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‘All Things Must Pass’ by George Harrison Review: An Enlightening Remix


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The Beatles guitarist’s most enduring solo album—tweaked and repackaged with bonus material—sounds better than ever at 50-plus

 
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George Harrison

Photo: Capitol Records
 

George Harrison had something to prove when he walked into EMI Studios on May 26, 1970, the first day of sessions for what would become “All Things Must Pass.” Within the Beatles’ working dynamic, he had been forced to accept third-class status as a songwriter, after John Lennon and Paul McCartney. But the praise earned by recent songs like “While My Guitar Gently Weeps,” “Something” and “Here Comes the Sun” had made him more confident and assertive. 

He had released two quirky solo discs—“Wonderwall” (1968), a film soundtrack that melded Indian music and Western pop, and “Electronic Sound” (1969), with two long synthesizer works. But “All Things Must Pass,” a collection of more conventional pop songs, would be his true solo debut. A remixed version of the album will be released on Aug. 6 (Capitol/UMe), in various CD, LP and streaming configurations, with a surround-sound mix on Blu-ray; for completists, an “Uber Deluxe Edition,” packed in a wooden box, includes the LP, CD and Blu-ray versions, plus extra books and trinkets. 

As pop albums go, “All Things Must Pass” wasn’t that conventional. Most of the songs are essentially religious: The title track, “Art of Dying,” “What Is Life,” “Awaiting on You All” and the set’s hit single, “My Sweet Lord,” all present notions of mortality, reincarnation and the point of sentient life that fascinated Harrison in his study of Hinduism. Before the advent of Christian rock, Harrison was proselytizing for Krishna. 

There are exceptions. “Behind That Locked Door” is a countrified love song, with exquisite pedal steel playing by Pete Drake. “Ballad of Sir Frankie Crisp (Let It Roll),” a whimsical tribute to the eccentric builder of Harrison’s castle-like home, Friar Park, offers a glimpse of Harrison’s offbeat sense of humor. “Run of the Mill” and “Wah-Wah” touch obliquely on squabbles within the Beatles; and though Harrison could be grumpy about Beatles fans, his “Apple Scruffs” is an affectionate nod to the young girls who kept vigil outside the EMI Studios in the hope of seeing one of their heroes. 

Harrison enlisted Phil Spector to co-produce the album with him, and gave him a free hand to use the full Wall of Sound treatment—lots of musicians, lots of overdubbing, lots of reverb—that had made Spector a legend in the early 1960s. The reissue’s liner notes describe sessions at which Spector, having already recorded an army of guitarists (besides Harrison, the players included Eric Clapton, Dave Mason, Peter Frampton and the four members of Badfinger), insisted on adding more layers, as well as orchestral additions on some songs. After five months of recording, they assembled an opulent triple LP, with 17 songs spread across the first two discs, and energetic, exploratory studio jams filling the third. 

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Photo: Capitol Records

Spector’s grandiose production was part of the “wow” factor that, along with the consistently high quality of the songs, led reviewers to compare “All Things Must Pass” favorably with recent albums by Lennon and McCartney when it was released in November 1970. But it quickly came to sound overcooked and mushy; Harrison himself thought so, and floated the idea of remixing it shortly before his death in 2001. 

The first two discs of the reissue are a remix by Paul Hicks overseen by Dhani Harrison, George’s son. Anyone expecting a stripped-down, de-Spectorized album will be disappointed: Mr. Hicks has said in interviews that attempts to remove all of Spector’s excesses yielded unsatisfactory results. But he was able to tone down some of the reverb, and he made some radical balancing decisions—burying the massed guitars at the start of “All Things Must Pass” and the assertive piano at the start of “Wah-Wah,” for example. Stereo placements were reconsidered as well. Spector’s fingerprints remain, but the album now sounds warmer, punchier and more energetic, and the surround-sound mix is seductively immersive. 

Listeners set on an alternative “All Things Must Pass” will find it among the three discs of bonus material. Harrison spent the first two sessions recording straightforward demos of the songs he was considering—30 in all, 13 of which did not make the album. Both sessions are included in their entirety; you can think of them as “All Things Must Pass” sans Spector, with the rockabilly “Going Down to Golders Green,” the Westernized Hindu hymns “Om Hare Om ( Gopala Krishna )” and “Dehra Dun,” and the intriguingly chromatic “Tell Me What Has Happened to You” among the delightful bonuses. 

The final disc of studio outtakes includes a few more unreleased songs and jams, a timely rendering of “Wedding Bells (Are Breaking Up That Old Gang of Mine)” and a few other humorous throwaways. Taken with the detailed annotations in the booklets, these bonus tracks greatly expand our perspective on what has proved to be Harrison’s most durable album. 

After his next studio effort, “Living in the Material World” (1973), some listeners began to peel off, tiring of what they considered Harrison’s sermonizing. But at the end of 1970, when he had the pop world’s full attention, he sang about the meaning of existence, and his audience seemed grateful for a touch of enlightenment.

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