My father passed away in 1969 from a heart attack when I was twelve years old. That summer “the music” in the words of Jim Morrison, became my “special friend”. The next year, 1970, at Christmas I was thrilled to find among my gifts (along with John Lennon’s Plastic Ono Band – released on December 11th) George Harrison’s three disc set All Things Must Pass, released November 27th.
I had been listening to and following the Beatles since their debut in the US in 1964. When other people my age wanted to be astronauts, I wanted to be either a Beatle or a Rolling Stone. I was keenly aware of George’s contributions to the group and looked forward to his first significant solo effort.
So, here goes. At the time, I was very satisfied with the studio albums of the box set but I must admit that I didn’t listen to the third album of jams much.
The album opens with I’d Have You Anytime, a beautiful song co-written with Bob Dylan that features jazzy major seventh chords and could be something ripped out from the so called Great American Songbook. I love the sumptuous sound of the lead guitar, possibly George’s Rosewood Telecaster played through a Fender Deluxe Reverb. This is followed by the big hit of the album, My Sweet Lord. I initially felt that this was a bit preachy but must admit that I accepted a copy of the Bhagavad Gita from a Hare Krishna devotee on 42nd Street afterward and thought that, perhaps, I just wasn’t perceptive enough to “get it”. That’s how good this music is. Of course, I also fondly remembered the Crystals “He’s So Fine” which Harrison was sued over for unconsciously plagiarizing and the Edwin Hawkins Singers” Oh Happy Day” which Harrison said he based the song on. Did George Harrison Plagiarize My Sweet Lord?
Other standouts include, Isn’t It a Pity, If Not for You, From Behind That Locked Door, Let It Down. Beware of Darkness and of course, All Things Must Pass.
Phil Spector is the elephant in the room here. He produced both All Things Must Pass and Plastic Ono Band – and the two could not be more diametrically opposed. Plastic Ono Band was magnificent in its minimalism; nothing but raw emotion and slap-back echo. All Things Must Pass was the reemergence of Spector’s “Wall of Sound”. The “Wall of Sound” technique consisted of recording four or five instruments when usually only one or two were recorded. For example, most artists in 1970 might, if they even thought of it, double up an acoustic guitar to make it sound full, Phil Spector and Harrison would have four members of Badfinger accompanying George on acoustic guitar. Where one piano would normally do, this album would have Billy Preston, Gary Wright (Spooky Tooth), Gary Brooker (Procol Harum), etc.
However, this is not the only connection to Spector and the historic Wall of Sound. It is no secret that George was playing live with Delaney and Bonnie and Friends during the time that the Beatles were dissolving. He, Eric Clapton, and Dave Mason (of Traffic) all took refuge in this uniquely American southern soul revue during 1969. Many of the artists associated with this band were refugees from Phil Spector’s “Wrecking Crew”. Famous alumni include Leon Russell, whose ragtime influenced bluesy piano is indispensable to this album, Bassist Carl Radle, Trumpeter Jim Horn and drummers Jim Keltner, and Jim Gordon.
Add in Clapton himself and Stax recording artist Bobby Whitlock and you have Derek and the Dominoes. If you listen to the intro to The Art of Dying you will hear the similarity to Why Does Love Got to Be So Sad. Other artists on the album include Ringo Starr drums, Peter Frampton guitar (Humble Pie, solo), Klaus Voormann bass (Manfred Mann, Plastic Ono Band), Alan White drums (Plastic Ono Band, Yes), Dave Mason guitar (Traffic, solo), and Bobby Keys saxophone (Rolling Stones).
This is a lushly recorded album. Abbey Road studios had legendary analog recording gear and you can appreciate it through this release. This is also a historic moment in time. George didn’t just hire studio musicians like many artists would have done, he was playing with many of the best musicians of his time with whom he was very comfortable with. He had already played live with them or in the studio. I appreciate the upgrade in sound from the original and would recommend this release.