Everyone wanks on about the end of The Beatles being the worst thing since the fall of Rome, but it heralded a far more important milestone; the start of George Harrison’s solo career. The most underrated, hyper-talented, technically proficient, and rhythmically and lyrically gifted guitarist of the Twentieth Century produced a run of albums, which, if one is willing to invest oneself, are endlessly gratifying and enlightening. The major musical milestone of 1970 was the release of All Things Must Pass.
George Harrison’s position in The Beatles was as undeserved underdog. His songs were ignored, if not denigrated, and afforded lesser importance than McCartney’s frothy shit like ‘Maxwell’s Silver Hammer’. After the band’s break-up in 1970, Harrison burst onto the scene with an album that easily surpasses much of the output of his old group. Indeed, to compare it to The Beatles is moderately insulting. While McCartney will be a Beatle until his death, Harrison transcended such a description. His work should be judged against the standards of Bob Dylan and Eric Clapton, not granny music like ‘When I’m Sixty Four’ and ‘Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da’.
All Things Must Pass, the three-LP album released in 1970 was compared upon its release to the moment when Greta Garbo first spoke on- screen. Harrison’s liberation from the Beatles was both magnificent and triumphant. The songs, which had been wilfully side-lined and excluded for years, were, under the watchful eye of Phil Spector, transformed into the truly uplifting. Thought provoking, lyrically complex, emotionally diverse and spiritually joyous, it set the tone for the rest of George Harrison’s solo career.
A narrative has emerged which seems to neatly sum up Harrison’s solo output: good first album and a subsequent decline in quality until a brief resurgence in 1987 with Cloud Nine. It’s an easy narrative for those who haven’t listened to the music in question. The man who penned most of the distinctive riffs that so characterise Beatles songs did not lose his virtuoso touch. Searing guitar solos, soaring slide guitar work and innovative chord progressions would be enough for one to find interesting on his albums.
And yet Harrison’s lyrical touch is evident and unique. He may not have always lived up to the standard of Bob Dylan, whom he idolised, but each song is distinctly marked by a spiritual profundity and lyrical innovation. Many of the songs are as overtly religious as anything to be found on the charts. While the word ‘religious’, when used in a chart context, may summon up images of Cliff Richard or, God help us, Tom Jones, these are not accurate comparisons.
Spiritual without being hectoring, enlightening without being enervating, these are difficult lines to tread, but Harrison pulls it off. For those keen to find insight into the Beatles this album is similarly rewarding. ‘Run Of The Mill’ features insight into the inner workings of Apple Corps, but there is nothing as vitriolic as Lennon’s ‘How Do You Sleep’ (which climaxes in the scream of “How do you sleep you cunt”). This is music that encourages thought, while uplifting the listener. The real milestone of 1970, musically speaking, was not The Beatles’ breakup but the birth of a great indidivual solo artist. It is something truly different, unique and sonically magnificent. Listen to it.