george harrison - all things must pass

George Harrison: All Things Must Pass (1970)

I don’t know if there is a more familiar, comforting sound in music than the guitar tone of George Harrison. Instantly recognizable, there’a a warmth and measured approach to each and every one of his licks and solos that get to the heart of what I think of when I think of musical nostalgia. The sound of his guitar brings strong, vibrant memories of my childhood – every Harrison song could be the closing song to the movie Time Bandits (although in reality it’s “Dream Away” from 1982’s Gone Troppo). And since it’s a cold, snowy Wednesday morning it felt like the perfect time to put on the classic All Things Must Past and think about the past, and the way this album brings it alive for me.

It starts with the longing wistfulness of “I’d Have You Anytime” co-written with Bob Dylan back in 1968. The guitars touch on so much familiar territory: his beautiful lines on The Beatles’s “Something” or even further up in his catalog with Cloud Nine’s “Someplace Else”. One of the wonderful things I keep thinking about is how we come to an artist at a certain point in their life and have the ability to ignore time, moving backwards and forwards through their artistic output, making connections that disregard linear time and finding them stronger because of our own path through life. So I hear something like “I’d Have You Anytime” and it brings both to Harrison’s past and his future, which is kind of beautiful when I think about it. I love the melody of the solo, how it embodies the songs and leaves it wanting.

I don’t plan on doing a track by track review of the album, but you can’t not talk about “My Sweet Lord” – in many ways the template for a lot of his songs moving forward. The acoustic strumming taking on the dual role of chordal rhythm and percussion – at least until Ringo Starr comes in, his backbeat almost as recognizable as Harrison’s guitar. The slightly silly, slightly sweet lyrics calling on the higher spirituality Harrison fell into during his time in India. It’s light and airy and instantly familiar. Sometimes my brain wraps it in a ball with other songs like the aforementioned “Dream Away” and Side 2’s “What Is Life”. Makes no sense but that’s what memory does sometimes: it stirs the pot of your childhood hearing these songs on the radio and connects them to days and events that blur together, causing the songs themselves to take on that blurred presence.

“Wah-Wah” doesn’t do that, though. It’s a deep, thick mix, whether I’m listening to there new 2020 mix by Paul Hicks or the earlier 2001 remaster on CD. I love the horns, and the sudden urgency of the chorus moving up a half-step before falling back on the solo guitar lick.

Despite that instant feeling of nostalgia with All Things Must Pass, I’m not so deeply connected to the album that I’m bothered by the sonic differences found on the new 2020 mix. When it comes to collecting vinyl, I’m not too obsessed with original pressings, nor do I have the insistence that analog is King Over All™. That being said, the 2020 mix on vinyl sounds amazing – it sounds like a film was removed from the songs, allowing the vocals, bass, and drums to breathe and feel larger, more organic. There’s a much greater soundstage, and when you hear songs like his cover of Dylan’s “If Not For You” you can hear much more of what is happening beyond the basic arrangement.

Sitting back now, coffee re-heated and the snowflakes becoming simultaneously larger and more sparse, I realize how much of my familiarity of All Things Must Pass rest on the first two sides. The 1-2 punch of “Beware of Darkness” and “Apple Scruffs” shows just how much varied Harrison’s songwriting could be, and how much great music he was sitting on for years as The Beatles wound their way down to extinction. This is again where I think the 2020 mix really helps, bringing the acoustic rambling of “Apple Scruffs” a sonic clarity that makes it more cheerful and eccentric than I remember. The title track comes in with that bit of country lilt in Harrison’s voice when it turns up at the end of each line. The chorus carries with it a dirge-like tone that somehow manages to be uplifting at the same time. I hear it now and feel like something is ending. It would make for a great closer, except there’s still a side left, giving us a second round of “Isn’t It a Pity” and the driving rock of “Art of Dying” and – finally – the spiritual closer of “Hear Me Lord.”

But if that’s the end of All Things Must Pass then what to make of the Apple Jams that conclude all the versions of the album I’ve owned? Harrison said they were a bonus: not part of the album proper, but not something he was content to leave on the cutting room floor. Taken as a separate disc in the vinyl box it’s a great look at the loose blues vibe that come out of a murderer’s row of talent: you have Bobby Whitlock, Eric Clapton, Ginger Baker, and Billy Preston among others jumping in and laying down the cool sauce. I can’t really tie it into the finished album, but it’s a nice bonus to chill out to. Lasers on “I Remember Jeep”, you know?

Between the opening of this review and now, it’s been a day. A literal day: it’s almost 24 hours later exactly. It’s colder, but sunnier. That felt gray color that reminds me of old television programs is gone, and so is the desire to sink into the mattress with sounds that bring back the past. I put “I’d Have You Anytime” back on and the feeling is still there but it’s faint; a lingering scent of a memory that raged strong when pressed against weather and mood.

And whether that’s telling of All Things Must Pass as it relates to my experience is something I’ll probably never get to the root of. Maybe that’s okay.

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