George Harrison – My Sweet Lord

I’ve posted many of Harrison’s songs but I avoided this one because it is so well known… but after hearing it yesterday I couldn’t resist anymore. The opening chords with the slide part is perfect. The song was/is hugely popular and peaked at #1 as My Sweet Lord/Isn’t It A Pity in the Billboard 100, #1 in the UK, #1 in Canada, #1 in New Zealand.

After Harrison died, this was re-released in the UK, where it once again went to #1. Proceeds from the single went to the Material World Charitable Foundation, which Harrison started in 1973 to support charities that work with children and the poor.

It came off the album “All Things Must Pass” which was a triple album and suddenly George was the Beatle that was finally heard and on top of the world…and it is arguably the best album by an ex-Beatle.

In 1971, Harrison was accused of copying its melody from the Chiffons’ 1963 song “He’s So Fine.” Eventually, the United States district court ruled that Harrison was guilty of subconscious plagiarism, and Harrison developed an extreme paranoia about songwriting for many years. Later on, George would write and record “This Song” as a response to what happened.

Harrison did a parody of this along with the “Pirate Song” with Monty Python…video is below.

From Songfacts

This was Harrison’s first single as a solo artist, and it was his biggest hit. The song is about the Eastern religions he was studying.

Highly unusual for a hit song, Harrison repeats part of a Hindu mantra in the lyric when he sings, “Hare Krishna… Krishna, Krishna.” When set to music, this mantra is typically part of a chant, that acts as a call to the Lord. Harrison interposes it with a Christian call to faith: “Hallelujah” – he was pointing out that “Hallelujah and Hare Krishna are quite the same thing.”

In the documentary The Material World, Harrison explains: “First, it’s simple. The thing about a mantra, you see… mantras are, well, they call it a mystical sound vibration encased in a syllable. It has this power within it. It’s just hypnotic.”

In 1971, Bright Tunes Music sued Harrison because this sounded too much like the 1963 Chiffons hit “He’s So Fine.” Bright Tunes was controlled by The Tokens, who set it up when they formed the production company that recorded “He’s So Fine” – they owned the publishing rights to the song.

During the convoluted court case, Harrison explained how he composed the song: He said that in December 1969, he was playing a show in Copenhagen, Denmark, with the group Delaney and Bonnie, whose piano player was Billy Preston (who contributed to some Beatles recordings). Harrison said that he started writing the song after a press conference when he slipped away and started playing some guitar chords around the words “Hallelujah” and “Hare Krishna.” He then brought the song to the band, who helped him work it out as he came up with lyrics. When he returned to London, Harrison worked on Billy Preston’s album Encouraging Words. They recorded the song for the album, which was released on Apple Records later in 1970, and Harrison filed a copyright application for the melody, words and harmony of the song. Preston’s version remained an album cut, and it was Harrison’s single that was the huge hit and provoked the lawsuit, which was filed on February 10, 1971, while the song was still on the chart.

In further testimony, Harrison claimed he got the idea for “My Sweet Lord” from The Edwin Hawkins Singers’ “Oh Happy Day,” not “He’s So Fine.”

When the case was filed, Harrison’s manager was Allen Klein, who negotiated with Bright Tunes on his behalf. The case was delayed when Bright Tunes went into receivership, and was not heard until 1976. In the meantime, Harrison and Klein parted ways in bitter fashion, and Klein began consulting Bright Tunes. Harrison offered to settle the case for $148,000 in January 1976, but the offer was rejected and the case brought to court.

The trial took place February 23-25, with various expert witnesses testifying. The key to the case was the musical pattern of the two songs, which were both based on two musical motifs: “G-E-D” and “G-A-C-A-C.” “He’s So Fine” repeated both motifs four times, “My Sweet Lord” repeated the first motif four times and the second motif three times. Harrison couldn’t identify any other songs that used this exact pattern, and the court ruled that “the two songs are virtually identical.” And while the judge felt that Harrison did not intentionally copy “My Sweet Lord,” that was not a defense – thus Harrison was on the hook writing a similar song without knowing it. Harrison was found guilty of “subconscious plagiarism” in a verdict handed down on August 31, 1976.

Assessing damages in the case, the judge determined that “My Sweet Lord” represented 70% of the airplay of the All Things Must Pass album, and came up with a total award of about $1.6 million. However, in 1978 Allen Klein’s company ABKCO purchased Bright Tunes for $587,000, which prompted Harrison to sue. In 1981, a judge decided that Klein should not profit from the judgment, and was entitled to only the $587,000 he paid for the company – all further proceeds from the case had to be remitted back to Harrison. The case dragged on until at least 1993, when various administrative matters were finally settled.

The case was a burden for Harrison, who says he tried to settle but kept getting dragged back to court by Bright Tunes. After losing the lawsuit, he became more disenfranchised with the music industry, and took some time off from recording – after his 1976 album Thirty Three & 1/3, he didn’t release another until his self-titled album in 1979. He told Rolling Stone, “It’s difficult to just start writing again after you’ve been through that. Even now when I put the radio on, every tune I hear sounds like something else.”

This was recorded at Abbey Road studios using the same equipment The Beatles used. There were some familiar faces at the sessions who had contributed to Beatles albums, including John Lennon, Yoko Ono, Billy Preston and Eric Clapton. Bobby Whitlock was friends with Harrison and Clapton, and played keyboards on the album. When we spoke with Whitlock, he shared his thoughts:

“That whole session was great. George Harrison, what a wonderful man. All the time that I ever knew him, which was from 1969 to his passing, he was a wonderful man. He included everyone on everything he did because there was enough for all.”

Whitlock adds, “All during the sessions, the door would pop open and in would spring three or four or five Hare Krishnas in their white robes and shaved heads with a pony tail coming out the top. They were all painted up, throwing rose petals and distributing peanut butter cookies.” (For more on these sessions, check out our full Bobby Whitlock interview)

This was the first #1 hit for any Beatle after the band broke up. Harrison was the first Beatle to release a solo album. He came out with Wonderwall Music, a soundtrack to the movie Wonderwall, in 1968.

When this song was released, the phrase “Hare Krishna” was associated with a religious group called the International Society for Krishna Consciousness, whose members would often approach passengers in airports, seeking donations and trying to solicit members. Individuals in this group became popularly known as “Hare Krishnas,” with a generally negative connotation.

Artists who record chant music often face a negative reaction from listeners who don’t understand the mantras. When we spoke with Krishna Das, the leading American chant musician, he explained: “‘My Sweet Lord’ is very clear and very beautiful, but the problem is that English has been appropriated by Western religion and it’s very hard to talk about spiritual things in a song that doesn’t get too ‘organized religion-y,’ you know? And then you get a lot of people who have a negative reaction to that as well. You can get a lot of negativity from the organized religion people. Like, ‘This isn’t our Jesus. This isn’t the way it is.'”

Phil Spector produced this and sang backup. With the blessing of Harrison and John Lennon (and over the objections of Paul McCartney), Spector produced the last Beatles album, Let It Be.

In an interview with Howard Stern, Peter Frampton verified that he played lead guitar on “My Sweet Lord.” According to Frampton, Harrison was a fan of his and invited him to the studio, where he handed Frampton his legendary Les Paul. Frampton assumed he was going to play rhythm, but Harrison said he wanted him to play lead, so Frampton did. Frampton wasn’t officially credited for this (just as Eric Clapton wasn’t credited on “While My Guitar Gently Weeps”), but rumors circulated for years.

Harrison released a new version, “My Sweet Lord 2000,” when he reissued All Things Must Pass.

Producer Phil Spector thought “My Sweet Lord” was the commercial hit of the album, and everyone else resisted him on that. According to Phil, George and others worried about how the public might react to the religious overtones and the Hare Krishna influence.

George Harrison parodied “My Sweet Lord” during Eric Idle’s Rutland Weekend Television Christmas special on December 26, 1975, turning it into “The Pirate Song.” >>

Artists to cover this song include Aretha Franklin, Johnny Mathis, Richie Havens, Nina Simone, Peggy Lee and Julio Iglesias. The Chiffons also covered the song in 1975 amidst the plagiarism lawsuit over their song “He’s So Fine.”

The guitar riff on America’s 1975 #1 hit “Sister Golden Hair” was inspired by this track. That song was produced by George Martin, who worked on most of The Beatles albums.

Gerry Beckley, who wrote “Sister Golden Hair” and sang lead, said in his Songfacts interview: “I very openly tip my hat there to ‘My Sweet Lord’ and George Harrison. I was such a fan of all The Beatles but we knew George quite well and I just thought that was such a wonderful intro.”

U2 performed this as a tribute at their show in Atlanta on November 30, 2001, the night after Harrison died.

George Harrison and Monty Python.

 

 

My Sweet Lord

My sweet Lord
Hm, my Lord
Hm, my Lord

I really want to see you
Really want to be with you
Really want to see you Lord
But it takes so long, my Lord

My sweet Lord
Hm, my Lord
Hm, my Lord

I really want to know you
Really want to go with you
Really want to show you Lord
That it won’t take long, my Lord (hallelujah)

My sweet Lord (hallelujah)
Hm, my Lord (hallelujah)
My sweet Lord (hallelujah)

I really want to see you
Really want to see you
Really want to see you, Lord
Really want to see you, Lord
But it takes so long, my Lord (hallelujah)

My sweet Lord (hallelujah)
Hm, my Lord (hallelujah)
My, my, my Lord (hallelujah)

I really want to know you (hallelujah)
Really want to go with you (hallelujah)
Really want to show you Lord (aaah)
That it won’t take long, my Lord (hallelujah)

Hmm (hallelujah)
My sweet Lord (hallelujah)
My, my, Lord (hallelujah)

Hm, my Lord (hare krishna)
My, my, my Lord (hare krishna)
Oh hm, my sweet Lord (krishna, krishna)
Oh-uuh-uh (hare hare)

Now, I really want to see you (hare rama)
Really want to be with you (hare rama)
Really want to see you Lord (aaah)
But it takes so long, my Lord (hallelujah)

Hm, my Lord (hallelujah)
My, my, my Lord (hare krishna)
My sweet Lord (hare krishna)
My sweet Lord (krishna krishna)
My Lord (hare hare)
Hm, hm (Gurur Brahma)
Hm, hm (Gurur Vishnu)
Hm, hm (Gurur Devo)
Hm, hm (Maheshwara)
My sweet Lord (Gurur Sakshaat)
My sweet Lord (Parabrahma)
My, my, my Lord (Tasmayi Shree)
My, my, my, my Lord (Guruve Namah)
My sweet Lord (Hare Rama)

(hare krishna)
My sweet Lord (hare krishna)
My sweet Lord (krishna krishna)
My Lord (hare hare)