George Harrison found the final days of The Beatles chaotic. “Ringo wanted it blue,” he later said. “John wanted it white, Paul Wanted it green, and I wanted it orange.” In the end, the Beatles had become like living in a box. When the band broke up Harrison released All Things Must Pass. George was finally out of the box. He had wanted it orange. Now he had it any color he liked.
George Harrison breaks out of the Beatles box
More than any of his bandmates, George Harrison benefited from the Beatles’ breakup. He was caught in a dramatic rush of creativity. In 1970, ideas that never got their due in The Beatles were perfected. Songs Harrison had written with and about Bob Dylan, such as ‘I’d Have You Anytime‘, were made public. His solo writing was on a hot streak. He wrote ‘What Is Life?’ in 15 minutes.
Is All Things Must pass the best Solo Beatle record?
Meditation, spirituality, Beatlemania, and LSD had changed George Harrison’s life. He was now writing pop hits better than John Lennon and Paul McCartney. All Things Must Pass picks up where Abbey Road‘s ‘Something‘ and “Here Comes the Sun’ left off. “His mind and his music are clear,” Lennon said of Harrison in 1980. “There is his innate talent.”
This is why many argue All Things Must Pass is the best Beatles solo album. It is. More than 50 years later, the songs remain straightforward. George’s songs were written directly from experience. “His stuff is sort of biographical,” Paul McCartney explained in 2020. “‘He’s talking about his life. George Harrison was embracing spirituality and new ideas. He sang it all.
Harrison circa 1970
Here Comes the Deluxe Edition
Not everyone had ears. The public never quite got George Harrison. George Harrison never quite got the public. He, Lennon, and McCartney spent the 1970s not realizing what millions upon millions of record-buying fans did. The Beatles were still the center of pop gravity.
Divided and moving outward on their own paths, they no longer ran closely with the energies of modern times. The Beatles solo records were never going to scale the same heights as Sgt. Pepper’s, the White Album, and Abbey Road. Songs came close. Albums never did.
We find ourselves in a similar era now. The heirs of the Lennon and Harrison estates are releasing deluxe editions of their 1970s solo albums with the pomp and ceremony which surrounded deluxe editions like the Sgt Pepper’s box set. Even so, there is not as there is not the same interest in hearing ‘Run of the Mill (Take 36)’ as there is ‘While My Guitar Gently Weeps (Esher Demo)‘ or an early version of ‘Here Comes The Sun‘.
It is likely even Harrison would scratch his head. “It’s being here now that’s important,” he once said. “There is no past or future… All there ever is ever, is now. We gain experience from the past. We Can’t relive it.”
All Things Must Pass is an exclamation of joy
And yet there has never been another like him. We love George Harrison. He was kind, friendly, thoughtful, and comfortable in his own skin. The media labeled him The Quiet Beatle. But he was boisterous. He loved to laugh. What is more, he taught millions the value of spirituality.
George Harrison’s run of 1970s albums is remarkable. Nonmusical troubles, legal battles, and major label bickering led to a patchier output in the early 1980s. In the 1990s Harrison returned triumphantly with The Travelling Wilburys before becoming a reclusive due to his battles with cancer. With his mortality in the balance, he increasingly turned to his garden and spiritual contemplation. His final album Brainwashed was a long time in the making. And ultimately unfished. “I wish I had the answer to give,” Harrison sung on one of his last songs, “Don’t even have the cure.”
There is no sign of that darkness here. Any quibbles over All Things Must Pass (50th Anniversary) cannot displace its remarkable qualities. George Harrison explores love, life, materialism and spirituality. He lays his personal ideas and emotions bare.
Phil Spector, as problematic as he was in life, creates hypnotic layers of instruments and sounds. Paul Hicks and George’s son Dhani Harrison‘s retouching of this audio gives the album a much-needed polish. (Without tampering with its vision.)
There is so much love in this record. As much as Harrison was looking to move away from being a Beatle, the essence of the band burns bright. As bitter as Harrison could be, this was eclipsed by his optimism and joy.
George Harrison poses for an Apple Records promotional image
Final thoughts on George Harrison
George Harrison died in 2001. Paul McCartney still believes he still lives amongst us in another form. While all of us do not believe in reincarnation, the truth is eternal. And on this new version, All Things Must Pass (50th Anniversary) many of Harrison’s truths remain with us. Some are profound. “With our love we could save the world,” Harrison once sang on ‘Within You Without You.’ Others scary. It’s Harrison’s happy truths we hold on to the most.
George Harrison 'All Things Must Pass'8
We can't live in the past
Beatles work was better
There will never be another like him