AUDIO JUNKIE: George Harrison: Existential Beatle

Blame it on YouTube: One minute I was checking out old interviews of George Harrison then before I knew it (you know how it is with autoplay), I was listening to his debut album in full for the first time.

George Harrison (Photo from I Me Mine autobiography) George Harrison (Photo from I Me Mine autobiography)

Released November 1970, “All Things Must Pass” is a landmark album for the former Beatle in a number of ways. As a songwriter, this triple album was a blossoming for Harrison, who, if we're going to trust this Beatle-lore, he lingered in the shadow behind the creative partnership of John Lennon and Paul McCartney.

Relegated to a song or two per album in his former group’s magnificent run from 1962 to 1969, this album put in full display a songwriter of the highest calibre at par with his mates from his former band. Indeed, his previous work on “Something” and “Here Comes The Sun” (from “Abbey Road”), and “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” (from the “White Album”), to name a few, was but a sneak preview of Harrison’s mettle in tunesmith.

As guitarist, Harrison shouted for all to hear that he is one the best of his generation. While peers like Eric Clapton got designated as ‘god’ for their six-string work, Harrison held his own for his tasteful style. Primarily admired for his melodic approach, Harrison’s guitar solos were highlights inside his songs.

For one, his slide guitar work on “My Sweet Lord” is a song unto itself. Ditto for the subdued acoustic and slide guitar fills that decorated songs like the country-styled balladry of “If Not For You,” and “Behind That Locked Door” that pre-dated the style popularized by The Eagles. And When it comes to rock and roll, George has that too in the charged up “Wah Wah,” the rock-fusion styled “I Remember Jeep,” and the jam session a.k.a. “Thanks For The Pepperoni.”

George Harrison 'All Things Must Pass' remastered album art ( George Harrison 'All Things Must Pass' remastered album art

“All Things Must Pass” shows Harrison’s proficiency in the studio. Recorded from May to late October of 1970, Harrison sang, wrote, played on and produced his solo debut album with Phil Spector. In the process, he covered a wide range of styles from hard rock (with a hint of psychedelia in “Let It Down”), country (“I Live For You”), folk rock (check out the 12-string guitar-decked “Run Of The Mill”), and gospel music (“My Sweet Lord”).

But the real heft of George Harrison’s works on this record are the themes he covered. Already deep into eastern philosophies and practices, he made spiritual propositions almost at every turn. While titles like “What Is Life” and “The Art Of Dying” seemed overly serious, these are never boring.

In fact, these are cleverly wrapped: the former as a pop song (written in the heydays of The Beatles) and the latter as a riff-laden rock song.

Ironically, some of the best songs here, like the majestic title track and “Isn’t It A Pity,” date back to Harrison’s time with The Beatles but were said to be rejected by Lennon and McCartney. Of course everything turned out for the best, as George Harrison knew it would.