The title track of George Harrison’s third solo album, ‘All Things Must Pass’ was inspired by the Tao Te Ching, a fundamental text in Taosim and other forms of Chinese philosophy and religion.
I think I got [the title] from Richard Alpert/Baba Ram Dass, but I’m not sure. When you read of philosophy or spiritual things, it’s a pretty widely used phrase. I wrote it after [the Band’s 1968] Music From Big Pink album; when I heard that song in my head I always heard Levon Helm singing it!
The lyrics were based on a translation of part of chapter 23 of the Tao Te Ching. A translation was included in Timothy Leary’s 1966 book Psychedelic Prayers After The Tao Te Ching, under the heading “All Things Pass”, which may have been Harrison’s source:
All things pass
A sunrise does not last all morning
All things pass
A cloudburst does not last all day
Psychedelic Prayers After The Tao Te Ching
When I wrote All Things Must Pass I was trying to do a Robbie Robertson–Band sort of tune and that is what it turned into. I think the whole idea of ‘All Things Must Pass’ has been written up by all kinds of mystics and ex-mystics including Timothy Leary in his psychedelic poems.
I Me Mine
Harrison taped a solo demo of ‘All Things Must Pass’ on 25 February 1969, his 26th birthday. During the session he also taped demos of ‘Old Brown Shoe’ and ‘Something’. All three demos were released on Anthology 3 in 1996.
At the time Harrison wanted The Beatles to record each of the songs. Although ‘Old Brown Shoe’ and ‘Something’ were taped by the group in 1969, he failed to record ‘All Things Must Pass’ with them.
Harrison attempted to interest The Beatles in ‘All Things Must Pass’ during the Get Back/Let It Be sessions in January 1969. It was performed, with varying degrees of involvement, on 2, 3, 6, 8, 28, and 29 January.
Interestingly, ‘All Things Must Pass’ was not among the songs demoed by Harrison for Phil Spector at EMI Studios on 27 May 1970. This may be because he already had a recording in the can, or he did not yet have it in mind to revive it for the album sessions.
Spector left the All Things Must Pass sessions in June 1970 for health reasons, and a number of backing tracks and preliminary overdubs were recorded without him. The backing track for ‘All Things Must Pass’ was taped at EMI Studios on 10 June 1970.
Harrison sent early mixes of most of the songs to Spector, who was convalescing in Los Angeles. On 19 August 1970, the producer wrote a letter to Harrison in which he outlined his thoughts on the album’s progress, and singled out ‘All Things Must Pass’ for particular praise.
I’m not sure if the performance is good or not. Even on that first mix you did which had the “original” voice, I’m sure is not the best you can do. But, perhaps you should concentrate on getting a good performance. I still prefer the horns out on the intro but that is a remix decision which should be done at that time. Also the voices in the bridge (Eric and Bobby) sound flat, and should be very low in the final mix. This particular song is so good that any honest performance by you will be acceptable as far as I’m concerned but if you wish to concentrate on doing another then you should do that.
On 14 May 1997, Harrison and Ravi Shankar filmed an appearance on VH1’s George Harrison & Ravi Shankar: Yin & Yang at the network’s New York studios. At the request of presenter John Fugelsang, Harrison performed an impromptu version of ‘All Things Must Pass’, as well as ‘Prabhujee’, a duet with Shankar from Chants Of India.