Whenever George Harrison listened to “All Things Must Pass,” he heard a member of The Band singing. That’s what happens when you write a song after being around other great musicians.
George Harrison heard this member of The Band singing whenever he listened to ‘All Things Must Pass’
In a 2000 interview, Billboard asked George where he got the term “all things must pass.”
“I think I got it from Richard Alpert/Baba Ram Dass, but I’m not sure,” George said. “When you read of philosophy or spiritual things, it’s a pretty widely used phrase. I wrote it after [the Band’s 1968] ‘Music From Big Pink’ album; when I heard that song in my head I always heard Levon Helm singing it!”
In his 1980 memoir, I Me Mine, George wrote, “When I wrote ‘All Things Must Pass’ I was trying to do a Robbie Robertson-Band sort of tune and that is what it turned into. I think the whole idea of ‘All Things Must Pass’ has been written up by all kinds of mystics and ex-mystics including Timothy Leary in his psychedelic poems.”
George wrote most of the tracks on ‘All Things Must Pass’ while he was with The Beatles
Billboard pointed out that George had played some of the tracks that later appeared on All Things Must Pass to The Beatles while they recorded Let It Be. However, the rest of the band didn’t choose any of the songs for the album or their last, Abbey Road. That was the issue George had with The Beatles. He had to fight to record his songs, which usually got him nowhere.
George needed to record those songs to get them out. He had so many stockpiled. However, when The Beatles split, that problem evaporated.
“That’s right. I mean, I was probably trying to get them recorded in amongst all the usual John [Lennon] and Paul [McCartney] stuff,” George said. “For me, that was the great thing about splitting up: to be able to go off and make my own record and record all these songs that I’d been stockpiling. And also to be able to record with all these new people, which was like a breath of fresh air, really.”
Billboard asked if George had intended songs like “Isn’t It A Pity” to be just for him.
He replied, “No, I mean, this is the funny thing: imagine if the Beatles had gone on and on.” George explained, “Well, the songs on ‘All Things Must Pass,’ maybe some of them I would probably only just got ’round to do now, you know, with my quota that I was allowed [laughs].
“‘Isn’t It A Pity’ would just have been a Beatles song, wouldn’t it? And now that could be said for each one of us. ‘Imagine’ would have been a Beatles song, but it was with John’s songs. It just happened that the Beatles finished.”
He almost didn’t release the album
George wrote “All Things Must Pass” about moving on, something he was trying to do after The Beatles split. However, George wasn’t quite sure what he wanted to do.
During Beatlemania, George once said that he’d start his own business and produce other artists when the band eventually split. George couldn’t begin to produce records right away, though (Although he did produce The Radha-Krishna Temple with his friends, the members of the Hare Krishna movement, in 1969). He had to get his stockpile recorded first.
Leaving The Beatles suddenly allowed George to record whatever he wanted. He didn’t have to wait. So, George started working on All Things Must Pass. Since he had tons of songs, he turned it into a triple album.
However, George teetered on the decision of whether to release the record. The producer, Phil Spector, said George took six months to make All Things Must Pass. While being a perfectionist (“perfectionist is not the word,” Spector said in Martin Scorsese’s documentary George Harrison: Living in the Material World), George almost liked how long it took.
“George had endless time,” Spector said. “He never really knew if he wanted the album to come out. So, the longer it took to make, the happier George was.”
Later, George told his friend Tom Petty that he only released All Things Must Pass as a reaction to leaving The Beatles. Whatever motivated George to release his now multi-platinum triple album, whether it was his stockpile of songs or leaving the most famous band in the world, fans are glad he released it.