April 30, 2009

Special Report: My Sweet Lord He's So Fine

In 1970, before the Beatles broke up, George Harrison wrote the song "My Sweet Lord" for Billy Preston, the keyboardist who played on "Get Back" & organ on Let It Be. Could this be the first time in your sad life you have heard the name Billy Preston? He's one of those beautiful figures who pops up all thru-out the history of music. I heard he smoked nargileh with C.P.E. Bach & played harmonium in the original production of The Threepenny Opera. The amazing video of him performing the song "My Sweet Lord" at the Concert for George Harrison (his memorial service) in 2002 has been taken off of the youtubes, but here is an older video:

If you don't know this story, it's quite interesting. Harrison released his version as a single in November 1970 & then on his first solo album. In March 1971, royalty payments to Harrison were frozen after the girly rock-pop group the Chiffon's sued him for copyright infringement - the song is very similar to a song they released in 1963 called "He's so fine."

The Chiffons - He';s So Fine
Found at bee mp3 search engine

I recommend the live version, which has a lot more energy, available at iTunes here.

In the court case Bright Tunes Music v. Harrisongs Music, it was decided that George "unintentionally copied" the earlier song, & relinquished the royalties. This story raises the specter of the greatest fear to any songwriter, accidentally plagiarizing. One of my first music composition teachers told me how he had once written a saxophone quartet, & a friend pointed out after the premier that it had the same melody as a popular television theme song. What a nightmare! Because when a good tune comes to you, sometimes it feels like it sort of came from everywhere & nowhere. Paul McCartney described hearing the song "Yesterday" in a dream, & thinking it was a song he must have heard somewhere. I've also been told the story of a high school musical with music written by a student, how the catchy song at the finale was an unintentional rip-off of John Denver's "Country Roads"; & when that was realized, there was quite a fallout. The story is also a lesson about the artificiality of copyrights. "My Sweet Lord" is not the same song as "He's So Fine". The bridge is quite different, & the tone & subject matter couldn't be more different.

There are several nice twists in the My Sweet Lord / He's So Fine saga. First, is that George Harrison eventually bought the rights to "He's So Fine". The second is that the Chiffons recorded a version of "My Sweet Lord", which is better than their recording of their original:
The Chiffons - My Sweet Lord
Found at bee mp3 search engine

Since this little essay is about how different a song can be, & really come from different places, I want you to hear several other fabulous versions of  "My Sweet Lord". First is a sparse reggae version by The Rudies:

The Rudies - My Sweet Lord
Found at bee mp3 search engine

Jim Nabors, an actor from the Andy Griffith show, sang this inspirational version from his album "Songs of Inspiration":
Jim Nabors - My Sweet Lord
Found at bee mp3 search engine

He definitely gets to the soul of that song - altho perhaps he's missing the point by leaving out the 'hare krishna's. To each his own my sweet lords. I saw on wikipedia that Jim Nabors is from Sylacauga, Alabama, a small town I've traveled to to sing Sacred Harp!


Olaf Mary said...

He's So Fine by The Chiffonsis and hass been one of my most favorite songs since a very young age. That song never ceases to amazes me. The groove. The singing skills. the harmony. The wonderfully comforting chord progression. It is one of the finest proclamations of American Music to have ever been recorded. I am also impressed with he very fact of their having done a version of My Sweet Lord. Why was it not a collaborative effort with them and George? It seems that it would have to be that way. With the lawyers and judges and all the other rock and blues and insect and alien musicians that wrote that exact song so many other times.

Olaf Mary said...

But, wait a second - that isnt the original version of he's so fine!

ß. Andrigon said...

That's the only one on the bee mp3 search thingy. Can you find the original? I always listened to that live version I linked to.

Olaf Mary said...

i will post it some time soon