Back in 2003, the surviving Beatles authorized the release of “Let It Be … Naked,” an album of remixes that stripped away the most outlandish production flourishes producer Phil Spector had added to the original “Let It Be” album in 1970.
In a way, the new George Harrison release “Early Takes, Volume 1” does the same thing for the former Beatle’s Spector-produced 1970 solo debut, “All Things Must Pass,” as, among other selections, it offers up six songs from that landmark effort in completely unvarnished form. All things must pass -- even Spector’s Wall of Sound, right?
There are differences between “Early Takes” and “Let It Be… Naked,” of course. The 10 tracks here are all demos or early takes of songs that were re-recorded later, not stripped-down mixes of the release versions. Also, Spector’s mammoth production on “All Things Must Pass” was actually welcomed and acclaimed, unlike the arguable hostile takeover he did on “Let It Be.”
Still, even if these classic songs didn't require reclamation, getting alternate, equally valid versions of a significant chunk of the most highly regarded Beatles solo effort ever is a gift no Harrison fan should pass up.
The most revelatory number is “Awaiting On You All,” an upbeat, Krishna-conscious number that, in Spector's hands, became as big and blissfully poppy as anything he’d ever produced for the Crystals or Ronettes. But in the version on “Early Takes,” we learn that Harrison first conceived of his spiritual as an electric guitar-driven power-trio number, of all the equally unlikely things.
Harrison’s acoustic guitar is the focus on rough solo or full-band versions of classics like “My Sweet Lord.” An otherwise unadorned “Behind That Sweet Door” is happily interrupted by a sublime steel guitar part. As for “All Things Must Pass” itself, you could argue that this unaccessorized band version -- which would fit right in with the Americana music of 2012 -- is sweeter than and maybe ultimately superior to the blown-up, more self-consciously mystical Spector version.
Four "Early" songs that didn’t make it onto “All Things” will be of particular interest to fans. Harrison covers Bob Dylan’s “Mama You’ve Been on My Mind” and the Everly Brothers’ “Let It Be Me,” as well as blueprinting his own “The Light That Has Lighted the World” and the wonderfully bluesy “Woman, Don’t You Cry for Me,” tunes that didn’t show up on Harrison albums until later in the ‘70s, and then in inferior form to the simple renditions you hear here.
If there’s anything to complain about in this otherwise essential collection, it’s the lack of musician credits or context in the liner notes for these unreleased gems -- and maybe, at a mere 30 minutes, the brevity, given the presumed wealth of material that’s being held back for a “Volume 2.”
Perhaps you read the news recently about a freshly unearthed guitar solo Harrison recorded for “Here Comes the Sun,” but don’t go looking for that (or any other Beatles material) here. You can find that in the bonus features of this week’s simultaneously released “Living in the Material World” DVD and Blu-Ray, in an outtake where George Martin, Giles Martin, and Dhani Harrison sit at a mixing board and play with the multi-tracks for “Sun” at random.
The three of them talk over the heralded solo, so don’t get hopes up for any kind of pristine remix. But for hardcore Beatlemaniacs (and you know who you are), that two-and-a-half-minute scene is worth the DVD's price of admission.