‘Classic album’ is a term that’s used way too much 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.
There’s an old adage in the music business that talks of, ‘the difficult third album’, well this was George’s third solo album and it proved to be far from difficult. When it was originally released, as a triple album, on 27 November 1970, Ben Gerson of Rolling Stone described the sound as “Wagnerian, Brucknerian, the music of mountain tops and vast horizons,” and who are we to disagree?
Listen to All Things Must Pass right now.
The genesis of All Things Must Pass began when George 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 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, with elements of gospel and the kind of music that we have come to call ‘Americana’ becoming 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, 25 February 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, but for whatever reason ‘All Things Must Pass’ was not. George 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 George also made a demo of another song that is one 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 which 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 Bob 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, 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. ‘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 was during the tour that Delaney Bramlett asked George to play slide guitar, according to George, “[Delaney] handed me a bottleneck slide and asked me to play a line which Dave Mason had played on the [‘Coming Home’] record”; Dave Mason had recently quit the tour. George’s ‘I Dig Love’ proved to be an early experiment with the slide guitar and the sound that George 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 his album began, George was at a Dylan recording session 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 the All Things Must Pass sessions were winding up. ‘Apple Scruffs’ is a tribute to the girls who hung around outside 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’ albums 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 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, and German bassist Klaus Voormann, who also did the artwork for the cover of The Beatles’ Revolver album, along with members of Apple band, Badfinger, on acoustic guitars, who all help in creating 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 some big solo hits 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 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 14 June 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’ that became Derek and The Dominos’ first single release in September 1970. The B-side of their single was ‘Roll It Over’, recorded at another All Things Must Pass session on 25 June and this included George, along with Dave Mason of Traffic on guitar and vocals.
Originally George 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 him making frequent trips to Liverpool to see her; George’s mother 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 Phil Spector. George was not entirely happy with what Spector 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 27 November 1970 – 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 19 December, going on to spend seven weeks at No.1 in America, starting with the first chart of 1971. Seven days later, on Boxing Day, it entered the UK charts, making No.4 on the “official” listings, though it topped the NME’s chart for seven weeks. The lead single from the album was ‘My Sweet Lord’, which topped the bestseller’s list on both sides of the Atlantic.
As time passes fans 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 is full of great songs with lyrics that not only meant something then, and still resonate today. As future decades come and go, and new generations of music lovers look back, this is the kind of record 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, having listened to it.
All Things Must Pass is George’s spiritual high, truly a classic and unquestionably one of the greatest albums ever made…triple, double or single.
All things Must Pass can be bought here.