After The Beatles disbanded, George Harrison, the often-overlooked member, began writing and recording songs for a solo album. Of course, Harrison had released other solo work before during his time as a Beatle. His first, “Wonderwall Music” released in 1968, but was a mostly instrumental album. A year later, Harrison released another experimental album, “Electric Sound”.
While these are both considered solo albums from Harrison, Harrison himself didn’t agree. To him, “All Things Must Pass” was his first, proper solo album. And who can blame him? After all of his years in The Beatles, the running joke had become that Harrison only ever wrote one song per album. This was largely due to the weighted creative control of the team of Lennon/McCartney.
“All Things Must Pass” was Harrison emerging as a songwriter that could stand toe-to-toe with Lennon and McCartney at their best. It was also a statement of his individuality after the breakup of The Beatles. The album’s cover art reflects this, depicting Harrison seated around four toppled over garden gnomes.
All Things Must Pass
What George Harrison was able to do with “All Things Must Pass” went above and beyond the work of any of the disbanded Beatles. After years of being confined to his role in a band, Harrison finally had someplace to put all of the new songs that had been growing in his mind.
“All Things Must Pass” released as a triple LP album, a massive amount of music and vinyl that revealed the wealth of talent hidden away for so many years. The album’s first two LP’s were of more or less standard songs, but included a third bonus disc consisting of mostly jamming sessions, dubbed “Apple Jams”.
The album was also incredibly popular at its time of release. “All Things Must Pass” spent seven weeks at No. 1 on the album chart, and the single “My Sweet Lord” was at the same slot on the singles chart.
My Sweet Lord
Thematically, this album was the most spiritual of any of The Beatles’. Harrison drew heavily on the Eastern philosophy he’d been exposed to by the Maharishi. Songs like, “My Sweet Lord” reflect a certain merging of religious philosophies, and a mature insight that all religions are trying to access the same thing.
Despite these spiritual insights, Harrison was sued for plagiarism. A few months after the release of “My Sweet Lord”, Harrison was sued for copyright infringement by the publisher of the song “He’s So Fine” by The Chiffons, which released in 1963. In 1976, a judge ruled that Harrison was guilty of “subconscious plagiarism”.
“Did Harrison deliberately use the music of ‘He’s So Fine’? I do not believe he did so deliberately,” he said. “Nevertheless, it is clear that ‘My Sweet Lord’ is the very same song as ‘He’s So Fine’ with different words, and Harrison had access to ‘He’s So Fine.’ This is, under the law, infringement of copyright, and is no less so even though subconsciously accomplished.”
The litigations and appeals continued for years after the initial ruling until March 1998. “I don’t feel guilty or bad about it,” wrote Harrison. “In fact, it saved many a heroin addict’s life. I know the motive behind writing the song in the first place, and its effect far exceeded the legal hassle.”
While The Beatles did shape our ideas and expectations of pop music through their use of recording techniques, songwriting skill, and album arrangement, by keeping Harrison’s contributions to a minimum, they were also missing a piece of the puzzle. Jayson Greene, a Contributing Editor at Pitchfork, echoes this thought.
With its sheer size and heft and gravitational pull, All Things Must Pass reinforced that the album could be an epic novel for a different sort of age. Maybe that’s the age that we’re living in now, in which music is stored in digital libraries and streaming playlists. If “All Things Must Pass” tried to send any message, it was that of impermanence.
So if you’ve never gotten the chance to hear any of George Harrison’s solo work, “All Things Must Pass” is the place to start. You’ve already got the context behind it, which I find always makes listening more interesting. But even if you’ll never open up his Spotify page, the mark George Harrison left on the music world is still there.