‘All Those Years Ago’ is the fourth song on George Harrison’s ninth solo album Somewhere In England.

The song was a tribute to John Lennon, who died on 8 December 1980.

George had just finished the vocals on ‘All Those Years Ago’, of all things, and I was on my way back home to London in the early hours of the morning. On the radio it was announced that John had been murdered. I turned the car around on the M4 and came straight back. George was devastated. He and John had a very special relationship. He loved him, and he had just written a song about him.
Ray Coooper
Uncut, May 2020

Harrison wrote the song with different lyrics prior to Lennon’s death. It was originally conceived as a song for Ringo Starr to sing, but Starr disliked the song and found it hard to sing in his range.

The backing track was recorded between 19 and 25 November 1980, with Starr on drums and vocals. It was reworked following Lennon’s death with Harrison replacing Starr’s vocals, and the addition of Paul and Linda McCartney and Denny Laine on backing vocals.

Also present at the vocal overdub session were George Martin and Geoff Emerick, who were working on McCartney’s Tug Of War album at the time. The session had been intended for a guitar overdub by Harrison for the album, but attentions turned instead to ‘All Those Years Ago’.

John was special, but there’s a lot of other special people, too. If you die… they made people like Janis and Jimi Hendrix and all them people who died, suddenly became like these super incredible people. But I think it’s harder to live in a way. It’s much easier to die than it is to live. And in fact, dying and living are the same thing. We’re half-dead anyway. The moment you’re born you start the road to death.
George Harrison, 27 November 1989
George Harrison On George Harrison, Ashley Kahn

Did you start writing ‘All Those Years Ago’ before John was killed?

Yeah, I did.

The lyric – where you jump from Lennon being ‘weird’ to God and the reason we exist – always puzzled me.

It is a strange choice of words. The way I saw it was, I’m talking all about God and he’s the only reason we exist – now that’s something I believe to be true.

Were you saying you were weirder than John?

No, no, no. What I was saying is there’s all these weird people who don’t actually believe in God and who go around murdering everybody, and yet, in the broad sweep, it’s like they were the ones pointing fingers at Lennon, saying he’s a weirdo. Sometimes my lyrics get a bit abstract in place – I get so many thoughts coming from different angles, I’m not sure if they come across right. But I think that’s what I was trying to say.

Creem, December 1987

‘All Those Years Ago’ was released as the album’s lead single on 11 May 1981 in the USA, and four days later in the UK. Another album track, ‘Writing’s On The Wall’, was on the b-side.

The single topped the Canadian chart, and the US Billboard Adult Contemporary chart. It was also a top 10 hit in Australia, Ireland, Norway, and Switzerland. In the UK it peaked at 13 on the singles chart.

A live recording from the Tokyo Dome on 15 December 1991 appears on the album Live In Japan.

This one that I wrote originally back in 1980, I believe, when John got killed. It was called ‘All Those Years Ago. It was particularly nice to do this one [live] because it’s got a lot of parts to it, a lot of little synth parts and a lot of stuff, and it shows the band up, the arrangement, and all the parts and also it’s got a good solo in the end with Eric [Clapton].
George Harrison, 21 July 1992
George Harrison On George Harrison, Ashley Kahn

Previous song: ‘Life Itself’
Next song: ‘Baltimore Oriole’
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