All things must be remixed
“When I make a record,” Phil Spector said, “I don’t want to tell musicians, ‘Well, eventually it’s going to sound like this — you’re going to be in more echo.’ No, put it on now. You can’t take the echo off ‘Be My Baby’. You can’t take the echo off ‘River Deep — Mountain High’. It’s on Tina Turner forever. That’s my art.”
Not, however, when it comes to George Harrison’s All Things Must Pass. Just over 50 years after the release of the hugely successful solo triple album, which Spector co-produced with the former Beatle, a new version of the album has appeared, in which the tracks have been remixed by Dhani Harrison, George’s son, and an engineer, Paul Hicks. It’s a project intended, they claim, to bring out Harrison’s contribution by clarifying the sound. It seems to me that, a few months after Spector’s death, what they’ve really been attempting to do is diminish the impact of Spector’s contribution and thereby to reduce what might be seen, in the light of his conviction on a charge of murdering the actress Lana Clarkson in a shooting incident at his home in 2003, as a stain on the record’s reputation.
The excuse for this apparent exercise in detoxification seems to be that George once said he might have liked this group of songs to have been produced with a lighter touch. I don’t think that’s good enough. He and Spector worked together over a period of months on the recording and mixing at Abbey Road, Trident and Apple studios. If Harrison had wanted the stripped-down sound that Spector produced for John Lennon on the Plastic Ono Band album that same year, he had plenty of opportunity to ask for it. Very clearly he didn’t. And nor did he choose to do anything about it in the three decades between the release of the album and his own death in 2001.
I spent £17 on the basic two-CD edition of the new version, as many will have been persuaded to do, and to me all the remixing does, by altering many of the aural dimensions and perspectives that Spector brought to it, is to diminish the grandeur and the impact of the music, robbing it of its character. It’s no longer the sharply focused record he and Harrison mixed, mastered and passed for release. It’s more ordinary. And, of course, the two people primarily responsible for its conception and execution are no longer around to offer their opinion.
Once again, I’d say that if Harrison had wanted his guitar lines to be louder, or his voice to be closer to the foreground, he could have had those things at the time, on demand. And if he’d wanted people to pay $999.98 or £859.99 for an “uber de luxe edition” including eight vinyl LPs, five CDs, a Blu-Ray disc, two books, a bookmark made from a felled oak tree in George’s garden at Friar Park, 1/6th scale “replica figurines” of George and the garden gnomes from the album cover, and a set of prayer beads, all housed within “an artisan-designed wooden crate”, I guess he’d have asked for that, too.
Having read all the advance publicity material, I was curious enough to wander down to Duke of York’s Square on the King’s Road in Chelsea to have a look at a promotional stunt devised to tie in with the release. This is a physical interpretation of Barry Feinstein’s cover photograph from the album, installed close by the entrance to the Saatchi Gallery. It’s by “world renowned floral artist Ruth Davis”, and you can see the result in the photograph above.
The idea is that you can take George’s place on the stool — you’ll have to bring your own hat and gumboots — and get a friend to take your photograph, which you can then circulate on your preferred social-media platform. It’ll be gone by the weekend, but to me it looked like bits and bobs left over from that ludicrous and expensively misconceived “mountain” currently positioned next to Marble Arch, at the top of Park Lane. Marble Arch was better without it, just as All Things Must Pass sounds better without someone else’s second thoughts. Some things are best left alone.