“Classic album” is a term that’s used far too often when describing records from the golden era of rock music. The truth is, one person’s classic album is another’s long-forgotten record. But we think that without fear of contradiction George Harrison’s All Things Must Pass is a classic album.
The set was George’s third solo album, but his first since the demise of The Beatles. When it was originally released, as a triple album, on November 27, 1970, Ben Gerson of Rolling Stone described the sound as “Wagnerian, Brucknerian, the music of mountain tops and vast horizons.”
The genesis of All Things Must Pass began when Harrison visited America in November 1968 and established his long-lasting friendship with Bob Dylan, while staying in Woodstock. It coincided with a time when George’s songwriting output was on the rise, and he was becoming increasingly self-assured, and not just for The Beatles. In early 1969 he co-wrote “Badge” with Eric Clapton for Cream’s Goodbye album.
An Americana influence
George’s involvement with Billy Preston and Doris Troy who had both been signed to Apple records in 1969, as well his joining Delaney and Bonnie on tour – a tour that included Eric Clapton, Leon Russell, Dave Mason, Bobby Whitlock, Carl Radle and Jim Gordon – all began to influence George’s songwriting. Elements of spiritual music and the rootsy style we have come to call Americana became increasingly prevalent.
George’s spiritual journey drew him towards the Hare Krishna movement, which would also become another vital piece in the jigsaw of sound that makes up All Things Must Pass. On George’s 26th birthday, February 25, 1969, he recorded a demo of “All Things Must Pass,” along with “Old Brown Shoe“ and “Something.” The latter two songs were recorded by The Beatles, the latter to unforgettable effect, but “All Things Must Pass” was not.
Harrison had based this beautiful song on a translation of part of chapter 23 of the Tao Te Ching, “All things pass, a sunrise does not last all morning. All things pass, a cloudburst does not last all day.” A month earlier he also made a demo of another of the standout tracks on All Things Must Pass, but “Isn’t It A Pity” also failed to make the cut for a Beatles album.
In early 1970, George played producer Phil Spector demos of songs that he had been writing. Some of them went back as far as 1966, specifically “Isn’t It a Pity” and “Art of Dying,” and he had written “I’d Have You Anytime” with Dylan during his stay at Woodstock in late 1968. George 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 Get Back album, but, perhaps thankfully, they didn’t see them as “Beatles songs.”
“Wah-Wah” and “Run of the Mill” both date from early 1969, while “What Is Life” came to George while he was working with Billy Preston on his album, That’s the Way God Planned It for Apple Records. Olivia Newton-John’s cover became a UK hit in 1972. “Behind That Locked Door” was written in the summer of 1969, just before Dylan’s performance at the Isle of Wight Festival. George began writing the epic “My Sweet Lord” in Copenhagen while on tour with Delaney and Bonnie in late 1969. It would become a calling card for the whole project with its massive singles success.
It was during that tour that Delaney Bramlett asked George to play slide guitar, according to George. “[Delaney] handed me a bottleneck slide,” he remembered, “and asked me to play a line which Dave Mason had played on the [Coming Home] record.” Mason, of Traffic, had recently quit the tour. George’s “I Dig Love” proved to be an early experiment with the slide guitar, and the sound that he came to make his own.
Other songs on All Things Must Pass were written in the first half of 1970, including “Awaiting on You All,” “Ballad of Sir Frankie Crisp (Let It Roll)” (a tribute to the original owner of George’s home, Friar Park) and “Beware of Darkness,” Shortly before the sessions for the album began, George was at a Dylan recording date in New York, which is where he heard “If Not for You,” and in turn George was inspired to write the Dylanesque “Apple Scruffs” as his own sessions were winding up. It was a tribute to the girls who hung around outside the Apple Corps offices or Abbey Road Studios in the hope of meeting a Beatle.
Recording the album began in late May 1970, and such was the frustration within George at being unable to get his songs on a Beatles album that it is of little surprise that there are so many on All Things Must Pass. The third LP included in the original triple album is entitled Apple Jam and four of the five tracks – “Out of the Blue,” “Plug Me In,” “I Remember Jeep” and “Thanks for the Pepperoni” – are instrumental jams in the studio.
According to George, “For the jams, I didn’t want to just throw [them] in the cupboard, and yet at the same time it wasn’t part of the record; that’s why I put it on a separate label to go in the package as a kind of bonus.” The fifth track, “It’s Johnny’s Birthday” was a present for John Lennon’s 30th and is sung to the tune of Cliff Richard’s “Congratulations.”
Creating a huge sound
The sound of All Things Must Pass is so huge that at times it is hard to be precise as to who appears on which track. Aside from the musicians already mentioned there’s Ringo Starr, Billy Preston, an uncredited Peter Frampton, and German bassist Klaus Voormann, who also did the artwork for the cover of The Beatles’ Revolver album. Members of Apple band, Badfinger, on acoustic guitars, also helped to create the wall of sound effect. On keyboards, there’s Bobby Whitlock, and Gary Wright, who had been a member of Spooky Tooth and later in the 1970s had considerable solo success in America. Other keyboard players included Tony Ashton and John Barham, who both played on Wonderwall Music.
The drummers are future Yes man, and member of the Plastic Ono Band, Alan White; Phil Collins, in his young, pre-Genesis days plays congas; and Ginger Baker plays on the jam, “I Remember Jeep.” Other musicians included Nashville pedal steel player Pete Drake and Procol Harum’s Gary Brooker.
Eric Clapton, Bobby Whitlock, Jim Gordon, and Carl Radle played London’s Lyceum in the Strand on Sunday June 14, 1970 and decided, shortly before going on stage, to call themselves Derek and The Dominos. Earlier in the day, they were at Abbey Road for an All Things Must Pass session when they cut “Tell The Truth,” which became Derek and The Dominos’ first single release in September 1970. The B-side was “Roll It Over,” recorded at another All Things Must Pass session on June 25, and this included George, along with Dave Mason on guitar and vocals.
Originally, Harrison had thought it would take just two months to record the album, but in the end, sessions lasted for five months, and were not finished until late October. George’s mother was ill with cancer during the recording and this necessitated his frequent trips to Liverpool to see her; she passed away in July 1970.
As a producer, Phil Spector proved somewhat unreliable, which led to George doing much of the production work himself. Final mixing of the record started at the very end of October in New York City with Spector. George was not entirely happy with what the famed producer did, yet nothing can take away from the brilliance of this record. Tom Wilkes designed the box to hold the three LPs and Barry Feinstein took the iconic photos of George and the four garden gnomes on the lawns in front of Friar Park.
Captivated audiences everywhere
When recording began it was scheduled for release in October, but the delays meant it came out in America on November 27 1970, and three days later in the UK. It was the first triple album by a single artist and captivated audiences everywhere, entering the Billboard album chart on December 19, going on to spend seven weeks at No.1 in America, from the first chart of 1971. It entered the UK on the Boxing Day chart, making No.4 on the official listings, though it topped the NME’s chart for seven weeks. As the lead single from the album, “My Sweet Lord” topped the bestsellers list on both sides of the Atlantic.
As time passes, admirers have come to love this amazing record even more. It is the kind of album that says so much about what made music so vital as the 1960s became the 1970s. It’s full of great songs with lyrics that not only meant something then, but still resonate today. As decades arrive and pass, and new generations of music lovers look back, this is the kind of work that will take on almost mythical status. It’s one thing being able to read about its making, it’s quite another thing to allow it to envelop you, to caress you and to make you feel the world is a better place in which to live.
All Things Must Pass is George Harrison’s spiritual high, truly a classic and unquestionably one of the greatest albums ever made.