All Things Must Pass
Released: December 1970
Chart Peak: #1
Weeks Charted: 38
Certified Gold: 12/17/70
All Things Must Pass has been characterized by Melody Maker's Richard Williams as "the rock equivalent of the shock felt by pre-war moviegoers when Garbo first opened her mouth in a talkie: Garbo talks! -- Harrison is free!" It was certainly a thrilling occasion not only for the quiet Beatle, but also for fans who, having long placed their bets on the dark horse of the group, were at last being shown the jackpot.
The very fact that the Beatles had kept George's flowering talents so under wraps proved to be his secret weapon. By mid-1970 he had accumulated enough material to fill no mere double album, but a triple -- rock's first elegantly boxed three-record set. The final disc, containing superstar jam sessions revolving around the usual three chords, may have been dispensable; but on the two main L.P.'s Harrison generally sustains the high standard set by his compositions on the White Album and Abbey Road -- even if much of All Things Must Pass would have seemed out of place on those Beatle albums. One can hardly picture John and Paul Hare Krishna-ing along with "My Sweet Lord."
George painted his masterpiece at a time when both he and his audience still believed music could change the world. If Lennon's studio was his soap-box, then Harrison's was his pulpit. Though increasingly jaded rock critics sometimes found tart words for his sermons, George's music, at least, seemed to indicate that his mystical explorations had unlocked creative resources that only three years earlier few of his fans could have imagined existed.
All Things Must Pass consists primarily of Hindu scripture set to music, and each of the major tenets of the philosophy get at least a passing mention. "All Things Must Pass" advises a resigned attitude toward external events, and "Beware Of Darkness" warns against maya, the material world's wonderwall of illusion. The two most eloquent songs on the album, musically as well as lyrically, have mysterious, seductive melodies, over which faded strings and horns hover like Blue Jay Way fog.
There is an essay on karma, "Run Of the Mill" ("it's you that decides... your own made end") and one on reincarnation, "The Art Of Dying." For George, like the adherents of most Hindu sects, the ultimate goal is to break the endless cycle of rebirth by attaining oneness with God. According to the Bhagavad Gita: "He... who is spurred by desire, being attached to the fruit of action, is firmly bound." In "Awaiting On You All," Harrison seems to agree with his friends in the Krishna movement that the best way to avoid distraction by such fruit is "chanting the names of the Lord." (On "My Sweet Lord" George did just that, and was rewarded with a Number One single all over the world.)
None of this allows for many light or witty moments; according to Ben Gerson, who reviewed All Things Must Pass for Rolling Stone: "His words sometimes try too hard; he's taking himself or the subject too seriously, or, if the subject is impossible to take seriously, he doesn't always possess the means to convey that impression convincingly." The same critic, however, hailed the sheer sound as "Wagnerian, Brucknerian, the music of mountain tops and vast horizons," and summed the album up as an "extravaganza of piety and sacrifice and joy, whose sheer magnitude and ambition may dub it the War and Peace of rock'n'roll."
This miracle would not have been possible without Phil Spector and his sublime walls of sound. Instead of superimposing these on two-minute throwaways such as "Da Doo Run Run," Spector was at last working with a talent comparable to his own. The producer's cosmic sound proved a perfect complement to the artist's cosmic vision.
For All Things Must Pass, Harrison and Spector assembled a rock orchestra of almost symphonic proportions, whose credits read like a Who's Who of the music scene. Ringo; Procol Harum's Gary Brooker, Gary Wright, and Billy Preston (all on keyboards); Dave Mason and Eric Clapton (electric guitars); and dozens more. George himself painstakingly overdubbed his voice dozens of times, and credited the result to the "George O'Hara-Smith Singers." Apple house band Badfinger was assigned the task of strumming four acoustic guitars, usually buried deep in the mix in keeping with Spector's credo that some instruments should be "felt but not heard."
"Isn't It a Pity" starts out, like many of the selections, as a plaintive dirge, with a backdrop consisting of brooding strings, the steady clanging of chimes, and the shimmering harmonics of Badfinger's guitars. At the signal of the first cosmic thud of Ringo's foot against the bass drum pedal, however, instruments begin to break out out of their metronomic straitjacket to attain an almost ecstatic release. Strings burst into thunderous crescendos; gently weeping guitars start to soar. Like "Hey Jude," which it strongly resembles, "Isn't It a Pity" is a work of towering simplicity with few and basic chord changes and an almost endlessly repetitive fade-out that somehow manages to be hypnotic instead of boring. "Isn't It a Pity" even clocked in one second shy of "Jude"'s seven minutes and eleven seconds.
Besides Spector, another presence is strongly felt on George's album, in spirit if not in person. Harrison had developed a close musical rapport with Bob Dylan over the previous year; in June they even recorded together, though the result has yet to see the light of day. The Dylanesque numbers, if a minority on All Things Must Pass and somewhat overshadowed by their Spectorian counterparts, have a distinct character of their own and are far more intimate, both musically and lyrically, than the rest of the album. They include Dylan's own "If Not For You" from New Morning, "I'd Have You Any Time," based on a lyric Bob gave George to set to music, and "Sir Frankie Crisp," an olde English ballad dedicated to the man who built Friar Park, George's 17th-century castle. (On the album cover, George is seen in the Friar Park garden with part of Sir Frankie's collection of stone dwarfs.) "Apple Scruffs" -- complete with blasts of harmonica, the most Dylanesque of the lot -- is George's tribute to those fanatical Beatlemaniacs who literally lived on the steps of Apple. New York Post writer Al Aronowitz, who was with George for many of the All Things Must Pass sessions, reported: "Outside the studio door, whether it rained or not, there was always a handful of Apple Scruffs, one of them a girl all the way from Texas. Sometimes George would record from 7 p.m. to 7 a.m. and there would be, waiting through the night, beggars for a sign of recognition on his way in and out. In the morning they'd go off to their jobs and in the evening they'd be back outside the studio door again."
All Things Must Pass was phenomenally successful, quickly reaching Number One on both sides of the Atlantic, staying there for many weeks, and ultimately outselling many of the Beatles' albums -- no mean achievement at $13.98. "My Sweet Lord" fared even better in the singles sweepstakes, and remains not only the best-seller among all the ex-Beatles' solo singles, but also the only one to reach Number One in Britain (where the fragments of the Fab Four have generally been received with less awe than in America). Oddly enough, George originally gave his biggest hit away to Billy Preston, who released "My Sweet Lord the previous summer, and went nowhere with it.
"My Sweet Lord"'s resemblance to the early Sixties Chiffons hit "He's So Fine" did not escape the notice of the latter's publisher, Bright Tunes, and in late 1976 a judge ruled George guilty of "unconscious plagiarism" and ordered him to fork over a portion of the Harrisong's accumulated royalties. These were doubtless considerable; as John Lennon said in late 1970: "Every time I put the radio on it's 'oh my Lord' -- I'm beginning to think there must be a God!"
All Things Must Pass first appeared on the Billboard chart on December 19, 1970, reaching #1 and spending a total of 38 weeks.
- Nicholas Schaffner, The Beatles Forever, pp. 140-43.
George Harrison offers a new stroke of light and leadership for the scattered Beatles and their fans, mourning the breakup with "Isn't It a Pity" and going on from there to create a masterful blend of rock and piety, technical brilliance and mystic mood, and relief from the tedium of everyday rock. The all-stars from Delaney & Bonnie, etc. are here, and so is "My Sweet Lord" and some "Apple Jam."
- Billboard, 1971.
Without a doubt, Harrison's first solo recording, originally issued as a triple album, is his best. Drawing on his backlog of unused compositions from the late Beatle era, George crafted material that managed the rare feat of conveying spiritual mysticism without sacrificing his gifts for melody and grand, sweeping arrangements. Enhanced by Phil Spector's lush orchestral production and Harrison's own superb slide guitar, nearly every song is excellent. "Awaiting On You All," "Beware Of Darkness," the Dylan collaboration "I'd Have You Anytime," "Isn't It A Pity," and the hit singles "My Sweet Lord" and "What Is Life" are just a few of the highlights. A very moving work, with a very significant flaw: the jams that comprise the final third of the album are entirely dispensable, and have probably only been played once or twice by most of the listenters that own this record. * * * * *
- Richie Unterberger, The All-Music Guide to Rock, 1995.
All Things Must Pass remains one of the greatest Beatles solo recordings. With Phil Spector creating his trademark wall of sound, the album spills over with ambitious, tuneful songs that were topped off by the extra album of jamming (something that doesn't work quite as well on the double-CD). Among the key tracks are "If Not For You," co-written by Dylan, and "My Sweet Lord," for which Harrison was found guilty of having "unknowingly" plagiarized the Chiffons' "He's so Fine." * * * * *
- Roger Catlin, Musichound Rock: The Essential Album Guide, 1996.
John Lennon was the most disgruntled; Paul McCartney was the first to go; Ringo Starr was up for wherever the ride took him; but George Harrison had the most to gain from the breakup of the Beatles. The youngest member of the band, he had defined his own distinctive voice as a songwriter just as the group was imploding. Still, neither Lennon nor McCartney had been exactly soliciting his contributions. So, to the end, Harrison had to content himself with one or two songs per album.
Then came All Things Must Pass. For his first post-Beatles solo outing, Harrison enlisted the legendary Phil Spector as co-producer and dropped a boxed, triple-album set. (Originally released on vinyl, of course, it's now a double CD.) The sheer sprawl -- including an entire LP of jams featuring Eric Clapton and other members of the then just-formed Derek and the Dominos -- is part of the album's bracing air of creative liberation.
The heart of All Things Must Pass resides in its songs of spiritual acceptance. The title was thought to refer, among other things, to Harrison's former band, the likely subject also of the elegiac "Isn't It a Pity." The haunting "Beware of Darkness" suggests the inner fears -- "The hopelessness around you in the dead of night" -- that Harrison's religious searching was meant to calm. And "Awaiting on You All," the title track and "My Sweet Lord" (for which Harrison was successfully sued for "subconsciously" plagiarizing the Chiffons' "He's So Fine") capture the sweet satisfactions of faith.
Sonically, All Things Must Pass finds Spector in top form. In order to bolster the confidence of the "quiet Beatle" -- and compensate for the thinness of his voice -- Spector employs strings, horns, multiple guitars and swelling background vocals. This gentler Wall of Sound not only makes the most of Harrison's melodic flair but matches the aspiration of his songs with arrangements that seem to rise to the very heavens. The result is an album that is simultaneously modest and bold -- and that, despite its title, has stood up well to the passing of time.
- Anthony DeCurtis, Rolling Stone, 10/12/00.
George Harrison's debut as a former Beatle was monumental, not just in its size and scope -- it was originally released in 1970 as a three-record box set -- but in the way it helped define the decade it ushered in. All Things Must Pass featured Harrison leading a band of hot-shit transatlanctic sessioneers including guitarist Eric Clapton; singing a number co-written with Bob Dylan; and co-producing the entire affair with the legendary Phil Spector. The album's grandeur -- the cast, the length, the long hair falling on suede-covered shoulders -- foretold the sprawl and sleepy ambition of the Seventies. This reissue is superbly remastered, but inessential bonus tracks -- including alternate versions of "Beware of Darkness," "Let It Down" and "What Is Life," plus a remixed and re-sung "My Sweet Lord (2000)" -- have been dropped smack-dab into the middle of its two-CD presentation. So program around that interruption and proceed to music that exults in breezy rhythms: the quick skate of "My Sweet Lord," the bummed slow-dance of "Isn't It a Pity," the colorful revolutions of "What Is Life," which moves like a Ferris wheel. Imagine a rock orchestra recorded with sensitivity and teeth and faraway mikes: bluesy and intricate on Harrison and Dylan's "I'd Have You Anytime," fizzy on "Apple Scruffs," grooving on "Let It Down," and spookily proto-disco on "Art of Dying." Throughout, Harrison sings with soulful reserve. That's how it was with major Seventies rock dudes: They acted nonchalant about greatness.
- James Hunter, Rolling Stone, 3/29/01.
The silent Beatle's creative mark of independence -- a spiritual, joyful celebration of life -- meets Phil Spector's Wall of Sound to create a transcendental rock & roll romp. Emerging from the shadows of John and Paul with evocative songs, he showed he was their equal. Whether or not they knew how brilliant he was, one thing is sure: with a little help from his friends Eric Clapton, Dave Mason and Ginger Baker, he recorded a life-affirmng masterpiece. * * * * *
- Zagat Survey Music Guide - 1,000 Top Albums of All Time, 2003.
George Harrison had almost enough songs stored up from his Beatles days for a triple LP -- the gas starts to run out on Side Six jams such as "Thanks for the Pepperoni." But with Eric Clapton and Ringo Starr on board, spiritual guitar quests such as "My Sweet Lord" and "What Is Life" became classics.
All Things Must Pass was chosen as the 437th greatest album of all time by the editors of Rolling Stone magazine in Dec. 2003.
- Rolling Stone, 12/11/03.
George Harrison was overflowing with so much unexposed material from his Beatles days that when it came to his first, full solo album he had enough quality songs to fill four sides plus have a third bonus disc. The resulting All Things Must Pass shows that, for Harrison, being unburdened of the constraints of the Fab Four allowed him to grow musically.
Setting a template for his solo material, the album found Harrison surrounded by a host of musical friends, among them Eric Clapton, Ringo Starr and Billy Preston, while Bob Dylan is a songwriting contributor. Though an expensive boxed triple set, the album replaced Led Zeppelin III as America's Number One in January 1971 and stayed there for seven weeks.
As of 2004, All Things Must Pass was the #36 best-selling album of the 70s.
- Hamish Champ, The 100 Best-Selling Albums of the 70s, 2004.
The partnership of John Lennon and Paul McCartney did not leave much room for George Harrison, though he managed to slip several classics into The Beatles' catalog. But, by the time the group imploded, he had a treasure trove of songs saved up for presentation on All Things Must Pass, which ranks among the two or three best albums released by a former Beatle.
Fascinatingly enough, while Phil Spector worked with Lennon creating his stripped-down, emotionally wrought recordings recorded in the early 1970s, he simultaneously continued down the Abbey Road path with Harrison's post-Beatles debut, refining his orchestral "wall of sound." Harrison is joined by a stellar cast, including Billy Preston, Phil Collins, Eric Clapton, and the remnants of the Delaney & Bonnie band (drummer Jim Gordon, bassist Carl Radle, and keyboardist Bobby Whitlock), who were coalescing with Clapton as Derek And The Dominoes at the time.
Admittedly, the three-album boxed set was padded with an album of mostly forgettable jam sessions, but, with such finely crafted, spiritually charged songs as "Beware Of Darkness," "The Art Of Dying," "What Is Life," and the hit "My Sweet Lord," this album only sounds better with time. Harrison allows himself to enter The Beatles brouhaha with "Wah-Wah," a slashing tune that many interpreted as a slap at Paul McCartney, but most of the album rises far above score settling.
- Andrew Gilbert, 1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die, 2005.
The unspectacular squabbling end of the Beatles yielded three profoundly different attempts at crawling out from under the wreckage. John Lennon shared his experience with primal-scream therapy on the harrowingly raw Plastic Ono Band. Paul McCartney trended predictably gooey, with an inconsistent album (McCartney) that is redeemed by one of his forthright love songs, "Maybe I'm Amazed."
George Harrison confronted the breakup head-on, with the graceful, philosophical All Things Must Pass. A series of elegies, dream sequences, and thoughts on the limits of idealism, it is arguably the most fully realized solo statement from any of the Beatles.
Though Harrison began writing for this album while the Beatles were dissolving, several tunes -- including the oft-covered "Isn't It a Pity" -- were written earlier, and initially offered to the group. Harrison conceived All Things as a diverse amalgam: There are short études that resemble those on Abbey Road; feisty impromptu jams (on the supplemental disc entitled "Apple Jam") that feature Eric Clapton, Jim Gordon, Billy Preston, and others; and yearning, high-spirited pop productions like the majestic first single "My Sweet Lord."
Just about every track offers a different type of ecstasy: The meditative "Beware of Darkness" follows a halting, patient path toward illumination, while "Apple Scruffs" zooms around unencumbered, an explosive peak-experience refrain that comes direct from heaven's songbook. On the upbeat single "What Is Life" and others, Harrison grabs what he needs from his old band -- that insinuating book sense -- and uses it to frame an utterly comfortable metaphysical discourse. Later Harrison's music would turn inward, becoming preoccupied with imponderable questions of spirituality. But here, in the company of "wall of sound" producer Phil Spector and a retinue of amazing musicians, Harrison attains (and sustains) a state of radiant grace.
- Tom Moon, 1,000 Recordings To Hear Before You Die, 2008.
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