“My Sweet Lord” is a song by English musician George Harrison. It was released in November 1970 on his triple album All Things Must Pass. Also issued as a single, Harrison’s first as a solo artist, “My Sweet Lord” topped charts worldwide and was the biggest-selling single of 1971 in the UK. In America and Britain, the song was the first number-one single by an ex-Beatle. Harrison originally gave the song to his fellow Apple Records artist Billy Preston to record; this version, which Harrison co-produced, appeared on Preston’s Encouraging Words album in September 1970.
Harrison wrote “My Sweet Lord” in praise of the Hindu godKrishna, while at the same time intending the lyrics to serve as a call to abandon religious sectarianism through his deliberate blending of the Hebrew word hallelujah with chants of “Hare Krishna” and Vedic prayer. The recording features producer Phil Spector’s Wall of Sound treatment and heralded the arrival of Harrison’s much-admired slide guitar technique, which one biographer described as being “musically as distinctive a signature as the mark of Zorro”. Preston, Ringo Starr, Eric Clapton, and the group Badfinger are among the other musicians appearing on the recording.
Later in the 1970s, “My Sweet Lord” was at the center of a heavily publicised copyright infringement suit, due to its similarity to the Ronnie Mack song “He’s So Fine”, a 1963 hit for the New York girl groupthe Chiffons. In 1976, Harrison was found to have subconsciously plagiarised the earlier tune, a verdict that had repercussions throughout the music industry. He claimed to have used the out-of-copyright “Oh Happy Day”, a Christian hymn, as his inspiration for the song’s melody.
Harrison performed “My Sweet Lord” at the Concert for Bangladesh in August 1971, and it remains the most popular composition from his post-Beatles career. He reworked the song as “My Sweet Lord (2000)” for inclusion as a bonus track on the 30th-anniversary reissue of All Things Must Pass. Many artists have covered the song including Andy Williams, Peggy Lee, Edwin Starr, Johnny Mathis, Nina Simone, Julio Iglesias, Richie Havens, Megadeth, Boy George, Elton John, Jim James, Bonnie Bramlett and Elliott Smith. “My Sweet Lord” is ranked 460th on Rolling Stone magazine’s list of “the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time”. The song reached number 1 in Britain for a second time when re-released in January 2002, two months after Harrison’s death.
George Harrison began writing “My Sweet Lord” in December 1969, when he, Billy Preston and Eric Clapton were in Copenhagen, Denmark, as guest artists on Delaney & Bonnie’s European tour. By this time, Harrison had already written the gospel-influenced “Hear Me Lord” and “Gopala Krishna”, and (with Preston) the African-American spiritual “Sing One for the Lord”. He had also produced two religious-themed hit singles on the Beatles’ Apple record label: Preston’s “That’s the Way God Planned It” and Radha Krishna Temple (London)’s “Hare Krishna Mantra”. The latter was a musical adaptation of the 5000-year-old Vaishnava Hindumantra, performed by members of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON), colloquially known as “the Hare Krishna movement”. Harrison now wanted to fuse the messages of the Christian and Gaudiya Vaishnava faiths into what musical biographer Simon Leng terms “gospel incantation with a Vedic chant”.
The Copenhagen stopover marked the end of the Delaney & Bonnie tour, with a three-night residency at the Falkoner Theatre on 10–12 December. According to Harrison’s 1976 court testimony, “My Sweet Lord” was conceived while the band members were attending a backstage press conference and he had ducked out to an upstairs room at the theatre. Harrison recalled vamping chords on the guitar and alternating between sung phrases of “Hallelujah” and “Hare Krishna“. He later took the idea to the others, and the chorus vocals were developed further. Band leader Delaney Bramlett’s more recent version of events is that the idea originated from Harrison asking him how to go about writing a genuine gospel song and that Bramlett demonstrated by scat singing the words “Oh my Lord” while wife Bonnie and singer Rita Coolidge added gospel “hallelujah“s in reply. British music journalist John Harris has questioned the accuracy of Bramlett’s account, however, comparing it to a fisherman’s “It was this big”-type bragging story.
Using as his inspiration for Edwin Hawkins Singers’ rendition of an eighteenth-century Christian hymn, “Oh Happy Day”, Harrison continued working on the theme. He completed the song, with some help from Preston, once they had returned to London.
Harrison performed “My Sweet Lord” at every one of his relatively few solo concerts, starting with the two Concert for Bangladesh shows at New York’s Madison Square Garden on 1 August 1971. The recording released on the subsequent live album was taken from the evening show and begins with Harrison’s spoken “Hare Krishna” over his opening acoustic-guitar chords. Among the 24 backing musicians was a “Soul Choir” featuring singers Claudia Linnear, Dolores Hall and Jo Green, but it was Harrison who sung the end-of-song Guru Stotram prayer in his role as lead vocalist, unlike on the studio recording (where it was sung by the backing chorus); the slide guitar parts were played by Eric Clapton and Jesse Ed Davis.
During his 1974 North American tour, Harrison’s only one there as a solo artist, “My Sweet Lord” was performed as the encore at each show. In contrast with the subtle shift from “Hallelujah”s to Sanskrit chants on his 1970 original, Harrison used the song to engage his audience in the practice of “chanting the holy names of the Lord”, or kirtan – from “Om Christ!” and Krishna, to Buddha and Allah – with varying degrees of success. Backed by a band that again included Billy Preston, Harrison turned “My Sweet Lord” into an “R&B-styled” extended gospel-funk piece, closer in its arrangement to Preston’s Encouraging Words version and lasting up to ten minutes. The performance of the song at Tulsa’s Assembly Center on 21 November marked the only guest appearance of the tour when Leon Russell joined the band on stage.
Harrison’s second and final solo tour took place in Japan in December 1991, with Clapton’s band. A live version of “My Sweet Lord” recorded at the Tokyo Dome, on 14 December, was released the following year on the Live in Japan album.
This video was a cover of the song by “Family & Friends”, in which they performed it as a tribute to the late George Harrison.
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