Amongst the additions to my audio library the past year or so were several albums — some from Cousin Bill’s stash, some from Big Brother Jim’s Ceaseless CD Search — by George Harrison.
Those solo projects by the ex-Beatle included All Things Must Pass, Harrison’s third on-his-own album but the first to include vocals. The LP was released in 1970, but much of the music was created before that year, and many of its pieces fell into place 50 years ago.
I of course have heard much of the album — how could a Muser on The Music not, because so many of its songs got FM airplay? But I never bought it, or listened to it in its entirety until recently.
But before I get to this first Old News Reviews in a while, let’s reflect on the album as an entity. Listening to it will remind you how good the music is, but I at least forgot the influence it had, the success it enjoyed and the ground it broke.
For starters, it was the first solo album released after the Beatles broke up. Considered the first pop/rock triple LP, it was bested for that honor only by the Woodstock live soundtrack, but was the first three-piece by a single artist.
It’s Harrison’s name on the front of the album jacket, but the music is made by literally dozens of artists, a few of them less than household names but many of them well-known and renowned for their musical abilities. Old Slow Hand, ex-Cream guitarist Eric Clapton, was perhaps the most notable — although, for contractual reasons in his native U.K., he wasn’t credited for many years.
Dave Mason of Traffic was another major contributor, but he was also a member of the Delaney & Bonnie (Bramlett) & Friends review, with whom Harrison had played and toured. But that traveling band, and the ATMP crew, also included Jim Gordon, Carl Radle and Bobby Whitlock; those three and Clapton would decide during the recording of Harrison’s LP to form Derek and the Dominos. And that resulted in the creation of another classic late-1960s album.
After that, you start scratching below the surface: other musicians contributing to ATMP included all four members of Badfinger, the first act sign to the Beatles’ new label, Apple, and whose first hit was a song penned by Paul McCartney of the Fab Four. Future Yes drummer Alan White, and Nashville pedal steel virtuoso Pete Drake, were also contributors.
Procul Harum’s Gary Booker shared the keyboard work with Whitlock, but so did Gary Wright of Spooky Tooth and “Dreamweaver” fame. Clapton’s ex-Creammate Ginger Baker played on the “bonus” third disk, consisting of mostly blues, mostly instrumental live studio jams.
Genesis/solo-star-to-be Phil Collins contributed, but Harrison wasn’t aware of that until he was putting together a 30th-anniversary edition of ATMP. Former Humble Pie picker Peter Frampton, yet to be Comes Alive, played but got no credit.
There are claims that John Lennon, Maurice Gibb of the BeeGees and Pink Floyd keyboardist Richard Wright also played on the album. The Band, with whom Harrison had become friends while in Woodstock, N.Y., are said to have backed him on “Behind that Closed Door,” inspired by Bob Dylan’s return to live performance following a near-fatal motorcycle accident.
All that talent supported Harrison’s songwriting skills, which had been suppressed while he was a Beatle, but blossomed in the later-’60s. ATMP’s first two discs included 17 of his original compositions, and there were another 20 songs that were not included and didn’t surface for years — decades in some cases.
The results of those collaborations took off like a rocket. ATMP spent seven weeks at No. 1 on the Billboard album chart; two cuts off it, “My Sweet Lord”/“Isn’t It a Pity,” were the double-sided single that became the first solo-Beatle No. 1 in the U.K.
ATMP, however, was not the best-selling LP by an ex-Beatle; McCartney and Wings’ Band on the Run holds that title, although ATMP and Band both spent eight weeks at No. 1 on the album chart. Most critics and commentators, however, conclude that the Harrison album is the best and most successful of the former-Beatle LPs.
That is backed up by the fact that ATMP was nominated for two Grammy Awards in 1972, one for Album of the Year and again for Record of the Year. However, in the category of The Bar’s Set High, ATMP and its single lost out to Carole King’s Tapestry and a single from it, “It’s too Late.”
ATMP had staying power beyond that initial stint on the Billboard chart. Reissues or re-releases of the LP were in the album Top 10 three times: twice in 2001 — on the initial release of a 30th-anniversary version, and again after Harrison’s death — and again in 2007. There was also a 40th-anniversary reissue in 2010, and a remastering in 2014 as part of an eight-disk box set of Harrisoniana.
Backing up, though, how does ATMP hold up, coming up on 50 years (will there be another reissue/remaster then?)? Pretty well, this Muser on The Music will say — with a caveat or two.
One criticism I have is that, despite the fact that legendary “Wall of Sound” rock maestro Phil Spector produced the album, the sound is often thin — at times there doesn’t seem to be much bottom to it.
(Spector got the gig in part because of what he did when he was brought in by John Lennon to clean up and finish off the Get Back/Let It Be project the year before. But part of what he did then also p---ed off Paul McCartney enough to trigger the final steps in the breakup of the Beatles.)
Harrison, in my opinion, was not the singer that Lennon and McCartney were — which may explain why he sometimes got the short end of the stick with the Beatles. And it shows on ATMP, where the vocals take a back seat to the songwriting and instrumentation.
That said, the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. With the exception of a few cuts — “I Dig Love” is kind of annoying, other than the slide guitar, and the "bonus" disk is kind of a throwaway — the songs are well-crafted and memorable. Lines like “But it's not always going to be this grey,” and those from “Beware of Darkness,” stick in your head and make this album as good today as it was going on 50 years ago.