1974 was a mixed year for Harrison. He split from his first wife Pattie Boyd, launched his own record label Dark Horse Records, and produced albums for Ravi Shankar and Splinter. He also recorded the Dark Horse album, and made plans for his first full tour of the US at the end of the year.
‘Ding Dong, Ding Dong’ was written by Harrison in just three minutes, and signified his wish for a fresh start. The lyrics were largely taken from engravings carved in the woodwork of his Friar Park mansion, where the song was recorded.
Harrison is said to have been playing his guitar when he noticed the words “Ring out the old, Ring in the new” to the left of a fireplace. To the right were the words “Ring out the false, Ring in the true”. He later revealed that he had lived with the words for some time but had never before noticed that they could be song lyrics.
‘Ding Dong, Ding Dong’ was the quickest one I ever wrote. It took me three minutes, except it took me four years of looking at the thing, which was written on the wall at my home, ‘Ring out the old, ring in the new. Ring out the false, ring in the truth,’ before I realised it was a hit song. It makes me laugh because it’s so simple. That song evaded me for four years.
The backing track was complete by the end of November 1973, featuring acoustic guitar, piano, bass guitar and drums. Harrison envisaged the song being given a Phil Spector-style Wall of Sound treatment, but with echoes of the glam rock Christmas hits of Slade and Wizzard via the double drum kit and saxophone.
Harrison had high hopes for the song, and sent the demo to a business associate with a note attached:
It’s one of them repetituous numbers which is gonna have 20 million people, with the Phil Spector nymphomaniacs, all doing backing voacls by the end of the day, and it’s gonna be wonderful. But I’d appreciate it if you don’t let anybody steal it, ’cause I want the hit myself.
‘Ding Dong, Ding Dong’ was issued as a single in the United Kingdom on 6 December 1974. Too late to make an impact on the Christmas market, it peaked at number 38 and spent five weeks in the charts. Its b-side was ‘I Don’t Care Any More’, said to have been written about the legal action regarding plagiarism over similarities between his ‘My Sweet Lord’ and The Chiffons’ ‘He’s So Fine’.
In the United States it was issued on 23 December 1974 with ‘Hari’s On Tour (Express)’, a Dark Horse album track, as its b-side. It fared only slightly better, reaching number 36, but became a popular New Year song.
A video was made for ‘Ding Dong, Ding Dong’ in which Harrison wore a grey collarless suit and played a Rickenbacker 12-string guitar, and donned his Sgt Pepper uniform for the first time since the ‘Hello, Goodbye’ promotional film was made in November 1967.