All Things Must Pass (Version 1)

A few of the facts: The first triple LP by a solo artist, the longest solo LP by a Beatle,

A few of the performers: Fellow Beatle Ringo Starr, Pete Ham and Tom Evans (of Badfinger), Eric Clapton, Alan White (Yes), Gary Brooker (Procol Harum), Gary Wright (The guy whose every album you all rightfully skip over in our bargain bins), Billy Preston, Bobby Whitlock (Of Derek and the Dominoes), Pete Drake (The great pedal steel session man), young Phil Collins, Klaus Voorman, Dave Mason, John Lennon (Allegedly, although uncredited) some of Delaney and Bonnie’s “Friends” and some more of Derek and the Dominoes.  Oh, and George from the Beatles.

The general back story to this famous album is that George had long struggled to get his prolific bandmates to give his songs a fair listen, resulting in a hefty backlog in the back of the quiet Beatle’s brain.  Fans and critics were shocked by the album’s massive scale and depth.  The 1971 Rolling Stone review of the album describes it as “a grandiose gesture, a triumph over artistic modesty, even frustration.  Read the whole review here.

All Things Must Pass may be an album more accessible after one has had more life experience – As a kid I found it interminably boring, save the joyous choruses on “My Sweet Lord” and the third disc’s “Apple Jam”.

This great album actually opens clumsily, with the Harrison-Dylan collaboration “I’d Have You Anytime” but elsewhere includes George’s lovely cover of the Bob Dylan’s song “If Not For You” (From New Morning, then only a few months old).  Dylan’s mellow pop song takes on a country gospel feel on All Things Must Pass:

if not for you

All Things Must Pass really hits its stride on the first side with “Wah Wah”, which George has said was inspired by a fight with Paul during the Let It Be sessions.  George’s eventual track (Still only getting the one!) on Let It Be was the solid rocker “I Me Mine” but “Wah Wah” might have been a good addition.  Its got a really great sound on All Things Must Pass, featuring Bobby Whitlock’s piano, Gary Brooker’s organ and a horn section that really wails.  The horns are Jim Price and Bobby Keys, best known for their work with the Stones on several albums starting in 1972, as well as appearances on classics by Joe Cocker and Eric Clapton.

wah wah

One song appears twice on the album, probably its saddest song, the ballad “Isn’t It A Pity”.  This was one of the Beatle rejects, first written in 1966.  It has gone on to become one of the most-recorded George Harrison songs.

I’d suggest one listen to “Isn’t It A Pity (Version 1)” again before jumping on the bandwagon to malign the Phil Spector’s production of this album.  George and John both favored Spector’s distinctive style for years, and steadily declined from the charts after rejecting the controversial producer.  I think the heavily reverberated sound that Spector cast over the album helps create its gigantic and spiritual feeling, and I’ve always been in the minority of listeners who likes the producer’s work with the Beatles.

isn’t it a pity

“Isn’t It A Pity” may be as simple as a song about the Beatles’ internal conflicts, but like most of the albums its simple lyrics have a great deal of depth.  Many recordings of this song have explored this, such as Nina Simone’s lengthy improvisations on her Harrison-steeped album Emergency Ward.  Alas, dumb Dave has lost his copy of this record so we can’t listen to it here.

my sweet lord

“My Sweet Lord” was a monster hit for Harrison, but he was soon hit with a copyright infringement suit alleging the Beatle borrowed his song from the Chiffon’s 1963 hit “He’s So Fine”.  Most early reviews of the album point out the obvious similarities.  Years of legal conflict followed, and Harrison eventually bought the rights to the Chiffon’s song because when you’re a Beatle you don’t take shit from anybody.*

*Not exactly what happened.

Harrison wrote “This Song” about the incident, years later (On the album Thirty Three and 1/3 – The one with the sweet sunglasses).  Here it is:

this song

For your interest and comparison, here is the Chiffon’s hit single, “He’s So Fine”:

For your general enjoyment and edification, here’s Michael Reed’s pleasing cover of Harrison’s song (One of many, many “My Sweet Lord”s issued over the years), from a 45 on the Pride label:

my sweet lord michael reed

All Things Must Pass is a big album, and so our appreciation of it has to be big, too.  Check in tomorrow for part two, where we’ll include some live music from George’s Concert for Bangla Desh as well as a couple more cover versions of songs from this classic record.  We’re also going to defend the often-criticized “Apple Jam” on record three.  If that’s not enough, tomorrow’s post will also share Laura’s favorite thing about All Things Must Pass!

2 comments

  1. Steve’s avatar

    I have always loved this album. I remember a friend saying that, upon hearing it, the other Beatles “must have $#17 themselves,” it is so good. I am among those who feel that John and Paul’s later Beatles songs were inconsistent, with John’s output and quality suffering especially; by Abbey Road, George was the strongest songwriter in the band.

    If you can find it online, there’s a bootleg called ‘Beware of ABCO’ on which George plays his demos for the label brass, unaccompanied. He says, just before playing ‘Beware of Darkness,’ “Here’s another one I wrote the other day.” Yup. He wrote that one, and who knows what else, in one sitting.

    I don’t know what happened to George that he went from this to such unadulterated pop later, but this is a true gem. Thanks for the write-up.

  2. Laura’s avatar

    I love the explanation of the legal conflict with the Chiffons. I never knew about that!

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