Gary Brooker of Procol Harum, Pete Ham of Badfinger, Tom Evans and Joey Molland also called for sessions; Gary Wright of Spooky Tooth, saxophonist Bobby Keys; and trumpeter Jim Price. Besides Starr and Gordon, drums and percussion were performed by Alan White, who was then drummer for the Plastic Ono Band and would continue to play drums for Yes, and Phil Collins. Peter Frampton played guitar for much of the album. Nashville player Pete Drake played pedal steel. Drake pioneered the use of the talkbox, and Frampton caught it firsthand during sessions before using it as a hook for his hit “Show Me the Way”. John Barham, a pianist and arranger who had worked with Harrison’s sitar guru Ravi Shankar, wrote sheet music for orchestra.
Longtime Beatles keyboardist and associate Billy Preston is a major influence on the album. All things must pass is a spiritual celebration. Harrison set up a small altar in the studio, and followers of the Hare Krishna movement brought the players vegetarian food. Harrison was as much a spiritual student as he was a musical student of sitar maestro Ravi Shankar. The same could be said of Preston.
Harrison made a special study of the structure and composition of gospel music for his work with soul singer Doris Troy, with whom he produced and co-wrote songs. He deepened to co-produce Preston’s fourth studio album It’s the way God planned it, and wrote “What is life“for that. George also co-produced Preston’s fifth album Encouraging words, released two months before All things must pass, and versions included of the title song and “Sweet Jesus.”
You can hear several versions of The Beatles going through “All Things Must Pass” on bootlegs. Although not as many assists as the famous unreleased “Not Guilty” got. Perhaps it was too sharp a self-reference for the group to deal with. The title comes from a passage from chapter 23 of the Tao Te Ching: “Everything passes, a sunrise does not last all morning. Everything passes, a downpour does not last all day. It’s more philosophical than spiritual, but as exhilarating as its ascension in chords. “Beware of darkness” is lyrically devotional and cautionary, but its structure is a mystery of faith. It is everywhere harmonically, as the key wanders aimlessly in melodic transcendence.
“Awaiting On You All” is one of the album’s most egregious spiritual proclamations. It describes Japa Yoga meditation, the repetitive chanting of a mantra, which is the mystical energy itself, within sound. “Sing the names of the Lord and you will be free,” the lyrics explain. Although Harrison does a dig at the Catholic Church. “While the Pope owns fifty-one percent of General Motors, and the stock market is the only thing he is qualified to quote to us,” opens the last verse. Harrison’s deep understanding of the spiritual music he produced was fully realized on the album’s most recognizable song.
“I thought a lot about whether I should do ‘My Sweet Lord’ or not, because I would be engaging publicly and expected a lot of people to get weird about it,” wrote Harrison in me me mine. Towards the end of the Delaney & Bonnie tour in December 1969, Harrison heard and fell in love with Edwin Hawkins’ modern gospel piano interpretation of the 18th century hymn “Oh Happy Day”. Inspired by joyful energy, Harrison wanted to merge devotional “Hallelujah” invocations with the Maha Mantra “Hare Krishna” of the Hindu faith. The subconscious mix evoked not-so-instant karma when Harrison was sued for “unconscious plagiarism” by the royalty owners of The Chiffon’s “He’s So Fine”, which could be interpreted as a devotional invocation.