For years, Harrison had been getting maybe one or two of his own songs on each Beatles album, and growing increasingly frustrated with Lennon and McCartney’s lack of interest in playing his stuff; he’d built up such a backlog of material that his first solo pop album was actually a triple-LP. (The title track sure sounds like it’s a reflection on the Beatles’ breakup, but in fact they’d rehearsed it during the Get Back sessions.)
Harrison had a lot to prove, and All Things Must Pass has more ambition and fire behind it than any other ex-Beatle album does, which is saying something. With co-producer Phil Spector and a huge crew of collaborators (including Ringo Starr), he turned his laconic meditations on existential matters into enormous, expansive, fluidly rocking prayers. Prayer, and the relationship of the human to the divine, is the central theme of these songs. The biggest hit on the album was “My Sweet Lord,” which adapts the Chiffons’ girl-group standard “He’s So Fine” into a full-on hymn (with Hare Krishna backing vocals), and even most of the love songs here — most notably an exquisite cover of Bob Dylan’s then-brand-new “If Not for You” — are easy to interpret as psalms.
What’s new about Harrison’s songwriting here is its simplicity: “What Is Life” isn’t much more than two brief and very similar verses, a two-line chorus and a sinuous guitar hook, but its wall-of-sound arrangement is so elegantly constructed that it seems too short at four minutes. Unsurprisingly, this is a very guitar-heavy album, although it’s less about showoffish chops and solos than about the expressive range that Harrison could coax out of his favorite instrument. The virtuoso axemanship is mostly limited to the final third of the album, a set of instrumental jams with his associates that’s basically just a lagniappe. The first two original discs’ worth of songs, though, is proof that spacey hippies could actually have an unparalleled sense of beauty, warmth and insight.