A sumptuous 50th anniversary box set reveals treasures worthy of restoration from the Quiet Beatle’s triple fantasy
When artist exits a band, deliberately or otherwise, and releases his or her debut solo album, it naturally makes for an auspicious occasion.
The level of expectation is immense and there’s no guarantee that the results will match the massed anticipation. After all, there’s a previous trajectory to consider, one generally flush with accomplishment and a backstory that creates cause that the artist will meet, if not exceed, the standard set previously.
When you’re talking about a Beatle, that bar is, of course, raised even higher. Consequently, George Harrison’s first collection of songs following the Beatles’ break-up, the aptly titled All Things Must Pass, not only exceeded expectations, but also set a standard for what might be expected from the individual band members going forward. To be sure, Harrison had a cache of songs that were prepped during the Beatles’ lifespan, but often overlooked in deference to Lennon and McCartney’s compositions.
AUDIO: The Beatles “All Things Must Pass”
In retrospect, it seems remarkable that some of those songs didn’t make the cut. “All Things Must Pass” and “Isn’t It a Pity” would certainly have made worthy additions to the Beatles’ cannon. Likewise, the songs written with Bob Dylan during Harrison’s visit to the Bard’s home in Woodstock — “I’d Have You Anytime” and “If Not For You” — are stand-out selections well worthy of recognition within both men’s catalog.
Consequently, given that substantial stash of songs, All Things Must Pass, released in November 1970, was a markedly monumental effort, posting two complete discs of new material and an additional album of spontaneous — if somewhat incidental — jams by the players involved. Indeed, Harrison had some formidable assistance, having recruited Eric Clapton, Ringo Starr, Dave Mason, Billy Preston, Gary Wright, Peter Frampton, Gary Brooker and members of Badfinger and the Bonnie and Delaney band to help bring the effort to fruition.
The album was reissued in 2001 and again in 2004, and while outtakes from the sessions have been made available, both in officially sanctioned re-releases and in bootleg form, the current 50th Anniversary edition provides the most bountiful stash of songs from those sessions yet. It includes a remixed version of the original album, two discs of first takes and demos recorded during the first two days of sessions and played for producer Phil Spector (some 30 in all), an entire disc of outtakes and alternate versions, and a CD boasting Blu-ray audio.
Aside from the remarkable sound quality, as overseen by Harrison’s son Dhani and Paul Hicks, the sumptuous book included in the box includes track by track notation from Harrison himself giving insight into the origins of each song as well as thoughts about the evolution of the album overall.
Harrison completists will likely be most enthralled by the addition of several heretofore unreleased recordings, among them, the rocker “Sour Milk Sea,” which Harrison gave his pal Jackie Lomax for inclusion on the latter’s Apple debut, the countrified “Going Down to Golders Green,” a chant titled “Dehra Dun,” the sobering “Everybody/Nobody,” the downcast “Window Window,” the yearning “I Don’t Want To Do It, a few somewhat slighter inclusions, and a lilting ballad titled “Om Hare Om (Gopala Krishna),” the latter providing further testament to Harrison’s Krishna faith.
Likewise, the demos in their stripped-down settings add a new dimension to the songs’ set-up and sensibility. Early takes of “I Dig Love,” “Wah-Wah,” and “I’d Have You Anytime” are conveyed with a ragged, roughhewn delivery that only hints at what would evolve later on. “Wah Wah,” “What Is Life” and “Hear Me Lord” are far more emphatic. So too, the spooky deep chanting injected within “Let It Roll” adds an intriguing element that changes the tone of what became the better-known version entirely.
Suffice it to say, this box is an essential addition to any completist’s collection. It offers a remarkable insight into the so-called Quiet Beatle’s creative process, as well as further evidence that Harrison was easily the songwriting equal of Lennon and McCartney, even though his input was often overlooked. While the outpouring of George’s genius might have seemed overwhelming at the time, quantity and quality were clearly in sync and well worthy of full indulgence.
That impression remains intact. All things must pass, but the brilliance is still evident even half a century on. The word “extraordinary” doesn’t begin to do this box justice, but for the sake of recommendation, it should suffice.