Behind the Hopeful Meaning of “All Things Must Pass” by George Harrison

Videos by American Songwriter

Videos by American Songwriter

There are few things in this life that are permanent. If we were to get technical about our previous statement, we might make exceptions for the changing of seasons or the washing machine’s uncanny ability to hide a sock or two. But truly, what doesn’t pass eventually? 

George Harrison believed, at least to some degree, that “All Things Must Pass.” 

It’s a comforting and daunting sentiment believing that nothing lasts forever, and Harrison might’ve said it best. So, let’s find out more about Harrison’s famous post-Beatles song “All Things Must Pass.” Read below for the history and meaning of the song… quickly, before this article passes into oblivion. 

The Meaning of the “All Things Must Pass” Song Lyrics

At its core, the 1970 song is about moving on. For Harrison, this meant a few things, but most prominently it meant moving on from The Beatles after the band’s breakup in April 1970. In an interview with TV show host Dick Cavett in 1971, Harrison expressed his relief about The Beatles’ separating. “That’s what happened, and it was good, but it was also good to carry on [and] do something else. In fact, it was a relief,” he said. 

He continued, “Over the years, I had such a lot of songs mounting up that I really wanted to do, but I only got my quota of one or two tunes per [Beatles’] album. And that way, I would have had to record about a hundred Beatle albums just to get out the tunes I had in 1965.”

All things must pass
All things must pass away. 

Another inspiration for Harrison’s mentality on “All Things Must Pass” is one that is more heartbreaking. In July 1970, just a few months before Harrison released “All Things Must Pass” (and the album of the same name), Harrison’s mother passed away at the age of 59. “All Things Must Pass” was almost certainly an outlet for Harrison to comfort and explain his mother’s death to himself.

All things must pass
None of life’s strings can last
So, I must be on my way
And face another day.

The Details

“All Things Must Pass” was the title track for Harrison’s triple album released in the same year as The Beatles’ breakup. Harrison wrote and produced the song with the help of co-producer Phil Spector. Additionally, Eric Clapton played the acoustic guitar and provided backing vocals on the track, while Ringo Starr played the drums and tambourine. 

Lyrically, Harrison took inspiration from Timothy Leary’s poem “All Things Pass.” And sonically, Harrison tapped into the sound of The Band for the composition of “All Things Must Pass.”

Another interesting point to note is Harrison’s pervasive use of nature imagery in his songs. In “All Things Must Pass” Harrison sings of “sunrise,” “cloudburst,” “sunset,” “clouds,” “darkness,” and “morning.” Similarly, Harrison often sings of nature in Beatles songs that he wrote like “Here Comes The Sun.” The cyclical nature of the earth seems to have provided solace for the artist.

Now the darkness only stays the night time
In the morning it will fade away
Daylight is good at arriving at the right time
It’s not always gonna be this grey

All things must pass
All things must pass away.

(Photo by Steve Morley/Redferns/Getty Images)

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