Let’s get this out of the way: George Harrison was not sued by Phil Spector to get back at the Beatles. Phil Spector didn’t even own the song. It was a publishing company called Bright Tunes Music Corp. They filed suit against Harrissongs Music Ltd claiming that My Sweet Lord was a direct ripoff of the Chiffons’ hit, He’s So Fine. Play them back to back and they have a solid case. But the when the case was heard in 1976, the judge conceded that while the tunes sounded similar, he didn’t believe George stole the tune, which to the day he died, George also emphasized, also stating that he didn’t realize the similarity until after the song was released. In fact he wrote it for Billy Preston, who was an Apple artist at the time. Listen to his version, which was released first – can’t really hear the Chiffons in there, can you? [A synopsis of the court case and its muddy details is broken down here.]
Unfortunately the ugly lawsuit has tainted the history of what is a simple and honest gospel song. It’s timing was perfect as Jesus rock was finally becoming mainstream and this song rode the wave as well encouraged another swell. And what would Sunday school in the 70s be without it?
On the aptly named triple LP, All things Must Pass, there was George long hair and beard, finally breaking free from the Beatles, creating his own identity. But even though he was the first one out of the gate with a #1 hit, he had to spend most of the 70s fighting with lawyers. He’d write another #1 (Give Me Love, Give Me Life) a few years later, but was haunted by this tune for the rest of his life. Even when George finally did get to see his Lord in 2001, I still think the settlement was yet to be fully settled.
It takes so long….my Lord.