Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Grooves: George Harrison - All Things Must Pass (1970)

George Harrison is my favorite Beatle. His songs are always filled with lush, beautiful melody. His lyrics are poetry yet simplistic in their meaning. On All Things Must Pass, we get as close to a flawless record as one putting out 3 LP's can get. As stated many times before, my Beatles upbringing wasn't only in the band itself, but almost every facet of their aftermath. For me, there is no better thing to come from The Beatles' demise than that of All Things Must Pass. It's a deluge of greatness. Contractual obligations only allowed George one song per side on any Beatles record. Once the Beatles disbanded, it was go time for Harrison. He unleashes a daunting 23 track assault on his first proper solo album. It's pretty incredible and save for the jams that I hardly listen to, it's more or less a flawless victory. Surprisingly, it's the best selling post-Beatles record from any member of the band. It's only surprising in that George is hardly the most famous or popular Beatle. The content is definitely some of the best post-Beatle output and has some of my all time favorite songs.

One thing that makes this record a treasure for any vinyl collector is it's presentation. Three LP's is a lot of vinyl to store and so it comes in a box of sorts. Each record has it's own sleeve with lyrics and tracks with the third record having a picture of a jar of what's called "Apple Jam" (More on that later.) The album also comes with a poster of George in full beardo mode. His beard takes up most of the poster, but getting an old, kind of dust yet in great condition poster makes buying the album for all of $10 at Tunes in Marlton all the better.

All Things Must Pass is easily the bets non-girl group Phil Spector production there is. Many people don't love his Wall of Sound, but with George Harrison, Spector is in his prime. "I'd Have You Anytime", co-written with Bob Dylan, is a hazy, twangy opener. It sounds like waking up on a beautiful morning, with a little haze in your eye and a yawn deep down. It's a lovely lyric of honest love. "My Sweet Lord" may have gotten Harrison sued, but it's crescendo of back-up singers (all George Harrison) and it's pop sensibility make it a great single. The album really shows its muscle on "Wah Wah." It's an intensely personal song but has a riff that shreds as good as any. The guitar solo is extremely exceptional and the sound coming through your stereo is huge. "Isn't It A Pity" closes side one with one of Harrison's most beautiful ballads ever. It's a brilliantly melancholy song about the human condition. This song isn't as overtly spiritual as some other songs on this record, but it's more humanistic message gives it a universal appeal.

Side two starts with the rocking "What Is Life" yet another one of George's existential tracks. Phil Spector fills every nook and cranny of this song with some sort of sound, be it tambourines, acoustic guitars, drums, backing vocals by George and the Harrisons and loads of reverb. This song should be played through a Fender amp. "If Not For You" is a Bob Dylan cover from Dylan's album New Morning. It's a really beautiful song in Harrison's hands. "Behind That Locked Door", which was written for Bob Dylan, comes next and is a beautifully woozy track. It's slide guitar work via Pete Drake is an inspired touch. I would love to hear Neil Young cover this song (and have heard My Morning Jacket cover it.) Booming in after the hazy beauty of "Behind That Locked Door" is the epic burst of "Let It Down." It's a very poetic song that explodes with horns, wailing guitars and intense drums. It rivals "Wah Wah" for best rocker of the album. "Run of the Mill" ends the side and it's title lives up to it's expectation. It's not one of the better tracks on the album.

Side three makes up for the anti-climatic "Run of the Mill" big time. "Beware of Darkess" is the pinnacle of this album. It's my favorite Harrison lyric. It's very poetic and flourishes with great beauty and sends a great message. It's a truly uplifting track. "Apple Scruffs," a silly ditty dedicated to the Apple Studio groupies is kind of a throwaway if it wasn't so damn catchy. "Ballad of Sir Frankie Crisp (Let it Roll)" is a beautifully whimsical track. Lyrically, it's derived from words that were found at the estate of Sir Crisp, which George purchased. The cover art of the album was a portrait taken on the estates beautiful gardens. "Awaiting On You All" is a romp of a song musically and lyrically is all about spirituality. George lists the kind of things you don't need in order to find spirituality. "If you open up your heart, you'll see he's right there." Spirituality isn't a trek to a holy place or a prayer on your death bed, it's inside you all the time. "All Things Must Pass," originally intended and practiced during the Get Back sessions gets Harrison's first full on treatment. It's yet another amazing portrayal of Phil Spector's production with grandiose guitars slathered in reverb, horn embellishments and it's own unique atmosphere. As is with many of the songs on this album, and much like "Here Comes the Sun," this track oozes with uplifting yet existential meaning. "It's not always gonna be this grey" is just about as great a line as any to show that even the bad times will pass.

Side four kicks off with the kind of goofy "I Dig Love." Before this listening experience, I probably have listened to this song all of one or two times. After this listening experience, I can safely say that it will most likely remain that way. Definitely my least favorite song on the album. On the contrast, "The Art of Dying" is a fantastic song, featuring a 19-year old Phil Collins on percussion. It's yet another bombastic track of monolithic sound. It's a confirmation of all of George's existential strife preparing himself for the end. The ultimate end is inevitable and George faces it directly in this song. "Isn't It a Pity (Version Two)" is a fitting reprise after "The Art of Dying." Shorter in length, but a slower tempo, it's more dirge like with it's organ heavy approach. The side closes with "Hear Me Lord," yet another fitting part of a trio of songs about death and acceptance and repentance. The track stands as a prayer of forgiveness closing the side with a lamentation. As this ends the more proper part of the record, it's a fitting closer.

The last two sides to the record are the Apple Jam, as it is called on the sleeve. I can't lie to you; the Apple Jam is one of those things I rarely listen to. It's the strange misfit of the album, yet on vinyl, it takes on a new life for me. Side five starts with "Out Of The Blue" which is a meandering static jam with not enough variety to make it into a worth while improv jam. Clapton never makes fireworks enough. It flows into the Monthy Pythonesque "It's Johnny's Birthday." It's a carnival goofball throwaway that really doesn't fit with everything else that has been coming our way on the album. It's only worthy as it was recorded for John Lennon's 30th Birthday in 1970. "Plug Me In" is the only redeeming song on side five. It's a classic blues riff and pretty well structured but it feels like it should have been proper vocals. It's less George Harrison and more of some strange super group rocking a blues jam proper. It's a pretty decent track, but again, it sticks out amongst the rest. Phil Spector's Wall of Sound doesn't seem fit as well to the psych jams as it did to the spiritual mantras from the four previous sides.

Side six is two final jams. "I Remember Jeep" is a juggernaut of big names. Ginger Baker, Klaus Voorman, Billy Preston, Eric Clapton and George Harrison all on one track. Flying in on the explosion of tape feedback from a previous George Harrison song called "No Time or Space." From this a boogie jam filled with soulful piano playing, a pounding rhythm section, and jangly guitars. Amidst this boogie jam are explosions of sound. This is a definite upgrade from the meandering sound of "Out of the Blue." There is still something about it that just really sticks out. Spector's reverb doesn't give the song enough edge to really rock hard. "Thanks For The Pepperoni" is a Chuck Berry jam. It's a classic remodeling of the "Johnny B. Goode" riff, but it all gets drowned in the Spector mix. With a little less reverb, this would be a much more eviscerating track. The mix ruins the playfulness of it. My only real take on the whole Apple Jam is that it must be a nice catharsis for George Harrison to take the helm of these great names that he had been working with for years and just conduct a studio jam. He deserves to let loose and have some fun with his friends. One thing is for sure. The joy of vinyl makes it so you can just not put the third LP on and still experience the album just fine without listening to the jam. It's almost the first "bonus disc" in the history of popular music.

All Things Must Pass is a fantastic record. In our age of deluxe boxed sets, this was easily the first of its kind. A big thick outer casing holding three records of original music from your favorite artist, a poster and an in depth track listing with personnel on all tracks, it's really a wonderful presentation. Then we are doubly thanked by getting high quality songs. It's a wonderful listening experience. Even if the Apple Jam isn't really that great, it's still far ahead of its time. The spiritualism of George Harrison's songwriting combined with the wonderful musicians helping to craft the songs and a heaping helping of Phil Spector bombast makes this the perfect proper debut album.

Up Next: In the 1950's Satchmo was an Ambassador of Good Will to the World. That's how great his music is.

No comments: