On this day in 1970, George Harrison’s “My Sweet Lord” was released.
“My Sweet Lord” made George Harrison the first of the Beatles to have a solo No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100. The song was an apparent appeal for a closer relationship with God – Harrison would need it.
A few months after its release, Harrison was sued in February 1971 for copyright infringement by Bright Tunes Music, the publisher of “He’s So Fine,” on behalf of Ronnie Mack, the song’s writer. Mack had died in 1963, soon after the Chiffons’ tune became a No. 1 hit in the States.
On Aug. 31, 1976, Judge Richard Owen of the United States District Court found Harrison had “subconsciously” copied the Chiffons’ tune. At trial, Harrison admitted that he was familiar with “He’s So Fine.”
Harrison claims that he was inspired by the tune “Oh Happy Day” by the Edwin Hawkins Singers when he wrote “My Sweet Lord” during a December 1969 European tour. Harrison first offered “My Sweet Lord” to Billy Preston, who recorded it for his Encouraging Words LP. After the Beatles split up, Harrison recorded his own version, which became the first single from the triple-disc All Things Must Pass.
Bright Tunes went as far as to point out the similarity of Mack’s “I don’t know how I’m gonna do it” with Harrison’s “I really want to see you” as evidence that Harrison copied Mack’s song. Going as far as to point out the fact that each song title had three syllables was brought up to try to show even more plagiarism on Harrison’s behalf – I find this to be insane.
Judge Owen, who analyzed the music of both songs, heard testimony by Harrison and expert witnesses from both sides. The judge ruled that “it is perfectly obvious to the listener that in musical terms, the two songs are virtually identical.”
My sweet lord does it ever match up, you can have a listen here:
George Harrison on the matter:
“I wasn’t consciously aware of the similarity between ‘He’s So Fine’ and ‘My Sweet Lord’ when I wrote the song, as it was more improvised and not so fixed,” Harrison wrote in his memoir I Me Mine. “Although when my version of the song came out and started to get a lot of airplay, people started talking about it, and it was then I thought, ‘Why didn’t I realize?’ It would have been very easy to change a note here or there, and not affect the feeling of the record.”
Years of appeals and litigation over damages continued until March of 1998. “I don’t feel guilty or bad about it,” wrote Harrison. “In fact, it saved many a heroin addict’s life. I know the motive behind writing the song in the first place, and its effect far exceeded the legal hassle.”