As a youth in the early 1970s I was entranced by George Harrison’s third solo LP, All Things Must Pass. John Lennon’s then new Plastic Ono Band was equally high on my list, even if its sparseness and themes of loss, isolation, and love disoriented my pre-adolescent psyche. Paul McCartney’s McCartney also earned playtime on my sister’s stereo, which consisted of black plastic Garrard record changer, Pioneer receiver, and Pioneer speakers.
Words and Photos by Ken Micallef
When sis was home, it was all Joni Mitchell, Judy Collins, and Crosby, Stills and Nash. When the cat was away, Ken played Beatles nonstop, including the curious Yesterday and Today, including “Day Tripper,” “We Can Work It Out,” and personal favorite, “I’m Only Sleeping.” The album’s cover art (replacing the infamous “butcher” cover) depicted the casually attired Beatles living out of a single steamer trunk.
Oddly, George Harrison’s below-the-waist fist gesture, knotting his thermal underwear into a peculiar shape, was uncaptured by the censors. Harrison–always the Zen hooligan.
My earliest memories beyond nursing and pooping were of bouncing along to The Beatles’ many top ten singles, and their ensuing albums, which grew more innovative, fascinating, and strange, year after year. The cheeky Moptop 4tet turned into mellow folkies (Rubber Soul) who then traded hashish for LSD (Revolver), in turn, becoming drug-dazzled studio innovators (Sgt. Peppers . . .), a final burst of flower power (Magical Mystery Tour) morphing into world weary, stripped-back rockers (White Album), before signaling death (Let It Be). The band snatched victory from the jaws of defeat with a final masterpiece,
Abbey Road. Throughout, The Beatles never lost their gifts for melody, insightful lyrics, smart musicianship, and knowing exactly when to call it quits, both stylistically and personally.
Compared to McCartney’s emotional declarations of love and loyalty, and Lennon’s harsh rejection of everyone and everything but Yoko, George Harrison seemed the one Beatle who’d figured it all out. (Ringo had gone astray, turning to acting, releasing the country music send-up, Beaucoups of Blues, though his Harrison-penned single, “It Don’t Come Easy,” was the first post Beatles hit). All Things Must Pass was an incredibly diverse, profuse, melodic, stylistically refreshing album, and at three vinyl LPs, an epic. It was best to start at the end and dispose of third disc, “Apple Jams,” pronto. If ‘70s motifs of
stoned rockers pressing their internal weedly-weedly button is your idea of good fun, “Apple Jams” will reward with you more of the same. It’s the first two discs that established Harrison’s music as the finest post-Beatles work. “Apple Jams” was like last call at the bar, and they’re out of whiskey.
A global success, All Things Must Pass flowed like magic. Performed by a superstar rock cast, George’s hoarse vocal intimated sincerity and grace, the music equally stimulating and soothing, rocking and lilting, comedic and cathartic, all at once. Practically every song was a potential hit single, from the earnest “What Is Life” and “I’d Have You Anytime,” the funky “I Dig Love,” pleasing country tomes “Behind That Locked Door” and “If Not For You,” the gospel infused pop gems “Hear Me Lord” and “Awaiting On You All,” the curious “Let It Roll,” and the literal massive global hit, “My Sweet Lord.”
Get your head around the fact that with his introduction of Indian classical music and yoga to The Beatles in the mid 1960s, a British rock star is responsible for bringing such trend-candy as “mindfulness,” yoga mats, and Kombucha to the west. Eastern mysticism royalties, anyone?
Continuing, “Art of Dying” rocked hard, “Wah Wah” and “Apple Scruffs” laughed hard, while the title track and equally torpid “Isn’t A Pity” showed George hadn’t lost his knack for overt self-seriousness while composing brilliant pop songs. But along with the brilliance of All Things Must Pass was the murk, the fog, the fifty-foot reverb walls of producer Phil Spector. As enchanted with his own voice as his “wall of sound” production that had framed American hit singles since the late 1950s, Spector drenched what should have been intimate, heartfelt, down-to-earth country/gospel/rock songs in massive slabs of sea-sized reverb. Still, the greatness of the songs superseded the farce of Spector’s failed production.
George often alluded to his distaste for the album’s original production, taking his first stab at removing the Spector goo in the 2001 reissue of All Things Must Pass, which featured new cover art of Harrison relaxing on his familiar Friar Park estate surrounded by superhighways and nuclear steam stacks. Wiki: “Harrison and [engineer Ken] Scott were shocked at the amount of reverb they had used in 1970 and were keen to remix the album, but EMI vetoed the idea.” (“Phil Spector, Dead at 81 | Page 6 | TalkBass.com”) In 2010, along with a vinyl reissue, “a digitally remastered 24-bit version of the album was made available for download from Harrison’s official website.”
2014 saw yet another All Things Must Pass remaster for eight-disc Harrison box set, The Apple Years. In 2017, another
vinyl reissue appeared, taken from the 2014 remasters, which lessened the reverb, while removing some depth.
FINALLY! In 2021 the Harrison estate brought in superstar mixer/engineer Paul Hicks to create new All Things Must Pass mixes with lacquers cut at Abbey Road by Alex Wharton, vinyl pressed by Czech company, GZ Media. For Hijinx and scribble, I shot an unboxing video on my Manhattan rooftop.
The 50th anniversary edition of All Things Must Pass is available in seven varieties, from standard vinyl and CD editions up to an “Uber Deluxe Edition box set (really a crate).” (wiki) For Harrison completists, the most extensive editions contain 70 tracks across 5 CDs/8LPs, including “outtakes, jams and 47 demos, 42 of which are previously unreleased, and a scrapbook containing archival notes and track-by-track annotation curated by Olivia Harrison.” (wiki) The Uber Deluxe Edition set (as shown in Norman Maslov’s excellent Youtube unboxing video) adds a 44-page book on the creation of ATMP, along with scale replica figurines of Harrison and the Friar Park gnomes, among other extras.
Listening through a variety of amplifiers (Schiit, Ayre, Shindo, Parasound), the Hicks’ mix is a success, if a bit bass heavy. The shower-of-Spector sound is reduced, but still remains. The strengths of the new mix include improved, more natural sounding resolution of George’s lead and background vocals and guitars, and the more spacious and natural treatment of bass and drums, which while cleaner are still a bit wooly sounding.
I imagine some will enjoy the Day One and Day Two demo discs, originally recorded on May 26-27, 1970, leading up to Harrison’s All Things Must Pass accomplishment. I found the demos a very mixed bag. While hearing George sing raw songs with only guitar and occasional drum accompaniment is a thrill that lends deeper enjoyment, a handful of demo songs are throwaways that didn’t appear on the album for good reason. And who really needs another disc of “Apple Jams”?
As someone noted, along with celebrating Harrison and All Things Must Pass, releasing it at the 50-year mark assures
copyright control for the next 50 years. How else to explain such tedious dreck as “Going Down to Golders Green,” “Dehra Dun,” “Om Hare Om (Gopala Krishna),” “Nowhere To Go,” “Cosmic Empire,” “Mother Divine,” and “I Don’t Want To Do It.” We know why George didn’t want to do it, because none of those nonsensical, un-melodic songs match the beauty of what we know and love as ATMP. My ultimate package would be the remixed/remastered 3-LP set, a disc of George with guitar
performing demo material of the original ATMP songs (where his voice is much stronger than on the final mixes), and the engrossing hard-cover booklet. Throw in a gnome or two for good luck, and Dhani Harrison’s your uncle. —Ken Micallef