“All Things Must Pass” once again cements George Harrison’s legacy, 50 years on


Courtesy of Apple Records

George Harrison poses with four gnomes, widely interpreted to represent the breakup of the Beatles, as he moves on with his new masterpiece.

Shreyas Banerjee, Life Editor

There is no band more legendary than the Beatles, for many reasons. With their innovative studio techniques, iconic personalities and boundary-breaking entrepreneurship, their insane commercial success is easy to understand. Paramount to all those factors, however, were the iconic songs that the band produced. With the primary song-writing team of John Lennon and Paul McCartney, the band delivered hit after hit after hit, running from the poppy “I Want to Hold Your Hand,” to the psychedelic masterpiece “Strawberry Fields Forever” to the simple yet iconic “Hey Jude.” The two single-handedly pushed the entire industry to pivot away from using in-house songwriters and instead allowing artists to write and sing their own songs. 

But lo, behind the two behemoth songwriters hid the youngest Beatle, George Harrison. Nicknamed “the quiet Beatle” by his adoring fans, Harrison was initially just the lead guitarist of the band, occasionally singing lead on a few songs per album. But as the years went on, he pushed the band in new directions from behind the scenes, whether by bringing in folk rock influences, or by adding elements from Indian classical music—such as by playing the sitar in “Norwegian Wood (This Bird Has Flown)”—or adding a droning backing track to “Tomorrow Never Knows.” His interest in Indian culture led the band to famously go to India for a period of time to learn more about Transcendental Meditation, leading to all new kinds of music to come out of the band. 

Harrison started writing songs himself later on, and despite only getting one or two songs per album, they stood out as some of the band’s finest. His contributions range from the Bob Dylan-esque “If I Needed Someone,” to the India-inspired “Within You and Without You,” to the lamentful and rocking “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” to the spiritual “I Me Mine.” His two songs on “Abbey Road,” the last album that the band recorded together, are perhaps some of their most famous of all time. “Something,” which has been called the greatest love song ever by Frank Sinatra himself, and “Here Comes the Sun,” which remains the band’s highest played song on Spotify and Apple Music, are both masterpieces of songwriting and among the band’s best. This all begs the question, why aren’t there more Beatles songs by Harrison?

It turns out that due to the monolithic Lennon-McCartney duo wanting so many of their songs put out, it was quite hard for Harrison to fight for space and contribute to more albums. Relations between Harrison and the rest of the band became so acrimonious that Harrison left the band temporarily a year before the Beatles broke up forever. Fortunately, Harrison had been stockpiling all the songs that his fellow bandmates had previously dismissed and after the band’s official breakup in 1970, he put out an album so large that it had to be fit on three separate vinyl records. Titled “All Things Must Pass,” the album has been widely interpreted to be Harrison’s statement on the band’s breakup as well as his opportunity to explore different sides of his musicality that the Beatles had previously stifled. Filled with songs ranging from overt folk, to spiritual odes to hard rock, the album showcased the songwriting chops of the former Beatle that most did not realize existed. Behind Harrison in the album is a star-studded cast, with Bob Dylan co-writing a song and the backing musicians including legends such as Eric Clapton, Billy Preston, Gary Wright and fellow ex-Beatle Ringo Starr. 

The album was also co-produced by the biggest music producer of the time, Phil Spector, who is a terrible human being but also one of the most innovative and influential people in music history. In Spector’s attempt to recreate the booming sounds of Wagnerian orchestral works, he created a new production technique known as the “Wall of Sound,” that allowed for pop music to be far denser and fuller, with more instruments involved, than ever before. Spector’s involvement in “All Things Must Pass” gave the entire album a very heavy, reverb-oriented sound that made it sound larger than life, but ultimately dated the album. Now, to celebrate its 50th anniversary, the Harrison Estate has released a new remix of the legendary album, allowing modern listeners to appreciate it more, while still keeping the tone and character of the album intact. 

The primary thing that the new remix does is to tamp down on the reverb and allow the album to breathe a bit more. On songs like “Wah-Wah” and “Art of Dying,” which were just dominated by a cluttered and muddy mix of instruments that rang out even as the musicians themselves had stopped playing, this works very well. With less reverb, it is possible to actually distinguish each and every instrument, with the mix separating them appropriately across the soundspace. It is now more possible to appreciate all the work that was being done by each musician and allow it all to immerse you, without the sounds needlessly combining in moments.

Another benefit of the new remix is bringing Harrison’s voice to the forefront. By doing so, far more nuance can be heard through the vocals, with a more personal feeling instilled as a result. As Harrison cries out to God in “Hear Me Lord,” or celebrates his love in “If Not For You,” it feels far more intimate and emotional. On “Let It Roll,” one can finally distinguish Harrison singing “Oh, Sir Frankie Crisp” in the lower tones, now that the instrumentation is no longer as muddy and smothering. With the new emphasis on primary vocals, Harrison’s brilliant songwriting truly shines, with each word far more distinguishable than before. Beautiful lyrics based on Harrison’s fixations of love, religion, reincarnation and peace are found throughout and now emphasized in a new fashion. The quiet Beatle’s voice can be finally heard in full glory.

Despite all these benefits and the new modern sound, I can’t help but still be sentimental for the original version, “Wall of Sound” and all. Yes, the mix was muddy and overwhelming at moments but in songs like the classic “My Sweet Lord,” the grandeur that once came from the overlapping noises and booming instrumentals has been slightly lost. I can’t help but miss the Gospel-like chorus that rang out as it transitioned from singing “Hallelujah” to “Hare Krishna,” in Harrison’s attempt to show that all religion is truly all about the same thing. In the powerful “Isn’t It A Pity,” the original mix’s ending tag of “What a pity, pity, pity” melded together into this beautiful cloud of music in a way that the new version can no longer replicate. At least the original version still exists and is widely accessible. 

Regardless, this new mix of “All Things Must Pass” does justice to the original and adds new perspective to the classic album, while bringing it in line with what the modern audience expect in terms of sonic clarity. Hopefully with these new additions, a new generation of listeners can enjoy and be enveloped in the beautiful musicianship of the often overlooked George Harrison. All the Beatles were legends in their own right; let’s hope that Harrison is cemented in new minds once more.