George Harrison had temporarily quit The Beatles in January 1969, disillusioned with their fraught sessions after witnessing the domestic bliss of The Band and their home studio set-up in Woodstock the previous November. What he saw in New York suggested a cooler, more democratic process was possible. The tensions in which he was mired at that time bore a handful of songs that were at once spiteful yet contemplative, including “I Me Mine” and “Wah Wah.”
“Run Of The Mill” is similarly probing; ironically, its lyrics were first scrawled across an envelope from Apple, the company that would irrevocably tear the group apart over differences of opinion regarding its management. A few weeks after Paul McCartney announced to the world in April 1970 that The Beatles had split, Harrison was in New York to discuss starting work on a solo album with Phil Spector, playing the producer “Run Of The Mill” and a selection of songs he’d earmarked for it. While the majority of “Run Of The Mill”’s ire is purportedly aimed at McCartney, the song also serves as a cautionary tale of owning one’s actions: “No one around you will carry the blame for you,” George sings. “No one around you will love you today/And throw it all away.”
In late May, sessions for the new album began with Spector at Abbey Road Studios in London. While the resulting triple LP All Things Must Pass starred a sprawling list of musicians and guests, the core team was drafted in by Harrison from Delaney And Bonnie’s all-star group with whom he and Eric Clapton had briefly toured in 1969. In Spector’s hands, “Run Of The Mill” – which had started out as a rustic acoustic rumination – was built up into a multilayered and melodically sanguine anthem.
“[Spector] was unique the way he worked,” said keyboardist Billy Preston, also present at these sessions. “He would use a lot of keyboards playing the same chord to make it big and strong. We would do it several times in different octaves and it was monotonous as hell. But he was making it the Phil Spector sound. Myself, I never really was a fan of his sound… But with George’s stuff, it was perfect.”
All Things Must Pass was released in November 1970 and reached the top of the UK album charts, where it stayed for six weeks. Though its subject matter was dominated by deeply spiritual reflections, it was with “Run Of The Mill” that – compared to the veiled slandering in song by his bandmates – the “Quiet Beatle” offered the starkest insight into “the problems with partnerships” and the group’s grisly end. “You got me wondering how I lost your friendship,” he offers to them, “But I see it in your eyes.”
In 2001, just nine months before he died, George selected “Run Of The Mill” as a favorite cut from All Things Must Pass: “It’s just something about the words and what it’s saying,” he reasoned. Similarly, it is the song of his that means the most to his widow, Olivia. “It’s a really beautiful song,” she said. “Its lyrics are very inspiring – ‘It’s you that decides / Which way you will turn’ – and always a lovely reminder of him.”