GEORGE HARRISON HAD A stockpile—fantastic compositions overlooked by his bandmates over the years, along with some written more recently following The Beatles’ official breakup. The band’s final album release, Let It Be, came on May 8, 1970. But by that time, George had already put the ball in motion to begin recording his first true solo album later that month: All Things Must Pass, a triple-album set released in November that year. The album featured 17 new songs, along with a bonus disc of jams recorded mostly during the sessions, Apple Jam.
ATMP's 50th anniversary is now being feted with a suite of new special editions, which include a brand-new remix from the original multitrack tapes by Grammy-winning engineer Paul Hicks and executive-produced by George’s son, Dhani Harrison. The special editions feature everything from 2-CD to 5-disc sets (as well as multiple-disc vinyl pressings) containing not only Hicks’s new remixes, but George’s demos (described below), outtakes, and a Blu-ray disc with 5.1 surround and Dolby Atmos mixes. There’s even an “Uber Deluxe” set packaged in a beautifully crafted wooden crate containing all of the vinyl and CD/Blu-ray sets plus an All Things Must Pass scrapbook curated by Olivia Harrison (which also appears in other deluxe sets) with George’s lyrics, tape box images, and more. The Uber set also includes a “Making of All Things Must Pass” volume, a set of replica garden gnomes (as featured on the LP’s cover), and a limited-edition lithograph by bassist Klaus Voormann, who played on the album. (For details, visit www.georgeharrison.com.)
The Right Staff
The first step in the process for Harrison involved finding appropriate players to accompany him on the new recordings. The previous December, he had joined American R&B rockers, Delaney & Bonnie Bramlett, who were touring Europe with an all-star backing band. The group included Eric Clapton, drummer Jim Gordon, bassist Carl Radle, and Hammond organ player Bobby Whitlock, as well as sax player Bobby Keys and horn player Jim Price. (The first four, of course, would become Derek & The Dominoes the following year.)
After the tour wrapped up, Whitlock returned to England, staying at Clapton’s Heartwood Edge estate. One afternoon, he says, “George called and said he wanted us to put a band together, to be the core band for his new album he was about to record.”
Whitlock and Clapton happened upon Jim Gordon in London on a session and invited him to play, rounding out the foursome with Radle, who came over from the States, all four staying at Heartwood. Harrison eventually came and played the foursome his songs on an acoustic guitar.
The other part of the core band came in the form of Ringo Starr and bassist Klaus Voormann, who would become a common fixture on Harrison’s, Starr’s, and Lennon’s albums of the ’70s. Voormann had been one of The Beatles’ friends from their early days in Hamburg, and he went on to design the cover of their 1966 LP, Revolver.
Arranger John Barham, who would also play a big part in the album’s making, visited the Harrisons in April 1970 at their Friar Park estate and, without introduction, George played him his new songs on an acoustic guitar. “I made suggestions about string arrangements for some songs,” he recalls.
Harrison remained busy with Apple Records artists up until his own sessions began, producing new albums for beloved background singer Doris Troy and uber-talented keyboardist Billy Preston. He would invite the latter to join as one of the core players on All Things Must Pass.
George asked legendary producer Phil Spector to co-produce his new album at EMI’s Abbey Road Studios. Engineering was handled by a Beatles veteran, Phil McDonald, who had won a Grammy for his work on Abbey Road. He was assisted by 2 nd engineer/ tape operator John Leckie, who had joined the studio just that February, doing what all newbies did: starting and stopping the tape machine and marking song titles, the instruments on each track, and takes of each song on a tape reel. Work on the album typically ran from mid-afternoon to about 9 or 10 a.m. the following day.
On May 26 and May 27, Harrison went to Abbey Road and cut simple demos in Studio 3 of all songs he intended to record with Spector and McDonald, recording with Klaus and Ringo the first day and the second alone with his acoustic guitar. (Both days’ demos are included in the deluxe editions of the 50th-anniversary set.)
Tracking for the album began the following day in earnest in Studio 3, where most recording would take place. Voormann played his 1963-4 Fender Precision bass through an Ampeg B-15 amp. The guitarists, George mostly on a Fender Stratocaster and Clapton on a Gibson Les Paul, played through diminutive 5-watt Fender Champ amps, which Eric had discovered and fell in love with. Says Badfinger’s Joey Molland, “After those sessions, we all went out and bought Champs. And that’s what we made our records with after that.” George’s acoustic was a Harptone.
Badfinger’s first Apple LP, Magic Christian Music, had just come out in early January, following on the heels of its megahit single, “Come and Get It,” released the previous month. They were already working on their follow-up with Beatles road manager Mal Evans when they received a call from Mal. “He said that George said, ‘It would be good to use the Badfinger guys, bring ‘em. Ask them if they want to come down and play some acoustics for me,’” Molland recalls. “Phil Spector was producing it, and they wanted a bunch of acoustics— he didn’t just want one.”
The three were set up in a small isolation booth behind the other musicians. At the start of a new song, Harrison would come over with his own acoustic, and the three players would come out, and George would teach them the song. “He’d just sit down and run through the song with us, teach us the chords,” Molland says. There was one specific instruction: “He wanted us to keep it simple. He said, specifically, ‘If you can, and if you would, just play straight chords. Don’t do any jig-a-jinks.’” On many tracks, Badfinger’s solid backing forms the core of the rhythm track.
The keyboards included a 7-foot Steinway grand piano and a Hammond L-100 organ. Horn players Keys and Price were set up in a room at the back of the studio, known as Room 43, which was Studio 3’s original control room. Says Leckie, “They always played live with the rest of the band on basic tracking,” with only occasional overdubs. The studio’s harmonium was also set up and recorded in Room 43.
When it came time to start a new song, George would usually pick up his acoustic guitar, with the guys gathered around. “Everyone would take notes in their minds or write the chords down,” says Whitlock. “But mostly, we just listened and played along. Then it fell together.”
It was up to the musicians to develop parts and work out the arrangement. “George didn’t tell anybody what to play,” Whitlock notes. “You’re dealing with pros. When you have that caliber of players, you just sing a song, and they start playing.” Notes Voormann, “He might play the song on guitar, but then change a portion because he feels, ‘Well, with a band, that doesn’t sound right. Let’s rather do a straight 4-beat or something.’ And then we’d all adjust what we play to his new idea.” Spector really took no role in the arrangements, leaving the matter to George and the musicians.
Basic tracking for each song was very much in the Spector “wall of sound” mode—the full band tracking together, including horns and a scratch vocal from George (which, if he felt it was right, was occasionally kept). Any overdubs, at least for major parts, took place right after a master take was selected, with Whitlock and Clapton adding background vocals (or together with George, as the “George O’Hara-Smith Singers,” as the credit reads), or Harrison playing a guitar solo.
The first song to be recorded was the raucous, powerful “Wah-Wah” (whose very first take can be heard as a bonus track on the 50 th anniversary reissue), which featured the full lineup in action: both bassists (Klaus and Carl), both drummers, pianos, two electric guitars, acoustic guitars, and live horns. “It was incredibly chaotic,” says Leckie. Recalls Molland, “It was an enormous amount of sound in your headphones. It was super powerful. It was great.”
The wall of sound was in full swing, and with only 8 tracks available, Spector had a McDonald record, as was often the case on the sessions, all guitars mixed to a pair of tracks—both electrics and the acoustics—on rare occasion with reverb. The drums—even with two drummers—were mixed onto a single track, with reverb or other effects added later in the mix.
Whitlock arrived late due to traffic and, upon arriving and finding the other keyboards taken, hopped on the Wurlitzer electric piano. “Everybody else was playing on the downbeat, so I played on the upbeat—that was the only thing left,” he says of his unique part, heard on the right, complementing Clapton’s wah-wah part. It is George heard on the left, playing the song’s signature riff on his Stratocaster.
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