Some things never change. Decades after they broke up, The Beatles remain one of the most important bands of any generation, and George Harrison never shook the quiet Beatle misnomer. Harrison’s exquisite guitar playing and songwriting skills got lost alongside the strong-willed Paul McCartney and John Lennon in The Beatles. Still, he had the biggest solo debut of any of the Beatles. That doesn’t even include Wonderwall Music, Harrison’s forgotten first solo record he made while the band was still together.
George Harrison blew his fellow Beatles out of the water with ‘All Things Must Pass’
It didn’t take Harrison long to prove his songwriting chops after The Beatles acrimoniously split in a slow dissolution that lasted from late 1969 to early 1970.
Harrison dropped his solo debut, All Things Must Pass, in late 1970. It went gold within three weeks of its U.S. release, hit No. 1 on the charts at the start of 1971, stayed at the top for seven weeks, and went platinum six times.
Meanwhile, McCartney’s self-titled debut hit No. 1 for only three weeks. As for John’s Lennon/Plastic Ono Band record, which arrived in December 1970, there was no contest. John’s effort peaked at No. 6 in early 1971, while All Things Must Pass ruled the charts.
All Things Must Pass contained some of Harrison’s best solo songs, including “My Sweet Lord” and “What is Life.” He was the first of the former Beatles to score a No. 1 single, which he did with “My Sweet Lord.”
Before he ruled the charts with All Things Must Pass, Harrison recorded a solo record while the Beatles were still together.
Harrison’s first solo album came out more than a year before The Beatles broke up and ‘All Things Must Pass’ came out
Harrison unshackled himself from the confines of The Beatles’ domineering Lennon-McCartney songwriting duo before All Things Must Pass. He struck out on his own with a movie soundtrack in 1968.
Director Joe Massot encountered Harrison at a public event and asked Harrison to write the music for his film Wonderwall. Harrison rebuffed Massot before agreeing when the director gave him free rein, according to Rolling Stone.
“I told him, ‘I don’t do music to films.’ And he said, ‘Well, whatever you give me, I’ll have it.’ I thought, ‘I’ll give them an Indian music anthology, and, who knows, maybe a few hippies will get turned on to Indian music.’”George Harrison discusses how he agreed to make his first solo record
Harrison timed his music to a rough cut of the movie using a stopwatch, then recorded at Abbey Road. Ringo Starr, Eric Clapton, and Peter Tork of the Monkees assisted Harrison in the London recordings. Then he headed to India to record more Wonderwall music.
The result, after he overshot the £600 budget by more than £14,000, was a Harrison solo album that contained conventional pop music and exotic-sounding Indian music. All Things Must Pass was his rousing success in 1970, but 1968’s Wonderwall Music was Harrison’s first solo record, and it came well before The Beatles called it quits.
Harrison never intended to find solo success
All Things Must Pass blew McCartney’s and Lennon’s solo debuts out the water, but Harrison never intended to fly solo for long.
Tom Petty once recalled that Harrison told him he didn’t pursue a solo career so much as it just happened because of the success of All Things Must Pass. Music fans loved his (official) first solo album, so he kept at it.
Harrison kept churning out the hits (including “I Got My Mind Set on You” in the late 1980s), but he didn’t always go it alone. He constructed the supergroup The Traveling Wilburys, which included some of Roy Orbison’s final recordings.
Harrison bested his former bandmates with All Things Must Pass and found post-Beatles musical success until he died in 2001 after seeing McCartney one last time. It all started with Wonderwall Music, the secret solo record he made before The Beatles broke up.
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