Remembering That “All Things Must Pass”

It’s the 40th anniversary of perhaps the best of the Beatle solo albums. But in this year filled with Fab Four news and dates in history, George Harrison once again is in danger of being overshadowed.

It's been almost too easy to forget the Beatles broke up four decades ago as we near the end of a year filled with band-related news and important dates-in-history – including the 40th anniversary of the group’s split.

Ringo Starr toured this summer and marked his 70th birthday at Radio City Music Hall with a guest appearance by Paul McCartney – who recently reissued "Band on the Run," complete with archival material and a DVD, and is set to play the Apollo Theatre and "Saturday Night Live" next month.

In October, what would have been John Lennon's 70th birthday spurred commemorations around the world, a compilation album, an extensive CD box set and three movies. There certainly will be more Lennon remembrances next week surrounding the 30th anniversary of his slaying.

And, of course, the Beatles catalogue finally was released on iTunes this month, sparking sales of nearly 2.5 million singles and albums in a week – a year after the group’s remastered CDs were issued, helping make them, after Eminem, the biggest selling artists of this millennium.

But barely noticed over the sleepy Thanksgiving weekend was another key date in Beatledom: the 40th anniversary of George Harrison's "All Things Must Pass," perhaps the best of the group members' solo albums.

The low-key arrival of the Nov. 27 anniversary – a commemorative set of the original vinyl triple-album was released Friday – is typical of the lot assigned Harrison, too often unfairly relegated to history as the Quiet Beatle, though he means far more to the band and fans than the misnomer of a moniker would suggest.

The album is well worth revisiting, filled with tunes Harrison couldn't shoehorn onto Beatles albums crowded with Lennon-McCartney compositions, even if in the band’s final days his songs – "Something" and "Here Comes the Sun" – were every bit as good as Lennon and McCartney's best.

The ethereal title track, "All Things Must Pass," a Beatles reject, the set tone better than any song for the next phase of all their lives. "My Sweet Lord" marked the strongest of what would be Harrison's many attempts to marry pop with the spiritual.

"I'd Have You Anytime," "Beware of Darkness" and "Isn't it a Pity," represented remarkable musical and lyrical maturity from a 27 year old who was taught and ultimately suffocated by the two forces of nature he had joined with a dozen years earlier in Liverpool. “Wah-Wah” and “What is Life” are great rock pop songs actually enhanced by Phil Spector’s Wall of Sound.

While "All Things Must Pass" is a solo album, it’s also notable for the joyous sense of collaboration, benefiting from the talents of Starr, Eric Clapton, Billy Preston, members of Badfinger, a teenage Phil Collins and Spector, before he went over the musical and mental edge. Bob Dylan doesn’t play on “All Things Must Pass,” but his influence is present not only in Harrison’s version of “If Not for You,” but in the album’s lyrical spirit.

But it’s the spirit of Harrison that remains clearest in relistening to the album. Even if his contributions have been overshadowed at times by the Beatles legend, he’s not forgotten by fans, who will remember him on Monday, the ninth anniversary of his death at age 58.

Harrison ultimately was most comfortable letting his work speak for itself. So we’ll give him the final word, via the opening lyrics to “All Things Must Pass,” which seem as timely now as they did all those years ago:

Sunrise doesn’t last all morning
A cloudburst doesn’t last all day
Seems my love is up
And has left you with no warning
It’s not always going to be this gray

All things must pass
All things must pass away

Hester is founding director of the award-winning, multi-media NYCity News Service at the City University of New York Graduate School of Journalism. He is the former City Editor of the New York Daily News, where he started as a reporter in 1992. Follow him on Twitter.

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