History: There were a decent number of songs that George introduced to The Beatles during the Let It Be sessions that neither Paul or John had much interest in working on, and when the band officially called it quits, George started compiling those and other songs he had to begin his first true solo album. He called in Phil Spector to produce, and a large number of his musician friends such as Billy Preston, Eric Clapton, and members of Badfinger to help him record. Ringo also contributed drums to some of the tracks. Bob Dylan does not appear on the album, but did collaborate with George on writing two songs. The album eventually became a full double album along with a “free” third disc titled Apple Jam.
My own history with the album and initial prediction: I’ve definitely never listened to this album all the way through before. “My Sweet Lord” is the obvious hit here, and “Wah Wah” is striking enough bells in my memory that I must have heard it. “Isn’t It a Pity” and “What is Life” might just sound familiar since they’re familiar phrases. I have fairly high expectations for this one, given how strong George’s contributions to Abbey Road were, but I’ll admit the length of the album does give me pause. How much of this is stuff he should have just let go, and how much is the good stuff? Nothing to do but dive in and find out.
What I worked on while listening:
I finally finished it!
Review: To give you some insight on how I’m going about this blog, I start off by consulting my list of albums to see which is next, and then I skim through the tracklist for that album so I can see if there are any song titles I recognize so I can write the “my own history” section of the post. But I don’t dig any further than that because I don’t want other people’s opinions clouding my own nor do I want to make any pre-judgements based on what I might read as I sit down to listen. For listening I’m going through Amazon Music, because that’s the particular music streaming service I subscribe to. So far they have exclusively had remastered versions of the albums available for listening, and these usually include some degree of bonus tracks. Before now, those extra songs have always been tucked in at the end and obviously labeled that way. For the 2001 remastering of All Things Must Pass, however, with the first five bonus tracks being at the end of the first disc, they come in at the equivalent of the end of the first LP before you start the second. They’re also not labeled “bonus” so I only realized I was listening to them this way in the midst of the fourth bonus track when I wondered if George was really copying Paul by including an instrumental version of a song he had already included on the album.
This disorder really only matters in that it gave me a chance to hear a couple songs in their original demo recordings before they were subjected to Phil Spector’s wall of sound. The whole experience has really made me want to give Let It Be Naked another shot. Because while I remember not finding that album particularly any better than the original, I absolutely prefer George’s songs without Spector’s production. Production styles can be done in many different ways, often on a spectrum of absolute clarity between each and every instrument and all the way down to Spector’s wall of sound method, where everything mixes together to become a whole new unit. And it’s not that I hate that method as a whole. Nigel Godrich is a master of that type of production, where everything can sound so incredibly lush and beautiful that it doesn’t matter if you can’t name every instrument being used. And I don’t hate everything Phil Spector has ever done, even if I do hate him as a person. But there are songs on this album that just sounded like unintelligible mush to me whereas those cleaner bonus track versions make me like the songs so much more.
The good news is that while this is the case for a few of the songs on the album, it isn’t for all of them. The instrumentation on “Isn’t It a Pity” had me wondering if Jeff Lynne had a hand in it, it sounds so much like some of George’s later collaborations with him. “Wah Wah” sounds far more modern than it actually is, just showing how much influence George’s guitar sound has had on other musicians who came after him. I had definitely heard “What is Life” before this, and I really like that song a lot. The album is full of slide guitar and the influences of Eric Clapton and Bob Dylan are both pretty evident. Anyone maybe thinking that George’s songs on Abbey Road were just a fluke, or secretly being changed by John or Paul, would have to accept his own pure talent listening to this album. Some of the songs are a little too country for me, others just a little too slow and sleepy, but it’s all really well done. His strength is still very much in the music rather than the lyrics, but the sentiment behind songs like “Run of the Mill” or “All Things Must Pass” are things I very much enjoy even if they’re not blowing my mind with their cleverness.
“My Sweet Lord” could almost have its own post itself, thanks to its landmark copyright case and striking similarities to “He’s So Fine.” That entanglement also makes it hard for who to give credit to, because the song is truly a great one, easy to sing along to with beautiful instrumentation. The slide guitar is of course all George, and it’s some of his best. It’s a spiritual song, blending gospel and country with a bit of rock and roll, and it’s easy to see why it’s one of his most popular solo hits.
The third LP of the Apple Jam here is definitely unnecessary for me, and calling it a “free bonus” is about the only thing that saves it. I’m sure fans of the blues may disagree, but to me there are only so many variations of 12 bar blues to go around, and no matter whether they last 3, 5, 8, or 11 minutes they all sound pretty similar. Some of them have a faster tempo, one seems to have a Moog thrown in with the typical instruments, but while decent enough background noise while I finished off my project, there wasn’t much about them to really draw me in and get me interested. I did ultimately decide to purchase the album, because I definitely think there’s more good than bad here. But I will definitely be selective about which songs actually end up on my phone for more regular listening. If you’ve never given this one a listen before now, it’s absolutely worth checking out.
Next time: I listen to John’s first post Beatle release – John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band.