George Harrison was often labeled “the quiet Beatle” in the heyday of the British quartet’s career. Perhaps this nickname came about because of Harrison’s role as lead guitarist or the backseat he took in interviews with the press. Regardless of Harrison’s perceived quietness, the late Beatle had a lot to say in song. And after The Beatles broke up in 1970, Harrison dropped his first solo single, “My Sweet Lord” just seven months later.
The meaning behind the lyrics of “My Sweet Lord”
“My Sweet Lord” has overt religious connotations and references. What makes the religious content of this song different from most, however, is its usage of both Christian and Hindu terminology. Harrison’s goal in combining both religions in one song was to call out religious sectarianism, or the perceived notion of conflict between groups. To put it simply, Harrison just wanted everyone to get along, so he wrote a song.
Within the song itself, the Christian references appear via the repetition of My sweet Lord, as well as using the call to faith phrase Hallelujah. Also in the lyrics are the phrases Hare Krishna and Hare Rama, which praise the Hindu god Krishna.
I really want to know you (Hallelujah)
Really want to go with you (Hallelujah)
Really want to show you, Lord (Ah, ah)
But it won’t take long, my Lord (Ah, ah, hallelujah)
Mm, mm, my Lord (Hare Krishna)
My, my, my Lord (Hare Krishna)
Oh, oh my sweet Lord (Krishna Krishna)
Ooh, ooh, ooh (Hare Hare)
Harrison’s lyrical attempt to bridge a divide between Christianity and Hinduism was one meaning of the song. There is also a hint of impatience in the Harrison penned track. Really want to see you, Lord, Harrison sings, But it takes so long, my Lord (Hallelujah). This verse speaks to Harrison’s own spiritual journey in which he heavily studied Eastern religions like Hindu. In his exploration, Harrison was particularly drawn to the Indian Hindu monk Swami Vivekananda’s teachings. One such teaching, “If there’s a God, we must see him. And if there is a soul, we must perceive it,” was an inspiration for “My Sweet Lord.”
Infamous copyright infringement lawsuit
Just a few months after Harrison released “My Sweet Lord,” he was sued by Bright Tunes Music Corporation for copyright infringement. The organization claimed that Harrison had taken unauthorized inspiration from the Ronnie Mack song “He’s So Fine.” (Bright Tunes owned the publishing rights to the song at that point in time due to Mack’s death.)
During the suit, Harrison explained that he actually drew inspiration from The Edwin Hawkins Signers’ song “Oh Happy Day,” not Mack’s tune. Unfortunately, though, Harrison was found guilty of “subconscious plagiarism” on August 31, 1976.
Lawsuit aside, “My Sweet Lord” was enormously successful, and it was the first number-one single by a Beatle post-band breakup. It also preceded Harrison’s iconic triple album, All Things Must Pass. That’s a major win if you ask us.
Photo Credit: Barry Feinstein/Courtesy of Universal Music