Skip to main content
opinion

Phil Spector and George Harrison on Jan. 1, 1970.GAB Archive/AFP/Getty Images

In this year of mob rule, monuments fell and legacies crumbled. Now history revisited comes for Phil Spector.

In celebration of the 50th anniversary of George Harrison’s triple-LP All Things Must Pass, the George Harrison Estate authorized a remix of the album’s title song. The new version pushes Harrison’s philosophizing on life and the breakup of the Beatles to the front of the mix: “None of life’s strings can last …”

Paul McCartney’s new album McCartney III is amazing, maybe

The treatment appears to be a prelude to a future do-over of the entire album. All Things Must Pass was originally produced by the legendary Spector, a ’60s girl-group specialist, a “wall of sound” studio maximalist and a bona fide weirdo with a dark side. He’s currently doing 19 years to life in the California state prison system for the murder of an actress in 2003.

Paul Hicks, an Abbey Road Studio engineer and an associate of Harrison’s son, Dhani, is behind the project. Expect him to reduce the original album’s reverb wash and strip back Spector’s dated Wagnerian embellishments. In other words, the album will be de-Spectored.

We’ve seen this before.

Beatles fans will remember Spector’s handiwork on parts of the 1970 album Let it Be. Paul McCartney was furious when Spector added an orchestra and female choir to his wistful ballad The Long and Winding Road without his permission. In 2003, Apple Records released Let It Be … Naked, a McCartney-initiated alternative mix that diminished Spector’s ornamentation and solidified the man’s professional reputation as a relic.

Of course, Spector had been written off as a former genius long before. In one of the most bizarre collaborations in the annals of pop music, in 1977 Spector produced Leonard Cohen’s Death of a Ladies Man. In a magazine advertisement for the album, Warner Bros asked the question, “What happened when Phil Spector met Leonard Cohen?”

Plenty, is the answer – and not all of it good. In the studio, Spector pulled guns and sucked Manischewitz out of a Tweetie Pie glass with a straw. Setting Cohen’s lyrics to irrelevant arrangements, he produced the Canadian troubadour’s least beloved album. Cohen later described the experience as “megalomania and insanity,” saying that the producer had “flipped out.”

Indeed, at one point Spector approached Cohen in a friendly way, only to press the nuzzle of a handgun into the singer-songwriter’s neck. “Leonard, I love you,” he said, cocking the trigger. “I hope you do, Phil,” Cohen replied nervously.

So, McCartney and Harrison got off easy.

In a press release for the All Things Must Pass remix, Harrison’s son says that making the album sound clearer was “always one of my dad’s greatest wishes and it was something we were working on together right up until he passed.”

Interesting that Harrison wished to revisit an album that was made in a time of personal and professional turmoil. The Beatles were breaking up. He was losing his first wife Patti Boyd to close friend Eric Clapton. His mother, Louise Harrison, died of a brain hemorrhage during the recording of the album. And because of Spector’s brandy binging, the eccentric producer was not always reliable during the recording.

“I got so tired of that,” Harrison recalled in the biography Behind Sad Eyes, by Marc Shapiro. “I needed someone to help. I was ending up with more work than if I’d just been doing it on my own.”

Still, all that said, All Things Must Pass was a grand triumph. (Even if Harrison would later lose a copyright infringement suit when it was determined he’d subconsciously lifted the melody of the Ronnie Mack song He’s So Fine for the album’s hit single My Sweet Lord.)

Arguably the best post-Fab Four album by any of the band’s former members, the spiritually inclined All Things Must Pass demonstrated Harrison to be a happening mystic and an ex-Beatle with a bright future and dark hair for miles.

The album was remastered in 2001, but remastering is a less extensive process – a sonic tidying up, if you will – than remixing. The remixing of the title song (and, apparently the whole album for 2021) amounts to an overhauling of the sound. At best it’s unnecessary tinkering; at worst, it is a repudiation of an album that was a vital product of its time.

Shed no tears for the murderer, but the legend of Phil Spector takes another hit.

Keep up to date with the weekly Nestruck on Theatre newsletter. Sign up today.