I bought my double CD All Things Must Pass in a Paris record store. I was 16, with my best mate on our first big trip away from home. I was pretty blown away to find All Things Must Pass. I’d been hunting HMV and the UK shops for months with no joy. Until then I had only seen an expensive original mounted on a shelf in the world’s greatest record shop. It assumed mystical status, sat up there at a price I would never afford.
Truth be told, on my first listen, I was a little disappointed. It all seemed like a bit of a cheat. First, it was barely a double album, let alone the triple album it was released as. The songs are mostly brief, and there are only a handful more than a regular Beatles album. And who was meant to sit through that Apple Jam disc? Even heavily stoned, that would be a trial.
Also, despite being raved about in the Beatles literature, to me it took a second place in the 1970 solo Beatle efforts. Plastic Ono Band was better, with the dreadful McCartney a poor third.
All Things Must Pass was far from a dead loss though: the big discoveries for me were Wah, Wah, Isn’t it a Pity, If Not For You, Apple Scruffs, Ballad of Frankie Crisp and I Dig Love with My Sweet Lord already known and loved. (I never cared for What is My LIfe?)
Over the years it took a regular place in the CD rotation, but I always skipped to my five or six favourite tracks. The rest was a bit of a muddy mess.
The Super Deluxe edition released in 2021 does what the other 50th anniversary Beatle/ solo re-releases have failed to do. It brings songs alive in an entirely new way.
Where the deluxe Plastic Ono Band offers a lot of stuff that sounds rather incomplete, ATMP alternate takes are astonishingly fresh and whole in their own right. They also, in many cases, completely transform my impression of the songs. Listening to it this year has been an utter delight.
Three of these simple demos are infinitely more powerful than the final overproduced tracks. George’s voice is not only confident, it’s bursting with excitement, a gravelly edge, his playing at its peak. And they have a funky or bluesy edge that lifts them far above the heavy instrumentation of the final album.
Run of the Mill
Run of the Mill is one of the greatest revelations. For a decade, this track was a definite skip. I had no patience for it, clogged up with all those guitars, all that brass, plodding along on that ponderous beat.
On Super de Luxe, we get to hear George and a guitar. And yet it sounds like so much more. The pace is picked up, his voice shines through. It’s urgent, delighted, sure of itself in a way that bloated final version doesn’t approach – with a more certain interplay between the verse and the surging ‘no-one around you’ section.
Let it Down
And by ‘eck, what about Let it Down? On the 1970 track it’s an awful din. The kind of track that would have me leaping up to hit ‘next’. We can hardly hear George, sunk beneath the weight of backing singers, guitars, drummers, irritating piano and all the other shit they flooded the track with.
Super Deluxe provides an entirely different song. The original intent reveals itself as a gorgeous interplay between floaty zen spaciness, building into a Bluesy roar of a chorus – led above all else by an utterly superb solo vocal. It is leagues above the final product for its simplicity and sheer George-ness. (No-one says ‘care’ ‘there’, ‘hair’ and ‘chair’ like him).
Behind that locked door
Behind that Locked Door never felt like it was going anywhere. Along with the two tunes above, it formed a block of music I could just happily do without. There are lot of backing singers, a hundred guitars, an organ. There is a big-west guitar solo that’s quite nice, but generally, to quote the man himself, it’s All Too Much.
There’s far more energy in the simple combo playing on Super Deluxe. It kicks along that little bit quicker. I can hear the lyrics. They’re not trying to dress anything up here. The electric solo on the final track might flesh it out, but that’s about the only addition required. Listening to the demo has given me more patience with the original album track, revealing it as a better song.
The happy Friar Park EP
The other wonderful, uplifting thing about Super Deluxe is the EP of delightful little unreleased tracks it contains – songs that could easily have found a place on the final album: Cosmic Empire, Going Down to Golders Green, I Live For You, Window Window, Dehra Dun, I Don’t Wanna Do It.
They’re all the work of a light, joyful George – who always does more for me than preachy bucket of gloom George – the one behind Hear Me Lord, Art of Dying, Beware of Darkness and Awaiting on You All. All of which I can still pretty much do without.
Really though, who am I to second guess George’s choices? The spirituality was the whole point of the album. George spoke in interviews about his risky selection of My Sweet Lord as a single, his feeling that nobody else was bringing spirituality to their music. The religion songs were a big reason he chose to do a solo album at all.
Plug Me In
Fair to say, the production on some ATMP tracks was questionable. But not always. On some songs the original production does a good job. If Not for You and Apple Scruffs are kept simple and all the more gorgeous. The Isn’t it a Pity and Frankie Crisp demos on Super Deluxe are not half the tunes they would become on the final album.
Equally, it may not be appropriate to blame Spector and his wall of sound for the handling of tracks like Let it Down, Behind that Locker Door and Run of the Mill.
It’s not immediately clear exactly who produced what. It seems that Spector was such drunken wreckage he withdrew from the project, leaving George to run riot with echo and overdubs over the following months. Spector implies that it was George who was busy burying his voice under other tracks.
In the end, to quote the man again, it doesn’t really matter. Whatever you made of All Things Must Pass, whatever tracks you enjoy, the point is that the Super Deluxe edition offers a truly rewarding range of alternate takes and new songs to savour. There are far more treats here than on the sprawling yet slighty disappointing Lennon archive stuff offered on reissued Plastic Ono Band and Imagine. Arguably, it’s considerably more rewarding than the Beatles Anthology 1 or 2.
It just shows how bursting with energy and creativity George was for the second half of his Beatles career, how inspired and yet restricted he was by the fab four dynamic, and what incredible development he enjoyed in his late tenties, when most of us have no real clue what the hell we are doing.
I wonder what goodies there might be on a reissued Living in The Material World? There’ll be plenty to listen to while I wait.