All Things Must Pass
GN Records / EMI
There are many artists who toss spiritual points of reference into their work. Rarer is the artist for whom the spiritual quest is the lifeblood of the work. The re-release of George Harrison’s 1970 boxed set All Things Must Pass shows that “the quiet Beatle” was clearly in the latter category.
Harrison’s talents were, understandably, often overlooked in the Beatles phenomenon in light of the prolific Lennon / McCartney songwriting team. However, when the fab four split in 1970, Harrison was bursting at the seams with material galore. A magnum opus resulted, and the 3-LP set was the first album by a solo Beatles member to go to #1, spurred by the smash hits My Sweet Lord and What Is Life.
In hindsight three decades later, one is less surprised by the album’s quality, scope, and spiritual nature. After all, Harrison had written some lovely Beatles songs and it was clear that he was the band member for whom deep spiritual quests were the fruit of the band’s late 60s multi-faceted searching.
As for his messages, they have aged well, particularly if one is open to the more general scope of their applications.
“By chanting the names of the Lord … you’ll be free,” Harrison asserts in Awaiting On You All, explaining: “The Lord is awaiting on you all to awaken and see.” The common tools, he explains, are not needed, and he cites such things as churches, temples, rosary beads, and books in that list.
Indeed, it is the personal pilgrimage of prayer and meditation that Harrison is extolling. The closing track Hear Me Lord is a prayer in the most basic sense, and the same can be said for the signature hit My Sweet Lord.
As for the other things of life, they are not eternal, he explains in the title track All Things Must Pass, and he explores similar themes in Beware Of Darkness and The Art Of Dying.
The music is, of course, a treat for fans of the Beatles, Harrison, or the classic rock era. Harrison’s gently-weeping slide licks are always distinctive and delicious, and he is backed by an all-star cast that includes old pal Eric Clapton, former stablemate Ringo Starr, and an ace rhythm section that would join soon Clapton in Derek and the Dominoes. Phil Spector’s Wall Of Sound production might seem a bit dated, but it was the perfect foil for Harrison’s distinctive but thin vocals. The self-indulgent jam that took up all of the third LP is part of this 2-CD set too, but it is fun for what it is.
Wisely, the retooling done by Harrison 30 years down the road is simply a welcome sonic upgrade to the muddy sound that marked the original release, and some clever toying with the original album artwork.
The new material, ranging from acoustic demos to one outtake (the countryish I Live For You), is incidental. The only clunker,sadly, is the only new recording: a weak remake done by Harrison of My Sweet Lord. This is not a good harbinger for the impending release of Harrison’s first album of new material in 15 years due later this year.
Regardless, the classic album All Things Must Pass remains a gem, and it is wonderful to have it newly polished. It displays a spiritual walk that Harrison has deepened in a life of uncommon grace in the music industry that sees him as a gentle elder statesman of rock today. He would give the credit to God. After all, as he sang with such passion 30 years ago, “What is life without Your love?”
Wilfred Langmaid is Anglican chaplain of the University of New Brunswick, Fredericton, and music critic for the Fredericton Gleaner.