George Harrison

My Sweet Lord

Song Review by

"My Sweet Lord" was the most successful George Harrison solo song, holding down the number one spot for about a month after Christmas 1970. It was also the most controversial, sparking one of the most famous plagiarism suits in popular music history. Like much of the material from the chart-topping album it came from, All Things Must Pass, "My Sweet Lord" has a quasi-religious feel, but nevertheless has enough conventional pop appeal to reach mainstream listeners who may or may not care to dig into the spiritual lyrical message. And like much of Harrison's material from this period, it has an incantational feel, struck by the insistent, mantra-like repetition of the title, echoed by the responsive harmony vocals. The title hook is quite catchy, however, as is the verse, with the sort of subtly ascending key changes that Harrison had mastered on "Something." The entire song rises to a higher key near the end for the extended fadeout, as if to mimic prayers rising to the heavens. Other principal hooks, of course, are Harrison's inimitably swooping slide guitar riffs, which recur throughout the piece. Although he has often been criticized for the piety of his lyrical outlook, Harrison delivers the vocal with a winning earnestness that invites listeners to share his joy, rather than making them feel excluded if they don't happen to subscribe to his particular world view, religious or otherwise. The title hook, and much of the verse, is very close in melody to parts of the Chiffons' "He's So Fine," the classic 1963 number one girl group hit, a song that Harrison had undoubtedly been aware of since 1963. "My Sweet Lord" is, contrary to some reports, different in some respects, particularly at the points when the keys change at the end of the verse, in the devout execution of the vocals, and the nearly symphonic density of the arrangement. There were definite resemblances, however, which led the publisher of "He's So Fine" to sue Harrison for copyright infringement. In 1976, Harrison was found guilty of "unconscious plagiarism" and had to pay the publisher a substantial sum. By that time, "My Sweet Lord" had already become one of the most covered solo Beatles compositions. Since then, however, the covers have become less frequent, as has airplay on oldies stations, the song perhaps suffering from the stigma of the suit's accusations. It thus never become a standard on the order of, say, Harrison's "Something." It is not well known that another version of "My Sweet Lord" was issued on Apple Records in 1970 by frequent Beatles associate Billy Preston.