Sometimes a song can become so ubiquitous with a particular artist or their particular sonic structure that one tends to appreciate it as a whole rather than dedicating some time to understanding and admiring the individual parts. Of course, with music, isolating certain parts of the song can offer up a brand new vision of the craft and technique that makes it what it is. Perhaps where this is most effectively used is when isolating tracks allows us a new perspective on a previously neglected area of talent. In this instance, we’re looking at George Harrison’s song ‘All Things Must Pass’.
Rather than spend an inordinate amount of time talking about how succinctly the song came to typify the very being of Harrison at this time – his penchant for eastern music was only trumped by his desire for a pop culture spiritual overhaul – instead, we will look back at the isolated vocals for the song and remind ourselves of the talented vocalist Harrison was.
That’s the one thing many people forget about the supposed ‘Quiet Beatle’ he was, arguably, the best singer in the group. An essential component of the group’s emerging three-part harmony sound, there can be no doubt that without Harrison’s vocal talent, songs like ‘This Boy’ and ‘If I Fell‘ would have simply never taken off. It was with his unique tone that the Fab Four could launch their careers effectively.
Of course, by the end of The Beatles, things had changed. Harrison was no longer happy to simply be the backing singer and lead guitarist, he had a viewpoint, and he wanted to share it. In the latter stages of the band, Harrison would contribute some of their most beloved songs, ‘Here Comes the Sun’ and ‘Something’ remain as beloved today as they were when originally released. It may seem like John Lennon and Paul McCartney were giving Harrison space to excel, but those are the songs that managed to pass through the checks; the reality is that he had a heap more which didn’t make it through.
One such song was the spiritual masterclass known as ‘All Things Must Pass’. The titular song from his double LP, the track has become synonymous with Harrison’s post-Beatles character. Originally recorded by Harrison as a demo for The Beatles on his 26th birthday, the song remains one of the few moments where western pop meets eastern ideology. It is through the isolated vocals that we can hear these theories posited all the more clearly.
Its lyrics are based on a translation of part of chapter 23 of the Tao Te Ching, and the track acts as a moment of songwriting bliss. Harrison explains the most complex of theories with a simple, soaring and heartfelt moment of connection and advice. It’s the poetry of his creation that shines through everything he does. What also shines is Harrison’s unique vocal tone, which effortlessly toes the line between shimmering pop star and weird and wonderful mystic.
It’s a line that Harrison spent the majority of his life walking along. No better do we hear the distillation of this than on ‘All Things Must Pass’.