After The Beatles broke up in early 1970, each of the guys had their own ideas about what to do next. For Lennon and McCartney – acrimony and emotional turmoil aside – it was pretty clear they needed to write their own songs and just get out there and play.
And since he wasn’t a songwriter, no one really expected much of Ringo. But to everyone’s surprise, he was about as successful a solo artist – if not more so – than any of them in the 1970’s.
But what about George? Sure, he had established himself as a songwriter on par with Lennon/McCartney. A lot of people said that happened with “Something/Here Comes the Sun.” Personally I thought a lot of his stuff prior to that was good. What about “While My Guitar Gently Weeps?” Why did “Taxman” kick off Revolver?
So no one was really surprised when in November 1970 Harrison released All Things Must Pass, his meditations on life, love, the breakup of the Beatles and spirituality . But I’m pretty sure no one would have guessed he’d have enough material for a triple album. And frankly, despite his growing songwriting prowess, no one expected the album to be this good. And good – if not great – it was.
Wikipedia: Reflecting the widespread surprise at the assuredness of Harrison’s post-Beatles debut, Melody Maker likened the album to Greta Garbo’s first role in a talking picture and declared: “Garbo talks! – Harrison is free!”
From the 1971 Rolling Stone review: “It is both an intensely personal statement and a grandiose gesture, a triumph over artistic modesty, even frustration. In this extravaganza of piety and sacrifice and joy, whose sheer magnitude and ambition may dub it the War and Peace of rock and roll, the music itself is no longer the only message. The lyrics are central.”
I’ll start with one of my very favorites, “Isn’t It A Pity,” with its long, slow, hypnotic fadeout. This is a song that went back several years and had been rejected by the Beatles, especially Lennon. (Knowing Lennon, one wonders if he believed the song didn’t measure up or if it was professional jealousy.) George had only been allowed maybe one or two songs per album by the iron hand of Lennon/McCartney.
According to Harrison, [The song] is about whenever a relationship hits a down point … It was a chance to realize that if I felt somebody had let me down, then there’s a good chance I was letting someone else down.” (Nina Simone, once again, makes it her own, apparently making up lyrics as she went along.)
You all likely know the song “My Sweet Lord.” It was a mega-hit, blasting the airwaves for quite some time in ’70 – ’71. It has a nice lilting feel, Harrison’s trademark slide guitar, a “Hare Krishna/Hallelujah” refrain – and an uncomfortable resemblance to the 1963 Chiffons hit “He’s So Fine.”
Harrison had been warned by friends that the two songs sounded remarkably close to each other. Personally I couldn’t really hear it at first. But a country singer named Jody Miller did a version of “He’s So Fine,” wherein you cannot miss the resemblance.
The court found that Harrison was guilty of “unconscious plagiarism,” and was ordered to pay $1,599,987 USD. That was later reduced to $587,000 USD ($3.5M in today’s dollars) and Harrison got the rights (lucky him) to “He’s So Fine,” a song I’m sure he wishes he never heard.
I had originally thought of posting the great “Beware of Darkness.” But then I heard this beautiful acoustic version of “Let it Down,” and wanted to share it. (Another song rejected by the – it would seem in retrospect – quasi-Stalinist Lennon/McCartney regime.) Phil Spector produced this album and maybe sometimes overdid his famous Wall of Sound. So it’s nice to have this stripped-down version.
“Let It Down” is definitely a love song. But conventional wisdom has it that although George was then married to rock’s greatest muse, Pattie Boyd, this song may well have been aimed at some unidentified lover or lovers. I’ve heard the lyrics described as “erotic” but boy, it sounds pretty tame to me:
Let it down, let it all down
Let your hair hang all around me
Let it down, let it down
Let your love flow and astound me
While you look so sweetly and divine, I can feel you here
I see your eyes are busy kissing mine, and I do, I do
Wondering what it is they’re expecting to see
Should someone be looking at me
Lastly, just for the hell of it, let’s throw in “Awaiting On You All,” ‘coz it’s just such a great rockin’ song:
This album is a veritable Who’s Who of rock talent of the era: Eric Clapton, Dave Mason, Peter Frampton, Phil Collins, the guys from Badfinger, Ringo Starr. And Jim Gordon, Carl Radle and Bobby Whitlock who, together with Clapton, would become Derek and the Dominos. (The Layla album was released just a couple of weeks before this one.)
All Things Must Pass is mentioned on an incredible roster of “One of the Best Album of all time” lists by critics, including Rolling Stone’s 500 Greatest Albums of All Time and the book 1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die. (Which, frankly, makes me hope I get old before I die.) It’s also on one of my three lists of favorite rock albums.
In January 2014, All Things Must Pass was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame, an award bestowed “to honor recordings of lasting qualitative or historical significance that are at least 25 years old.”
Many people consider this the best post-Beatles solo album ever. (Although that said, I’m personally quite fond of Band on the Run.) John and Paul, love you guys. But sometimes, you know, you totally fucked-up and let your egos get in the way. Isn’t it a pity?