We will kick things off here by stating this: George Harrison’s post-Beatles mega-opus All Things Must Pass is easily one of the greatest albums ever conceived, searching and sublime, eternally warm and glowing, a pastoral epic that deftly dodges pretension even as it earnestly wrestles with The Big Three big picture concepts of Death, God, and Love.
So why are we labeling it a fuck up then?
Well, give us a moment to explain ourselves.
With the breakup of the hugest band the world has ever known, it was truly game of thrones time in 1970. None of the Fabs were yet 30, and judging by final albums Let It Be and Abbey Road none of them were anything but in their prime. It was far beyond just conceivable that they would move on to blockbuster solo careers, it was fully expected. Without the benefit of hindsight, if you were to transport yourself back to January of 1970 and had never heard a Wings track, you would have fully expected decades worth of meaningful, boundary-pushing solo records from these dudes on par with Revolver and Sgt. Peppers. It wasn’t even a question. But what was up for debate was this: Who will be first out the gate with a stone cold classic? And who will have the most meaningful, powerful, universe-expanding solo run?
Obviously, everyone was banking on Ringo to rise to the top.
No but seriously, it all came down to Saints John and Paul and which ones’ opening solo statement would ring the truest. Saint George was nothing more than a dark horse in this scenario. Sure, he had penned at least one Beatles banger per album and ushered in the eastern mysticism element, but it was his angel-headed cohorts who shouldered much of the songwriting credits on the original Fab material, and it was from these two from whom the music press and the spliff-addled, turn-of-the-decade masses expected the grandest, most sweeping statements of PURPOSE.
And they both done went and fucked it up.
You could argue about John and Paul “needing each other to write great songs” until your last breaths upon this Earth, but the simple fact of the matter is that they both really messed up with their first post-Beatles solo endevours. Royally so. If John thought for a second that a millionaire writing his fans off as “peasants” and primal screaming about his lack of coddling in childhood was going to land like The White Album, he was very wrong indeed. And if anyone can name the first Paul solo record or a track off it then you, my friend, are a true Macca fanatic. Now don’t get us wrong, The Plastic Ono Band and McCartney (aka Bowl Of Cherries) were both fine records with the former being raw, biting, and true, and the latter being utterly charming and unexpectedly minimalist. But they weren’t the world-beating statements everyone was longing for so breathlessly, and neither was going to elevate their creator to King Ex-Beatle status.
Which leaves us with the Dark Horse. Nobody saw this coming, but Georgey Boy knew he had this one in the bag. He knew that Team Lennon/McCartney had exhausted their resources on the last couple Beatles records and that each had grown soft and confused through the twin devils of spite and jealousy. He knew that he had found sublime inner light through Krishna, a light that had eluded his cohorts whose spiritual seeking had gone little beyond mere posturing. And most importantly, he knew that he had 18 solid tracks saved up that those bastards hadn’t let him use on Beatles records over the years. Oh yea, George had this one for sure. All he had to do was choose the best path to a battle that only he knew he had all sown up.
He chose the wrong path with All Things Must Pass.
Don’t get us wrong, he still won the battle. ATMP is hands down the best solo Beatles record, and has always been recognized as such. It was hailed worldwide upon release and is still held up today as an absolute masterpiece that blew his more famous cohorts right on out of the water. Everything about it is all caps CLASSIC, from the double disks of fresh, enchanting music themselves to the packaging to the bearded, saintly artist himself romping in an English garden on the cover. It was a battle won indeed, but in the end our dear George did lose the war.
Look, we get it. Dude had 18 glorious songs in the pockets of his bell bottom blues plus four good instumental jams, so why not flex on everyone’s azz with a double album? Don’t just win the battle when you can SLAUGHTER THE COMPETITION FOR GOOD, right? Just throw it all in there plus the proverbial kitchen sink and watch the world’s mouth drop open in awe.
But like George himself once famously sang, it was just all too much. There is such a thing as too much of a good thing, and Harrison fell into this trap with ATMP. There were just so many great songs on the double album that he ended up diluting the overall impact of the project. Instead of being looked at as the King Maker, the album which elevated The Quiet One to Head Solo Beatle status, it is instead viewed as an outpouring of saved up tracks, a one-off classic, and John and Paul are still allowed to be seen as the Beatles with the most impactful solo careers.
See, making a double album is a distinct and tricky art form. The real key to the double record is that not all the songs can be great. Look at The White Album or Physical Graffiti. You have to have joke tracks, experimental numbers, fade-outs, alternate versions…stopgaps that work to showcase the true stunners sprinkled throughout. And here is the key to the failure of All Things Must Pass: Every song on the first three sides is a true stunner.
Isn’t it a pity?
But it didn’t have to be. Unlike the stubborn, bull-headed Lennon or the elegantly insistent Macca, George was known to be open to constructive criticism. So all that needed to happen was for some smarmy music exec to sit the Bearded One down and state the following:
“George, baby, this record is fucking fantastic. It really is. This thing is gonna’ change the world, baby. But listen, hear me out on something, will you? Why does it have to be a double? Why not hold some songs back for the next one, you see? You got enough for two banger classic records right here, George. Back-to-back. Believe me, Paul and John don’t have shit on this material right here. So you break this thing into two and hit em’ with one left hook this year, and just when they think you’ve run out of juice you nail em’ with a roundhouse right follow up in 71. They won’t know what hit em, Georgie! You got this! King Beatle, dig it? King Fuckin Beatle, baybee. Now run along and split this track list into two and we’ll take care of the rest. Allright, babes? You’re beautiful. Sorry, I gotta’ take this. Let’s do lunch.”
Would George have listened? Perhaps not, but he should have if he wanted to truly bury his ex bandmates in the early Beatles solo record battles of 1970.
So how could he have done it, you ask? Well, there’s no laws against armchair editing All Things Must Pass, are there? So let’s have at it, shall we?
The first move is easy. Side 4 of this double album can go completely. Sure, these are fun jams from an all star band and they carry a lot of value, but a track such as, say, “Thanks For The Pepperoni” would be better utilized as a bonus on the eventual re-releases of the two records we’re making here.
So this leaves us with 18 stunning, shimmering classics to work with. Since we’re spreading these out across two records, you have to think about the true bangers, the hits, as it were, and distribute them evenly between the projects. And with ATMP we have lots and lots of bangers. Nine to be exact:
My Sweet Lord: Full- tilt, all-time classic. Still strummed by hippies today on quads across the land. Spiritual without the dogma, universal without striving too hard. A career-definer if there ever was one.
Wah-Wah: A hard-driving slice of oldschool rawk hearkening back to switchblades and Teddy Boys, a surprisingly punky riff, a plaintive plea for the end of a relationship that has run far past its due date. WAS IT ABOUT THE BEATLES? WAS IT ABOUT PATTIE? Who cares, it’s great.
Isn’t It A Pity: Ok this one’s about The Beatles for sure. And it’s a whole world more endearing and impassioned than John’s off-putting and bitter ” I don’t believe in Beatles” kiss off from his solo debut.
What Is Life: Harrison’s best song. Soaring power pop with an unstoppable hook. “It’s All Too Much” with more grit and verve. This song is so good that Heart stole its lead riff for “Crazy On You”.
If Not For You: The loveliest of all Dylan covers, focusing on Bobby’s most non-pretentious, heartfelt songwriting era. Simply essential.
Beware Of Darkness: Searching and always kind, Harrison is the rare artist who can wrangle epic themes in a humble manner. There’s no prophet trip with George. He doesn’t profess to know any more than his listeners, but he vows to keep on searching and urges them to do the same. This guy didn’t just rock the Hindu beads as a late 60s fashion statement.
Awaiting On You All: Motown by way of Mumbai, bombastic yet exceedingly earth-bound, this song is a brash mix of brilliant contradictions that should have knocked “Rocky Raccoon” and his homeboy “Bungalow Bill” right off The White Album.
All Things Must Pass: The pinnacle of widescreen early morning tea and sunshine rock.
Art Of Dying: Here’s that expansive eye/mind Revolver experimentation everyone expected to continue with these guys well into the 80s. Dark as fuck but not ominous. Clapton should be placed in a headlock for not playing this at his Harrison tribute concert after his friend and romantic rival’s death.
These nine tracks are the essentials. In order for the two albums to have the necessary impact, they should be divided between the two. Since the first album needs the most punch, we can relegate five to the debut and four to the follow-up. Since it was the biggest hit of the bunch, “My Sweet Lord” definitely belongs on Album 1. As does “Isn’t It A Pity” since it would have served as a perfect counterpoint to John’s post Beatles dissing and bitching. You need some experimental shit on there as well since both Sir Paul and John’s debut efforts were sorely missing this type of material, so we’ll throw in “Art Of Dying” as well. We don’t want to overload Album One, so we’ll hold back “What Is Life” to be the hit song from Album 2, and “Wah-Wah” as well since we don’t want two possible Beatles referencing songs weighing down the debut. We’ll keep “If Not For You” on the debut since it’s a gorgeous and plainspoken love song that can help to offset the heavier vibes of the more spiritual-leaning tracks, and since it places George at the forefront of the “goin’ on up the country” Woodstock vibe that was sweeping the counterculture at that moment. Plus, since we’re holding “Wah-Wah” for Album 2, we need a hard charger, so let’s keep “Awaiting On You All”.
So far for Album 1:
My Sweet Lord, Isn’t It A Pity, Art of Dying, If Not For You and Awaiting On You All
So far for Album 2:
Wah-Wah, What Is Life, Beware Of Darkness, and All Things Must Pass
Now that we have the true Harrison bangers evenly dispensed across the two projects, why not allow the gentle, sublime light of George Harrison himself guide us the rest of the way? After all, ATMP was divided into two records, with the remaining tracks divided between the two. “I’d Have You Anytime” is the perfect opener to Album 1 with it’s triple-take chorus and gentle, ascending-descending chord structure. “Behind That locked Door”, with its sweet peddle steel and country feel, is a good compliment to the similarly earthbound and lovelorn “If Not For You”. We need a rocker on the second half of Album 1, and “Let It Down” definitely lives up to this. “Run Of The Mill” makes for a pitch-perfect closer with its gorgeously melancholic horn lines and vocals so searching they crack and bend in George’s mouth.
So we have the following track list for Album 1, George’s King Beatle making debut:
- I’d Have You Anytime
- My Sweet Lord
- Isn’t It A Pity
- Art of Dying
- If Not For You
- Behind That Locked Door
- Awaiting On You All
- Let It Down
- Run Of The Mill
You can’t fuck with this debut. Every track is perfect. Every note rings true. John and George would have collectively spit out their last sip of Earl Grey when they beheld this. “Lord” would have been the radio hit, “Pity” the much-talked-about Beatles breakup reference, “Dying” the fulfillment of the psychedelic searcher clause, “INFY” and “Locked Door” the rootsy Americana fix, “Awaiting” and “Mill” the soaring spirituals, and “Let It Down” the reminder that George could still ROCK. Nine tracks. The perfect dose. Not too much brilliance to handle like All Things was. Put it up against John and Paul’s debuts? Not even close, man.
And then, when the magic dust has settled and the critics and fans have hailed King George, once the “Oh he just had a surplus of songs from the Beatles era” talk hits the streets, all Gearge has to do is HIT THEM WITH ALBUM TWO.
And what a follow up it would be, my friends. Kicking off with rocker “Wah-Wah”, everyone would fully understand from the jump that the King Beatle is back on the scene and he means fucking business. Why not follow this up with “Beware”? Establish that George is still searching that great beyond in his gentlemanly, super-kind way. Then we’ll let them all have it with the album’s hit track, “What Is Life”, chiming out like a thousand tingly radio antennas from the middle of Side One. Then we’ll level out the pace a bit with “I Live For You” which is suitably benevolent and lovely to fit on Side One. Rounding out that Side can be the scrappy, fun shuffle of “Apple Scruffs” which would work to offset the fuller production of the first four tracks. We’re going to get rid of the alternate version of “Isn’t It a Pity” because, well, the first one was better. The shimmering, time-changing “Ballad Of Sir Frankie Crisp” with it’s yearning “let it rolllllllll” chorus can kick off Side 2 in nice style, with one of George’s all-time best spirituals, “Hear Me Lord” following it up. The bluesy “I Dig Love” would offset the heavy atmosphere nicely, and then we’ll close it out with “All Things Must Pass” itself which makes for the grandest of all closing statements.
Album 2, the follow-up:
- Beware Of Darkness
- What Is Life
- I Live For You
- Apple Scruffs
- Ballad Of Sir Frankie Crisp
- Hear Me Lord
- I Dig Love
- All Things Must Pass
So who are you calling a one-hit wonder now? George is back with his second offering and it’s just as good as the first. ‘What Is Life” owns the airwaves for months. Critics drool over the widescreen earnestness of “Beware” and “All Things” which somehow just ring a whole lot truer than the heavy-handed musings of Lennon’s Imagine which would have been competing with it at the time. The all-star arena tour kicks off with “Wah-Wah” every night. After that he could have coasted on reputation alone. Each of his remaining solo albums had great songs. This would have been more than enough after the mega-success of his first two post-Beatle King Maker strikes.
And the Dark Horse would have well and truly rode this one to victory.
Look, All Things Must Pass is a classic album. Buy it now on vinyl. Stream it continuously. Allow its benevolent light to guide you in all that you do. We just think it was a strategic failure. Most likely you disagree. But before coming at us with those wide-eyed Beatles fanatic daggers drawn, check out these alternate ATMP playlists and imagine how it all could have played out much differently for the Quiet One on the super-competitive, high-stakes post-Beatles landscape of the early 70s.
George Harrison’s Imaginary Debut:
George Harrison’s Imaginary Second Album: