Capitol/UMe (8-LP Set)
By Gillian G. Gaar
“It’s really given it a whole new lease on life.” That’s the assessment of George Harrison’s son, Dhani, on the 50th anniversary edition of his father’s landmark album. It’s an impressive box set that delivers on all counts.
It’s well-known that Harrison hadn’t liked the added effects on the album. “George never loved effects on his voice,” says Paul Hicks, who did the new remix. “He liked dry vocals, and in most cases, his voice sounded better drier.” Which doesn’t mean this new version is a complete de-Spectorization of the mighty “wall of sound” that co-producer Phil Spector brought to the table. “We always are completely respectful to the original mixes,” says Hicks. “But we can take it those few steps further. It’s almost like, you listen to the old mix, and then you sort of take a sheet off of it, and you hear more clarity.”
Which means that while there’s noticeably cleaner sound, full-bodied numbers like “My Sweet Lord,” “Wah-Wah,” and “What Is Life” remain just as powerful, but have been given space to breathe. Harrison’s voice, which Hicks felt was “buried” in the mix, is now also more prominent, to good effect. Dhani, for one, feels that the record sounds better than it ever has: “In terms of reverb, I really think this is, in my opinion, the best mix of this record that’s ever been done.”
ATMP illustrates the great flowering of George’s songwriting talent. And the bonus tracks reveal what a different album it could’ve been. Almost half of the songs recorded as demos (and 30 demos appear on this new release) didn’t make it to the final album. Just think; “Run of the Mill,” “Beware of Darkness,” and “Art of Dying” could’ve been replaced by “Nowhere to Go,” “Cosmic Empire,” and “Behind that Locked Door” (George’s plea to Bob Dylan to come out of hiding). Some demos were likely never serious contenders; “Going Down to Golders Green,” was simply a fun parody of Elvis Presley’s “Baby Let’s Play House.” But hearing the pre-production work helps place the final album in context.
Similarly, the bonus disc of outtakes and jams offers further insights. The intention is to give a you-are-there feeling for the sessions, with some touches of humor to contrast with the seriousness of the main album. There’s a delightfully profane rendition of “Isn’t it a Pity” for example, and an unexpected (and foot-tapping) version of the Beatles’ “Get Back.” And the unadorned versions of tracks that did make the final album underscore the creative decisions that were made. As Hicks says about the “I’d Have You Anytime” outtake: “It’s got this really cool piano and a really groovy drum kit and stuff. I love that version, but ultimately George made the right decision; the version on the album is a lot more emotional, and it’s better.”
With two or three versions of each track, you can mix and match your own combination. “Have fun with it,” says Hicks. “Enjoy the full album, and then make up versions of it that you like.”
The Super Deluxe Edition also comes with a Blu-ray featuring Dolby Atmos, DTS-HD master audio 5.1, and PCM stereo mixes. If you don’t need the Blu-ray, there are 5-CD and 5-LP deluxe editions without it that still have all the bonus tracks. While the new mix is great to have, the bonus tracks make springing for a deluxe edition well worth the price.
The good news for Harrison fans is that with too much to include on this release, Dhani’s raised the possibility of releasing “a couple companion things … like a little ‘Bootleg Series’ that we do in the future. But I definitely need a holiday first.”
And deservedly so for the work on this set, Dhani. Deservedly so.
To read the full in-depth story behind the making of the original album and this year's reissue, pick up the October 2021 print edition of Goldmine (shown above) at select Barnes & Noble and Books A Million newsstands.