George Harrison’s third solo album was his crowning glory. All Things Must Pass was a triple album, and his first release after the break-up of The Beatles.

The album contained the hit singles ‘My Sweet Lord’ and ‘What Is Life’, the Dylan collaboration ‘I’d Have You Anytime’, and a third disc of jam sessions titled Apple Jam.

All Things Must Pass saw Harrison transcend his Beatles status and established him briefly as the most successful former Beatle, with sales outstripping the likes of John Lennon’s Imagine, and Paul and Linda McCartney’s Ram. Harrison topped the US Billboard single and album charts simultaneously, a feat not equalled by his former bandmates until McCartney and Wings did so in June 1973.

Cast and crew

All Things Must Pass featured an extensive list of collaborators, including Ringo Starr, Eric Clapton, Billy Preston, Badfinger, Klaus Voormann, saxophonist Bobby Keys, and drummers/percussionists Alan White, Jim Gordon, Ginger Baker, and Phil Collins.

It was produced by Phil Spector, the maverick American then most famous for his Wall of Sound technique. Spector’s tendency to mass-record instruments and smother them in echo was his trademark, but several of the All Things Must Pass songs were overproduced. Remastered versions were released in 2001, 2010, and 2014, but a remixed version is yet to be issued.

On 27 January 1970 Spector had produced Plastic Ono Band’s single ‘Instant Karma!’, which featured Harrison on acoustic guitar. The producer was brought in again to remix The Beatles’ Let It Be recordings in March and April 1970, which helped convince both Harrison and Lennon to sign him up to produce their respective next solo albums.

Harrison was finding his own feet as a producer. From April to July 1969 he co-produced Billy Preston’s fourth studio album That’s The Way God Planned It, a mix of gospel, soul and rock. Harrison also co-produced the following year’s Encouraging Words. Released in September 1970, two months before All Things Must Pass, Encouraging Words contained versions of the songs ‘All Things Must Pass’ and ‘My Sweet Lord’. In addition to bolstering his skills as a producer, working on Preston’s albums helped Harrison understand the structure and composition of gospel music, and its expression of spiritual love and devotion.

Harrison and Preston had also worked together on soul singer Doris Troy’s eponymous album, released by Apple Records in 1970, for which Harrison co-wrote many of the songs.

I think he had been involved in soul music for years – he listened to it, he loved it, and that’s what made him want to do it. I wasn’t actually introducing him to the stuff, he already knew it. The Beatles as a whole listened to black music, a lot of their soul and feelings came from American music.
Doris Troy
While My Guitar Gently Weeps, Simon Leng

In April 1970 Harrison was in New York City, where he visited Bob Dylan, then recording New Morning at Columbia Studio B. Harrison performed uncredited on ‘Went To See The Gypsy’, ‘Day Of The Locusts’, and ‘If Not For You’, and jammed with the studio musicians on a number of songs including The Beatles’ ‘Yesterday’.

This was not Harrison and Dylan’s first collaboration, however. Harrison had spent Thanksgiving 1968 in Woodstock at Dylan’s home in Woodstock, New York, staying for several days. The stay resulted in the songs ‘I’d Have You Anytime’ and ‘When Everybody Comes To Town’.

The Beatles were largely over by the end of the summer of 1969, and Harrison was keen to spread his wings. On 1 December he watched husband and wife act Delaney and Bonnie Bramlett perform at the Albert Hall in London. Afterwards he went backstage, where he agreed to the UK tour of Delaney & Bonnie and Friends. Freed from the attentions of Beatlemania, he was able to be a largely anonymous band member, although he did sing songs including ‘Everybody’s Trying To Be My Baby’ on at least one occasion.

Harrison appeared on the resulting live album, 1970’s Delaney & Bonnie & Friends On Tour With Eric Clapton, for which he was credited as ‘Mysterioso’. In return, the Bramletts and members of their band appeared on All Things Must Pass.

Delaney Bramlett also helped influence Harrison’s slide guitar playing style, which would become a trademark. According to Bramlett, Harrison had already started to play slide, but was keen to learn more.

One time he asked me if I would teach him how to play slide, and later, George said I’d taught him how to play it. Well, he did make that statement – but I didn’t teach him anything. George already knew how to play guitar, he just wanted to know my technique, what I thought about it and what I did. All I did was teach him my style of playing.
Delaney Bramlett
While My Guitar Gently Weeps, Simon Leng

Harrison began writing ‘My Sweet Lord’ in Europe, towards the end of the Delaney & Bonnie tour in December 1969. His primary inspiration was Edwin Hawkins’ funk and gospel arrangement of the 18th century hymn ‘Oh Happy Day’, which was an international chart hit in 1969.

I remember Eric [Clapton] and Delaney & Bonnie were doing interviews with somebody in either Copenhagen or Gothenburg, somewhere in Sweden and I was so thrilled with ‘Oh Happy Day’ by The Edwin Hawkins Singers. It really just knocked me out, the idea of that song and I just felt a great feeling of the Lord. So I thought, ‘I’ll write another ‘Oh Happy Day’,’ which became ‘My Sweet Lord’.
George Harrison

Another key collaborator on All Things Must Pass was John Barham, a pianist and arranger who had worked with Harrison’s sitar guru Ravi Shankar. Barham wrote the orchestral scores for several of the album’s songs.

I stayed at Friar Park while we did the preparatory work for the orchestrations of All Things Must Pass. We discussed arrangement details, as George wanted them to be finalised before the session. George didn’t want any surprises at the last moment in the studio – he didn’t like last-minute changes, and preferred things to be well thought out in advance. He conveyed his musical ideas to me by singing, playing guitar or piano, and I would make my suggestions at these sessions. I was surprised by the songs’ originality, but not by their spiritual feeling. By this time, I was convinced that George was a genuine spiritual seeker, one of the very few that I have ever known.
John Barham
While My Guitar Gently Weeps, Simon Leng
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