Review: “All Things Must Pass” box set by George Harrison
George Harrison was 27 when he started doing what has become All things must pass in May 1970. The Beatles, the band he’d devoted his musical life to since he was 15, were over, and Harrison spent the summer and fall in the studio, crafting songs he sat on. and build new ones. It brought together a group of star peers, from pal Eric Clapton and future Domino Bobby Whitlock to semi-Beatles Klaus Voormann and Billy Preston to current Beatles Ringo Starr and John Lennon and a dozen more. Produced with his usual excess of sound stacking by Phil Spector, Harrison rose to fame in the fall with a doorstop for three albums, positive proof that the Quiet One, once given time and space, had a ton to say. To listen All things must pass for the first time, it’s like finding out that your young cousin was smart and funny after the the older ones, never letting their little brother say a word, left the house.
All things must pass is now available in a massive 50th anniversary reissue, complete with a revealing remix and complete with 47 (!) demos and previews. It can be purchased digitally, in 8 LPs, 5 CDs, or in the insanely over-the-top Uber Deluxe edition, a 50-pound beast that comes in a wooden crate and contains two beautiful books, small models of the gnomes from the cover of the album and more goodies. Living in the material world, indeed. The original All the things… Has aged brilliantly (the fresh remix doesn’t hurt). You can almost hear Harrison invent the indie rock that would dominate college airwaves in the 1980s and 1990s, from friendly folk tunes (“Behind that Locked Door,” “What is Life”) to spiritual exploration (the surprise hit ” My Sweet Lord “) to sauté jams (” Out of the Blue “).
This album could have been released in 1987, 1995 or next Friday, possibly on Merge or Secretly Canadian. Speaking of jams, more than Lennon’s minimalist psychodrama Plastic Ono Band or the pop basement on McCartney’s McCartney, both also released in 1970, Harrison perfectly anticipated the heavy psych-rock of the coming decade. (Again, Harrison was also responsible for The Beatles’ “It’s All Too Much,” an underrated psychedelic blast that should be on anyone’s Fab 101 playlist.)
The two CDs of the first demos (the first day made with Voormann and Starr, the second day of the acoustic versions) could easily stand on their own; these are aftermarket, campfire-like shots that Spector would soon add Wall-of-Sound bricks to. “Cosmic Empire” is reminiscent of the early T. Rex, while you can imagine Harrison serenading (okay, sort of bellowing) the “Mother Divine” woman goddess to Patti Boyd. Bob Dylan – already a spectral presence on the album thanks to Dylan’s magnificent cover of “If Not For You” and the opening of the co-written album “I’d Have You Anytime” – also co-wrote the stunning release “Nowhere to Go,” a 1968 era kiss to glory. Harrison also covered Dylan’s mopey “I don’t wanna do it”.
The fifth and final disc is dedicated to full band releases – “Wah-Wah” gets a slightly longer version, while the magnificent “Isn’t It a Pity” (take 27) sounds like a band heartbeat and the first take of “What Is Life” somehow sounds even livelier. What this glorious collection does best is that, while his former bandmates kept their own advice, Harrison embraced being a part of the rock community and invited them into his head. Harrison surrounded himself with friends, people who supported his vision, and let him go.