Day 7: “All Things Must Pass”

When was it recorded?  Feb. 25, 1969

When was it first released, and on which album?  Nov. 9, 1970 on “Encouraging Words” (Billy Preston album)

Who wrote it?  Harrison

Have I heard this song before?  No

What my research dug up:

I spent most of today going back and forth over whether or not to make a post about this song.  Ultimately I decided to include it in my listening experience (duh — wouldn’t be much of a post if I hadn’t) because the song has a (not particularly nice) history with the Beatles and serves as an excellent illustration of George Harrison’s role within and without the band.

Are you ready for some pain?  Of course you are – this is a Beatles blog.  Here we go.

George wrote “All Things Must Pass” after spending time in the Catskill Mountains in New York (the state, not NYC) with Bob Dylan and his then-current band, the Band.

Lyrically, the song was inspired by “All Things Pass” – since I’m a poet you get an in-depth explanation on that piece (lucky you!).  “All Things Pass” is Harvard professor (and LSD advocate, as every source I checked loved to point out) Timothy Leary’s translation/adaptation/something-ation of Lao-Tzu’s work.  Lao-Tzu is the founder of Taoism, a philosophical and religious movement I’m not going to pretend to be an expert on.  It’s a relatively short poem:

 All things pass

A sunrise does not last all morning

All things pass

A cloudburst does not last all day

All things pass

Nor a sunset all night

All things pass

What always changes?

Earth…sky…thunder…

mountain…water…

wind…fire…lake…

These change

And if these do not last

Do man’s visions last?

Do man’s illusions?

Take things as they come

All things pass

Like many of Harrison’s other songs, the lyrics also revolve around weather and nature metaphors (spoiler alert: George wrote “Here Comes the Sun.”  Shocker, I know).  Critics also threw around obvious phrases about how the lyrics discuss how transitory life is, how a new day always dawns, and how optimism can win against fatalism.  Instrumentally the piece is noted for being dichotomous, for the rising and falling musical moods evoking lightness/darkness and hope/melancholy.  I can’t fit anymore cliches in that paragraph so we’re moving on.

If you noticed the date, you’ll have inferred that George wrote this while the Beatles were still together but quickly disintegrating.  While it may not have been originally written as a statement on the Beatles’ break-up, the song has definitely come to be viewed as such.  Given its history, it’s easy to see why.

George returned from partying it up (I’m paraphrasing) with Bob Dylan and the Band in the states — where his creativity was appreciated – to the recording studio with the Beatles where he was, putting it mildly, discouraged.  Doug Sulpy and Ray Schweighardt wrote in Get Back: The Unauthorized Chronicle of The Beatles’ Let It Be Disaster that Lennon and McCartney “routinely rejected Harrison’s songs, even though some were far better than their own.”

The Beatles never formally recorded “All Things Must Pass,” hence my initial hesitancy to include it on here.  In the beginning of January, the band worked on it for four days or so, then left off it, then picked it up again at the end of the month… then scrapped it.  This happened to a number of George’s demos (though he was able to resurrect most of his proposed/rejected material during his solo career).  Bootlegs of these rehearsals are still floating around, of course.  George recorded a solo demo a month later on his birthday, Feb. 25, 1969, which was released on “Anthology 3” in 1996.

(I may or may not have cried actual tears listening to this version.)

Having been nixed by his bandmates, George offered “All Things Must Pass” to American R&B artist Billy Preston for his album “Encouraging Words” (recorded and released in late 1970).  Preston had a history with the Beatles, playing keyboards with the band during what became their recording sessions for “Let It Be,” and George co-produced this recording.  Wikipedia notes that Preston’s version of the song is more soul than folk and “betrays an obvious debt to his former mentor, Ray Charles.”

Considering I know Preston best for his short, jaunty “Nothing From Nothing,” this song was kind of a pleasant surprise.  It’s more contemplative, almost the opposite lyrically and instrumentally from “Nothing,” but it’s riveting.  I liked this version a lot.

Remember that George Harrison solo career I mentioned earlier?  Guess what his first post-Beatles album was called.  “All Things Must Pass.”  Guess what the last song on third side was.  Go ahead, guess.

So George finally got a legitimate recording of his song in May/June of 1970.  Another reason I included this song as a Beatles’ track is because Ringo recorded of the drum and tambourine parts.  It was a major commercial success and is frequently cited as one of George’s finest compositions.

What a difference support makes!  This definitely has a more hopeful vibe than his demo and even slightly more than Preston’s version.  That said, I think I have to side with the critic who said Harrison’s final version was the definitive version of the song but that Preston’s cover was superior.  Sorry to add insult to injury, George.

Sources

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/All_Things_Must_Pass_(song)

http://www.beatlesbible.com/songs/all-things-must-pass/

http://poemof-theday.blogspot.com/2010/04/all-things-pass-lao-tzu.html

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