Graded on a Curve: George Harrison,
All Things Must Pass

I have been guilty of saying mean things about George Harrison in the past, most of them having to do with the lugubrious and often wimpy tenor of the ex-Beatles solo work. But I am here today, dear members of the committee, to recant. I’ve been listening to 1970’s sprawling All Things Must Pass, and while it has its share of doleful bummers, what strikes me about it now is how hard it rocks. The most anonymous Beatle could cook when he felt like it, and on All Things Must Pass he frequently felt like it, as did co-guitarists Eric Clapton and Dave Mason, and when all is said and done I’m forced to agree with critic Mikal Gilmore, who called All Things Must Pass “the finest solo work any ex-Beatle ever produced.” And its flaws make that assessment all the more remarkable.

The studio sessions were a clusterfuck, with superstars being dragooned left and right. The line-up included the players who would soon form Derek and the Dominos as well as the members of Badfinger, to say nothing of folks like Ringo Starr, Billy Preston, Ginger Baker, and Gary Wright. Why, even Phil Collins played on one track. There was also extensive overdubbing, and while the production duties were formally in the hands of the mercurial Phil Spector, Harrison has said Spector required 18 cherry brandies just to BEGIN work, leaving poor George to handle much of the production himself. In addition, Harrison’s mother was dying, and he was nurturing a burgeoning heroin addiction.

Let me make it clear from the start; I’m not much for “My Sweet Lord,” the song the LP is probably best known for, nor am I wild about its companion piece, “Help Me Lord.” LP opener “I’d Have You Anytime,” which was co-written by Harrison and Bob Dylan, does nothing for me, nor do the run of the mill “Run of the Mill,” the milquetoast “I Live for You,” and the “I need love” sentimentality of “I Dig Love.” But I’ve changed my mind about the title track—it’s prettier than I remember—as well as about the Dylan cover “If Not For You,” a song whose laid back charms (great guitar riff, some nice harmonica by Harrison, catchy tambourine, etc.) had previously eluded me.

Other softer, slower numbers I love include the doleful “Beware of Darkness,” the lovely title track with its horns and lovely melody, the Dylanesque country honk of “Apple Scruffs,” and “Behind That Locked Door,” another country-tinged number Harrison wrote to lend moral support to Dylan, who was suffering a serious case of writer’s block at the time. I also like the playful “Ballad of Sir Frankie Crisp (Let It Roll)” and the undeniably catchy “What Is Life” and “Awaiting On You All.” And the same goes for “Let It Down,” with its great horn arrangement, crashing opening, and low-key verses and big, bad choruses.

But the tunes that really float my boat are the fast and hard ones, beginning with the powerhouse that is “Wah-Wah,” an explosive jam that will blow your ship out of the water like a torpedo from a U-boat. Meanwhile, the wah-wah heavy “Art of Dying” moves along like a Derek and the Dominos tune, which should come as no surprise since it was at the sessions for All Things Must Pass that Clapton and his future band mates first got together. As for the rip-roaring instrumental jam that is “Plug Me In,” I’m buying; the guitar solo is wild and wooly, Bobby Whitlock’s keyboards are frenetic, and this one captures the crazed spirit of early rock’n’roll as well as anything ever recorded by Jerry Lee Lewis.

Meanwhile, “I Remember Jeep,” the freaky instrumental whose title must have come from Anchorman’s Brick Hamland, opens with a great hissing sound and commences to jam and jam and jam. Billy Preston hammers away on the piano, Harrison and Clapton solo, and a weird whooshing and squiggling noise (must be Harrison on the Moog synthesizer) comes and goes. The tempo is slower and bluesier than on “Wah-Wah” or “Plug Me In,” but the song makes up for it with pure thrust; thanks in large part to Ginger Baker, you could move earth with this baby. “Thanks for the Pepperoni” is an old-school rock’n’roller, just like they used to make when Little Richard and Chuck Berry ruled the roost. Whitlock’s piano is fabulous, the guitar work is showy and over the top, and there’s no doubt in my mind that the boys had themselves lots of fun making this one.

As for the lengthy but not too long “Out of the Blue,” the guitar showmanship is complemented by some great “Can’t You Hear Me Knocking”-style horn work by future Rolling Stones associates Bobby Keys on saxophone and Jim Price on trumpet. Keys’ is a bravura performance, as he solos at great length over a very, very heavy bottom. Because this song is a heavyweight and a battering ram, with some fantastically barbarous drumming by Jim Gordon, lots of funky keyboard work by both Whitlock and Gary Wright, and guitar work by Harrison, Clapton, and Mason, taking turns on solos. Suffice it to say this is one of the best jams I’ve ever heard, with the guitars growing more frenzied as the song goes on, while Keys blows and blows and blows.

Yes, members of the committee, I confess—I was wrong about Harrison’s ability to make great music. I may not be crazy about his later work, but All Things Must Pass is a masterpiece, albeit a flawed one. And when all is said and done, Lennon and McCartney, for all their skills, never even came close. The late Mr. Harrison kicked ass on All Things Must Pass, an album that, at its best, rips it up and tears it up and captures the essence of rock’n’roll at its untamed best. Sorry George, on whatever astral plane you’re dwelling. I hope you’ll accept my apology.

GRADED ON A CURVE:
A

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  • Cooney Henry

    All things, like…” All Things…” strike the ear differently, at different times and with evolving ( hopefully) sensibilities…I can think of many examples of Music I deemed ” throwaway” with younger ears, voracious for pounding affect, missing many layers of soulful ambience…( The Stones, ” ‘Til The Next Time We Say Goodbye”, is,, for me, a recently re-heard gem, with so many elements of superb musicianship stirred together in a flawless ballad…[ check out the subtle, low string slide fill-ins that slip in beginning with verse two…must be Mick T…] ).
    I remain however, in disagreement with Mr Little as regards the opening track to “All Things Must Pass”. The tonal, beautifully atmospheric “I’d Have You Anytime” hit a bulls-eye in my heart from the very first tap on the vibraphone and tickling of the harmonium ( both criminally un-credited), that provide the sweeping canvas…but, it’s Eric Clapton’s instantly recognisable swinging, breezy lead fill-ins and George Harrison’s full, resonating 12-string acoustic that complete this Beauty.

  • once

    I just wish George had waited and made 2 single albums. He usually only got a couple songs on each Beatle’s album, so he had a lot of songs stock piled and was eager to release them. I think he could have had 4 hit singles if spread across 2 albums with My Sweet Lord, All Things Must Pass, What is Life and Isn’t it a Pity.

  • Marc Chrysanthou

    Run of the Mill is a wonderful song..particularly the acoustic only demo

  • Nate Lightning

    George definitely had the best post-Beatles songs of the group.

    • Chip Gaasche

      You’re out of your mind, Nate. I suggest you revisit McCartney’s catalog.

      • Ang Waters

        I much prefer George’s solo stuff to Paul’s 😊

  • Chip Gaasche

    At least two sides too long!

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