When George Harrison decided to title his first post-Beatles album All Things Must Pass, he clearly wasn’t considering our apparently endless appetite for nostalgia. Half a century since its release in 1970, and 20 years since the guitarist’s death, the title song’s philosophical celebration of the transitory nature of things sounds as gorgeous and meaningful as ever, unironically remarketed for the fourth time (following 30th- and 40th-anniversary editions) as part of a lavish box set.
This time around, Harrison’s 42-year-old musician son Dahni has gone back to the original tapes and overseen a remix of his father’s masterpiece. It is a potentially sacrilegious move, especially when you consider that Phil Spector, heralded as the greatest producer of his time, worked on the original with Harrison himself.
The good news is that the album still sounds fantastic, with fresh clarity and separation that comes from ever-so-slightly dialing down Spector’s ubiquitous and now rather dated echo effects. It is a work of great energy, joy, and dynamism, that essentially sprang from Harrison’s palpable excitement at fully realizing his own musical identity after years of playing a supporting role to the towering geniuses of John Lennon and Paul McCartney.
There is an appealing live resonance to songs recorded in carefully orchestrated takes with a huge assembly of talent including fellow Beatle Ringo Starr on drums, Eric Clapton and Peter Frampton on guitars, Billy Preston on keyboards, plus members of Yes, Traffic, Badfinger, the Rolling Stones’ horn section and most of Clapton’s short-lived band Derek and the Dominoes. John Lennon is credited with “handclaps” on what is most Beatley of all post-Beatles albums, carrying on the rocky spirit of Abbey Road and rootsy immediacy of the White Album (a surprising outtake even offers a snatch of Harrison blasting out McCartney’s Get Back).
It contains many of Harrison’s finest moments, including the mournful ballad, Isn’t It a Pity, lilting Americana waltz Behind That Locked Door, melodious Run of the Mill, luminous Beware of Darkness, pleading rocker Hear Me Lord and rip-roaring Let It Down. The playing throughout is fantastic, the whole affair zinging with lyrical riffs, sweet finger-picking, and soaring pedal and slide, all weaving through thick beds of acoustics and electric guitars.
The George Harrison: All Things Must Pass 50th Anniversary Box Set CREDIT: Jason Ware Imagery, LLC
We knew all that already. What makes this re-release particularly fascinating are 60 demos and out-takes, most never officially released before (although available on bootleg). Over two days in May 1970, Harrison sat down and recorded every song he had been storing up, playing solo or with a tight rhythm section of Ringo and bassist Klaus Voorman.
Many of the songs were understandably abandoned, including dippy mystic ditties Dehra Dun, Om Hare Om, and Mother Divine, snappy rock’n’roll pastiche Going Down To Golders Green and the comically bizarre Nowhere To Go, composed on the spot one day when Bob Dylan asked Harrison to show him some fancy chords. “I get tired of being Beatle Ted / Talking to the dead,” Harrison mischievously croons.
There’s a directness, freshness, and intimacy to these performances that put the late, great Beatle George right in your ear, untarnished by time. Not all things must pass, it seems.