This is an expanded edition Billboard Editor In Chief Timothy White’s exclusive interview with George Harrison (which appeared in the Dec. 30, 2000, issue of Billboard), available only on Billboard.com.
“Let me in here/I know I’ve been here/Let me into your heart,” sang George Harrison in the opening moments of “All Things Must Pass” (Apple/Capitol), his first proper solo album, which debuted on the Billboard charts in the issue dated Dec. 19, 1970.
Thirty years later, “I’d Have You Anytime” (co-written with Bob Dylan) and the rest of Harrison’s transcendent 23-track solo project (No. 1 for seven weeks, with three hit singles and sales of 3 million copies) is back in a newly remastered edition with five bonus tracks, including “I Live For You,” the lovely, previously unissued ballad from the original “All Things Must Pass” sessions.
The revamped “All Things Must Pass” — which Harrison cites in self-penned liner notes as his “first solo album of ‘songs’ (as opposed to [film soundtrack] ‘Wonderwall [Music,’ Apple 1968] and ‘Electronic Sound’ [Zapple 1969] which were instrumental” — emerges as promised (“The White Paper,” Billboard, June 19, 1999) as part of a long-awaited schedule of new music and enhanced reissues of Harrison’s solo work. (Sadly, Harrison spent early 2000 recovering from wounds inflicted in late December 1999 by a deranged 33-year-old male who broke into his home and repeatedly stabbed the former Beatle with a knife).
The arrival of “All Things Must Past” in stores Jan. 23 comes on the heels of the Beatles “1” album topping the charts in 30 countries as the smash of the season.
Harrison, Billboard’s 1992 Century Award honoree, took a little time out from his own holiday respite to discuss a remarkable body of work that has plainly never left global music lovers’ hearts.
George, how are you?
Ohhh, I’m OK, thank you. I’ve been up and down and round and round [laughs], but I feel really pretty good.
Your old band has got the No. 1 album around the world.
I know, it’s funny, isn’t it? It’s interesting, and it’s amazing, ’cause I’ve been out a couple of nights lately where there’s been a lot of people, and there’s lot of young people who are just so into it. It’s great, it’s really good, because you see kids who are 5, 6, and 17 — that whole span — and they genuinely like it.
The 1999 reissue of the “Yellow Submarine” film and music was a good opening chapter for some of these young ones.
I think because it’s the same when people were 9 or 16 back in the ’60s. They liked it then, and they like it now for the same basic reasons: The songs are catchy, they’re fun, and they still have whatever it was then. It’s in those grooves, and it’s boom. Also they’re a bit of light relief after all this drum machine stuff that we’ve been having for the last 15 or 20 years. So I thought I’d cash in on the craze [laughs] and put out all my old tracks!
Everybody’s been waiting for this stuff, so they’ll be thrilled.
You know, we talked about it ages ago, but it’s just really that you want to get the whole catalog of mine back out in the shops, because it hasn’t been there for a long time. And it was just obvious to start with the first one, as the first one was probably my most prominent solo album, anyway.
You had demoed some of the “All Things Must Pass” tracks in ’69 at the time of the “Let It Be” sessions.
That’s right. I mean, I was probably trying to get them recorded in amongst all the usual John [Lennon] and Paul [McCartney] stuff. For me, that was the great thing about splitting up: to be able to go off and make my own record and record all these songs that I’d been stockpiling. And also to be able to record with all these new people, which was like a breath of fresh air, really.
Had you intended songs like “Isn’t It A Pity” to be things just for you?
No, I mean, this is the funny thing: imagine if the Beatles had gone on and on. Well, the songs on “All Things Must Pass,” maybe some of them I would probably only just got ’round to do now, you know, with my quota that I was allowed [laughs]. “Isn’t It A Pity” would just have been a Beatles song, wouldn’t it? And now that could be said for each one of us. “Imagine” would have been a Beatles song, but it was with John’s songs. It just happened that the Beatles finished.
What was the inspiration for “Isn’t It A Pity”?
It’s just an observation of how society and myself were or are. We take each other for granted — and forget to give back. That was really all it was about.
It’s like “love lost and love gained between 16- and 20-year-olds.” But I must explain: Once, at the time I was at Warner Bros. and I wrote that song “Blood From A Clone” [on the 1981 “Somewhere In England” album], that was when they were having all these surveys out on the street to find out what was a hit record. And apparently, as I was told, a hit record is something that is about “love gained or lost between 14- and 19-year-olds,” or something really dumb like that.
So that’s why I wrote “Isn’t Is A Pity” [laughs]; I thought, ‘Oh, I’ll get in on that!”
Let’s talk about “I Live For You,” a beautiful song with a beautiful vocal.
I suddenly realized I’d got too many tracks for an album — which actually ended up as a double, not counting the “[Apple] Jam” session — and that one track sounded like we hadn’t nailed it properly, and it sounded on top of that a bit too fruity. I didn’t include it because I never finished it.
But coming back to it, I fixed the drums up very simply. But the main thing about it for me is the Pete Drake solo on pedal steel guitar. He died [in 1988], and I often thought if his family is still around, then suddenly they’ll be hearing him playing this thing that they’ve never heard before. I really loved his pedal steel guitar — the bagpipes of country & western music.
The amazing thing about “All Things Must Pass” is that it had so many different kinds of songs on it. “Behind That Locked Door” could have been a country hit.
Yeah. I think that was very much influenced by Bob [Dylan]’s “Nashville Skyline”  period. I actually wrote that the night before the Isle of Wight Festival in [August] 1970.
Was it a big decision to start the album with the song you wrote with Dylan, “I’d Have You Anytime”?
It probably was, because it goes, “Let me in here…” [laughs]. It just seemed like a good thing to do; it was a nice teack, I liked that. And maybe subconsciously I needed a bit of support. I had Eric [Clapton] playing the solo, and Bob had helped write it, so it could have been something to do with that.
The band on this album was the genesis of Derek & the Dominos.
It was! Because the very first session we did [on May 26, 1970] was Eric and Carl Radle, the bass player, and [drummer] Jim Gordon, and [keyboardist] Bobby Whitlock. [On] the “Apple Jam,” where as we were recording tracks, inevitably in between — I mean, we used to do that ourselves you know, the Fabs, back in the early days. So you’d have a break, somebody’d go to the toilet, they have a cigarette, and next minute you’d break into a jam session, and the engineer taped it on a 2-track. When we were mixing the album and getting toward the end of it, I listened to that stuff, and I thought, “It’s got some fire in it,” particularly Eric. He plays some hot stuff on there!
See, although the album was done on an 8-track tape, and there were some overdubs, most of those tracks — especially the ones that have a lot of instruments on them, like “What is Life” or “Let It Down” — on all those things we had a lot of musicians in the studio and it was done as Phil Spector probably did his stuff back in the early ’60s. That is to say it was routine that everybody knew when they came in [on the take].
So any overdubs we did, with the piano, the guitar solo, the tambourines, any additional stuff on backing voices, you just had to learn it and do it as a take. So most of those songs were done as a performance, really. And then with the vocal, you had to do again, or we’d add the horns or strings, or whatever.
So you did the jams on breaks from these formal song performance sessions?
Yeah, and I thought, well, it’s still just jam sessions, but I just listened to it again, obviously, when we revamped the album [putting the 11-minute, seven-second “Out of The Blue” track in true sequence as the fifth rather than the opening “Apple Jam” cut], and different bits of it are really good!
Who was Jeep on “I Remember Jeep”?
Jeep was actually Eric’s dog — a funny kind of orangy-brown dog with pink eyes [laughs]. I think he might have kicked it — I’m sure he has by now — but I know it was his dog.
On “Thanks For The Pepperoni,” did somebody send out for pizza?
No. If you listen to Lenny Bruce’s “Religions, Inc.,” he goes on about the pope and things, and then he goes, “And thanks for the pepperoni” [laughs]. I mean, you got random tracks, so it’s like, “What can we call it?” For the jams, I didn’t want to just throw in the cupboard, and yet at the same time it wasn’t part of the record; that’s why I put it on a separate label to go in the package as a kind of bonus.
On which you can hear Derek & the Dominos jell as a band.
Yeah! They were the first sessions for Derek & the Dominos. In fact, during those sessions we actually recorded “Tell The Truth” and “Roll It Over”; we did versions where I was playing on them.
Were you credited on any releases of those tracks?
No, because they usually didn’t use those, and because Phil Spector was in the box doing my record when we did those takes. So for some reasons when they went back and made their album, I don’t think those versions made their album [“Layla And Other Assorted Love Songs, Atco, 1970]. I don’t think those versions I was on came out until they did re-compilation albums later [i.e., “Crossroads,” Polydor, 1988; “The Layla Sessions — 20th Anniversary Edition,” Polydor, 1990].
Where did the phrase “All Things Must Pass” come from?
I think I got it from Richard Alpert/Baba Ram Dass, but I’m not sure. When you read of philosophy or spiritual things, it’s a pretty widely used phrase. I wrote it after [the Band’s 1968] “Music From Big Pink” album; when I heard that song in my head I always heard Levon Helm singing it!
On the bonus tracks, the acoustic “Beware Of Darkness,” with its witty “beware of ABKCO [Industries, former Beatles manager Allen Klein’s company]” line, is electrifying. Was that the first recorded version?
Yes. Actually I didn’t even know it was recorded at the time. It came out later on a bootleg, and it’s strange when something you didn’t ever consider to be a record is suddenly something somebody digs out and plays as what’s supposed to be the record. I have a problem with all that. Some people think, as far as bootleg material, that it has a special value, and okay maybe it does to some people and in some situations, but if you imagine a car
I had to go over the songs I had with Phil Spector, ’cause he was the co-producer, and we were in, I think, Studio 2 at Abbey Road, and the engineer had a microphone and taped it. [The bonus acoustic version of] “Let It Down” is off the same take, but I’ve added acoustic guitar to it, and Ray Cooper’s doing a synth pad in the back, very unobtrusive. And my musician friend Joe Brown’s daughter, Sam Brown, who’s had her own hit records in England — she’s a great singer, and I’ve got her doing the backing voice on the new “My Sweet Lord 2000,” and she sings lead on it after the guitar solo.
I hear some applause at the end of the new “My Sweet Lord.”
[Laughs] I just heard it in my head! So I put it in there. For one moment I suddenly thought it was Ramsey Lewis [as in Lewis’ live clap-along 1965 single “The ‘In’ Crowd”]!
So what’s it like hearing that different version of “My Sweet Lord” after being familiar with the old one? It sounds more expansive, with an extra bit of sunlight and airiness to it.
Yeah, it’s more up, and more of how I am now. And the old version’s on there anyway, so nothing’s lost.
The new version’s looser, but still true to the original. I mean, you didn’t try to make it into hip-hop.
[Big laugh] Well, I am famous for doing hip-hop versions of “My Sweet Lord. You should hear the rap version!
Explain the bonus “What Is Life” instrumental track.
When we were going through all the tapes, I just found this version that was like a rough mix [at Trident Studios in London on August 9, 1970] on which I tried having this piccolo trumpet player like the guy who played on “Penny Lane.” It wasn’t actually the same bloke but I wanted that sound. So I had an oboe and a piccolo trumpet and I had this part for them all written out but they couldn’t play it the same; they couldn’t do this this kind of “hush” phrase, and they played it very staccato like a classical player. So I must have just recorded them on it, then rough mixed it, and then ditched that.
And as I was saying earlier, most of it was live. I hadn’t done the vocal overdub because I’m playing the fuzz guitar part that goes all through the song. So all I could do on the [initial] take was to give the band the cue line — the first line of each verse — and then go back to playing that riff. So that rough mix without the vocal — I’d forgot all about it — was a novelty I found.
Regarding the protracted 1971 Bright Tunes lawsuit over “My Sweet Lord” and its supposed plagiarism of the Chiffons’ “He’s So Fine,” you now own “He’s So Fine,” right?
Yes, after 20 years, eventually the judge awarded the song to me… and the money that had been taken for “My Sweet Lord.” So I suddenly end up with “He’s So Fine”!
So you eventually triumphed?
Well, I don’t think anybody triumphs when something goes on for 20 years, but basically here’s the story: I wrote “My Sweet Lord” based on “Oh Happy Day” [1969, by the Edwin Hawkins Singers]. That’s why the original version of “Oh Happy Day” is Billy Preston singing with the Edwin Hawkins Sisters.
I didn’t really think people were small-minded enough… but whereas in popular music they love to sue each other about things. Now, when I did that song, they [Bright Tunes] were in liquidation, and the liquidators decided they could make some money by suing me. We went to court and the judge said, “I don’t believe you stole it, so make a settlement.” So we were making a settlement… and the rights were bought to “He’s So Fine”… to keep on in a lawsuit! And it went on and on, and eventually the judge went, “This is silly,” in the end. That’s what happened.
The only shame about it was if the writer [Ronald Mack] of “He’s So Fine” had been alive in the first place there probably would have never been a lawsuit. Gods knows I never sued anybody about all the songs of mine that got stolen.
What comes next?
I’ll remaster all my past catalog, following up with “[The Concert For] Bangla Desh” and “Living In The Material World” and so on, each with other takes and bonus stuff, and then on to my whole catalog with Warner Bros. — and the [Traveling] Wilburys, too, absolutely.
People like CDs with bonus stuff — I just got all the Band’s CDs with bonus stuff, and I just got ELO’s stuff.
I’m not very good at going into studios and staying there forever. And I hate to predict things, but the next new album will possibly be by November of next year. It won’t be called “Portrait of A Leg End” [referring to a humorous working title for the set he revealed to White in the June 1999 interview] anymore [laughs], but it’s definitely going to be “Volume One.” It’s not going to be the end — it’s going to be one of lots of records. Then I’ll go on holiday again.