George Harrison vs. The Chiffons

May 29th, 2013 by

In the continuing interest of building upon the archive here at That Song Sounds Like, it’s time to make mention of one of the most high profile instances of song similarity in the history of popular music.

George Harrison vs. The ChiffonsGeorge Harrison’s All Things Must Pass debut, quite possibly the best of all post-Beatles solo recordings, was the proof, if ever there was any, that the band was not necessarily greater than the sum of its parts. While the record, released in 1970, had the benefit of including unused material that was originally conceived during the heady White Album sessions, it also had a wealth of newly crafted gems — a double album magnum opus of unwavering musical clairvoyance. One such number was “My Sweet Lord”, a song that went on to be Harrison’s first and biggest hit as a solo artist and established his trademark slide guitar sound. Perhaps in part a result of its success, the tune swiftly came under fire for its outright melodic similarity to the 1963 girl-group classic “He’s So Fine”, written by Ronnie Mack. Despite the numerous unique properties inherent in Harrison’s composition, by 1971 he had to face the music in the form of a lawsuit filed by Bright Tunes Productions.

What followed is a confounding tale that unleashed a fervor of excitement and took the better part of the decade to resolve. After extensive legal wrangling and highly duplicitous manipulation by some of the parties involved, U.S. district court ultimately deemed “My Sweet Lord” to have been “subconscious copied” by Harrison. Whether conscious or not, it’s unfortunate that the story of these proceedings has become an inextricable part of a song which was otherwise so purely intentioned.

The Wikipedia article on the matter is well written and essential reading for anyone who’s read this far already — among other things, in the way that it made an example out of Harrison, the lawsuit set a precedent for future measures taken in the music business to counteract allegations of plagiarism.

Here are the originals:

The Chiffons - "He's So Fine" (1963)
George Harrison - "My Sweet Lord" (1970)

Another more immediate result of the lawsuit was a series of reactionary recordings to capitalize on or otherwise outline the claims being made. Of particular note is the Chiffons’ recording of “My Sweet Lord”, made while the case was in limbo:

The Chiffons - "My Sweet Lord" (1973)

Finally, in 1976, Harrison offered his own reaction to the incident in the form of “This Song”:

George Harrison - "This Song" (1976)

 

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