In the studio

On 27 May 1970, George Harrison and Phil Spector met at EMI Studios, Abbey Road, to discuss the All Things Must Pass project.

Accompanying himself on an electric guitar in Studio Three, Harrison played Spector fifteen songs he had written, to allow the producer to assess their suitability for further recording.

The performances were recorded without Harrison’s knowledge. Fewer than half of the songs –?‘Run Of The Mill’, ‘Art Of Dying’, ‘Wah-Wah’, ‘Beware Of Darkness’, ‘Let It Down’, ‘Hear Me Lord’, ‘If Not For You’?–?made it to All Things Must Pass. The other songs were ‘Everybody, Nobody’, ‘Window, Window’, ‘Beautiful Girl’, ‘Tell Me What Has Happened To You’, ‘Nowhere To Go’, ‘Cosmic Empire’, ‘Mother Divine’, and ‘I Don’t Want To Do It’. The whole session was later bootlegged as the Beware Of ABKCO set.

All Things Must Pass may have been Harrison’s first statement of post-Beatles freedom, but some of its songs were not new. ‘Isn’t It A Pity’ and ‘Art Of Dying’ are both believed to date as far back as 1966, giving lie to the notion that he only became a significant songwriter towards the end of the decade.

The album recording sessions began in late May 1970 at EMI Studios, Abbey Road. Spector produced, with former Beatles engineers Ken Scott and Phil McDonald also present. Most of the album’s backing tracks were recorded onto eight-track tape at Abbey Road, with the musicians normally playing live.

The first song to be recorded was ‘Wah-Wah’, which had been written on the day Harrison walked out of The Beatles during the ill-fated Get Back/Let It Be sessions on 10 January 1969.

They were filming us having a row. It never came to blows, but I thought, ‘What’s the point of this? I’m quite capable of being relatively happy on my own and I’m not able to be happy in this situation. I’m getting out of here.’

Everybody had gone through that. Ringo had left at one point. I know John wanted out. It was a very, very difficult, stressful time, and being filmed having a row as well was terrible. I got up and I thought, ‘I’m not doing this any more. I’m out of here.’ So I got my guitar and went home and that afternoon wrote ‘Wah-Wah’.

George Harrison

Other backing tracks recorded at EMI included ‘What Is Life’, ‘All Things Must Pass’, ‘The Ballad Of Sir Frankie Crisp (Let It Roll)’, and the two versions of ‘Isn’t It A Pity’.

Harrison’s huge stockpile of songs was ever-growing, and the sessions saw early versions of ‘You’, ‘Beautiful Girl’, and ‘When Every Song Is Sung’, as well as unreleased songs such as ‘Gopala Krishna’, ‘Dehra Dun’, ‘Mother Divine’, and ‘Cosmic Empire’.

He had all those songs in his drawer and just started. George didn’t know what was going to happen because he’d never done a record by himself. But he had the help of Phil Spector, which gave him the confidence to do it. He had great songs and great musicians.

Phil was in full control of this whole bunch of musicians playing. We played all at the same time –?we didn’t record one on top of the other; it was all six people playing acoustic guitars and five keyboard players playing the piano all at once. It was crazy!

Klaus Voormann
While My Guitar Gently Weeps, Simon Leng

The musicians on the backing tracks were Harrison, bass guitarists Klaus Voormann and Carl Radle; keyboard players Billy Preston, Gary Wright, Gary Brooker, and Bobby Whitlock; drummers Ringo Starr and Jim Gordon; guitarists Eric Clapton, Peter Frampton, and Badfinger (Pete Ham, Tom Evans, Joey Molland); sax player Bobby Keys; and trumpeter Jim Price. Backing vocals were by Harrison, Spector, Clapton, and others.

He’d come over to us, bring the guitar over and say, ‘Okay, this is ‘Isn’t It A Pity’.’ He’d go through the song with us once or twice, and show us the changes; you know George used all those diminished chords. We’d learn it as he went along, and generally after two times through the song we had a really good idea of how it went. And basically, that was how we did it. We just brought acoustic guitars to the session. He set us all in a box in the studio, and that’s basically what we did on the entire record –?play acoustic rhythm guitars. We had three guitar players playing the same part on our bit and Mike Gibbins played percussion.
Joey Molland, Badfinger
While My Guitar Gently Weeps, Simon Leng

Not all the musicians were credited, among them Peter Frampton and Phil Collins. Indeed, Harrison was unaware that Collins had even played congas on the album until years later.

Phil Spector left the sessions in July 1970, leaving Harrison to produce the remainder. Sessions took place at London’s Trident Studios and Apple Studios.

Phil was an incredible guy, a genius, but he is uncontrollable. I think he broke his arm in the Apple control room –?George was doing some overdubs, Phil came in and was completely drunk and just fell over backwards. And in the end George got irritated by it, and Phil sort of disappeared. So George finished the album.
Klaus Voormann
While My Guitar Gently Weeps, Simon Leng

There was a tangible difference in the two men’s styles: Spector was businesslike and distant, and always accompanied by a bodyguard, whereas Harrison was open, friendly, and took the time to coax the best out of his players.

On All Things Must Pass Phil came in and did half of the backing tracks. But he was going through a bad time with his drinking and it made him ill, so he had to leave.

I literally used to have to go and break into the hotel to get him. I’d go along the roof and climb in the window, yelling, ‘Come on! We’re supposed to be making a record!’ He’d say, ‘Oh! OK.’ And then he used to have eighteen cherry brandies before he could get himself down in the studio. I got so tired of that because I needed someone to help. I was ending up with more work than if I’d just been doing it on my own.

George Harrison
Musician, November 1987