All Things Must Pass
We really should thank our sweet Lord that the song writing partnership of Lennon and McCartney frustrated George Harrison in the later, troubled years of that band they were in. You know that band; you’ve heard of them, I’m sure. There was John, Paul, George and that guy who voiced Thomas the Tank Engine and doesn’t do autographs anymore (peace and love, peace and love). The Beatles.
To quote Lennon, he and Paul “carved up the empire” between themselves because at first George wrote one throwaway song for each Beatle album and by the time he got good, the group was losing interest in being ‘fab’. This frustration at being overlooked is something that Harrison turned to his advantage. When the time came to deliver the statement that was his debut solo album; All Things Must Pass (1970), he had a huge backlog of songs to include.
I’d Have You Anytime was written whilst hanging around Bob Dylan after the unhappy White Album sessions with those Beatles. Whilst Dylan wrote some of the lyrics it’s perfect musical representation of Harrison because it features George’s favourite chords, or in Tom Petty’s words ‘the naughty chords’; diminished and augmented that just drip from the song beautifully.
It seems that My Sweet Lord scared George at first because once you record words about God there’s no hiding place. “Many people fear the words Lord and God” , would say later. Harrison found the confidence to write about that subject because nobody else was, and throwaway songs no longer stood up. “Everyone is going ‘Be bop baby’ – OK it may be good to dance to but I was naive and thought we could express our feelings to each other.”
In a legal sense, My Sweet Lord was the focus of a long and drawn out copyright infringement case involving Harrison’s supposed subconscious plagiarism of He’s So Fine by the Chiffons. The royalty debate was a confusing affair because the then manager of George Harrison was Allen Klein, who then thought it would be a great idea to buy the publishing company that owned the Chiffons’ song in the first place, Bright Tunes. However, switching sides mid court case is not big and it is not clever. For the plagiarism, Harrison was ordered to pay Klein the same amount Klein had paid for Bright Tunes, cancelling out any profit to Klein, making Harrison the owner of Bright Tunes and therefore giving him the rights to both his own My Sweet Lord and He’s So Heavy and ending
It’s simple and the message is universal, whomever the Lord in question is, and George is kind enough to name check a few in the song, knowledge you can clap to; immense.
“I know the motive behind writing the song in the first place and its effect far exceeded the legal hassle.”
The “subconscious plagiarism” wheel comes full circle when you remember Noel Gallagher’s ‘unintentional’ use of a similar guitar riff from My Sweet Lord in the Oasis song Supersonic. Between that, Harrison’s late 60’s instrumental album Wonderwall Music and just generally being Beatles …you’re welcome, brothers Gallagher.
To contrast the togetherness of My Sweet Lord, Wah Wah is a song about everyone being anything but together. This wah wah, as well as an effect pedal for guitar, is a headache and this song is the result of that infamous argument between George and Paul McCartney about where in a song Paul wanted him to play. ‘I’ll play what you want, or I won’t play at all…whatever it is that will make you happy, I’ll do it’… it’s available to view online. The Beatles’ Let it Be recording sessions were being filmed and were fractious to say the least, but what a response indeed.
Isn’t It A Pity is about relationships. Pure and simple, again. The listener need not worry, however, it isn’t Don’t Bother Me (early Beatles filler, you love me but sod off and leave me alone for a bit type thing). It’s Harrison realising that we hurt each other quite a bit during the course of life, we get let down and we inevitably let other people down. Relationships should be about give AND take, too much on either side of that equation isn’t good, but it happens. At the end of this track, your answer should be YES!
Musically it almost plods but the guitar work is sublime and the layered strings add texture, there’s a nice Hey Jude esque moment in the long fade ou, too. Beautiful.
The inclusion of Behind That Locked Door is a little bit country, on an album that’s more than a little bit rock and roll, but it’s a touching inclusion that Kenny Rogers would be proud of. It has some nice pedal steel guitar and it’s about Bob Dylan, if that’s not enough for you, there are the lyrics;
Why are you still crying? Your pain is now through
Please forget those tear drops, let me take them from you
The love you are blessed with, the world’s waiting for
So let out your heart, please, please, from behind that locked door.
As a little aside, I was writing a George Harrison piece for a publication on Merseyside when I heard that George Harrison had died. I was living in Liverpool at the time, and I happened to have this song playing while I read teletext. It wasn’t on purpose, it was it’s where the CD was up to and though the song wasn’t written with death as its context, the ‘come on now, carry on’ message in the lyrics does fit very well within it.
Run of the Mill is in Harrison’s own opinion, “It was the first song I ever wrote that looked like a poem on paper” without needing the tune to make it. It’s another classic born from the Beatles’ arguments (this time more around the ‘Apple’ business). “It was that period – the problem of partnerships” and it’s clear to see;
As the days stand up on end,
You’ve got me wondering how I lost your friendship
But I see it in your eyes
After all, “everyone has choice, when to and not to raise their voices…”
Eventually, the listener will come to the immense Beware of Darkness. Remember, All Things Must Pass is a triple vinyl, double CD album, so don’t take the word eventually as a negative. There is so much depth on the album you don’t notice how far into it you are before this and the album’s title track come along.
Beware of Darkness is musically very interesting, powerful, and epic enough to allow the simple lyrics to hit home:
Beware of sadness. It can hit you, it can hurt you, make you sore and what is more that is not what you are here for.
To listen to All Things Must Pass as a complete piece of work has been an absolute pleasure and one can only hope that people do their own digging and find their own pleasure within it. You should discard any reference to George Harrison being ‘the quiet Beatle’ he was anything but, he simply chose words wisely. You may also like to discard George’s own idea there isn’t many of his songs that work as poetry on the strength of the lyric alone. Many of them do, here and on other albums too. George Harrison was a genius, reading his lyrics you can’t help but think he was ahead of the game. He seemed to have things figured out, what really mattered anyway. Love IS all you need. Wait, wasn’t that the one in the glasses?
The album inspired debate both at the time of release and in more recent years. Some listeners have said that Phil Spector’s wall of soundy presence smothers the well crafted songs. Giving his opinion a few years before he died, Harrison himself agreed that it dated the overall sound of the album.
All Things Must Pass has moments where it’s very on message; a message for humanity regardless of what we believe. It is full of ideas about the importance of friendship, love and the uselessness of revenge or hate. Not only does George want you to pick yourself up when you’re knocked down, he’s nice enough to warn against going after the one that put you down there to begin with. All this said after coming away from probably the biggest band in the world ever and without yet reaching any type of wise old grand-dad age. The album isn’t too heavy or preachy either, a listen to Apple Scruffs will remind you that George knew how to laugh. He did, after all, believe that some of the humour and spirit of the Beatles continued within Monty Python and he did fund production of the film, The Life of Brian.
Some people spend their whole careers trying to write this type of album and more never get near it. All Things Must Pass is arguably the best of the collective former Beatles’ debut releases. It was number one for eight weeks in the UK.
It was and is a masterpiece and will be for as long as music is heard. Happy birthday, George.
The author of this piece would like to admit to watching The Beatles Anthology. A lot. It is available on DVD and is highly recommended if you would like to know more about George or the other three. Harrison’s quoted opinions on the songs on the album are taken from his autobiography, ‘I Me Mine’ (1980) re-issued 2002. It is required reading if you have any interest in George Harrison.
© Simon A. Moult / Moultymedia 2011.
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