Songs with Earlier Histories Than the Hit Version

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My Sweet Lord

First recorded and released by Billy Preston (US #93/R&B #23 1970).
Hit version by George Harrison (US #1/UK #1/FRA #1/GER #1 1971 |UK #1 2002).
“He’s So Fine” recorded by The Chiffons (1963), Jody Miller (1971).
“Oh Happy Day” recorded by The Eddie Hawkins Singers (1969).
Parody recordings by George Harrison (as “The Pirate Song”, 1976), by Jonathan King (a “He’s So Fine/My Sweet Lord”, 1987).

From the wiki: “‘My Sweet Lord’ was written by George Harrison but originally given to fellow Apple Records artist Billy Preston to record. Harrison produced Preston’s recording and it was first released on Preston’s Encouraging Words album in September 1970.

“Harrison said he began writing ‘My Sweet Lord’ In December, 1969, while he was playing a show in Copenhagen, Denmark, with the group Delaney & Bonnie (including Preston on keyboards, and guitarist Eric Clapton). Harrison brought the song to the band, who helped him work it out as he finished the lyrics. When he returned to London, Harrison began work on Preston’s album. Session musicians included The Temptations’ touring band, and The Eddie Hawkins Singers (for whom Harrison had originally intended the song to be recorded). ‘My Sweet Lord’ was released as the follow-up to Preston’s Harrison-composed ‘That’s the Way God Planned It’ UK hit single.

“Harrison recorded his own version during the May 1970 sessions that produced the All Things Must Pass album, with Preston, Clapton, Jim Gordon (drums), Ringo Starr (percussion), Klaus Voorman (bass), Gary Wright (keyboards) and all four members of Badfinger included on the final mastering. Album producer Phil Spector recalls that he liked the results so much, he insisted that ‘My Sweet Lord’ be the lead single from the album, and it was released in the US in November 1970 and in the UK in January 1971.

“Without the support of any concert appearances or promotional interviews by Harrison, the single’s commercial success was due entirely to its impact on radio, where, according to Harrison biographer Gary Tillery, the song ‘rolled across the airwaves like a juggernaut, with commanding presence.’ It would become the first #1 hit (in 1970) and last #1 hit (in 2002) by any of the ex-Beatles.

“Shortly after Harrison’s version was released, ‘My Sweet Lord’ became the subject of a long, convoluted plagiarism lawsuit, brought about by the publisher of ‘He’s So Fine’ (The Chiffons’ 1963 hit, written by Ronnie Mack), that did not go to trial until 1976. In his autobiography I Me Mine, Harrison admits to having thought ‘Why didn’t I realize?’ when others started pointing out the similarity between the two songs; by August 1971, country singer Jody Miller (‘You Don’t Have to Say You Love Me‘) had released a cover of ‘He’s So Fine’ incorporating Harrison’s ‘My Sweet Lord’ slide-guitar riffs, thus ‘really putting the screws in’ from Harrison’s point of view.

“Note, too, the resemblance of The Eddie Hawkins Singers’ ‘Oh Happy Day’, released in 1969, to both the earlier ‘He’s So Fine’ and to the later ‘My Sweet Lord’ as recorded by Billy Preston. ‘Oh Happy Day’, originally composed in 1755 by Phillip Doddridge, based on Acts 8:35 and a melody composed in the 19th century by Edward F. Rimbault and popularly used in both the UK and US for baptismal and confirmation ceremonies, had no copyright at the time of the Hawkins’ new arrangement and recording having fallen into the public domain many, many years before.

“On Harrison’s behalf, manager Allen Klein entered into negotiations with the publisher, Bright Tunes, to resolve the issue, by offering to buy the financially ailing publisher’s entire catalog, but no settlement could be reached before the company was forced into receivership. Unrelated litigation in 1973 between Klein and Harrison (who, along with John Lennon and Ringo Starr, sought to dissolve their business partnerships) complicated court proceedings when it was later discovered that Klein had renewed his efforts to purchase Bright Tunes, now solely for himself, and to that end was supplying Bright Tunes with insider details regarding ‘My Sweet Lord”s sales figures and copyright value.

“In September 1976, the court found that Harrison had ‘subconsciously’ copied the earlier tune, since he admitted to having been aware of the Chiffons’ recording. Klein’s company, ABKCO, now owner of the ‘He’s So Fine’ copyright, was awarded damages of US$1.6 million; later reduced in 1981 to $587,000 when the court was made aware of Klein’s duplicity.

“Speaking to his friend Derek Taylor in 1979, Harrison said of the episode, weighing up the positive power of mantra against the unfortunate legal outcome: ‘I don’t feel guilty or bad about it, in fact [‘My Sweet Lord’] saved many a heroin addict’s life. I know the motive behind writing the song in the first place, and its effect far exceeded the legal hassle.’

“Harrison parodied ‘My Sweet Lord’, as ‘The Pirate Song’, in 1976 on the broadcast of Eric Idle’s Rutland Weekend Television Christmas special in December 1975. Jonathan King (‘Everyone’s Gone to the Moon’) parodied ‘My Sweet Lord’ in 1987 by using Harrison’s arrangement under the lyrics to ‘He’s So Fine’ (and backing vocalists singing ‘See you in court!’).”

Eddie Hawkins Singers, “Oh Happy Day” (1969):

George Harrison, “My Sweet Lord” take one (1970):

George Harrison, “My Sweet Lord” album release (1970):

Jody Miller, “He’s So Fine” (1971):

George Harrison, “The Pirate Song” (1975):

Jonathan King, “He’s So Fine/My Sweet Ford” (1987):

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