In the studioAll Things Must Pass. The backing vocals and the lead slide guitar were overdubbed after the rest of the track had been completed.
The recording was perhaps the most successful deployment of Phil Spector’s Wall of Sound on All Things Must Pass. The maverick producer deftly wrought clarity from a panoply of musical instruments, over which George Harrison’s vocals and slide guitar combined to irresistible effect.
As far as I’m concerned, ‘My Sweet Lord’ was a hit because of the sound and its simplicity. The sound of that record, it sounds like one huge guitar. The way Phil Spector and I put that down was we had two drummers, a bass player, two pianos and about five acoustic guitars, a tambourine player and we sequenced it in order. Everybody plays live in the studio. I spent a lot of time with the other rhythm guitar players to get them all to play exactly the same rhythm so it just sounded perfectly in synch. The way we spread the stereo in the recording, the spread of five guitars across the stereo, made it sound like one big record. The other things, I overdubbed, like I overdubbed the voices, which I sang all the back-up parts as well and overdubbed the slide guitars, but everything else on it was live. There’s Ringo and a drummer called Jim Gordon.
Harrison’s use of electric slide guitar on the song gave him an original sound previously unheard on his recordings. The style became his signature sound; clearly identifiable as Harrison’s work, and with no obvious precedents.
Part of the appeal of slide guitar for Harrison was the microtonal range and use of vibrato, which allowed him to replicate some of the sound of Indian instruments on western instruments. His brief slide work in ‘My Sweet Lord’ was supremely effective and memorable, becoming one of the best-known examples of the style in popular music.
Ringo came in the day we were doing ‘My Sweet Lord’. I said, ‘George, Ringo’s here – why doesn’t he play the drum part?’ He said, ‘No, I want you to play the drums. Ringo can play tambourine.’ It didn’t make me feel that comfortable! It was very casual like that.
Uncut, May 2020
On 17 August 1970 Phil Spector typed a letter to Harrison in which he outlined his thoughts on the initial mix of the All Things Must Pass album. He gave specific suggestions on 18 of the songs, and an overview of how he envisaged the final release sounding.
MY SWEET LORD:
This still needs backing vocals and also an opening lead vocal where you didn’t come in on the original session. The rest of the vocal should be checked out but a lot of the original lead vocal is good. Also an acoustic guitar, perhaps playing some frills should be overdubbed or a solo put in. Don’t rush to erase the original vocal on this one as it might be quite good, since background voices will have to be done at Trident Studios, any lead vocals perhaps should be done there as well.
Harrison performed ‘My Sweet Lord’ during each of his infrequent solo live performances. Recordings, dating from August 1971 and December 1991 respectively, are available on The Concert For Bangla Desh and Live In Japan.
George Harrison initially decided not to issue any singles from All Things Must Pass, in case it lessened the impact of the triple album. However, he had a change of heart and ‘My Sweet Lord’ was released as a single in the United States on 23 November 1970, four days ahead of the album.
It was a double a-side with ‘Isn’t It A Pity’, with a full Apple logo on both sides. The single was certified gold by the RIAA and spent four weeks at number one.
‘My Sweet Lord’ received considerable radio play in the United Kingdom, and public demand meant it was issued on 15 January 1971. It spent five weeks at the top of the chart. Its b-side was another album track, ‘What Is Life’.
The single sold particularly well in France and Germany, where it spent nine and 10 weeks at the top of their respective charts. Other countries in which it was a number one included Australia, Austria, Ireland, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway and Switzerland.
‘My Sweet Lord’ was the first single by a former Beatle to become an international number one. Its popularity was such that John Lennon told Rolling Stone’s Jann S Wenner:
Every time I put the radio on it’s ‘Oh my Lord’ – I’m beginning to think there must be a God! I knew there wasn’t when ‘Hare Krishna’ [‘Hare Krishna Mantra’ by Radha Krishna Temple] never made it on the polls with their own record, that really got me suspicious. We used to say to them, ‘You might get number one’ and they’d say, ‘Higher than that.’
EMI reissued ‘My Sweet Lord’ as a single in the UK on Christmas Eve 1976, again with ‘What Is Life’ on the b-side. This was partly to capitalise on the controversy surrounding the Chiffons lawsuit, and also because Harrison had recently begun issuing recordings on his own Dark Horse Records, distributed by rival label Warner Bros.
‘My Sweet Lord’ was reissued again in January 2002, following Harrison’s death from cancer the previous November. Also featuring two bonus tracks from the 2001 reissue of All Things Must Pass – a ‘Let It Down’ demo and ‘My Sweet Lord (2000)’ – it topped the charts in the UK and Canada.
A demo recording of ‘My Sweet Lord’, featuring Harrison, Voormann and Starr and dating from an early All Things Must Pass session, was included on a compact disc included with the deluxe edition of Martin Scorsese’s documentary George Harrison: Living In The Material World. It was subsequently released on the Early Takes Volume 1 album.
My Sweet Lord (2000)
A remastered version of All Things Must Pass was released in 2001. The two-CD set included a bonus track, a re-recording of ‘My Sweet Lord’ with Harrison sharing vocals with Sam Brown.
To create something extra for the Anniversary issue, I decided to have a new look at ‘My Sweet Lord’ and change it from the original version. Sam Brown sings lead and backing vocals with me, and most of the other instruments have been replaced.
The re-recording retained some of the original instrumentation, but also featured Harrison’s son Dhani on acoustic guitar, and Ray Cooper on tambourine.
A section of ‘My Sweet Lord (2000)’ was played on a loop on Harrison’s official website following his death.