70 FROM ’70 — THE TOP TEN — #1

It’s 1970.

Although The Beatles have disbanded, no-one is lazing about. Surprisingly, Ringo’s was the first solo LP in the shops, followed by Paul, Ringo again, George, then John (with Yoko) in December. It is the quiet Beatle we are celebrating here.

All Things Must Pass, a three record set, came out the day before my fifteenth birthday. Not that I had any idea, of course. Pop music, aka “that dreadful racket” was banned our house, meaning what little I knew of the hits of the day was courtesy of a small transistor radio and visits to the house of my childhood pal Greg who lived over the back fence*. But I had heard “My Sweet Lord”, which was all over AM radio, and could hum along to that pretty (borrowed) tune given half a chance. It even figured in a short tale of unrequited teenage love.

The parent album had a downbeat sepia cover, showing George sitting in his garden, surrounded by four reclining garden gnomes. Wonder who they represent? In Australia it came in a three-panel gatefold sleeve with the lyrics printed inside. We were not, it seems, worthy of the impressive boxed version. Our release did, however, include the poster. A dark  3’ x 2’ portrait of a morose, hairy George. But our flimsy fold-out was underwhelming. The box had solidity, gravitas. Ours was a triple album passing itself off as a double. This actually wasn’t far from the truth as All Things Must Pass was two records jam-packed with songs and a third packed with jams.

George’s frustration with the challenge of getting his songs onto Beatle albums is well documented. This resulted in the backlog of music that cascaded onto All Things Must Pass, filling four sides with such variety and quality that picking highlights is a challenge. The singles were, as mentioned, the dreamily spiritual “My Sweet Lord” and later the invigorating “What is Life”, but there is much more to savour.

…A plaintive plea for heart-opening in “Behind That Locked Door”

…Joy and rapture in “Awaiting on you All”

…Reflections on life’s journey in “Art of Dying”

…The riffing, wall-of-sound anger of “Wah-Wah”

What keeps All Things Must Pass fresh is the eternal nature of pilgrimage. Of searching, of wandering, of the confusing, unexpected contradictions of human existence. “Wah-Wah”, for instance, may have been George’s raised finger to the band he’d just left, but the noise of wah-wah surrounds us daily as politicians lie, television debases, and we walk around with the endless depths of human vacuity boxed up in the little computer in our back pocket.

Similarly, the very next song may be about a dying relationship as George laments,

Isn’t it a pity, isn’t it a shame

How we break each other’s hearts

And cause each other pain

But, as with so many Harrisongs, it applies equally to wider humanity. The “we” is also the species, how we relate to each other and the planet… “Forgetting to give back, isn’t it a pity?”

“Beware of darkness” warns about despair, inside and out. Beware of greedy leaders devoid of light, watch out for creeping hopelessness in midnight thoughts. (One of my favourites, that one). Yet we are not powerless, “Run of the mill” reminds us how we make our own reality; everyone has a choice “when to and not to raise their voice”.

Don’t for a moment think it’s all dour and grim. Few songs burst with love and open-hearted gladness as richly as “What is life”, while following this ripper is Dylan’s sweet “If not for you”. Sublime. Even the throwaway “Apple Scruffs”, a tribute to the young female fans who occupied the front steps of Abbey Road, carries a message that affirms life (and who but George would include this on an album?).

These are some of the reasons why I find All Things Must Pass such a satisfying listen fifty years on. It’s almost like I’ve grown into some of these songs—especially the more existential ones such as “Art of dying”—and expect this to continue until that last song gets played at my final gig.

Now, All Things Must Pass is a three record set and so far we’ve only mentioned two discs. The final LP is called Apple Jam and is distinguished from the well-produced song-sides by having a different label: a jar of, um, apple jam. The contents are different too, being exactly what the label suggests… a compote of instrumental jams that many listeners only played when friends came around with cheap port and herbs. Although there is some uncertainty around who played on which tracks, it is known that three of the four the jams included Eric Clapton (who played on the album proper as well), Bobby Whitlock, Jim Gordon, Carl Radle and Bobby Keys. All but the last of these were in the process of forming Derek and the Dominos.

When the album was re-released on CD in March 2001, the original sepia cover photograph was colourised. I huffed and puffed at this sacrilege… until I opened the package. Reflecting Harrison’s environmental awareness, the CD sleeves and booklet told a sardonic story of urban decay.

If you have followed this 70 FROM ’70 series, you’ll know that the word “sprawling” has cropped up every time a double album has appeared. But not this time. Sure, there are a couple of lesser songs, but generally the whole thing works, even the jams. It deserves the appellation magnum opus and warrants its position as the #1 album of 1970.

Of course, you may disagree.

NOTES

1. * Greg’s Blind Faith LP featured in one of Vinyl Connection’s first posts, here.

2. The 2001 edition has bonus tracks, including a re-worked “My Sweet Lord”.

3. The vinyl was re-issued in 2016 in the boxed version (above photo). It’s very nice.

4. Sections of this post were recycled from previous Vinyl Connection pieces and from the Discrepancy Records article, which can be found here.

*

30 comments

  1. A worthy choice Bruce.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I think so, Joe. One your folks had?

      Liked by 1 person

      1. No actually, everything Lennon ever did – nothing by the others at all. My mum always liked his bite.

        I have no personal history with this one at all, apart from hearing and liking the obvious tracks.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. I’ll see your magnum opus and raise you a tour de force, Bruce. Okay, with that rhetorical housekeeping out of the way, I can’t agree with you more! I always thought this was George’s best album, which probably wouldn’t have made him happy given that he had so much more to offer us in later years. Still, the sheer number of amazing songs on one album is startling. Even though it was a certifiable hit, I never thought “What Is Life?” got its due (it wasn’t even played at the Concert For George tribute), but I do think it’s one of his dark horse songs — pun intended.

    Very interesting about the Australian release. You were initially robbed of the better packaging, though admittedly we never got the poster on this side of the world. – Marty

    Liked by 1 person

    1. No poster, Marty? Well well, I never knew that. You know, I’m rather chuffed that this little blogging net has shared its appreciation (dare I say, love?) of What Is Life. The joyful exuberance of the song seems somehow even more precious in these dark times.
      Thanks Marty.
      – Bruce

      Liked by 1 person

  3. No grand story to add to your wonderful tribute to a unique and enveloping album. I had it as a youngster in the later 70s via a Thrift Store pick-up but didn’t enter it much. As I approach my dottering, I find myself being pulled into it regularly. Indeed I was listening to it via a phone-to-hotel-bluetooth-speaker (Bose!) connection just this past week. 🙂

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    1. I am very pleased for you that, despite the apparent continuation of your peripatetic existence, you are able to find mangers with Bose speakers. This must be considered a good thing.
      Another good thing is most certainly ATMP, an album we seem to be agreeing is both timeless yet able to shadow our own limping journeys through the years.

      Like

  4. chris delprete · · Reply

    My theory (not popular with my peers) is that George well and truly shot his load with this epic, wonderful album. His subsequent career was truly a case of diminishing returns. Each album had some gems but he never reached this peak again. The same could be said of Lennon, he never bettered his ‘Plastic Ono Band’ record. I stopped buying Beatle solo albums around 1976 after religiously buying each on on release, or at least when I could afford them. Sadly, but not surprisingly, they all lived in the shadow of the Beatles as both survivors still do.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. The last twenty (or so) words of the Discrepancy piece ran thus:
      “George Harrison never bettered his first studio release. Some would argue none of his former band mates did either.”
      Good for a lively conversation, I reckon. 🙂
      I think Lennon is a tricky kettle of fish, but I’m in broad agreement with your thesis, Chris. George’s first outing topped the mountain.

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  5. No huffing & puffing from me about your choice for #1, Bruce!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Glad to hear it, Geoff! 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  6. I’ve been thinking about the scars that define us this past week but the conclusion of your seventy from seventy reminds me that it is also the balm.
    Thanks.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Music? It’s an amazing art form.

      Like

  7. I also joined the World Record Club (and The Australian Record Club, which was heaps better value) and my first WRC purchase was this:

    https://www.discogs.com/The-Beatles-Magical-Mystery-Tour-And-Other-Splendid-Hits/release/7591815

    I’m pretty sure that at the time it was the only way to get the US LP version, as opposed to the standard double EP.

    Cheers, Dave

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It was the only way to get Magical Mystery Tour a la America, Dave. I had it too and STUPIDLY got rid of it when the US vinyl became more easily available. And now I can’t afford it. 😦

      Like

  8. Evan Jenkins · · Reply

    This post has also reminded me of the World Record Club that I joined in the early 70s. The Concert for Bangladesh album boxed set was the first purchase from them when I joined up. It featured tracks off this album as well as “Living in the Material World”. Happy days in a beanbag in Ringwood East.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Cool! I’m very interested in the Australian WRC… even set up a new blog for sharing images/info a while back (but iced it due to lack of time). Would love to have a yarn about WRC over a beverage of some kind (if we’re ever allowed). Did you keep any of the records (or catalogues, etc)?

      Like

  9. Evan Jenkins · · Reply

    What a great Corona project Bruce, I’ve loved having my memory tickled by your selections over the last weeks.
    Something to brighten up the locked down days.
    Next Project???

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’m glad, Evan. Will there be a ’71 FROM ’71’? Does it depend on an anti-viral? Hmm…

      There’s a Album Cover Quiz in the pipeline, and I think I’ll pick up the ‘Rocking all over the world’ series again.

      Liked by 1 person

  10. What Is Life is one of the very first pop songs I connected too as a pre-teen. Not what I expected from you as first choice (expected something artier!) but great record.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It would be excellent to be able to sit down over a glass of Marlborough Sav Blanc and kick around the Venn diagram of Personal taste, Critical opinion and the Popular vote. I think perhaps my #2 was in the third category and #3 suitably ‘arty’, certainly according to critical opinion.
      If I decide to attempt 71 from ’71, I’d like to be a bit clearer about those influences. In the meantime, though, I’m happy with George at #1. It’s a long-term fave.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. It’s actually good that I can’t pigeonhole your taste easily – if you’d asked me at the start to predict your favourite, I would have expected Bitches Brew, or something from the prog or German spheres like Amon Duul or Van Der Graaf Generator.

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  11. “All Things Must Pass ” is a great album and certainly the crown jewel in George’s catalog. It’s really too bad not more of his songs ended up on Beatles records. On the upside, had that been the case, we probably wouldn’t have seen an album like “All Things Must Pass”.

    Recently, I put together a list of my 10 desert island albums, which I didn’t rank. All except one (Sgt. Pepper) are from the ’70s. George’s solo debut isn’t on the list. I guess this goes to show how much great music there was in the ’70s.

    I’m not even sure which of my nine ’70s picks would be my no 1. I guess would be between Carole King/Tapestry, The Rolling Stones/Sticky Fingers, Neil Young/Harvest, Bruce Springsteen/Born to Run and Steely Dan/Aja. I find it an impossible choice! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I think we were spoilt for choice in the 70s, Christian. All those you mention are bona fide classics. To be honest, having spent half a year working on 1970 alone, I’d be totally overwhelmed by the task of picking my favourites from the entire decade!

      Liked by 1 person

  12. I was 13 in 1971, and already a music obsessive. An extraordinarily generous and trusting young schoolteacher lent me his stack of Beatles vinyl – the Beatles LPs and singles, and their small solo output to date. How fantastic is that? Naturally I taped them all on my parent’s Ampex cassette deck, and memorised every pop and click. I spent all my pocket money for the next couple of months buying blank tapes.

    This would have been about 6 months after the album came out. I only knew My Sweet Lord, so it was an exciting journey of discovery. ATMP was such a rich, welcoming, accessible album. It made it easy for me to form a connection to George Harrison. The orange labels fascinated me – I realised later it was GH’s first, small signal of distancing himself from his past.

    Cheers, Dave

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for sharing that most excellent story, Dave. Loaning records! To a 13 yo!! Those were indeed the days. 🙂
      Also love how you describe George’s debut as welcoming and accessible. I think that’s a response many share, and a fabulous tribute to Mr H.
      – Bruce

      Like

  13. Oh, I do not disagree. In my humble opinion the best of 1970 and the best of all time.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. There ya go! A trefology endorsement is worth its weight in existential crises.

      Liked by 1 person

  14. I don’t disagree *at all*. Very happy to see Mr. H in your #1 spot and I love your homage, particularly your acknowledgment and appreciation of his questing nature. I own both the sepia-tinted LP box and the CD with the colorized photos. Incidentally, my tale of youthful unrequited love involved not “My Sweet Lord” but “What Is Life” (“…but my love is there for you any time of day…” He didn’t buy it!) I’ve always loved that Mal Evans, in addition to playing tambourine, is credited with providing tea and sympathy. You didn’t mention the title track: I hope one of its lines–“But it’s not always going to be this grey “–is true of our fraught moment in time.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. You dedicate that magnificent, energetic celebration of devotion and he wasn’t buying? Sorry, but what a fool!
      Yes, I wanted to write about every bloomin’ song on the album, JDB. The title track would be up there for its coupling of hope and acceptance, for sure. I even wanted to praise ‘I dig love’ because it’s so joyously daft. What’s more, this time I even enjoyed the ragged glory of the jams!

      Liked by 1 person

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