George Harrison – My Sweet Lord / Isn’t It a Pity

First Hit #1: December 26, 1970

So the Beatles were gone, but the band was but a group of men, so it’s no wonder that the solo albums came fast and furious soon after the band dissolved. First to hit the top of the charts was George Harrison, who became a talented songwriter in his own right, but was clearly stifled underneath the Lennon/McCartney power couple that did most of the Beatles’ writing. I say clearly because that’s the most obvious reason for Harrison to come charging out of the gate with a triple album and a double A-side. It’s not exactly the kind of record you come out with overnight, even with the somewhat over-indulgent side of jams.

First on the docket is My Sweet Lord. I’ve already looked at the He’s So Fine controversy to some extent, so let’s move on to this version, which as mentioned before is built on a fairly ingenious guitar line, and lyrics which are built from an odd blend of disparate religious references and a love song. It’s a song about devotion, but it’s never clear to who or what he is pledging devotion to. In a way it’s trying to be everything to all people, with parts of the song connecting to different people for different reasons – it’s vague enough to be about any religion, or even any long distance relationship. It can seem to be pandering, but it’s such a well made song that doesn’t matter.

Of the two songs released here, I’d argue that Isn’t It a Pity is the better of the two. If there’s one thing that Harrison’s songwriting has running through it, he doesn’t hide what he wants to say, and Isn’t It a Pity is pretty clear on this. Unlike most people, he could take a simple message – we shouldn’t be dicks to each other, in this case – and not make it cloying or too obnoxious. Isn’t it a Pity also scales well, working as anything between a song about an argument between two people to about how humanity, as a whole, treats each other. I can’t help but think it was written in the aftermath of an argument – who with, I cannot say – and it manages to hit some profundity by simply recording a reaction to it. But that doesn’t really grasp what makes it great, since it’s really the excellent arrangement that pushes it over the edge. This is just a great song, building on a fairly humble beginning and expanding to something that sounds almost world-conquering. All of the former Beatles will be making an appearance here, but with these two songs, Harrison established himself outside of the group, and forged his own identity quite quickly.

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One Response to George Harrison – My Sweet Lord / Isn’t It a Pity

  1. RBerman says:

    Amazing how the tail end of the anti-authoritarian hippie movement of the late 60s turned into an explosion of spiritual yearnings not only for Harrison, but also Clapton (“Presence of the Lord”), the Doobie Brothers (“Jesus is Just Alright”), the Rolling Stones (“Shine a Light”), Van Morrison (“Wherever God Shines His Light”), the blockbuster musicals Godspell (reverently counterculture) and Jesus Christ Superstar (revisionary), and more. The Beatles may have been more popular than Jesus Christ for a few years, but they lacked his staying power.

    As far as the music, Harrison should have grafted his neato slide guitar lick onto a less blatant ripoff. How does this happen? Granted that he wasn’t just trying to steal another song, did no one in his camp realize the similarity? Were they afraid of telling him? Did Led Zeppelin’s success in claiming authorship of old blues songs embolden them to think they’d get away with it too?

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