Leaving The Beatles was meant to cast a shadow over George Harrison’s career. Outwardly, Harrison was known as the ‘Quiet Beatle’, far removed from the charming personalities of the band’s songwriting powerhouse of John Lennon and Paul McCartney. But inwardly, a place where Harrison always felt most comfortable, the songwriter within the guitarist had been beginning to show his talent and quality long before the group broke up. When the Fab Four finally went solo, nobody was more prepared than George Harrison.
His triple album All Things Must Pass wouldn’t just become one of the most successful LPs of the decade, but also prove that Harrison was more than just one part of a larger machine. He was a bonafide pop star in his own right, and, what’s more, he was able to do it all on his own terms, making music that touched the soul as well as moved the feet. His debut single, ‘My Sweet Lord’, would do all that and more. Below, we’re checking out Harrison’s isolated vocals for the landmark song.
The track had been penned by Harrison in 1969 while he was still in the group, and he never truly intended it to feature on his solo album, let alone be his debut single. The song encapsulated not only his affections for Phil Spector’s ‘Wall of Sound’ technique but also his newly found adoration for Hindustani classical music, blending the will of the track’s spiritual intention and Harrison’s noted pop sensibilities. Unable to see himself performing the song, he offloaded it to Beatles collaborator Billy Preston.
Preston’s version of the song failed to land with such authenticity as Harrison’s later would. In truth, a track so steeply spiritual was always going to be a perfect fit for Harrison. In the autobiography, I, Me, Mine, Harrison said: “I thought a lot about whether to do ‘My Sweet Lord’ or not because I would be committing myself publicly and I anticipated that a lot of people might get weird about it.” He continued, “I wanted to show that ‘Hallelujah’ and ‘Hare Krishna’ are quite the same thing.” And he did.
The track remains a moment of transcendent joy as he blends the warmest of celestial moments with the comforting glaze of pop revelry to make a song that can feel at home in heaven or hell. However, the track is not without its controversy. Harrison later settled a court dispute with the late Ronnie Mack as the song infringed upon the original track ‘He’s So Fine’, “Why didn’t I realise,” Harrison mused in his memoirs.
Not always famed for his vocal ability, there is something intrinsically wonderful about his isolated vocal for ‘My Sweet Lord’. The song seems to emanate from the pits of his soul. Such a song could easily sound flippant or joyless in the wrong hands, but Harrison approaches the material with a void-like zen state that provides comfort and coolness in equal measure.
It’s easily one of Harrison’s best songs and gets even more poignant when you strip away the music and just listen to the man himself singing the words he believed so deeply.
Listen below to George Harrison’s isolated vocals for ‘My Sweet Lord’.