Released: 30 November 1970 (UK), 27 November 1970 (US)
All Things Must Pass
George Harrison recorded a cover version of this Bob Dylan song on his 1970 album All Things Must Pass
Harrison and Dylan formed a strong friendship towards the end of the 1960s, and in 1968 collaborated on the song I’d Have You Anytime, which became the opening song on All Things Must Pass. In 1970 Harrison also attended some of the sessions for Dylan’s album New Morning.
If Not For You was the opening song on that album. A languid early version featuring Harrison on guitar was recorded on 1 May 1970 at Columbia’s Studio B in New York, and is thought to be Harrison’s first recorded instance of slide guitar.
Dylan re-recorded the song on 12 August without Harrison, and this version was released on New Morning in October 1970, the month before All Things Must Pass. The earlier recording was eventually released in 1991 in the Dylan box set The Bootleg Series Volumes 1–3 (Rare & Unreleased) 1961–1991.
Harrison evidently liked the song, enough to record his own interpretation based on the early Dylan version. Whereas Dylan’s was upbeat, rough and ready, with a spontaneity which characterised his preferred working methods during this time, Harrison’s was slower, more carefully performed and with gleaming production.
Placed on the album after a cluster of songs which showcased Phil Spector’s Wall of Sound to the full – My Sweet Lord, Wah-Wah, Isn’t It A Pity and What Is Life – If Not For You served as a perfect breakpoint, a contrast from the densely-packed productions and emotional outpourings of frustration and veneration, hinting at a simpler side to Harrison.
Dylan and Harrison performed If Not For You during the soundcheck and rehearsal for The Concert For Bangla Desh, which took place in New York City on 1 August 1971. Although it was included in Harrison’s notes for a possible setlist, it was not performed in either of the two Unicef-fundraising concerts. The soundcheck version was later issued on the 2005 DVD of the event.
Harrison eventually performed If Not For You live at Madison Square Garden on 16 October 1992, along with a version of Absolutely Sweet Marie, during a celebration concert for Bob Dylan.