Sunday, February 16, 2020

All Things Must Pass (AM10) 50 Years Ago

This is what happens after sublimating your creative impulses for seven years because you're in a band with songwriters named John and Paul. In All Things Must Pass George Harrison manages the improbable, merging spirituality with incredibly beautiful music to create rock history. Normally, religious converts sound contrived or corny when singing of their convictions, but Harrison (a converted Hindu of Hare Krishna denomination) comes across as genuine and inspired by his faith, and the songs are so strong they could have stood out on any Beatles album. Pop melodies don't get better than this.

Though released in 1970, this was the work (Harrison’s third solo effort) that the other Beatle had been contemplating since Revolver. What easily strikes the listener today, aside from the signature slide work and how well Phil Spector's Wall of Sound fits Harrison's vision, are the friends "sitting in": Eric Clapton, Billy Preston, Gary Brooker, Ringo Starr, Alan White, Ginger Baker, Phil Collins, and Dave Mason, to say nothing of the guys who joined Clapton to become Derek and the Dominoes. It's an album poised not only to announce how much talent Harrison has, but to promote the idea of session men and great collaborators recording album after album together, a concept that would be the catalyst for Steely Dan. Harrison leads off the album with a collaboration with Bob Dylan, and that sets the tone for major guest stars. Along the way, the album establishes what might be called a "late Beatles" sound, since Let It Be was also produced, very controversially, by Spector, as was Lennon's "Instant Karma."

The LP is committed—as Harrison songs tended to be at the time—to philosophical reflection on how things change, whether bad or good; that nothing, either way, remains the same. The title song, like Percy Shelley's "Ozymandias" sums up the ideology. "Sunrise doesn't last all morning / A cloudburst doesn't last all day / Seems my love is up and has left you with no warning / It’s not always going to be this gray." The point is that change is good, even if you'd rather live in a perpetual sunrise. The line about "my love" — getting up early and hitting the road unexpectedly — personalizes the hallmark nature of these reflections. While one ponders how impermanent conditions can be, add this, to the mix that might just up and go. Love. And life.

Just an aside for die-hard Harrison fans: The song title "Wah-Wah" is a play on words mixing the nickname for the guitar gizmo with the same-sounding Indian word that means "bravo" (in the context of classical Indian concerts). The expression is shouted by the audience during Indian concerts after particularly complex melodies or a clever wordplay to express the audience's enthusiasm or awe. Thus, "You've given me a wah-wah" actually means "you've cheered me on." 

All things said, All Things Must Pass is a desert island disc, and gets an AM10 by default, referring specifically to the "song part" of the album. Those never-ending jams by disc 3 are for Harrison purists, but there's enough left over for nearly two albums, thus the default. All Things Must Pass is a gift from Saraswati, the Hindu God of Knowledge, Music, Arts, Wisdom and Learning. Wah-Wah!

The Clapton Connection - In the late 60s, the Beatles and Eric Clapton kicked off a nearly five-decade-long tradition of recorded collaborations. Sure, "While My Guitar Gently Weeps" — the only official EMI Beatles recording Clapton ever played on — is an undisputed highlight, but Slowhand's fretwork also graces recordings by all four solo Beatles. In fact, the former Yardbird and Bluesbreaker is the only guitarist—ever—to play on a Beatles song and on official studio recordings by John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison and Ringo Starr.

Daylight is good at arriving at the right time...