Of all his post-Beatles undertakings, George Harrison was especially fond of All Things Must Pass, the 1970 triple-LP set he released months after the group had officially imploded.
“It was a really nice experience making that album — because I was really a bit paranoid, musically,” Harrison said a few years later. “I remember having those people in the studio and thinking, ‘God, these songs are so fruity!’ I’d play it to them and they’d say, ‘Wow, yeah! Great song!’ And I’d say, ‘Really? Do you really like it?’ I realized that it was OK.”
For the album’s 30th anniversary in 2000, Harrison oversaw a new mix of it, which included a remake of its ubiquitous hit “My Sweet Lord.” Now, to commemorate today’s 50th anniversary of the album, Harrison’s estate is releasing a sparkling new mix of the title track of “All Things Must Pass,” which also previews a more expansive project in the works.
All Things Must Pass began coming together early in 1970, just as the Beatles were collapsing. Harrison had actually been the first Beatle to release a solo album when Wonderwall Music, the East-meets-West soundtrack for the trippy film Wonderwall, came out in 1968. But for his first, song-oriented solo album proper, Harrison recruited producer Phil Spector, who’d overseen the final version of the Beatles’ Let It Be that year. Harrison was pleased enough with the result that he turned to Spector as a collaborator on All Things Must Pass. Spector’s contribution included the use of multiple guitarists, keyboardists, and drummers on some tracks, which lent Harrison’s songs the Wall of Sound feel Spector had trademarked.
For additional support, Harrison also turned to friends like Ringo Starr, Eric Clapton (and the other members of Derek & the Dominos), upstart drummer Phil Collins (who played congas on one track), keyboardist and Beatles pal Billy Preston, and bassist and long-time Harrison friend Klaus Voormann. Comparing Harrison’s approach to Lennon’s, Voormann says: “John was really quick. George took his time. He got comfortable. He… made a little altar. … He made the studio into his little home. He knew what he wanted. We would just listen and play our parts, and hardly ever would George say, ‘I don’t like this.’”
The songs told the story of Harrison’s life in multiple, sometimes undetectable ways. With subtle references that probably went over the heads of most fans, “Wah-Wah” and “Run of the Mill” were jabs at fractious Beatles meetings and their chaotic business. “Beware of Darkness” was his take on the less savory side of the music business, and his newfound devotion to Hare Krishna was front and center of “My Sweet Lord” and “Awaiting on You All.” All Things Must Pass established Harrison as his own creative force as well as his own commercial one. Despite spotting a $12 list price — high for the time — the three-record set hit Number One on the U.S. charts, where it stayed for seven weeks.
Years later, Harrison would admit that the “big production that seemed appropriate at the time” later felt “a bit over the top with the reverb in the Wall of Sound.” As heard on this new mix of the album’s title song, Spector’s touch hasn’t been completely vanquished, but thanks to a new mix by Paul Hicks, who has worked on Beatles reissues and the recent John Lennon box set Gimme Some Truth, the upgraded “All Things Must Pass” feels airier and cleaner, and Harrison’s voice is a bit more prominent in the mix.
“The new stereo mix of the album’s title track is just a taste of more things to come in 2021 as we celebrate the 50th anniversary of my father’s legendary All Things Must Pass album,” Harrison’s son Dhani says. “Making this album sound clearer was always one of my dad’s greatest wishes and it was something we were working on together right up until he passed. But with the help of new technology and the work of Paul Hicks on this project, we are now able to make that happen. We can’t wait for you all to hear everything we’ve been working on.”
No one could have anticipated it, but its lyrics — “Now the darkness only stays at nighttime/In the morning it will fade away” and “It’s not always going to be this gray/ … All things must pass away” — also seem unexpectedly fitting as a new president prepares to be inaugurated here in the States.
The family is mum on what comes next, but an expanded version of All Things Must Pass appears likely. In an interview with Rolling Stone earlier this year, Harrison’s widow Olivia, who runs his estate, mentioned newly unearthed studio outtakes from the sessions. “A lot of it has been bootlegged, but we have better versions,” she said. “We found lots of different takes and talking in the studio.” In the meantime, the Harrison estate is commemorating Record Store Day’s Black Friday with a seven-inch single release of “My Sweet Lord,” complete with a recreation of artwork used for its release in the country of Angola in 1970.