Graham Reid | | 1 min read
In his recent insightful and unflinching Behind the Locked Door -- a biography of the life and conflicted emotions of George Harrison -- the British writer Graeme Thomson discusses Harrison's propensity for "borrowing" musical ideas and lyrics from others.
The Beatles had always been great adopters and adapters, but Harrison appears to have taken it to a different dimension. The story behind his Electronic Sound album of '69 -- mostly just studio noodling on Moog and of no great interest, other than it wasn't all his studio noodling, side one was Bernie Krause of Moog advocates Beaver and Krause -- perhaps indicated what was to come.
What came was the huge hit My Sweet Lord in '70 and then accusations of plagiarism that Harrison had lifted the chord sequence from the old Chiffons' song He's So Fine.
In the eventual court ruling the judge found Harrison guilty and ordered recompense, but also noted the plagiarism may have been unconscious.
The full story as recounted by Thomson suggests otherwise, and that the borrowing was even more deeply rooted as the song had begun as a jam on a bus during the Delaney and Bonnie tour of '69.
Keyboard player Bobbie Keys recalls Harrison (who had briefly joined the touring ensemble) asking for ideas for a gospel song and as Delaney Bramlett sang "Oh my Lord" Bonnie and Rita Coolidge added a call-and-response of "Hallelujah".
"It became a kind of tour sing-along," said Keys.
Delaney also recalled being in Copenhagen at the end of the tour when Harrison (again?) asked for some guidance and so he took up a guitar, played the Chiffon's tune and sang "My sweet Lord . . ." along with it.
Delaney was shocked when he heard the finished version and said he hadn't mean Harrison to use exactly the Chiffons' tune (Harrison apparently replied "It's not exactly the same") and that he had been promised a songwriting co-credit.
When My Sweet Lord was released Delaney's name wasn't there and they never spoke again.
To rub in the comparison (which keyboard player on the Lord session Bobby Whitlock says he recognised immediately as the Chiffons' song) as Harrison's hit was all over the charts and radio, the American country singer Jody Miller released this version of He's So Fine with an arrangement directly referencing Harrison's stacked up acoustic guitar sound on My Sweet Lord.
And the steel guitarist on her version was Pete Drake, whom Harrison had called in for sessions on his All Things Must Pass album which included My Sweet Lord.
Perhaps if the judge had heard Miller's He's So Fine he might have been less lenient about the "unconscious" plagiarism. And maybe have a wee word with Miller about her "borrowing" from Harrison?
For more oddities, one-offs or songs with an interesting backstory check the massive back-catalogue at From the Vaults.