This is an installment of a series of blogs where I revisit some classic albums that I love, used to love or has made an impact on pop culture whether I am familiar with it or not. You can also make suggestions on a classic album, and I may give a whirl and review it. Email me at jfroemming(at)bemidjipioneer.com or comment below.
George Harrison, in 1970, put out the greatest of any of the Beatles’ solo albums. While the others certainly had their moments as solo artists, none of them released anything that could touch the masterpiece that was “All Things Must Pass.” Not even Harrison himself could top his own work in the decades that followed.
After the Beatles broke up, it seems George had a lot to say. No longer encumbered with trying to compete with two of rock’s titans of songwriting (John Lennon and Paul McCartney) for space on a Beatles record, Harrison unleashed a triple album of amazing songs — some of which were at various times recorded during Beatles sessions but didn’t make it on any of the band’s albums for various reasons.
But in 1970, the quiet Beatle was finally speaking his mind.
“All Things Must Pass” showed the songwriter that we never really knew in Harrison up to this point. His efforts prior to “Abbey Road” were great, they just never seemed as impressive as the output coming from Lennon and McCartney. He certainly was one of the strongest musicians in the band. He added Eastern influences in the group’s songs, his guitar solos worked perfectly and he was also a multi-instrumentalist like Paul. But his songwriting talents really bloomed toward the end of the band’s existence. On the band’s final album “Abbey Road” (“Let It Be” was recorded prior to it), it was Harrison’s two songs that stood out (“Something” and “Here Comes The Sun”) from the rest. He was hitting a songwriting stride.
I first came across this album around 1999, when I was pursuing the solo works of Lennon and, to a lesser extent, McCartney. What struck me about “All Things Must Pass” was how rootsy a vibe it had — a lot of blues rock, folk, ect. It feels organic, much more than what other of the Beatles’ solo works have sounded like (Lennon’s solo work really hit up the sparse vibe, I’ve never been into Ringo Starr’s solo work and McCartney seemed to go overboard with the slick, pop-induced material that I really do not care for). It has that Phil Spector “wall of sound” going, which is not surprising since he produced the album.
It also had amazing melodies and choruses, which had me again wondering why his presence in the Beatles felt so scant throughout the band’s catalog (later I found it was more of a battle of egos more than anything. Lennon and McCartney actually vetoed the song “All Things Must Pass,” proving that even brilliant musicians sometimes have no idea what they are doing).
This triple album was also a breath of fresh air after my adventures into Lennon’s political/cynical/rambling material and McCartney’s often infuriating cuteness and pop-induced albums. It is mellow, but has a bite to it. The songs sounded more like a band effort and not people simply playing with a Beatle. It is also fun, albeit somewhat dark. Some of these songs grew from his frustrations with his time in the Beatles and his life at the time. A lot of the sound was inspired by what The Band, Eric Clapton and Bob Dylan were doing at the time — going back to the roots of rock and roll (The Beatles had tried this to mixed results with “Let It Be”). It made for a perfect combination.
The album also showcases Harrison’s ability to write catchy songs. His pop music sensibilities blend perfectly with the roots-rock that surround the songs. It also showcases his ability to jam — the third disc is a crazy jam session that shows Harrison and his band cutting loose, which is a lot of fun to listen to.
This album, for me, was Harrison at his prime. He proved he had just as great of songwriting chops as his fellow Beatles. There is something to be said of the fact he produced a triple album as his first post-Beatles solo effort — they must have been storing up over the years. Tracks like “What is Life?,” “Art of Dying,” “Beware of Darkness” and the title track all show a man contemplating his life and the world around him. There are some heady themes he was working with on this album, which works perfectly with the music that goes along with it.
He had quite an impressive ensemble of musicians to help him make this album. Members of Badfinger, Ringo, Eric Clapton, Billy Preston, Klaus Voormann and many others who have been credited over the years. They make the tracks pop out even more.
It remains my favorite solo effort of any Beatle. The next two are “Plastic Ono Band” (John Lennon’s first solo album) and McCartney II (Paul’s bazaar, yet amazing solo effort from 1980 that is really an acquired taste). But nothing any of the other Beatles recorded in the years after the breakup really measures up to what Harrison did with this album. It still holds up after 40-plus years as a great album.
It is currently streaming on Spotify.