Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Which George Can Handel It? - All Things Must Pass vs. The Messiah*

Then :

In 1970, I bought myself “All Things Must Pass” for Christmas. Yeah, that’s right, I did it. George Harrison’s triple(!) album magnum opus, all for me.

I had gotten my first part time job that year, so my mom said that, now that I had my own money, I could get myself a present. I took her at her word. This only sounds ridiculous to someone who doesn’t know her.

Meanwhile, unbeknownst to me, she went to A&S and got it for me, too. I guess this was meant to be a heartwarming Christmas surprise for me. More like Festivus - the recriminations were a bonus.

It’s gone down in family lore as one of those disputed stories – my mom telling everyone how generous it was of me to get myself a present like that. It’s been futile trying to remind her that I did exactly as she said, since I didn’t expect anything from her.

So, from the beginning, it was to be a tainted present – one that I would never fully enjoy without a pang of guilt. I even came down with a stomach virus that Christmas Day, and will always remember how the smell of the album cover and colored record sleeves would turn my stomach.


We have everyone over for dinner on Christmas Eve. And although, there’s a lot of cleaning up to do on Christmas morning, especially in the basement where all the kids would hang out, it’s also kind of peaceful. It’s the first day in a long time when we can just relax.

When we sold my mom’s house earlier that year, I ended up with her old record albums. It’s kind of ironic given my checkered history with them. (Link) But I needed to find a place to put them and I decided to slide my own records over to make room for hers. This meant moving other records from shelf to shelf to make more room as I went. But instead of just doing this, I decide to listen to some of these records as I went. This made a process that should have taken minutes drag out for weeks.

By Christmas Day, I was up to the letter H, and found Handel’s Messiah (right there where it belongs: between Arlo Guthrie and Emmylou Harris). On vinyl, it’s a triple album. What the hell, I figured. I was tired, and needed something soothing. Now that Christmas Eve duties have died down, I needed to get away from the new DVDs playing on the TV upstairs. So I gave it a whirl.

And it was perfect.

So I continue with the H’s, and what do I find, but another triple album - George Harrison’s, All Things Must Pass. It’s kind of beaten up – after all, it’s been 40 years since I got it. The paper still has that faint odor that made me nauseous back then. I put it on.

Then, Again:

In 1970, I told myself it was a great album, and continued to think so for a few years, until my tastes began to undergo a change, and I began to look upon my heroes with a colder eye.

Over time, I’d tell myself that Phil Spector did the usual - and in this case, lousy – everything-but-the-kitchen-sink production on this record. It took a stronger personality than George’s (like John Lennon on Plastic Ono Band - a record I don’t usually put on at Christmas time.) to keep Spector in check and ensure that the record sounded the way he wanted it to. But listening to ATMP again, I know that with the occasional exception, I was wrong.

I don’t know anyone else who’s impressed by the lead off cut, “I’d Have You Anytime”, but it’s one of my favorites. Just hearing it all the way through is a kind of victory. Our Victrola had several pennies taped to the tone arm, because it had a habit of skipping on the first (or last) song of any album I really wanted to hear. (It just knew.) If it persisted in skipping, I’d help out by pressing down on the tone arm. As often as I’d get past the skip successfully, I’d apply too much pressure and gouge a new groove into the record, making a unique and much foreshortened version of the song. You’d have to catch it on the radio or your friend’s house if you ever hoped to hear it the right way again.

Never being a huge fan of fifties music, I didn’t realize that “My Sweet Lord” was an obvious rip-off of the Chiffon’s “He’s So Fine”. And it took me a while to admit it, even though the evidence couldn’t be clearer. But hey, it’s a good record. I just wish he’d have admitted doing it, instead of getting his feelings all hurt about it.

So, what do I think if this record so far? This is how I feel about it:
  • My mother thinks I’m selfish
  • I’m sick to my stomach
  • The cover smells
  • The first song skips
  • On the second song, George tarnishes my “Beatles Can Do No Wrong” memories.
Are you with me so far?

I used to love “Isn’t It a Pity”. It was long and slow and sad, and it seemed to be about the Beatles breaking up, and it sounded like “Hey Jude” at the end. In other words, it was Serious. And I was a sucker for Serious. Serious was important! So naturally, over the years I forgot about it. Listening to it now, I can think of all the reasons I shouldn’t like it but it still blows me away.

I really enjoy sides two and three, and only wince when Phil botches the title track, adding that awful pedal steel guitar. I could do without the second version of “Isn’t it a Pity”, and the Apple Jam could have fit on a single side if they really tried. In other words, we’ve got a triple that would have made a great double, but I guess George couldn’t confine his philosophical musings to a mere three sides. Man, for someone who was not Lennon or McCartney, George sure took himself seriously.

So to sum up, my feelings are...mixed.

Now, Again:

If I wanted to act all grown up, I could pretend that I preferred Handel’s Messiah to ATMP. But I don’t.

So, what’s my verdict then? Good. Not great, but very, very good. And what more can I ask of someone who has given me so much pleasure, even if he wasn’t Lennon or McCartney? Thank you, George.

And now he’s gone, and I want to cry whenever I see him (or John) in “Hard Day’s Night”.

So I’m not sure exactly where I’d put it in my pantheon, but I do know that ATMP is Major Zeppelin Fan/Pal Joey’s favorite album. Or so he said 35 years ago. I’m certain he hasn’t changed his mind.

* Not the actual Messiah.

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