George Harrison would usually get to write only two songs on a Beatles album, one on each side of the vinyl. The lead guitarist and youngest Beatle, a very good songwriter himself, would be eclipsed by his bandmates John Lennon and Paul McCartney. This, however, didn’t deter the prolific songwriter, who had finished penning a huge number of songs by the time the band broke up in 1969.
It was, however, only his third solo album, All Things Must Pass (1970), that really showcased his talent. His first two solo albums—Wonderwall Music (1968) and Electronic Sound (1969)—were mainly instrumental.
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All Things Must Pass, released in 1971, was a mega album of three LPs, with a playtime of more than 105 minutes and 23 songs, including the superhit My Sweet Lord, which became a cult favourite and is believed to have contributed to the rush of young Westerners joining the Hare Krishna movement in the 1970s. The album, which Harrison co-produced with Phil Spector, is considered to be among the best rock music albums of all time.
This month, Harrison’s son, Dhani, and his team have come up with an epic remixed reissue to celebrate the album’s half-century. Apart from the usual vinyl and CD editions, there are five-LP and three-CD editions. The Super Deluxe edition, a box set, has 70 tracks across eight LPs or five CDs, including outtakes, jams and demo recordings, many of which have never been released before.
The Super Deluxe edition, a treat for Harrison fans, comes with annotations of every track and a scrapbook of archival notes. There is also an Uber Deluxe edition, which includes a book on the creation of the original album in 1970 and figurines of the late Beatle and other merchandise.
You may choose to describe this as a marketing gimmick, which it probably is, but the music makes it all worthwhile.
The reissue irons out the flaws in the original, something even a 30th-year reissue supervised by Harrison himself in 2001 didn’t do. One flaw was the overpowering sound used by Spector that often relegated Harrison’s vocals to the background. Harrison, as Dhani has recounted in recent interviews, never liked the recurring reverb. The new mix is a complete makeover.
The project was a difficult one. Dhani and his team of producers and sound engineers delved into the vault to get dozens of original recordings and demos. The end result is a beautiful recreation. The sound, in a 5.1 Surround/Atmos format, sounds sparklingly alive, the reverb that had annoyed Harrison is gone, and his vocals are more upfront. The 2001 reissue doesn’t come close to the extensive and exhaustive remixed and remastered version that has just been released.
There is much history in All Things Must Pass. For instance, its opening song, I’d Have You Anytime, is co-written with Bob Dylan. In an interview a few months before he died of cancer in 2001, Harrison recounted how he had been invited by The Band to Woodstock in upstate New York and had been hanging out with Dylan when the two wrote the song together. Much later, in 1988, Harrison would join Dylan, Jeff Lynne, Roy Orbison and Tom Petty to form what is considered one of the earliest supergroups, The Travelling Wilburys.
There are many great tracks, songs that question life and love—such as What Is Life and Isn’t It A Pity, the latter believed to be among Harrison’s personal favourites on the album. My Sweet Lord, with its chant of “Hare Krishna” in the chorus, went on to become a spiritual anthem (it also reflected Harrison’s immersion in spirituality, Hindu philosophy and meditation), of course, and is probably the best-known song from the album.
There are some surprises. It seems Eric Clapton played the guitar on nearly every one of the original tracks, though he isn’t credited for all of them. In the interview a few months before his death, Harrison explained that record labels in the 1970s were extremely possessive about the musicians they had signed on. If you had been signed on by one label, you couldn’t be credited on an album released by another owing to royalty and other related issues.
The striking thing is that the songs still seem contemporary and timeless. Those who grew up with The Beatles have always cherished the original album and for many of them the new remix will be a pleasantly heady nostalgic trip. But for later generations and those who might have missed listening to it, the recreation is an opportunity not to be missed.
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