It was 51 years ago Sunday (December 26th, 1970) that George Harrison scored the first Number One hit by an ex-Beatle with his single “My Sweet Lord,” which went on to top the charts for four weeks. The tune, which he had first produced as a gospel song for good friend Billy Preston, was the first single from Harrison’s triple album All Things Must Pass — which itself went on to top the album charts on January 2nd, 1971 for a whopping seven weeks.
Harrison recalled recording “My Sweet Lord” in his 1980 “song biography” titled I Me Mine, admitting, “I thought a lot about whether to do ‘My Sweet Lord’ or not, because I would be committing myself publicly (to my beliefs) and I anticipated that a lot of people might get weird about it. Many people fear the words ‘Lord’ and ‘God.’ (It) makes them angry for some reason.”
It’s recently been revealed that “My Sweet Lord” turned out to be a mini-Beatles reunion of sorts. Ringo Starr and future Derek & the Dominoes member Jim Gordon drum on the track, along with Apple band Badfinger on acoustic guitars and none other than John Lennon strumming along himself. In a recent Beatlefan magazine interview, Harrison’s longtime friend and bassist Klaus Voormann stated that Lennon actually performs on the track.
Phil Spector set the scene prior to him signing on to produce Harrison’s first post-Beatles album, the triple record set, All Things Must Pass: “(Paul) McCartney was making an album, John (Lennon) had a single ready to go and now John was talking about making an album already — the Plastic Ono Band (album) — and I said to George, ‘Y’know, you ought to consider making an album.’ I went to George’s (estate) Friar Park, which he had just purchased, and he said, ‘I have a few ditties’ for you to hear.’ It was endless! He literally had hundreds of songs — and each one was better than the rest. He had all this emotion built up when it released to me.”
Prior to leaving Humble Pie, Peter Frampton was befriended by Harrison who asked him to contribute acoustic guitar to assorted tracks for All Things Must Pass: “George called me up and he said, ‘Look, we need to do some more acoustics,’ and this was the best thing ever for me. We just sat, the two of us, in Abbey Road Studios — the studio they’d done Sgt. Pepper in, and they would just put up another reel. They went through the whole album, basically, and said, ‘We need some more acoustics here,’ so George and I would just add acoustics (guitar), overdub acoustics, maybe one or two tracks to each track. So basically, I’m playing on just about everything that’s not fully electric.”
Shortly before his 2001 death, George Harrison revealed that he knew he was treading in uncharted waters by recording All Things Must Pass: “(I) was nervous because I’d never done a solo album before. Well, I had done a soundtrack album on my own, but I’d never really done a solo album of me as kind of the artist.”
Harrison’s widow, Olivia Harrison says that some critics and fans misinterpreted George’s spiritual lyrics as being so serious that they bordered on preachy. She says that George often used his songs as his own form of spiritual guidance: “He also wrote these things to remind himself. People sometimes accused him of preaching (laughs). But y’know, he was really preaching to himself. He wasn’t trying to say, ‘You be like this because I’m already like this.’ No, he was always trying to remind himself. And that’s the reason he liked India so much, because he said that, ‘Everywhere you went, there was a reminder.'”
Released earlier this month was the first official video for George Harrison‘s “My Sweet Lord.” The remixed track is featured on the recently issued 50th anniversary box set edition of All Things Must Pass, with the Harrison estate — led by widow Olivia and Dhani Harrison — producing and appearing in the comedic new clip.
Among the high profile cameos in the video are Ringo Starr, ELO‘s Jeff Lynne, Joe Walsh, Mark Hamill, Saturday Night Live alumnus Fred Armisen and Vanessa Bayer, Reggie Watts, Jon Hamm, Patton Oswalt, Tim Heidecker, Eric Wareheim, Rosanna Arquette, “Weird Al” Yankovic, Natasha Legerro, and many more.