You could argue that Phil Spector’s billowing vision of Orchestra As Rock Band saw its fullest flowering on George Harrison’s stunning 1970 debut All Things Must Pass. You could also argue that he almost ruined it with a wet-sock Wall of Sound that all but obscures some tracks.
If this lithe early take on the album’s blockbuster No. 1 hit is any indication, the forthcoming Early Tracks Vol. 1 — due May 1, 2012 from Hip-O/UMe — looks to make the latter case.
The familiar finished take on “My Sweet Lord,” of course, started with George’s ringing guitar, then adds an army of hallelujah/Hari Krishna-crooning backup singers (cheekily referred to as “The George O’Hara-Smith Singers”); then both Ringo Starr and Jim Gordon on drums; then keyboards from both Billy Preston and Gary Wright; then an additional guitar from Eric Clapton; then (oh, what the heck!) three more guitars from Badfinger’s Pete Ham, Tom Evans and Joey Molland; then a gaggle of swooning strings; then enough Spectorian reverb to bring down the Abbey Road studios.
“I’m not a big fan of that style of production, and later on in the project, when things were reduced production-wise, I enjoyed those sessions more,” Wright told us, in an SER Sitdown last year. “There was only George, Klaus Voorman, Eric Clapton, Jim Gordon and I as the rhythm section.”
[SOMETHING ELSE! INTERVIEW: Bobby Whitlock takes us in the studio for George Harrison's seminal solo masterpiece 'All Things Must Pass,' an album that gave birth to Derek and the Dominoes.]
That kind of pared-down directness is just what this new version of “My Sweet Lord” provides, echoing in its way the raw-nerve attitude of John Lennon’s tandem solo project Plastic Ono Band, also produced in 1970 — quite incongruently, I might add, by Spector.
Of course, acoustic tracks from Harrison have been steadily leaking out since the celebrated 1985 Beatles bootleg Sessions, created from an EMI test pressing of a project that would finally see completion in the mid-1990s Anthology series. That set’s solo take on “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” was but prologue for the homespun charms of 1994′s Beware of ABKCO, a release-quality boot which featured Harrison doing early-session run throughs for All Things Must Pass, along with a number of tracks that never made the album.
Early Takes Vol. 1, a companion disc of 1970-era demos from Hip-O that pairs with the DVD release of Martin Scorcese’s recent Harrison biopic, appears to have some song overlap with ABCKO, but the earlier release didn’t include any full-band demos — making this a special find.
As Harrison’s begins to let go a little, late in the proceedings, you hear the joy, the reverence, and the newfound freedom in his voice. Free then of the entanglement of the Beatles, he’s now free of Spector’s gauzy bluster, too.
‘Early Takes Volume 1,’ due May 1, 2012 from Hip-O/UMe, includes demos and early versions of “My Sweet Lord,” “Behind That Locked Door,” “Awaiting On You All,” “Run of the Mill,” “I’d Have You Any Time” and the title track from 1970′s ‘All Things Must Pass.’ Also featured are Bob Dylan’s “Mama, You’ve Been On My Mind,” Gilbert Becaud’s “Let It Be Me,” and early attempts at “The Light That Has Lighted the World” from 1973′s ‘Living in the Material World’ and “Woman, Don’t You Cry For Me” from 1976′s ‘Thirty Three and 1/3.’