The recording took place on 25 February 1969, Harrison’s 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.
Harrison wanted all three to become Beatles songs, although ‘Old Brown Shoe’ and ‘Something’ went on to be recorded by the group. ‘All Things Must Pass’ had also previously been put forward frequently during the Get Back/Let It Be sessions in January 1969; that it wasn’t recorded properly by The Beatles suggests that either the other members didn’t like the song, or that Harrison decided that they didn’t deserve it.
‘All Things Must Pass’ was the simplest of the 25 February demo recordings. Harrison recorded two takes, then added extra guitar onto the second.
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”:
All things pass
A sunrise does not last all morning
All things pass
A cloudburst does not last all day
Another Harrison song, ‘Isn’t It A Pity’, was demoed by Harrison on 26 January 1969 with the working title ‘George’s Demo’. The Beatles never recorded the song – it also emerged as a highlight on the All Things Must Pass album – although Ian MacDonald and Mark Lewisohn have suggested that Harrison also put forward the song during the Revolver sessions. This, however, does not tally with Harrison’s own recollections, in which he said the song was written after 1968.
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!