Cheering you up for a dreadful Wednesday, one song at a time
For those of us taking care of business during the regular workweek, I guess it’s safe to assume we’ve all felt that dreadful Wednesday blues. Sometimes, that middle point of the workweek can be a true drag. But help is on the way!
My proposition for today is a gospel classic: Oh Happy Day. Not only do I generally love the harmony singing of a gospel choir, but how can you not listen to this upbeat tune and think, ‘yes, I can do this!’
Originally, Oh Happy Day was a hymn written in 1755 by Philip Doddridge, an English clergyman. In 1967, American gospel musician and choirmaster Edwin Hawkins arranged Doddridge’s hymn as a gospel tune and recorded it with his choir, The Edwin Hawkins Singers.
Released as a single in 1968, Oh Happy Day became an international hit the following year. It topped the charts in France, Germany and Switzerland, reached no. 2 in the UK, and climbed to no. 4 on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100. The tune also appeared on The Edwin Hawkins Singers’ 1968 debut album Let Us Go Into the House of the Lord.
Hawkins’ excellent arrangement became a gospel standard and, according to Wikipedia, has been recorded by hundreds of artists. It won a Grammy for Best Soul Gospel Performance in 1970.
George Harrison has cited Oh Happy Day as a primary inspiration for My Sweet Lord, not that other song that gave him, well, a less than happy day. The tune has also appeared in many movies, perhaps most notably in the 1993 picture Sister Act II starring Whoopi Goldberg – gotta love Whoopi! You can check out the scene here.
Happy Hump Day, and speaking of George, always remember his wise words: All things must pass!
An email I received from thebeatles.com on Wednesday brought to my attention a new video clip of George Harrison’sMy Sweet Lord. What I expected to see was the audio of the song with some video montage of footage showing George – well, not exactly!
It actually turned out it’s an X-Files type comedy mini-movie. Instead of David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson, it stars comedians and former Saturday Night Live cast members Fred Armisen and Vanessa Bayer as agents with a mission to discover “something out there.” It also features appearances by Ringo Starr, Joe Walsh, Jeff Lynne and other personalities.
Here’s how thebeatles.com put it: An all-star cast from the worlds of music, TV, film and comedy have come together to honor George Harrison in the first-ever official music video for his iconic hit song, “My Sweet Lord.”
Directed by Lance Bangs, the video stars Fred Armisen and Vanessa Bayer as metaphysical special agents who are tasked by the head of a clandestine agency, played by Mark Hamill, to search for that which can’t be seen.
Also featuring Ringo Starr, Joe Walsh, Jeff Lynne, Jon Hamm, Natasha Legerro, Darren Criss, Rosanna Arquette, “Weird Al” Yankovic, Patton Oswalt, Reggie Watts, Tim and Eric, Taiki Waititi, and many more, click below to watch the video now.
Of course, My Sweet Lord is from Harrison’s third solo album All Things Must Pass from November 1970, the first that appeared after the breakup of The Beatles. The tune, which also became the triple-LP’s lead single on November 23, 1970, four days prior to the album’s appearance, is best known because of the copyright infringement lawsuit it triggered.
Without going into the details, I think there is no doubt My Sweet Lord sounds very similar to He’s So Fine, a tune written by Ronnie Mack that became a hit in 1963 for The Chiffons. Harrison eventually was found to have “subconsciously plagiarized” the song.
On a more cheerful note, the recent 50th anniversary edition of All Things Must Pass received a nomination for a 2022 Grammy for Boxed or Special Limited-Edition Package. It’s just amazing to me how many different Grammy categories exist. That being said, I’m happy for Dhani Harrison, Olivia Harrison and art director Darren Evans, who were involved in the anniversary edition.
After a longer pause, it’s time again for another installment of my irregular feature where I explore what happened on an arbitrarily picked date throughout rock history. The only rule I have it that it must reflect my music taste and be a date I haven’t covered yet. The good news is I got plenty of choices left, including October 14, so without further ado, let’s get to it!
1957:The Everly Brothers hit no. 1 in the U.S. on the Billboard Hot 100 with Wake Up Little Susie. Written by husband-and-wife country and pop songwriting duo Felice Bryant (born Matilda Genevieve Scaduto) and Diadorius Boudleaux Bryant, the tune became the first of three no. 1 songs Don Everly and Phil Everly scored on the mainstream charts. The Bryants also wrote Bye Bye Love, the previous single by The Everly Brothers, as well as numerous of their other hits. Wake Up Little Susie reached the top of the Billboard country and R&B charts as well, and was included on The Everly Brothers’ 1958 eponymous debut album. It was the first song by them I heard in my early teens when I was still pretty much adoring Elvis Presley. While in my mind back then nobody could ever match Elvis when it came to rock & roll, The Everly Brothers quickly earned my respect.
1967: Of course, no music history post can be without The Beatles or related topics. In this case, it’s an artist who managed to knock out The Fab Four from the top of the charts. The great Bobbie Gentrie, who later became a woman of mystery, hit no. 1 in the U.S. on the Billboard 200 with her debut album Ode to Billie Joe, ending the 15-week reign of The Beatles with Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. According to Wikipedia, it was the only record that managed to displace Sgt. Pepper from the top spot. Released on August 21 that year, Gentry’s debut album had been quickly assembled following her successful single with the same title. This is such a great tune!
1968: Next let’s turn to The Beatles themselves to see what they were up to. The year was 1968 and the location was Studio 2 at EMI Studies, Abbey Road, London. John, Paul and George were working on eight songs for the White Album – of course, The Beatles Bible had to count them all! The ultimate record of Beatles truth further notes Ringo Starr had left for a two-week family vacation to Sardinia and as such was absent. In fact, he had no further involvement in the album’s mixing and sequencing. The recording session saw the completion of work on one the tunes: Savoy Truffle, a song by George Harrison, which had been inspired by Eric Clapton. Eric has “got this real sweet tooth and he’d just had his mouth worked on,” Harrison explained. “His dentist said he was through with candy. So as a tribute I wrote, ‘You’ll have to have them all pulled out after the Savoy Truffle’. George’s sense of humor could be peculiar!
1971:Specialty Records, the company that held the rights to Little Richard’s songs, sued John Fogerty, charging the Creedence Clearwater Revival song Travelin’ Band plagiarized Richard’s Good Golly, Miss Molly. Here’s Richard’s tune. The CCR track is below. Great gosh a’mighty, if this is plagiarism, then pretty much all classic rock & roll songs are! I feel this is very different from Zep’s rip-off of Spirit’sTaurus or the similarity between George Harrison’sMy Sweet Lord and The Chiffons’ record of He’s So Fine. Eventually, the case was settled out of court. Travelin’ Band first appeared in January 1970 as the B-side to Who’ll Stop the Rain, the lead single of CCR’s fifth studio album Cosmo’s Factory released in July of the same year.
1977:David Bowie released his 12th studio album Heroes. The second installment of Bowie’s so-called Berlin Trilogy only came nine months after predecessor Low. The third album in the series, Lodger, would appear in May 1979. Bowie recorded all three albums in West Berlin, Germany, in collaboration with Brian Eno and co-producer Tony Visconti. Bowie was quite busy in 1977. The making of Heroes followed his participation as keyboarder during a tour of his friend Iggy Pop and co-producing Pop’s second studio album Lust for Life. Heroes incorporated elements of art rock and experimental rock, and built on Low’s electronic and ambient approaches. In general, I’m more fond of Bowie’s late ’60s and glam rock period. That being said, I always liked the album’s title track that was co-written by Bowie and Eno. The record did pretty well in the charts, reaching no. 3 in the UK, the top 20 in various other European countries, no. 6 in Australia and no. 35 in the U.S. – overall largely matching the performance of Low.
1983: Let’s finish this little history post with another album release: She’s So Unusual, the solo debut by Cyndi Lauper. The record became a huge chart success and Lauper’s best-selling album with more than 16 million units sold worldwide as of 2008. It certainly was welcome news for Lauper who only a few years earlier had found herself forced to file for bankruptcy, a fallout from the aftermath of her previous band Blue Angel, a failed debut album and a lawsuit the band’s manager Steven Massarsky had brought against her and the band. Beware of hiring a lawyer as your manager! She’s So Unusual yielded several hit singles. Here’s the most successful and my favorite, Time After Time, co-written by Lauper and Rob Hyman who is best know as a founding member of American band The Hooters. The tune topped the mainstream charts in the U.S. and Canada, climbed to no. 3 in New Zealand, reached no. 5 in Australia, and became a top 10 hit in various European countries, including Austria (no. 6), Ireland (no. 2), France (no. 9), Germany (no. 6), The Netherlands (no. 8) and the UK (no. 3).
Sources: Wikipedia; Songfacts Music History Calendar; This Day in Rock; The Beatles Bible; YouTube
Even though I’ve already done numerous installments for this recurrent feature, many of the 365 dates remain to be explored. Let’s take a look at some of the events on January 23 in rock & roll history.
1956: Cleveland, Ohio banned rock & roll fans under the age of 18 from dancing in public unless accompanied by an adult, after the Ohio police had re-introduced a law dating back to 1931. Music bans rarely work, and there was no way young people could be kept away from rock & roll. Ironically, 27 years later, the very same city saw the founding of the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. The times they are a-changin’.
1965:Petula Clark hit no. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 with Downtown, the first female singer from the U.K. to reach the top of the U.S. chart since Vera Lynn in 1952. The tune, which peaked at no. 2 in the U.K., was written by Tony Hatch, who also produced it for Clark. The song’s recording session on October 16, 1964 at Pye Studios in London was attended by a popular studio guitarist. His name: Jimmy Page. That same year, his session work also included As Tears Go By (Marianne Faithfull), Heart Of Stone (The Rolling Stones) and Baby, Please Don’t Go (Them), among others.
1969:The Beatles were working at Abbey Road Studios as part of the Get Back/Let It Be sessions. They spent a great deal of time on Get Back, recording an impressive 43 takes of the Paul McCartney tune, none of which was officially released. Their efforts eventually would pay off during their rooftop concert. And, yes, they passed the audition!
1971:George Harrison reached no. 1 on the Official Singles Chart in the U.K. with My Sweet Lord, becoming the first former member of The Beatles to top the charts as a solo artist. The tune appeared on All Things Must Pass, Harrison’s first solo album following the band’s breakup. My Sweet Lord peaked at no. 1 in many other countries as well, including the U.S., Canada and Australia. It also made Harrison the first and only ex-Beatle to find himself embroiled in major copyright infringement litigation. The lawsuit alleged My Sweet Lord plagiarized He’s So Fine, a tune Ronnie Mack had written for The Chiffons, giving them a no. 1 single in the U.S. in 1963. In September 1976, a New York judge ruled that Harrison had “subconsciously copied” Mack’s tune. Subsequent litigation over damages dragged on until 1998.
1976:David Bowie released his 10th studio album Station To Station. It became his highest-charting record in the U.S. during the ’70s, climbing to no. 3 on the Billboard 200. The record also catapulted the Thin White Duke into the top 10 in various other countries, including the U.K. (no. 5), Australia (no. 8), The Netherlands (no. 3), Norway (no. 8) and New Zealand (no. 9). In 2012, Rolling Stone ranked Station To Station at no. 324 on their list of 500 Greatest Albums of All Time. Here’s the closer Wild Is The Wind, which like all tracks was written by Bowie.
1978:Terry Kath, best known as a founding member of Chicago, accidentally shot himself dead. Following a party, he started playing around with guns, held a pistol he thought was empty to his temple and pulled the trigger. The freak accident happened only a few days prior to what would have been his 32nd birthday. Referring to Kath, Jimi Hendrix reportedly once told Chicago’s saxophone player Walter Parazaider that “your guitar player is better than me.” Regardless whether Hendrix meant it or not, there’s no question that Kath was an ace guitarist. Here’s I Don’t Want Your Money, which was co-written by him and Robert Lamm, and appeared on Chicago’s third studio album Chicago III from January 1971.
Sources: Wikipedia, This Day in Music.com, The Beatles Bible, YouTube
Celebration of Harrison’s 75th birthday with premiere of 2002 commemorative concert in select movie theaters and special audio reissue
This Sunday, February 25 George Harrison would have turned 75 years. Sadly, he passed away from cancer on November 29, 2001 at the age of 58 – I can’t believe it’s been more than 16 years! Exactly one year after Harrison’s untimely death, a concert at the Royal Albert Hall in London celebrated his life and music. That commemorative event, which had been available on DVD and CD, is now being shown in select movie theaters nationwide and today for the first time appeared as a 4-LP vinyl box reissue. Here’s a nice clip of the unveiling of the box.
The concert was organized by Harrison’s widow Olivia and son Dhani. Longtime friends Eric Clapton and Jeff Lynne served as musical directors and performed during the show. Some of the other participating music artists included Paul McCartney, Ringo Starr, Tom Petty and The Heartbreakers, Billy Preston, guitarist Albert Lee, Procul Harum lead vocalist and pianist Gary Brooker, session musican Klaus Voorman and Dhani.
Before the above artists came on stage, Anoushka Shankar, the daughter of Harrison’s mentor Ravi Shankar, opened the event with a special composition by her father, presented together with a 16-piece orchestra of Indian musicians. Afterwards, surviving members of the Monty Python troupe performed comedy skits to acknowledge Harrison’s well-known sense of humor.
Following are a three clips from the concert. The first is a beautiful version of Harrison’s second song that appeared on a record by The Beatles: I Need You from Help!, performed by Petty and Heartbreakers.
The second clip is White Album gem While My Guitar Gently Weeps, featuring Clapton on lead vocals and guitar, backed by McCartney, Starr, Lee, Lynne and Dhani, among others. While it is probably impossible to beat the tune’s rendition and Prince solo performed during the 2004 Rock & Roll Hall of Fame induction show, it’s a pretty solid performance.
I also came across the following clip, showing Billy Preston singing My Sweet Lord, backed by the above other musicians. The tune was Harrison’s first big post-Beatles hit, which appeared on his solo debut album All Things Must Pass. Unfortunately, the quality of the video isn’t great but the audio is decent.
“We will always celebrate George’s birthday and this year we are releasing Concert for George in a very special package in memory of a special man,” Olivia said in a statement.
In addition to the vinyl set, the reissue is available in four other formats: 2-CD + 2-Blu-Rays Combo Pack, 2-CD + 2-DVD Combo Pack, 2-CD Pack and, I suppose for the true die-hard fans, as a limited Deluxe Box Set,including four 180-gram audiophile LPs, 2 CDs, 2 DVDs and 2 Blu-rays, a 12”x12” hard-bound 60-page book, plus a piece from the original hand-painted on-stage tapestry used as the backdrop at the Royal Albert Hall concert. The recording of the concert also premiered on music streaming services today.
The film that captured the concert was directed by David Leland and produced by Ray Cooper, Olivia Harrison and Jon Kamen. All profits from the sale of Concert for George products will go to The Material World Charitable Foundation, founded by George Harrison in 1973.
Sources: Wikipedia, Concert For George official website, Rolling Stone, YouTube