shedding bitter tears over wasted opportunities at Apple and the fact that even after The Beatles had officially dissolved they still had to face each other at occasional Apple meetings. Door’s slow and stately pace is impressive and worth a quick mention for being quite unlike anything Harrison ever did again but, as the lyrics are just a riddle without a key and don’t progress beyond the ‘stop crying’ motif of the chorus, the end result is an uncharacteristically boring song among the lesser moments on this album and even George sounds like he’s having trouble trying to stay awake until the end of it. There's a good tune in there somewhere, though, and while George never did get the hang of country songs (unusually Ringo got the hang of them better) this recording gets closer than most rock-stars do to 'understanding the genre.

[27a] Let It Down is another minor song turned into a stupendous epic by Phil Spector’s cavernous mix. A strange hybrid of quiet laidback verses and loud booming choruses, this song shows off the production work on this album more than any other – even the quieter passages have two drummers, two keyboardists, a bassist and a quartet of guitarists tinkling away behind George’s vocal. Pulsating drums, millions of guitars flying away into the ether, some lowly mixed brass and a choir make for a memorable rowdy recording of what could again have been a rather simple song of two verses and a very simple chorus. The curious lyrics, obscure and surreal compared to most of this album, seem to be one of George’s early messages to God, the figure sitting ‘in another chair’ that George feels most powerfully whenever he is at work making his music and leaving his subconscious open to other spheres of thought. George again hangs his head over ‘wasting away all these moments so heavily’ and even questions the divine wisdom of his new house guest, ‘wondering what it is they’re expecting to see’ when they look at him because he doesn’t feel worthy enough to accept their love (strange sudden use of the plural there, by the way, as if there is more than one God looking over George or if he has more than one life-partner by this time). Liverpudlian comic to the last, however, George negates the impact of one of his potentially deepest and spiritually conscious lyrics by ending on the line ‘let your hurr hang all around me’, showing his earthy Mersey burr like never before, just in case anyone thinks he’s getting a bit too mystic.

[28] Run Of The Mill rounds off the first album with one of George’s greatest set of lyrics and follows the same ideas as the Lennon/Plastic Ono Band LP (coming down fast on this list, incidentally), but with a lot more in the way of words and melody. A sombre song about other people letting us down whether they mean to or not, even George at his most melancholy still can’t hide the fact that this song oozes a love for life. Giving us the philosophical message that even at our lowest points we can choose whether to get upset or put things down to experience and carry on, its simple homespun wisdom is compelling, especially the way the song cuts to the bone but in an entirely different way to Lennon: ‘no one around you will love you today and throw it all away tomorrow’. ‘Forget all these niggling upsets and small arguments’, George seem to be saying, more to himself than anything, ‘the spark of trust that made us friends will always be there’. No one else has ever made the connection that I know of, but this song sounds very much like another product of the end of the Beatles’ days, trying to seek a compromise with lifelong friends without sacrificing one’s pride, and this was indeed one of a handful of this album’s songs half-heartedly taped for Let It Be. If this song was indeed written for his fellow Beatles then it makes for a better coda to the Beatles days than Wah-Wah. Asking in a hurt voice ‘how I lost your friendship’ George could be speaking to either Lennon or McCartney here, finding the thin line between chastising his friend for ‘raising his voice’ and starting the argument when he had a choice to keep his thoughts to himself – and offering an olive branch of forgiveness in that line about how long-term friendships never die overnight out of one single incident but realises that people just naturally grow apart. With lines like ‘I see it in your eyes’ and ‘I may decide to get out with your blessing’, this may well be George coming to terms with the fact that he doesn’t want to be a Beatle anymore and if so then it shows just how much talent – and how much friendship – was lost when the band outgrew each other and went their separate ways. The whole song is underlined by one of Phil Spector’s more fitting productions, with a gentle brass section that stands calm and proud over the whole ensuing argument in the song, just as George’s narrator is trying to do. Philosophical rock at its best.

Following on from this album peak, side three almost makes up for the patchy side two with its opening track alone. [29a] Beware Of Darkness is one of George’s best goosebump-inducing songs, with a wistful meandering melody allied to some almost spitting guitar phrases and another classic lyric. Beware of politicians, bad karma and people out for themselves George warns – dealing with these obstacles isn’t our purpose in life and we shouldn’t get too hung up about them and their three different methods of control during our quest to discover ourselves. With memorable lines about bad thoughts lingering in its narrator’s head ‘in the dead of night’ and ‘falling swingers’ whose career and confidence is over after one single fall from grace, this is one of the greatest cautionary lyrics ever written, but married to such a yearning mournful tune that its one of the loveliest too. The middle eight is particularly impressive, the way it suddenly rises up to snap at the heels of the narrator despite his warnings (‘It can hit you! It can hurt you!’) giving this otherwise laidback song a sense of urgent staccato bite. Incidentally, George’s analogy of the atlas cedar growing in his garden, oblivious to the chaos happening around it, is the only mention of George’s favourite past-time of gardening in one of his lyrics. One of the undisputed highlights of the record or indeed George’s canon as a whole, this is big brotherly advice matched to genius songwriting, a punchy and potent combination that George should have written more of. The song seems to mean a lot to Eric Clapton. As well as playing more guitar on this track than George does, Eric revived the song for an even more moving version on his self-organised Concert For George (2002). If you like this song (how can you not?) the DVD of the concert is well worth tracking down. Incidentally, this song is perfectly placed in the set between George’s poppier songs and a tongue-in-cheek appearance by the Monty Python team, a great reminder of the musical duality (or should that be triaulity) going on in George’s life.

The album then moves on to [30] Apple Scruffs an – aptly – scruffy song with a buried, claustrophobic mix at odds with the song’s lovely tune and harmonica accompaniment, plus lyrics that are a tribute to the fans who used to hang around outside the Beatles’ Apple buildings waiting to catch a brief glimpse of the fab four. The Beatles might have moaned their little socks off at the time, but secretly they were all quite fond of these fans (Paul especially), but surprisingly it took the anti-hysteria anti-publicity Harrison to pen the only true Beatles ‘love’ song to a fan (although at least one of them is – obscurely – referred to in Abbey Road’s She Came In Through The Bathroom Window). The earliest example of one of the Beatles getting nostalgic for their recent past, George seemed to have a great knack writing these sorts of songs, no matter how much he tried to hide his affection for his old band in public (see All Those Years Ago and When We Was Fab for two other witty examples). A delightful observational lyric has George showing real affection for his subject matter, topped off by a chorus of ‘how I love you’ – not the sort of message George would be giving his fans in the years to come – making for one of the album’s silliest and lightest yet also one of its most delightful, songs. 

[31] Let It Roll (The Ballad Of Sir Frankie Crisp) is another atmospheric philosophical ballad with some unrelated verses about different people linked by a classic downbeat Harrison riff and a sombre mood. Frankie Crisp, by the way, was the previous owner of Harrison’s beautiful Friar Park house and is one of several songs George based on little phrases the house’s architect left dotted around the estate (almost the complete set of lyrics to Ding Dong Ding Dong came from Mr Crisp – perhaps his ancestors should have asked for royalties?!) Many of the pictures painted in this song were genuinely scenes from inside George’s house as well – the hallway you can see pictured on the original packaging of this album, although sadly the best-kept staircase of the lyrics is absent. Meanwhile, outside, there really was a ‘fountain of perpetual mirth’ (or a fountain anyway) a garden maze, woods and even underground ‘caves’ discovered only after George bought the property in the late 60s. Compared to most of George’s lyrics, this song about love following its characters all around a building is rather fragmented and confusing but nonetheless delightful, with its tale of two cleaners (‘Joan and Molly sweep the stairs’) an amusing parody of Macca’s Desmond and Molly on Ob-La-Di Ob-La-Da to boot, although I’d be surprised if that’s what George really did have in mind when he wrote the song.

[32] Awaiting On You All is another scary atmospheric song that finally deals with George’s religious devotion head on. George urges us, for the first of many times, to get our life in order before we go out enjoying ourselves in this more up-tempo re-write of My Sweet Lord, but compared to the other deeply balanced and poignant religious hymns on this album its a lot of shouting about nothing. George’s single-tracked vocal is also for once poorly mixed, with the multi-tracked horns drowning him out almost completely. That George wants to save our souls is a lovely thought, but if he has to order us to chant the names of the lord in order to do that rather than convince us why we should listen to him or telling us what chanting has done for him, then that makes the religious aura of this song as double-standardising and as morally doubtful as the ‘send money now to reserve your place in heaven’ TV stations that appear on cable with such alacrity nowadays (George would have so hated God TV!) I sense this song would have been nothing without Spector's bold production - but with it the track still manages to sound like a tour de force, thanks to a piercing Eric Clapton guitar part that really does sound like an Earth-bound soul sticking its fingers in its ears and refusing to listen to George's mantra and a powerful horn section (mainly Bobby Keyes on loan from The Rolling Stones) that really rocks.

[33] All Things Must Pass itself rounds out side three with a much gentler, hopeful and – let’s face it – better song about how obstacles do not last forever and all things come right sometime, if not always when we want them too. Sporting one of its author’s most breathtakingly beautiful tunes, its philosophical message is fatherly without being patronising and optimistic without belittling life’s problems in any way. In the song the cause of grief is the narrator’s partner suddenly getting up and leaving him but he doesn’t fight the fact, recognising that all great friendships must come to an end when the time is right. In this context, how fitting would this song have been for Let It Be? (a song for which it was intended and even rehearsed). Overwhelmingly poignant in the first place, this song is almost unbelievably heartbreaking to Beatles fans since Gorge’s death despite its upbeat message – not that that stopped McCartney giving a heartfelt rendition of the song on A Concert For George, which almost had the whole band of hardened musicians in tears and you sense even George would have approved of it.

Side four can’t quite keep the momentum going and at first it doesn’t even seem to be trying. [34] I Dig Love is empty, breezy filler that seems to have nothing much to say - although the band do cook up a storm by the song’s end, especially the chirping organ riff that rolls up and down the scales to eerie effect only to be delivered a hammer blow by some typical Ringo drums. George has little to say except that he quite likes love, really, which must have been good news for Patti even if the demented cackle with which George sings and a 'California Girls' style verse about any girl being suitable points to this song being more about lust than true love and perhaps an early sign of George's adulterous nature (a much-reported rumour has it he tells a shocked Ringo he's in love with wife Maureen Starkey in 1971 and wants to run away with her, although understandably neither were very keen to talk about this in public afterwards; what with John supposedly also making a pass at Linda McCartney there's a really bad soap opera that can be made out of The Beatles story by somebody at some time). George loses out badly when he tries to go all Lennon too, recalling 'Fig It' with the muddled phrasing of the second verse ('I Love dig!') Compared to the other All Things Must Pass songs, this should have been a B-side at best, having more in common with tongue-in-cheek pretty ditties like Miss O’Dell and I Don’t Care Anymore than this album’s soul-baring honesty (amazingly this is the first real ‘filler’ track we’ve had on this album —not bad going for an hour in!). 

[35] Art Of Dying is more scary philosophical musings about getting our lives in order before we pass on to whatever is waiting for us on the other side of this life. Like Awaiting On You All but far better, it’s religious condemnation dressed up to sound like a killer pop song, with a heavy Phil Spector mix that makes it sound like Armageddon, what with Clapton’s terrifying banshee-wailing guitar solo and the sound of a brass band working over-time. Dismissing the whole of the music movement in one line, George asks why we spend so much of our time putting stock in little things when the only ‘art’ we need to learn in the end will be the art of ‘dying’ gracefully. Touching on the negative ‘karma’ that is thought to restrict our growth in life and prevent us from reaching nirvana (we’re meant to be ‘recycled’ into a different body to live out our lives again inside another body - This probably isn’t the place for a discussion but, what the heck, George would have approved of the debate if not the dimwit question: If man really is being re-born back on Earth into new bodies every generation or two, minus the souls that solved their past problems and achieved salvation to live in a higher sphere of experience, why is that there are more and more people on our planet than ever before and our population is continually expanding, not shrinking? ** see note 4 while I get busy cursing my predecessor for the mess he’s got me into), this song is about the importance of having a free and easy conscience that will enjoy a safe passage to the afterlife and will not pass into another body, leaving us with work still to do in our next life (‘There’s no point lying there on your deathbed thinking ‘darn I forgot to put the cat out’ was George’s own typically dry take on the subject). As you can probably tell, The Art Of Dying isn’t your typical pop song, but so addictive is the groove and so hard-hitting the production that you soon get swept up in the song before realising what it all really means.

The reprise of [23b] Isn’t It A Pity? – perfectly placed after the last track to act as a sort of coda, reflecting once more on why we spend our lives looking at the smaller picture when the bigger one is all that matters in the end - is even slower and even more thoughtful than its predecessor. I've often wondered why George chose to include the track on the album twice - he wasn't short on songs as 'If Not For You' on the CD re-issue attests and if any track was going to be recorded twice then it surely ought to have been the title track. This song isn't even arranged particularly differently, although this one is far more stark and solemn, with more of a stop-start feel to the rhythm than the flow that kept the first version a-gushing. Both are lovely, but the first is arguably the superior making this second largely redundant (it could be that this second version was intended as a 'demo' - although it sounds far more built up than the other demos later appendaged to the album as bonus tracks - or that an out of it Phil/George 'forgot' they'd already recorded it, which happened a lot on Lennon's 'Rock and Roll' album!)

By [36] Hear Me Lord, George really has given up pretending his religious songs are about anything else and this track - his most personal statement yet, matched with Spector at his most bombastic and a recording that never quite finds its way to a full stop - sounds on paper as if it should be terrible. Instead, this closing number is glorious, being very much the heart of the album and a very personal plea from Harrison for someone to come and rescue him after years of never even considering the possibilities that there could be more to life than what he could see around him. By showing us the true well of frustration that Harrison drew on throughout this period and why this religious conversion means so much to him, Hear Me Lord manages to be a  far more moving track than any of George’s other religious epics. George tries again and again to make his deity listen to him, getting more and more worried that his pleas are falling on deaf ears in the process, with his humble vocal matched to a cyclical unhearing piano riff that musically does George’s pleading for him. Like much of the previous 70-odd minutes, this song is at once soothing and terrifying, with George looking for an inner peace that he can only find after years of turmoil. The choir on this track – a big no no in most gospelly rock songs - is used pleasingly sparingly and simply adds to the overbearing weight of the track. Credited as the George o’Hara Smith Singers on the LP box, this assortment of professional singers and professional friends work wonders, they straddling the line between gospel and pop surprisingly well and giving the piece a soothing tranquillity offset by George’s deep, growling guitar. Hard going its true, but well worth the effort of sitting through if you can.

Oh dear. Now comes the hard bit of this review. Five cacophonous jamming sessions come next, all instrumental and while far from the worst thing ever recorded (have you heard 'Two Virgins' recently?!)  make the next 28 minutes of the record sound ten times longer than the 75 or so preceding it. The best part of the ‘apple jam’ disc is the name (the original sleeve even came with a picture of a jam jar on the front!) and without saying so directly is a glorious side-swipe at the Beatles and their self-made company, jocularly suggesting that the whole mess has got a bit stewed, if not pickled. Of course, the ‘musical’ sort of jams were all the rage too in the early 70s, but despite the presence of typical Harrison foils like Eric Clapton, Dave Mason and Ginger Baker on the record, Stephen Stills-Neil Young fierce guitar duels these aren’t, being more understated phrases for tired musicians to calm themselves down by after a heavy night’s recording. Like most jam sessions, these songs must have been far more fun to play than to listen to and only spark very very briefly, but the best of them do have some sort of hypnotic magic about them and its easy to see why George wanted to release them in some form or another.

[37] Its Johnny’s Birthday is first up and - confusingly - it isn’t actually a jam at all. A quick ad libbed birthday message cooked up by George, friend Eddie Klein and Beatles roadie, companion and all-round nice guy Mal Evans in honour of John Lennon’s 30th birthday (on October 9th 1970, two months before this album’s release, so I hope George sent a ‘sorry its late’ card as well). The tune of the song is so close to that of the godawful Cliff Richard Eurovision entry Congratulations that the song’s original composers Martin and Coulter had to be credited too, involving Harrison in another long-running legal case which served as an idea for what he’d be getting himself into come the My Sweet Lord, He’s So Fine debacle. A minute’s worth of frivolous fun, its one of those you-really-had-to-be-there-Happy-Birthday moments from a time when even superstars felt the urge to let us listen in on their home-made tapes. Aww, you shouldn’t have guys. Believe  me, you really shouldn’t have.

The best thing about next track [38] Plug Me In is the name– this is an electric jam session that cuts in suddenly with George, Dave Mason and Clapton already in the middle of a fierce three-way battle. Clapton’s playing is slow and bluesy, more like his work in late-period Cream than his forthcoming Blind Faith or solo works, while Harrison’s playing is more rhythmical than normal and Dave Mason gets busy holding everybody together. The whole jam is perhaps a little too slow for its own good, but could have been the basis for a cooking track with some words added to it. Groovy man, yeah, outtasite (I think that’s how the parlance of the period went, was it not?) 

[39] I Remember Jeep is head and shoulders above the rest of the apple jam disc and quite possibly the reason this album got released at all.Unlike most off-the-cuff jam sessions, this one at least sounds like it has a beginning, a middle and end (though it probably naturally fell like that and is unlikely to have been painstakingly worked out). Ginger Baker’s drumming playing against Eric Clapton’s growling lead makes the whole sound more like a Cream album than anything most Beatles scholars would play, but George’s guitar licks are thankfully more prominent than normal and you get to hear old friend Billy Preston adding some typical blues-funk-gospel-pop-soul piano riffs in there too, when the others shut up long enough for him to get a note in edge-ways that is. Not bad at all, especially when you reach the four minute mark when the band slow to what sounds like a proper finish, but never quite get it together enough to get there (the band simply add back into the original rocking riff one by one instead).

[40] Thanks For The Pepperoni is more unnecessary ephemera, with some Johnny B Goode riffs rolled out by Harrison, Dave Mason and Clapton to a backing of excitable Bobby Whitlock boogie-woogie piano chords and Jim Gordon’s characteristic lopsided Ringo-type drumming. Chuck Berry with feedback, but not as exciting as that description makes it sound.

Final track [41] Out Of The Blue at least ends the album on a relative high, with a wide-circling ominous riff bringing out the best in the players, who this time include George and Clappers with Gary Wright’s churchy organ and a bunch of horn players getting funky. This jam is at least five minutes too long but cooks up some sort of a fine groove, especially near the end when George’s guitar (at least it sounds like his but there are so many guitar players stuffed on this track its hard to tell!) really bounces off Wright’s swirly organ and the whole piece suddenly becomes really slow and eerie, changing styles in the blink of an eye (it’s around the eight-minute mark I’m talking about, if you want to scroll through the rest and get the highlight). Hard going as a jam session, this could have been the foundation of a really great song.

But all things must pass, even this triple album, and so sadly must this review. A towering achievement, mixing the personal with the epic, All Things Must Pass is one of the best solo Beatles albums around and it goes without saying that this also means its one of the best albums you can buy, full stop. Some of the early 70s’ finest players performing some of the early 70s’ best songs, no wonder this album is the well-loved classic that it is. Thanks for the pepperoni, George, you deserve to find your inner peace after giving the world this great souvenir of your talents.

'Extra Texture (Read All About It)' (1975)
'Thirty-Three And A Third' (1976)

'George Harrison' (1979)

‘Somewhere In England’ (1981)
‘Cloud Nine’ (1987)
'Brainwashed' (2002)
'Hidden Harrison - The Best Unreleased Recordings'
Live/Compilation/Spin-Off Albums Plus The Occasional Wilbury
Non-Album Recordings 1968-2001
Surviving TV Appearances 1971-2001

Essay: Why The Quiet Beatle Always Had So Much To Say
Five Landmark Concerts and Three Key Cover Songs

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