I can’t imagine there being many tougher acts to follow than The Beatles. After all they were by most accounts, the greatest band of all time. That being said, come May 1970, a mere month after Paul McCartney announced that he was leaving the band, George Harrison began recording All Things Must Pass in Abbey Road Studios.
On the surface you could argue that George Harrison had the least to lose from taking a stab at a solo career – he was stepping out from under the shadows, rather than staking his spotlight on his success. Nonetheless it was hardly a smooth transition – in particular, the album’s artwork, which features Harrison sitting on a chair among four fallen garden gnomes, was a sore point for Lennon, who saw it’s symbolism as a mark of disrespect.
Technically, All Things Must Pass wasn’t Harrison’s first solo effort – he’d recorded two instrumental records in the late 60s – but sentimentally, it represented the first time he’d ever received a license to fully express himself. Whilst a member of The Beatles, he was given a quota of two songs per album which he was allowed to contribute. But Harrison never stopped writing. By the time Harrison was set on releasing a solo piece, he didn’t need to write a pen a single track – he already had three albums worth of material.
Hence, All Things Must Pass.
The importance of the word selection in the title of Harrison’s album can’t be understated. Whilst, from the outside at least, Lennon and McCartney were the ring leaders of The Beatles’ collapse – it was undoubtedly most important for Harrison. For him and his music The Beatles wasn’t just a period that was going to pass; it had to.
And so musically, it’s hardly surprising that All Things Must Pass feels so explosive. Simply put, you will not find a debut album as polished, mature, and consistent as Harrison’s. That being said, for all it’s swagger there’s something remarkably measured and calm about Harrison’s delivery on this record. He’s undergoing a sort of musical liberation – it feels so necessary, so natural.
To cherry pick favourites is a challenge. My Sweet Lord is the natural stand-out single, which remains Harrison’s most successful to date. It’s a gorgeously measured piece of folk, written as homage to his spiritual connection to the Hare Krishna movement.
But it’s on Wah-Wah, a gorgeous sound wall that swells with big 60s rock riffs, that Harrison’s feelings about the Beatles’ collapse are most apparent, and indeed most poignant:
“And I know how sweet life can be If I keep myself free …”
Lennon and McCartney will always be the front men, and history will always remember them first. But it was Harrison – the man with the least to lose – to gain the most from the end of The Beatles. Of all the solo efforts to follow them, none can eclipse Harrison musically.