Tuesday, December 26, 2006
This Day In Music History: George Harrison and My Sweet Lord/Isn't It A Pity
On December 26 1970 George Harrison was the first Beatle after the group broke up to have a #1 record on the Billboard Charts. He is so far the only Beatle to have a solo double sided hit. The songs were “My Sweet Lord” and “Isn’t It A Pity” and the battle that ensued over “My Sweet Lord” has become a legend. Originally My Sweet Lord was to be recorded by Billy Preston. Billy had his all set for release when suddenly Apple records changed their mind and release Mr. Harrison’s version instead. It preceded the release of his triple record All Things Must Pass album.
George said that his inspiration for the song came from hearing the Edwin Hawkins Singers perform “Oh Happy Day.” While there are similarities between those two songs the publisher of the Chiffons song “He’s So Fine” thought that the similarities with his song were even closer. If you play the songs back to back you would have to admit the tunes sound exactly alike. George Harrison was sued for copyright infringement. Billboard magazine reported at the time that royalties from the song to Mr. Harrison were stopped all over the world till there was a resolution. That didn’t come for five years. The Judge in the case ruled that Mr. Harrison was guilty but that it was not done on purpose. However, it was still a crime even thought it was done subconsciously.
George said when people started talking about how the two songs sounded like each other he thought “Why didn’t I realize?” If he had he could have changed a note here and there to make it a bit different.
Even after the case was settled Allen Klein, the Beatles former manager, bought the rights to “He’s So Fine” and the right to continue to sue for further damages. George said he tried to give the song away to completely settle the whole thing. The song has spent much of it’s time in escrow. Mr. Harrison hardly got any money out of the song. He said that the good that it has done far outweighed any money or the complaining that was going on between the copyright people. It’s just all greed and jealousy.
A few novelty songs were inspired by the legal battle. The Chiffons recorded their version of “My Sweet Lord” and Jonathan King did a version of “He’s So Fine” with the arrangement that George had for “My Sweet Lord.” Harrison himself did a novelty song called “The Pirate Song.” It starts out sounding like it’s “My Sweet Lord” then the tune completely changes and George starts singing about how he would like to be a pirate.
The flip side, “Isn’t It A Pity”, was also a hit under its own strength. George said it was about relationships. He said “It was a chance to realize that if I had felt somebody had let me down, then there’s a good chance I was letting someone else down.”
The lyrics to the song say
“Isn’t it a pity?
Now isn’t it a shame?
How we break each others hearts and cause each other pain.”
Isn’t it ironic that a song with those lyrics would be on the flip side of a song that caused Mr. Harrison so much pain and heartbreak?