(I’m gonna get in trouble for this one. It is, by so many people’s standards, utter blasphemy.)
The universal question: What’s the best Beatle solo album?
The answer, beyond the shadow of a doubt: All Things Must Pass, by George Harrison.
This, of course, flies in the face of the 900 trillion people who worship at the altar of John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band…and these are people whose faith is so deep and blind that contesting their beliefs can have the same effect as going on national television and announcing, “JESUS ATE FRIED BABIES FOR BREAKFAST.”
(For the record, he didn’t. As far as I can tell.)
All Things Must Pass has a singular virtue that Plastic Ono Band and McCartney and just about any other solo Beatles album you can name do not: a competitive spirit.
Imagine you’re George Harrison and it’s 1969. You’ve had Eric Fucking Clapton telling you what a great guitarist you are, and Bob Fucking Dylan telling you what a great songwriter you are. That’s pretty near unimpeachable praise, on both counts. Then you go back to your own band, and they treat you like you’re some hack they hired as a backup man. What are you going to do?
You’re going to work that much harder on your own material, trying to prove yourself in light of these bandmates. Especially if these bandmates are the most revered songwriting partnership in pop music.
And that’s what you get with All Things Must Pass. These are songs written while George was still a Beatle–songs that were intended to be Beatles songs. John and Paul’s solo albums contain such songs, too, but by that point each was definitely writing the music for his own sake, hoping they’d make the cut to be on Beatles albums but still unmistakably Lennon songs and McCartney songs–not Lennon/McCartney songs. George was writing Harrison songs, but he was writing them with the express intention of being able to stand up to his godlike fellow Beatles.
Which, of course, they do. Each is gorgeous. “What Is Life” and “Hear Me Lord,” “Isn’t It A Pity” and “Apple Scruffs,” “All Things Must Pass” and “My Sweet Lord” were rehearsed for the Get Back/Let It Be project but thrown aside, allowing George to refine and sculpt them to his own personal style. They’re Beatle songs performed by George alone.
And yes, “My Sweet Lord” is a ripoff of the Chiffons’ “He’s So Fine,” but the point in music isn’t whether you rip off someone. Everybody rips off somebody else. The point is, do you rip them off well? And George did. Does anybody think “My Sweet Lord” is anything but gorgeous?
Oh, yeah. Something All Things Must Pass and Plastic Ono Band have in common: Phil Spector.
Fact is, with something as spare and raw as Plastic Ono Band, Spector was waaaaaaaaaaaaaay out of his element. Every now and then I read an article or review of POB that says something like “Spector’s Wall-of-Sound treatment was perfect for these songs.” Come again? Where exactly is the Wall-of-Sound treatment?
What Spector was completely shut out from doing on POB, however, he does with unprecedented panache on All Things Must Pass. Production-wise, it’s the masterpiece that Spector so wanted Tina Turner’s “River Deep, Mountain High” to be: it SOARS. It’s Beethoven-goes-electric, the sound is so vast and rich. Just try to listen to the majestic “What Is Life” without chills running down your spine.
None of this will change the minds of the POB adorers out there, and I suspect there are some lovers of Imagine, Ram, and Band on the Run out there (even one lover of Venus and Mars, for some reason) who are ready to take me down for this viewpoint, and take me down hard. George, after all, has always been the unsung Beatle. Except Ringo, but we’ll argue about that one later.
Let the indignant mudslinging begin.