On the ten year anniversary of George Harrison’s death, we remember not only his best work, but the best post-Beatles album ever made.
On November 29th, 2001, George Harrison passed away from lung cancer at the age of 58. An outpouring of appreciation for the late Beatle soon followed, culminating in “The Concert For George” one year after his death, which featured numerous guest appearances from Harrison’s past, including Eric Clapton, Jeff Lynne, and the two surviving Beatles, Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr. In the ten years since, new Beatles fans were forged with “The Beatles 1″ compilation, their Cirque du Soleil installation, the band’s introduction to iTunes, “Rock Band,” and the long overdue remastering of their entire back catalog. Still, when it comes to the band members’ solo work, most will reach for a copy of “Imagine” or maybe “Ram,” before considering what is most positively the best record made since their 1970 split, George Harrison’s triple LP, “All Things Must Pass.”
One thing that should be understood by the mammoth size of “All Things Must Pass” is it really should be considered a double — the “Apple Jam” that fills the fifth and sixth sides is more of an afterthought, containing four extended jam sessions and one quick Happy Birthday message to John Lennon, all performed by Harrison and his buddies. This superfluous edition is what drives up its mark-up price and away the casual listener. The two preceding LP’s of music however contain some of the most indispensable music put to tape.
Produced by Phil Spector, the album glows with the famed engineer’s layered sheen. Opener “I’d Have You Anytime” is as lush as can be, with its opening bars pouring over like a blanket with wobbly slide guitars and decadent ambiance. Co-written by Bob Dylan, his guiding hand can be heard a few times, most obviously on Harrison’s excellent cover of “If Not For You.” Like most covers of Dylan songs, it outshines the original, but in this case in particular, Harrison finds the sentimentality of Dylan’s words and drives it towards the sky, with every nuance nurturing the song’s beauty, from the effortless slide lead to that one joyous harmonica note that screams outward with devotion. Spector’s Wall of Sound has a lot to do with how Harrison pulls off such a marvel. His voice has always been limited, but wrapped in a sheet of reverb, the man’s raspy midrange sounds transcendent, especially on the haunting jangle of “Ballad of Sir Frankie Crisp (Let It Roll)” and the folk rock hymn, “My Sweet Lord.”
While part of the credit for “My Sweet Lord” belongs to the girl group The Chiffons’ hit “He’s So Fine,” Harrison’s own stab at early sixties pop, “Awaiting On You All” is no slouch, and matches The Ronettes’ giddiness swapping romantic relationships with heaven. While occasionally hearkening back to some of his favorite styles, Harrison also predates a few, most clearly on “Art of Dying” which rides a bluesy Clapton riff through a horn filled disco groove.
Not enough is usually said about “Run of the Mill” which closes out the first LP, but it’s possibly the best feel good anthem the set has to offer. Its warm hook sounds like the type of song you’d want to hear with your friends after a hard day of work, with lyrics concerning making your own decisions in life and feeling good about being your own person – a consistent theme in Harrison’s work. Echoes of The Beatles breakup of course can be heard throughout. “Wah-Wah” is a spirited rejection of his former group’s headaches while two appearances of “Isn’t It a Pity” are not necessarily specific to the band’s demise, but are a thoughtful meditation on the irony of hurting the ones we love.
As varied as “All Things Must Pass” is, the record, and Harrison overall, will probably be most remembered for their sage advice on life’s obstacles. “Beware of Darkness” is as straightforward as it gets, like a 1970′s “Everybody Hurts,” while the title track is a mature acceptance of the inevitability of death. “All Things Must Pass” is an assessment of an entire life, from the flirty frivolities of “Apple Scruffs” to the deep dedication of “What is Life.” Spirituality is also a key component of the album which can turn some people off, but something does need to be said for an artist who can manage to fit God onto a record that fits so seamlessly into the pop world. Whether you’re with him or not on that, the man’s outlook on life as seen through his greatest album is something to admire, which is something that fortunately will never pass away.