Revinylization #22: George Harrison's All Things Must Pass

Capitol/UMe 3565238 (5 CD, 1 Blu-ray). 2021. George Harrison, Phil Spector, Harrison, David Zonshine, prods.; Ken Scott, Philip McDonald, Paul Hicks, engs.
Performance *****
Sonics *****

Six weeks after the world's biggest pop group broke up, the "Quiet Beatle" began work on a monumental three-LP album that stands tall a half-century later. George Harrison's first solo album (his third if you count a movie soundtrack and an experimental-music record) is a masterpiece, a musical minestrone of influences and timestamps. For the artist, it was a sprawling release of creative energy too often pent up in the context of the Beatles.

Beginning with two days of demos for co-producer Phil Spector, Harrison walked away from the smoldering wreckage that was the Beatles and immediately stood on his own as a fully formed solo artist. While sometimes referencing his earlier songwriting and guitar licks (and including songs written as far back as 1966), Harrison went in new directions, influenced by his spirituality and interactions with his many prominent musical friends including new friend Bob Dylan as well as Eric Clapton and the rest who became Derek and the Dominoes.

This Golden Anniversary Super Deluxe Edition of All Things Must Pass contains five CDs and a Blu-ray disc; an LP version is available with eight LPs (footnote 1). Serious ATMP partisans can get the "Uber Deluxe" reissue with eight LPs, five CDs, and a Blu-ray, all in a wood box. There will also be two-CD and three-LP releases of just the original album.

ATMP's tracks received a refreshing remix at Abbey Road Studios by Paul Hicks, who has worked on Beatles remix projects and the ongoing project of reissuing John Lennon's solo albums. Hicks subjected the sound of ATMP to a bit of de-Spectorizing—removing some "Wall of Sound" mud—resulting in more clarity and zing, with Harrison's voice more forward. "Luckily these [songs] were recorded by great engineers, so everything sounds good on the tape," Hicks said. "We mixed this project using new 192k transfers into Pro Tools and continued HD until the end."

Reverb mud is heaped on some songs' individual tape tracks, Hicks said, "so there isn't much you can do in those cases. But we reduced the reverbs in many cases." In some songs, layers of guitar licks gain more separation. In others, Ringo Starr's rock-steady drumming is more pronounced.

The bonus Blu-ray includes 5.1 surround and Dolby Atmos mixes, which spread things out further, revealing more detail. It also contains 24/48 and 24/192 stereo mixes, suggesting eventual availability as an HD download and better-than-CD streaming.

ATMP compares favorably to solo premieres by other Beatles. Paul McCartney was first out of the gate with his namesake first album, a collection of home recordings with a bit of studio polish applied in secret, released into a buzzsaw of lukewarm reviews and Fleet Street accusations about "the Traitor Beatle" (footnote 2). John Lennon's Plastic Ono Band—like ATMP, recorded at Abbey Road and anchored by Starr on drums and Klaus Voorman on bass—was released a month after Harrison's. Brooding, self-absorbed, and minimalist, it was artistically significant but smaller in scale and scope than ATMP, which has outsold Lennon's Imagine and McCartney's Band on the Run combined.

The main reason Harrison's album succeeded was its songs. Harrison was a great songwriter with spot-on musical sensibilities and a gift for lyrics. He had amassed a backlog of songs about faith, love, tragedy, and friendship, skillfully worded and scored into rock hits.

Harrison had offered some of these songs—"Isn't It a Pity," "Let It Down," "Hear Me Lord," the album's title track—to the Beatles; none made it past polite tryouts. "Wah-Wah" and "Run of the Mill" were Harrison's reactions to the frustrating and acrimonious Let It Be sessions. The songs were enlivened by creative energy from his friendship with Dylan, his mutual respect and musical affection for Clapton, and contributions and influences from Billy Preston, Spector, members of Spooky Tooth and Badfinger, and the troop of Hare Krishnas living with him at the time. Through four months of sessions (including a break to visit his dying mother and some time off after her passing) and a flaked-out, premature exit by Spector, Harrison held it together and brought out every bit of excellence from each song.

The Super Deluxe set includes the album (originally two LPs of complete, produced songs plus a third LP of "Apple Jams") spread over two CDs. The third and fourth CDs are "First Day" and "Second Day" demos (May 26 and 27, 1970) that Harrison performed for Spector. These demos are mostly spectacular, fully formed songs, confidently rendered and ready for production. Disc 5, "Session Outtakes and Jams," is the weakest disc of the set, but it has its moments: Its rendition of "Wedding Bells (Are Breaking Up That Old Gang of Mine)," played off the cuff with smiles all around, is a great performance.

Capping off the box is a refreshing, beautifully illustrated booklet, with photos of Harrison's original, handwritten lyrics and an essay providing background and perspective song by song.

Footnote 1: Michael Fremer's report on the sound of the LPs can be found here and an article of the making of the album in our sister publication Sound & Vision here.—Ed.

Footnote 2: McCartney released his album in competition with the group's Let It Be, despite personal appeals by his bandmates to wait a couple of months.

Briandrumzilla's picture

Read Fremer's ATMP article and comments about a month ago. Based on the assessment of the poor sound quality, decided not to purchase. By the time I found the article, the Bobby Whitlock YT link was disabled. Would like to know why that video was removed so quickly, and his views on ATMP for that matter.

jjgr's picture

This remaster sounds great, even if it’s a bit different than the original. So maybe you lose a bit of “air” and “soundstage” that you might notice in a direct comparison to an original pressing - but the music shines through, and you get to enjoy George’s voice and presence a bit more upfront in this mix. That’s not such a bad thing. I quite enjoy it - especially through headphones. (Whereas the 2001 reissue is not so listenable.). Cheers,

DH's picture

I don't hear what he criticized.
Yes it sounds different.
I don't think it is lacking a high end.
I think it sounds good.

Pecos's picture

I have the original version as well as the new version. It's a shame that the new version of My Sweet Lord has lost that special magical sound that you hear in the original version. I definitely prefer the original. However, when it comes to the Apple Jam sides I prefer the cleaner sound of the recently remastered version. Bill

Axiom05's picture

Liked the original album, love this new one. Yes, there is more volume compression than I would prefer but on the whole the remix is great. Harrison's voice and the lyrics come through so much more clear with more emotion. Honestly, I can't stop playing this thing, just wonderful. Just compare the old and new versions of Wah-Wah. The original mix is sonic mush, hard to listen to. The new mix, while still a bit bloated, comes through much cleaner, more listenable. Let it roll...

ok's picture

..and I liked it.

Fruff1976's picture

I bought it after reading the MF rant and reading the subsequent slam fest on the Steve Hoffmann forum. I decided to stream it to see what’s up and I thought it sounded great so I bought it. I like it better than my 2001 vinyl.

umiami91's picture

Salon is basically just junk now. They used to be interesting but like too many sites hungry for clicks ceased to be critical of anything. See also Pitchfork, Rolling Stone, AV Club. Stereophile and Fremer are basically the only places I trust anymore.