Although Paul McCartney had his criticisms with Phil Spector’s production on Let It Be, John Lennon felt sufficiently happy with the results to hire the American producer for Plastic Ono Band and Imagine.
Lennon was critical of George Martin, as was clear from his conversations with Jan Wenner, and found Spector more amenable to work with as a solo artist. George Harrison was also reluctant to work with Martin again, feeling that the producer undervalued him as a creative thinker. “I was always rather beastly to George,” Martin told Shout!: The Beatles in Their Generation author, Philip Norman.
Harrison was anxious to work with Spector, having stockpiled nearly 30 songs for a solo album. And unlike The Beatles producer, Spector was overwhelmed by the maturity, the majesty and the diversity of the material presented to him. “It was endless,” Spector recalled. “He had literally hundreds of songs and each one was better than the rest. He had all this emotion built up when it was released to me”.
In written correspondence, Spector noted the “buried” vocals, the lack of “wailing sax”, not forgetting the trademark orchestral flourishes Spector was known for adding to pieces. What comes across most notably is Spector’s admiration for Harrison’s vocal prowess, perhaps feeling that he had been underserved by the albums in The Beatles canon.
Although Harrison can be heard singing all over With The Beatles, his contributions had diminished by A Hard Day’s Night, never to be fully reinstated. Indeed, it seemed almost a charitable gesture from Paul McCartney’s part that Harrison got to have three songs on Revolver, but that spoke as much of Lennon’s creative withdrawal as much as it did Harrison’s artistry. By the time the band prepared themselves for Sgt. Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band, Harrison was back to his single slot.
But Spector recognised the artist behind the guitar player and probably felt it his duty to egg The Beatle onwards. “George, on all the 18 numbers I just mentioned,” he writes, “This is what I feel are the most important items on each. Naturally, wherever possible, of main importance is to get a good vocal performance by yourself. Also, if you do any of the background voices, you should spend considerable time on them to make sure they are good.”
Adding: “In practically every case, I would recommend that you use Trident Studios for overdubbing voices, lead or otherwise, so as not to bump tracks or go eight-to eight, and also to be able to do as much an possible before reducing everything back to the original eight track. This would probably be an easier way to do it and would also ensure the best type of protection for our original eight tracks when it comes to remixing, as most of those tracks are presently very good and I’d rather avoid going eight-to-eight and further bumping. Also, in many cases one erases a performance before comparing it to the new performance, which would not have to happen on a sixteen track.”
More happily, the producer signs off with, “George, thank you for all your understanding about what we discussed, I appreciate your concern very much and hope to see you as soon as it is possible. Much love. Regards to everyone. Hare Krishna, Phil Spector.”
A classic in almost every sense of the word, All Things Must Pass is a towering achievement of song-craft, earmarking an intellectual response to the naysayers who deemed rock music the lexicon of underachievers and layabouts.
There are too many highlights to mention, so I’ll just leave it at this: ‘Hear Me Lord’ holds one of Harrison’s most accomplished vocals, hitting a near-operatic falsetto by the coda. He had never shown such tremendous feats in The Beatles, not as a singer anyway, and unlike McCartney or Starr, he seemed happier outside of The Beatles orbit than inside.
Indeed, Harrison arguably was the only member to showcase why The Beatles needed him more than he needed them. From his meticulous work as a guitar player, to the stellar backing vocals he committed to the band, Harrison was a musician of high repute, aching for someone to encourage him to explore newer and more exciting heights. He found it in Spector – and how!
Read the full letter, via Rare Beatles, below.
NOTES FOR GEORGE HARRISON
From: Phil Spector
Re: George Harrison LP
“I have listed each tune and some opinions on each for you to use, as I will not be in London for some time. In general, I feel the remixing of the album requires a great deal of work or at least a few hours on each number. I feel it would be best if we saved all remixing until I return as a great deal of the mixes should be done with a fresh approach. Though the following looks like a book, it is just because there are so many songs and opinions.
1. AWAITING ON YOU ALL:
The mixes I heard had the voice too buried, in my opinion. I’m sure we could do better. The performance probably will be okay, unless you really think you can do it better. However, as I said above, I think a lot of it is in the final mix when we do it.
2. IF NOT FOR YOU:
The mix I heard also had the voice too buried. Performance was fine. It also should be remixed when the entire album is remixed.
3. I’LL HAVE YOU ANYTIME:
Same comments as “IF NOT FOR YOU”
4. ALL THINGS MUST PASS:
I’m not sure if the performance is good or not. Even on that first mix you did which had the “original” voice, I’m sure is not the best you can do. But, perhaps you should concentrate on getting a good performance. I still prefer the horns out on the intro but that is a remix decision which should be done at that time. Also the voices in the bridge (Eric and Bobby) sound flat, and should be very low in the final mix. This particular song is so good that any honest performance by you will be acceptable as far as I’m concerned but if you wish to concentrate on doing another then you should do that.
5. BEWARE OF DARKNESS:
The eight track I heard after it was bumped had the electric guitar you played bumped on with the rhythm guitars. I personally feel you can make a better bump with a bit more rhythm guitars. The electric guitar seems to drown them out. Perhaps you should do another bump with more rhythm guitars, or seriously consider taking this one to Trident Studios using the original eight track and avoiding bumping, as each track we used is important and vital to a good final mix.
6. ISN’T IT A PITY (NO. 1):
Still needs full string and horns. Naturally, performance is still needed by you. I think you should just concentrate on singing it and getting that out of the way.
7. ISN’T IT A PITY (NO. 2):
Still needs full or some type of orchestration. Performance seemed okay, but needs to be listened to at the end.
9. LET IT DOWN:
This side needs an excellent and very subtle remix which I am positive can be gotten and it will become one of the great highlights of the album. Believe me. In listening I find it needs an answer vocal from you on “Let It Down” parts. I’m not sure about this next point, but maybe a better performance with better pronunciation of words should be tried at Trident without erasing the original which did have much warmth to it. Perhaps you could try this at Trident. The vocal group (Eric and Bobby) on the “Let it Down” parts sounded okay. The Moonlight Bay” horn parts should be out the first time and very, very low the second time they play that riff, I think. Perhaps at the end, near the fade, a wailing sax (old rock and roll style) played by Bobby Keys would possibly add some highlight to the ending and make it totally different from the rest of the song. It’s hard to explain, but some kind of a screeming saxophone mixed in with all that madness at the end might be an idea. Anyhow it’s something to think about. Even though everything is not exactly as we had hoped (horns, etc.) I think it will be great when it is finished. Everything on those eight tracks now is important and vital to the final product. I know the right mix and sounds even on the horns can be obtained in remix. The only other thing the horns could have done is what they play originally on the “Let it Down” parts, only more forcefully. However, I still think it’s all there and there’s nothing to worry about on that number.
10. MY SWEET LORD:
This still needs backing vocals and also an opening lead vocal where you didn’t come in on the original session. The rest of the vocal should be checked out but a lot of the original lead vocal is good. Also an acoustic guitar, perhaps playing some frills should be overdubbed or a solo put in. Don’t rush to erase the original vocal on this one as it might be quite good, since background voices will have to be done at Trident Studios, any lead vocals perhaps should be done there as well.
11. WAH WAH:
This still needs some bridge, and perhaps a Bobby Keyes solo. Also needs lead vocal and background voices.
13. WHAT IS LIFE:
The band track is fine. This needs a good performance by you and proper background voice. It should be done at Trident Studios if further tracks are necessary.
15. HEAR ME LORD:
Still needs horns or other orchestration. The vocal should be checked out to see if it is okay in performance and level.
16. APPLE SCRUFFS:
This mix seems to be okay as is.
18. BEHIND THAT LOCKED DOOR:
Maybe the vocal performance can be better. I’m not sure. Also, the mix may be able to be better as well. The voice seems a little down.
George, on all the 18 numbers I just mentioned, this is what I feel are the most important items on each. Naturally, wherever possible, of main importance is to get a good vocal performance by yourself. Also, if you do any of the background voices, you should spend considerable time on them to make sure they are good. In practically every case, I would recommend that you use Trident Studios for overdubbing voices, lead or otherwise, so as not to bump tracks or go eight-to eight, and also to be able to do as much an possible before reducing everything back to the original eight track. This would probably be an easier way to do it and would also insure the best type of protection for our original eight tracks when it comes to remixing, as most of those tracks are presently very good and I’d rather avoid going eight-to-eight and further bumping. Also, in many cases one erases a performance before comparing it to the new performance, which would not have to happen on a sixteen track.
I’m sure the album will be able to be remixed excellently. I also feel that therein lies much of the album because many of the tracks are really quite good and will reproduce on record very well. Therefore, I think you should spend whatever time you are going to on performances so that they are the very best you can do and that will make the remixing of the album that much easier. I really feel that your voice has got to be heard throughout the album so that the greatness of the songs can really come through. We can’t cover you up too much (and there really is no need to) although as I said, I’m sure excellent mixes can be obtained with just the proper amount of time spent on each one. When the recording of the album is finished, I think we can get into it better on a remix level if we just devote time to it and thereby we will make a much better album since we will be concentrating on one thing at a time.
George, thank you for all your understanding about what we discussed, I appreciate your concern very much and hope to see you as soon as it is possible.
Much love. Regards to everyone. Hare Krishna,