The song was written at a time when the former members of The Beatles were mired in legal difficulties, and Harrison had his own plagiarism lawsuit over the similarity of ‘My Sweet Lord’ to The Chiffons’ ‘He’s So Fine’, as well as difficulties getting the album The Concert For Bangladesh released.
‘Sue Me, Sue You Blues’ is written in an open E tuning for bottle-neck guitar as ‘Woman Don’t You Cry For Me’. I wrote it during the big suing period and it’s vaguely based on the Square Dance type of fiddle lyric:
You serve me and I’ll serve you
Swing your partners all get screwed
I Me Mine
On 31 December 1970, Paul McCartney had filed a lawsuit at London’s High Court of Justice in a bid to formally dissolve The Beatles’ partnership, and to extricate himself from business manager Allen Klein.
The case began on 19 February 1971 and was eventually found in McCartney’s favour. It resulted in sustained animosity between the former members, which was only fully resolved in the 1990s.
Furthermore, on 10 February 1971 Bright Tunes Music Corporation filed a lawsuit against Harrison, alleging copyright infringement of The Chiffons’ ‘He’s So Fine’ in Harrison’s 1970 hit ‘My Sweet Lord’.
The case was put on hold when Bright Tunes went into receivership, and resumed in 1976. In March 1973, however, as Harrison completed work on Living In The Material World, he, John Lennon, and Ringo Starr chose to sever ties with Klein, which led to further lawsuits for the trio.
Harrison had used the title phrase during an appearance on The Dick Cavett Show in November 1971. Harrison was unhappy at Capitol Records’ insistence on profiting from sales of the live album The Concert For Bangladesh, and criticised EMI chairman Bhaskar Menon during the interview.
This record should have been out a month ago, really. But now we still haven’t solved the problem. But we’ve got Dylan, Dylan is CBS and they’re cool about it, and we’ve got Shelter and Elektra and all different record companies have all said, ‘OK, right, you know, put it out.’ And the problem is with our distributor.
We’ll get it out. I mean, I’ll just put it out with CBS and let Bhaskar have to sue me. [Raises fist] Bhaskar Menon! We’ll get you! We’re gonna play the ‘Sue Me, Sue You Blues’. Sue me, Bhaskar!
The Dick Cavett Show, November 1971
Harrison sent a solo demo of ‘Sue Me, Sue You Blues’ to guitarist Jesse Ed Davis, donating the song in thanks for Davis’s participation in the Concert For Bangladesh.
Harrison’s demo was included in the DVD accompanying the 2006 reissue of Living In The Material World. Davis’s version was issued as a single in January 1972, and shortly after appeared on his second solo album Ululu.
Harrison’s own version was recorded at Apple Studios in early 1973. He initially planned to have it open the album, although he eventually went with ‘Give Me Love (Give Me Peace On Earth)’. ‘Sue Me, Sue You Blues’ did, however, open the UK cassette edition.
Harrison performed the song during his 1974 North American tour. Along with a funky arrangement, some lyrics were changed: Harrison sang “Bring your lawyer and I’ll bring Klein” and, instead of a Bible, “Hold your Gita in your hand”.