In 1970, the only producer George Harrison had ever worked with was The Beatles’ producer, George Martin. When the band broke up, he had to find a new producer to look after the many songs he planned to record for his first solo album outside The Beatles, All Things Must Pass. George Harrison chose one of the most prolific producers of the 1960s, Phil Spector.
However, he should’ve thought a little harder before deciding.
George Harrison asked Phil Spector to produce ‘All Things Must Pass’
In 1970, George was experiencing profound change. It was a very dualistic time in his life. The Beatles broke up, and he was without a band and a producer. George’s marriage to his first wife, Pattie Boyd, was crumbling, he’d just bought a dilapidated mansion, Friar Park, and his mother was dying.
In the midst of all that, George only cared about the stockpile of songs he had, some of which John Lennon and Paul McCartney had pushed aside for their own. He quickly got to work on what would become All Things Must Pass in May and chose Spector to produce it.
However, when George entered the recording studio, he had most of the triple album mapped out. So, he didn’t exactly need Spector. Getting Spector to produce the album only added to George’s growing list of problems.
During a 1987 interview with Timothy White for Musician Magazine, George explained, “Well, on ‘All Things Must Pass’ Phil came in and we did half the backing tracks. Then, because of the condition he was in, he had to leave and I completed the rest of the backing without him.
“And did maybe 50 percent of the overdubbing, all the backing vocals and all the guitar parts. All of this was over a four, five-month period. But he still had to keep going to the hospital, seeing a doctor. He was going through a bad time with drinking and it made him ill.”
Astonishingly, after all the commotion on All Things Must Pass, George asked Spector to help on Concert for Bangladesh and Living in the Material World.
George had to break into Spector’s hotel room to get him to come into the studio for ‘Living in the Material World’
A year after All Things Must Pass, George organized the Concert for Bangladesh to help a humanitarian crisis happening there. He enlisted some of his fellow rock stars to play during the two-night concert at New York’s Madison Square Garden and called Spector in to produce the live album. It was another mistake.
“Phil was at the concert dancing in the front when it was being recorded!” George told White. “There was a guy, Gary Kellgren, who did the key work in the live recording. Then when Phil came to the remix, again Phil was in and out of the hospital.”
Still, George didn’t learn his lesson. He told White that he got Spector back for his second solo album, Living in the Material World. This time, George had to make Spector come into the studio personally.
“Phil worked on the second solo album, ‘Living in the Material World,’ but by that I mean he was around. Again, he kept falling over and breaking his ankles, wrists,” George explained. “The guy who was his helper was having heart attacks.
“Phil was never there. I literally used to have to go and break into the hotel to get him. I’d go along the roof at the Inn On The Park in London and climb in his window yelling, ‘Come on! We’re supposed to be making a record!’ He’d say, ‘Oh. OK.’
“And then he used to have 18 cherry brandies before he could get himself down to the studio. I got so tired of that because I needed someone to help. I was ending up with more work than if I’d just been doing it on my own.”
George did end up producing Living in the Material World on his own. The only track Spector worked on was “Try Some Buy Some,” for which he is only a co-producer. George originally wrote the song for Spector’s wife, Ronnie Spector.
George didn’t even like the work Spector did
During the pandemic, George’s widow, Olivia, their only son, Dhani, and Grammy award-winning producer, Paul Hicks, worked on remastering All Things Must Pass for its 50th-anniversary edition. One of the hardest things about the project was respecting the originals while toning down Spector’s reverb.
“He hated the reverb,” Dhani told Rolling Stone. “He said this to me a million times: ‘God, that reverb!'” Klaus Voormann, bassist and one of The Beatles’ earliest friends from Hamburg, Germany, played on the album and recalled George making similar comments about the multiple overdubs. “I remember him saying, ‘It’s too much,'” Voormann said.
“When we did ‘Wah-Wah,’ one of the first songs we recorded, I was knocked out,” he continued. “I thought, ‘This is incredible what Phil did. It sounds like glass in one way and really hard in another.’ And George didn’t like it. It was not the way he wanted the direction of the album to go. But then he started liking it.”
It’s unclear what made George start liking All Things Must Pass. Spector used his once famous technique, “Wall of Sound,” to record the album, but it didn’t work.
George told White that he only asked Spector to be his producer because he had respect for him. He was a fan of Spector’s work. However, when the former Beatle worked with him, Spector was a shell of himself.
“I loved those Ronnettes records and those Phil Spector records,” George said. “I still do. And I love Phil. He’s brilliant. There’s nobody who’s come close to some of his productions for excitement. Tina Turner’s ‘River Deep Mountain High’ probably was one of the only Cinemascope-sized records ever.
“But Phil didn’t have enough energy with me to sustain an album for Ronnie. Still, he had a sense of humor, and if you’re reading, Phil, I still think you’re one of the greatest. He is, you know, and he should be out there doing stuff right now–but not with me!”
George worked with other producers over the years but mainly produced his work himself. That is until George found his creative match in Jeff Lynne, who co-produced his 1987 album, Cloud Nine. Working with Lynne erased the nightmare George experienced with Spector.