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George Harrison’s All Things Must Pass 50th Anniversary, Part 3: The Demos

Mark Smotroff wraps the CD journey and sets his sights on the vinyl box…

In part one and part two of my listening report on the news super Deluxe Edition of George Harrison’s 1970 epic first solo album, All Things Must Pass, we explored the brand new stereo and surround sound mixes respectively. If you missed those portions of the review please click here for the stereo and here for the surround sound to catch up.

Today we’re going to explore the wealth of demos and outtakes in the boxed set.

One of the big-smile-inducing — and even enlightening — moments for me while listening to this set occurred when I got to a particular outtake on Disc Five of the new George Harrison All Things Must Pass boxed set. There, a two minute take of George and his band doing The Beatles’ smash hit ”Get Back” is a wonder. It is not a total throw-away lark. He’s got all the lyrics down on it and they are working through the tune, replete with an acoustic guitar solo and horn section punching up the chorus hooks. It is so great to hear George embracing a Beatle tune in a new way.  

There are other revelatory moments on this wonderful boxed set which you’ll get to explore across two full CDs of demos cut on the first two days of recording sessions for All Things Must Pass.  These are a combination of solo George Harrison acoustic performances as well as some backed by a core power trio  (likely Ringo Starr on drums and Klaus Voormann on bass guitar).

Much like the demos on the recent John Lennon Imagine and Plastic Ono Band sessions sets, these are a wonder because you’ll hear — in many cases — just how fully formed Harrison’s ideas for the songs were.

So on some tracks you’ll hear George singing arrangement parts that ended up as orchestral or pedal steel guitar counter melodies on the final recording. It is really quite fascinating and wonderful to experience. In effect, you’re hearing the audio equivalent of a master painter’s pencil sketch before he even gets to canvas

One of the biggest surprises for me as a lifetime Beatle-and-George-Harrison fan was hearing a blues-y back porch, dobro slide guitar version of a song which didn’t appear on an album until Harrison’s 1976 release titled 33 & 1/3 — “Woman Don’t You Cry For Me.” It’s a great version of the song and a nifty twist showing how he’d originally envisioned the arrangement which ultimately ended up a sort of slightly funky rocker. 

Amidst the demos are quite a number of songs which did not make it onto the final album. In some instances it’s quite obvious as to why they were left off given the sheer strength of the other songs they were up against. In some instances I suspect that thematically and perhaps musically some of the songs didn’t quite fit in.

In the original triple-album boxed set there was a disc titled Apple Jam which pretty much delivers exactly what it implies: loose free wheeling jamming between the session musicians. These jams include work which is considered the first recordings of the legendary band that became known as Derek and the Dominoes. 

In the All Things Must Pass box set the jams are extended with fun alternates, out-takes and some vintage covers. Don’t be shocked by the hysterical partial take of “Isn’t It A Pity.”  The 1929 barbershop gem “Wedding Bells (Are Breaking Up That Old Gang Of Mine)” at first seemed surprising but the wiki reminded me that Gene Vincent included a cover of it on his 1956 debut.  The spiritual “Down To The River (Rocking Chair Jam)” is another surprise joy.  And the “Almost 12 Bar Honky Tonk” is a better jam than much of what ended up on the original Apple Jam disc!

And so it goes on this richly rewarding collection.

All Things Must Pass is rounded out by a beautiful booklet curated by Harrison’s wife Olivia. It also features many behind-the-scenes photos of the sessions, reminiscences as well as a track by track overview of what is on the collection.

From a design standpoint, I also like the small form of this box that which is a bit more compact than even the John Lennon sets but it feels no less robust. In fact I think it’s quite beautiful the way it’s laid out, especially with its purple-bordered, orange-trimmed interior and red ribbon adding an air of elegance to the package.  I also have to comment that it’s really cool how they used the design of the actual Apple Records demo labels for the demo disc.  It is this sort of attention to detail that Beatle fans appreciate. 

In tomorrow’s closing episode I’ll explore the eight LP vinyl version of All Things Must Pass, a super duper deluxe boxed set with the original three LP set and a five disc version of the demos and bonus material. Be sure to tune in…

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