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George Harrison

All Things Must Pass

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By Holly Crenshaw  
artist

The evidence was there all along.  As The Beatles lurched toward their messy break-up, George Harrison was reaching his creative peak.  Consider "Something," "Here Comes The Sun," and "While My Guitar Gently Weeps" and it’s clear that, away from the ugly in-fighting and legal squabbles that ultimately brought an end to the greatest pop band of all time, Harrison was steadily growing more confident as a songwriter.

Still, when the quiet Beatle stepped forward in 1970 and released his own stunning masterpiece, All Things Must Pass, the listening public was caught off guard.  The three-album package -- in effect, rock’s first boxed set -- was a remarkable debut that revealed just how much of Harrison’s talent had been overshadowed by Lennon's and McCartney’s. Without his most famous band mates, Harrison turned instead to such illustrious side players as his best friend Eric Clapton (who was of course falling in love at the time with Harrison’s wife, Patti), Billy Preston, Dave Mason, Gary Wright, Badfinger, Ringo and even a 19-year-old Phil Collins. 

And while Bob Dylan doesn’t appear in person, his presence is felt in the lovely opening track, "I’d Have You Anytime," which he and Harrison co-wrote, and in "If Not For You," which Harrison sings with unaffected sincerity.  Re-mastered and re-released nearly three decades following its original debut, All Things Must Pass sounds just as urgent, resilient, and uplifting as ever. With thirty years of hindsight, Harrison wrote in his liner notes: "It was difficult to resist re-mixing every track.  All these years later, I would like to liberate some of the songs from the big production that seemed appropriate at the time, but now seem a bit over the top with the reverb in the wall of sound." But frankly, Harrison was wrong. 

Phil Spector’s sweeping arrangements help lift these tunes to celestial heights, complimenting their spiritual themes and adding to the album’s monumental stature. Case in point: "My Sweet Lord," which sparkles with Krishna clarity in its classic version, but sounds stripped of life in its later, misguided reworking.  These sweetly melodic tunes need no updating.  From the sheer sonic rush of "What Is Life" to the brooding mysticism of "Beware Of Darkness," All Things Must Pass remains an essential rock opus -- one that Harrison never surpassed.

Holly Crenshaw, a long-time staff writer for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, writes frequently about music and the arts.