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Everyone knows the story of the Beatles and how they started out as mates and ended up being rather ambivalent towards each other by 1970, so I won't go into all that now. Except perhaps with a bit of revisionist pop music history that George Harrison was by a country mile the most talented member of the band. There, I said it. So sue me, Paul.
By the time of the demise of the Beatles, all of them (bar Ringo) had dabbled in solo projects of some sort. Paul McCartney had hinted at his forays into classical music by scoring the rather slushy soundtrack to 'The Family Way', Lennon had squeezed out three very painful bits of avant-garde experimentation (Life with the Lions, Two Virgins and the Wedding Album) with Yoko and succeeded in baffling pretty much everyone on the planet in the process including himself, not that he'd admit it. And Harrison had released the surreal soundtrack 'Wonderwall Music' and the shockingly cutting edge 'Electronic Sounds', which was one of the first all-electronic albums recorded. Yet all of this seemed like they were just messing about, using their new toy 'Apple Records' to chuck out any old whimsical nonsense that they didn't want to put out under the banner of The Beatles. Come 1970, they found themselves standing solo and they would have to either start making records that people wanted to hear, or give up the music game altogether.
And while Lennon and McCartney were the obvious choice for fans and critics alike, in part because of their
mighty reputation as hit songsmiths, but also due to their quite open feuding, fought out as a battle of words in the press. It was time for the quiet, understated and undervalued member of the band to shine.
'All Things Must Pass' was released as triple vinyl box set; a first in rock music. Having racked up a lot of frustration at having his work passed over by his bandmates, Harrison had built up a reservoir of creativity, and it all comes flooding out here. It starts off on a very downbeat note - 'I'd Have You Anytime' is a collaboration with Bob Dylan, and its mid-tempo, acoustic wooziness almost sends the listener to sleep before we've even got going. But it picks up immediately with one of his most famous tracks, 'My Sweet Lord'. It's Harrison confessing a very personal side of his identity, that of his spirituality that he had nurtured over the years in a genuine manner, rather than through some cheap bit of hippy quick fix meditation. And you can hear it right there in his voice and performance; this is a man who believes, and finds joy in it. It's a bit of a shame then that he was sued by the Chiffons as it sounds almost identical to their hit 'He's So Fine'.
The record sports and all-star cast, and Eric Clapton joins in for some Cream-style jamming on 'Wah-Wah', which does indeed feature yes, that's right, a lot of wah-wah effects. The horn section are clearly enjoying themselves too, and it's obvious from this track that Phil Spector is at the helm, delivering his famous 'Wall of Sound' brand to the album. Listening to it now, it does date it somewhat, and I'm not entirely sure that he was the right choice to head the project. Still, the strength of the writing weathers the storm, and it doesn't detract too much from the overall experience.
'What Is Life' swings along with a heart full of soul, and it's obvious that Harrison is relishing his new found freedom to air the songs he wants to play. There's no real bitterness to be found here, unlike on his former bandmates' first efforts; just a touch of sadness. The title track sounds like a nod to the end of the Beatles, and is a fairly mournful, yet optimistic number. 'Apple Scruffs' is a Dylan-style pastiche that pays homage to the loyal fans who would hang out at Apple studios, affectionately known as Scruffs by the staff there. 'The Ballad of Sir Frankie Crisp' is a tribute to one of the former owners of his massive mansion, and delightfully conjures images of life in the house and the little stories that it must hold in its many rooms and acres.
There are numerous musical influences and ideas here, and it's obvious that Harrison wanted to leave the sound of the Beatles behind and exercise his song-writing skills elsewhere. Dylan is a major influence, with a heavy leaning towards folksy guitars and harmonicas, but also there are numerous Motown and soul ingredients chucked in, as well as some blues-rock solos and riffs. Gone is his obsession with sitar ragas, there's more Western influence from the likes of Crosby Stills and Nash here than there is Ravi Shankar.
It's not without its misfires though. 'I Dig Love' is just a terrible, trite song. We're also treated/subjected to two version of 'Isn't It a Pity', neither of which stand out above the other, leaving one wishing that he'd just chosen one take and stuck with it. Waffle, padding and filler.
Speaking of filler, the whole of the third disc of the original set is one big jam session with various people like Ginger Baker, Billy Preston, Alan White et al. This is great, if you're a fan of the Grateful Dead and can get something out of such things, but most people will play this once and tuck it back into its case. There really wasn't much need for this to be a triple album; maybe he just wanted to get there before Frank Zappa or Santana dared to do it.
This is available in numerous formats. An original copy on vinyl will set you back about 25-30 quid, and it was reissued in 2010 on its vinyl format again, to the analogue specifications. The CD version was deleted until 2001, when it was remastered with various bonus tracks. For the ultimate digital version though, uncompressed FLAC files can be downloaded from Harrison's official website. Just be prepared to give up a fair few megabytes of space for the privilege.
In all, this is by far the most enjoyable post-Beatles effort I've heard, despite its flaws. It's of a certain time and place, and its production instantly dates it. But it is full of charm and honesty, and some very charming and deft compositions. Shame it was all downhill for him from here in terms of musical output, but at least he did achieve his full potential and make a bold, memorable album.
George Harrison didn't do things by halves. By the end of 1970 all four Beatles, or ex-Beatles, had made solo albums, but George's was a boxed triple LP set, now of course a double CD. Though a less prolific writer than John Lennon and Paul McCartney, he had built up an impressive stockpile of songs ready to go. The majority are pretty good. Though the chart-topping single 'My Sweet Lord' was soon devalued by a plagiarism case, 30 years later it still retains that unique charm. In my opinion, though, the track released on the B-side, 'What is Life', is easily the best thing he ever did as a soloist. It's a simple song but with a great, infectious hook, and the way he builds it up from that opening guitar line, repeating it with bass, percussion and that whoosh of strings, is total magic. 'Wah-Wah' may not be very deep lyrically, but it has a great groove, while 'Awaiting on You All' is one of his religious songs which manages to rock and get a message across without being too preachy. Totally different is the tender country song, 'Behind That Locked Door', with lovely pedal steel guitar from Nashville ace Pete Drake. Bob Dylan's influence is evident on the folksy harmonica-led 'Apple Scruffs', not to mention a version of 'If Not For You', and a song written jointly by George and Bob, the laid-back 'I'd Have You Anytime'. I'm less keen on some of the ballads. 'Beware of Darkness' sounds ponderous, and 'Isn't it a Pity' has always come across as tedious and maudlin. The greatest pity of all to these ears is that George reprises the song and gives us two versions! The album ends with a series of instrumental jams. Depending on your point of view, they're either really groundbreaking or horrendously self-indulgent. Fun to dip into, though, especially a send-up of 'Congratulations', retitled 'It's
Johnny's Birthday'. To sum up, George's frail voice could have let this album down with a thud, but with sympathetic production and that inimitable guitar, it goes down a treat. Some of the subsequent albums were a let-down, but most of the time this one gets it just right. And if you enjoy it, try and track down the live 'Concert for Bangla Desh' (triple LP 1972, double CD 1991, both deleted), which features in-concert performances from Leon Russell, Bob Dylan, Billy Preston, Ringo Starr, and some of the songs which first appeared on 'ATMP' and sound more gutsy. And they resisted the temptation to tinker around with 'Awaiting on You All', even though George evidently forgot the words to one line. As they say, even Homer nodded sometimes... UPDATED Since I wrote the above, the album has been remastered and reissued with several bonus tracks, in a redesigned package including additional notes from George - and (prepare to grind your teeth) at a price of several pounds less. I've yet to get my hands on a copy of the new package, but according to the info I have from various sources, the new material includes an instrumental version of 'What Is Life', a demo of 'Beware of Darkness', two previously unreleased songs from the sessions, 'Let It Down', and 'I Live For You', and a new recording of 'My Sweet Lord' with his son Dhani on guitar and Sam Brown adding vocals. In view of the horrific events of December 1999 which, it seems, put paid to rumours of a new Traveling Wilburys album, it's not unreasonable to suppose this may be George's swan song as far as music is concerned. Nevertheless it certainly suggests an extra incentive to check the new reissue out - as I intend to do myself!
When it came out, All Things Must Pass was a mammoth triple LP set and at the time George was the biggest of all the Beatles. Here was where he reached his peak and here was where he was his most confident. Chart-topping with My Sweet Lord and writing classic tracks such as I'd Have You Anytime (With Dylan) and Apple Scruffs, Harrison's album is a classic for two thirds, but loses its way towards the end with lots of instrumental jams which are really unneccessary. Brilliant, subtle and a must buy if you like George or the later Beatles stuff.
This is one of the best albums that George Harrison has ever made. His debut album as a soloist (after the split with the Beatles) that outsold the debut albums of Lennon and McCartney put together, so before listening to it you know it must be good. The album is quite spiritually focused with the tracks My Sweet Lord, Hear Me Lord, etc. Harrison is always very religious on his albums, but does not let this take over. This is mainly because of his links with the Hare Krishna. It is a double album with a HUGE selection of songs that show Harrison's ability as a song writer and performer. The split from the Beatles allowed Harrison to produce songs of a better quality because he no longer had to compete with Lennon and McCartney to get one of his songs on an album. Because of this he was a lot more confident in his work and did not have to worry about the songs "not being up to standards", although they obviously were. When this album was released, Harrison was seen as one of the superstars of popular music, completely outdoing Lennon and McCartney. I think it was because of this that Harrison's music went downhill slightly - he felt the pressure of everyone's expectance of a bigger and better follow up album and therefore was again forced to worry if the songs were "up to the standards" of before. The first CD is really good and has a completely different theme to those of the second CD. These songs are a lot softer and catchier than those later in the album and show his ability to write in different styles. Highlights of this CD include My Sweet Lord - which reached number one when it was released and is still seen as a classic. Another classic that this album produced is What Is Life, that has been covered many times by many different artists. Harrison also collaborates with Dylan to produce the song I'd Have You Anytime, which opens the album. Other greats include Wah-Wah, L
et It Down, Apple Scruffs and the excellent Beware Of Darkness. The second CD has a completely different style and Harrison concentrates a lot more on instrumentals. This shows his playing ability and although the series of jams are a little repetitive they are a vital part to the album - although others believe that they should have been ommited. The reason they are essential to the album is because they offer a great alternative to the usual style of Harrison and show us how he is able to develop an idea into a full length track. Apart from these jams on the second CD there are also four songs, that do actually include great instrumentals. I Dig Love is a plain melody used together with great vocals and percussion to make this simple idea into a very successful song. Art Of Dying include some brillioant guitar playing put together with some outstanding lyrics which make this one of the best tracks on the album. There is also a second version of Isn't It A Pity (that was featured on the first CD). This shows Harrison's keeness to develop ideas in different ways. Overall, this is an excellent effort from the Beatle who was always overshadowed by his colleagues and allows him to prove himself to the world to be on the same level musically as both Lennon and McCartney.
Disc #1 Tracklisting
1 I'd Have You Anytime (2001 Digital Remaster)
2 My Sweet Lord (2001 Digital Remaster)
3 Wah-Wah (2001 Digital Remaster)
4 Isn't It A Pity (2001 Digital Remaster)
5 What Is Life (2001 Digital Remaster)
6 If Not For You (2001 Digital Remaster)
7 Behind That Locked Door (2001 Digital Remaster)
8 Let It Down (2001 Digital Remaster)
9 Run Of The Mill (2001 Digital Remaster)
10 I Live For You
11 Beware Of Darkness
12 Let It Down
13 What Is Life (Backing Track)
14 My Sweet Lord (2000)
Disc #2 Tracklisting
1 Beware Of Darkness (2001 Digital Remaster)
2 Apple Scruffs (2001 Digital Remaster)
3 Ballad Of Sir Frankie Crisp (Let It Roll) (2001 Digital Remaster)
4 Awaiting On You All (2001 Digital Remaster)
5 All Things Must Pass (2001 Digital Remaster)
6 I Dig Love (2001 Digital Remaster)
7 Art Of Dying (2001 Digital Remaster)
8 Isn't It A Pity (Version Two) (2001 Digital Remaster)
9 Hear Me Lord (2001 Digital Remaster)
10 It's Johnny's Birthday (2001 Digital Remaster)
11 Plug Me In (2001 Digital Remaster)
12 I Remember Jeep (2001 Digital Remaster)
13 Thanks For The Pepperoni (2001 Digital Remaster)
14 Out Of The Blue (2001 Digital Remaster)