Wednesday, April 2, 2008
No. 437: All Things Must Pass
Band: George Harrison
Album: All Things Must Pass
Why Rolling Stone gets it right: The most successful and best of the post-Beatles work, "All Things Must Pass" is essentially the outpouring of all of George Harrison's pent up great songs. The record contains many tracks he wrote while in the Beatles, to the hooks remain, while Phil Spector's production make for an arrangement that simply surrounds and permeates the listener.
Why Rolling Stone gets it wrong: Three discs is a lot, certainly.
Best song: "What is Life?" is amazing, "If Not For You" is great. The whole album is amazing.
Worst song: I can see why people don't like the jams on the final disc of the set.
Is it awesome?: Absolutely.
As I mentioned in the piece about "Band on the Run," being in a band with greater songwriters is probably incredibly frustrating. George Harrison, of course, normally got one or two songs on each Beatles record. To that point, George Harrison told Dick Cavett -- in an appearance on the show show below -- the band would've had to release 100 Beatles albums to clear out the songs he'd written.
And so came "All Things Must Pass." Harrison had a backlog of songs he was never able to record with the Beatles. These songs, of course, came from a time that Harrison was writing top-shelf-level work. His Beatles work of that period -- "Old Brown Shoe," "Something," "While My Guitar Gently Weeps," "Here Comes The Sun," etc. -- is on the same level of anything Lennon or McCartney produced. I would argue that "Here Comes The Sun" can stand alongside any single Beatles song, save for "A Day in the Life" and "Tomorrow Never Know." "Something" is in the same category, though, I'd suggest it's the greatest love song ever written.
"All Things Must Pass" is full of songs a small notch below that work. Produced by Phil Spector, the album is a barrage of guitars and arrangements. The musicians on the record are top-notch, with Billy Preston, Ringo Starr, Alan White and Eric Clapton all helping with the album. In fact, a 19-year-old Phil Collins played percussion on "Art of Dying."
The grand story from "All Things Must Pass" -- save for it being the only great post-Beatles work from an ex-Beatle -- was the copyright suit filed against Harrison over "My Sweet Lord." The publishers of "He's So Fine" claimed that Harrison had plagiarized the song, eventually ending in a judgment that said he'd plagiarized inadvertently.
"My Sweet Lord" is a sweet religious song with a pretty melody -- yes, it does sound a little like "He's So Fine" -- about God/Lord Vishnu, eventually finishing the song with the vocalists all singing chants in Hindi. Harrison and his close friend Bob Dylan collaborated to write the album opener, "I'd Have You Anytime," a gorgeous love song. "Isn't It Pity" is a two part song about the existential crises we all face. Long, somber and driving, the song is one of the great philosophical tracks on the record ("Art of Dying," "All Things Must Pass" and "Beware of Darkness"). "All Things Must Pass" was written during the "Get Back" sessions, with help from John Lennon and a demo appeared on one of the Beatles "Anthology" records.
"Ballad of Sir Frankie Crisp (Let It Roll)" is kind of a mock on Christianity (and organized religion in the first place), taken from the fact that Harrison's estate was originally Sir Frankie Crisp, who had installed various anti-religious statuary throughout the estate. It's certainly a little strange for the song to be on the album with such devout Hindu tracks dotted throughout the album.
"Wah Wah" is a guitar romp that showcases the beautiful relationship between Harrison and Spector. The wall of guitar effects is amazing and shows off Harrison's guitar playing, a skill for which he still gets little credit.
"If Not For You" -- a beautifully lush and melodic Dylan cover, about one thousand times better than Dylan's version -- might be the album's highlight were it not for "What Is Life?" The horn and guitar riff-driven romp is a carnival of sound and sits among the best Harrison work. It's a sweet love song lyric backed by unparalleled energy.
The last disc of the three-record set was simply a bunch of jams. It's certainly overkill and I'd be a hypocrite if I didn't say it hurt that album. But, on some level, the third disc doesn't hurt the album. While the first two discs are full of ridiculously strong conventional songs, the final disc shows the kind of magic that can be found between ridiculously talented musicians.
So, I love that disc. I'm a hypocrite, I guess.
"All Things Must Pass" is the best selling and most universally praised post-Beatles album by an ex-Beatle. It is a masterpiece and, sadly, Harrison never came within a mile of the album's brilliance.