The Story and Meaning Behind “Sue Me, Sue You Blues,” George Harrison’s Scathing Portrait of Litigation Overload

We tend to think of George Harrison in terms of his spiritual questing. But Harrison wasn’t immune to the pressures of the “material world,” as he dubbed it. Those concerns came rising to the fore on his scathing 1973 song “Sue Me, Sue You Blues.”

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What is the song about? And what events that were transpiring in his life inspired Harrison to write it? Here is the story about what caused George Harrison to sing the “Sue Me, Sue You Blues.”

Material Concerns

George Harrison went for the brass ring on his 1970 triple-album All Things Must Pass, and he achieved massive success on both critical and commercial levels. But by the time he was ready to follow it up in 1973, some of those good vibes had curdled in the wake of personal problems. To start, his marriage to first wife Olivia had deteriorated. (The pair would separate in 1974.)

It was also hard for Harrison to derive much joy from the musical triumph he had shared, in part because an excess of litigation tied to his profession swamped him. This was the time period when he was joined by John Lennon and Ringo Starr in opposition to Paul McCartney over how The Beatles’ affairs would be settled.

The ironic thing about that situation is The Beatles’ split-up had largely been precipitated by the trio’s decision to choose Allen Klein to manage the band, much to the chagrin of McCartney. But by 1973, Harrison, Lennon, and Starr were suing to extricate themselves from Klein’s oversight.

On top of all that, the plagiarism suit against his No. 1 hit “My Sweet Lord” also wore Harrison down. Here was a deeply personal song that had scaled the heights of the pop charts. Instead of being able to enjoy that, Harrison ended up defending the song against claims that he had plagiarized it from The Chiffons’ song “He’s So Fine.”

You could perhaps understand why Harrison was a bit surly. His 1973 album Living in the Material World found him often delving deep into spiritual concerns, especially on the chart-topping hit “Give Me Love (Give Me Peace on Earth.)”

But he was able to get a little bit of catharsis on “Sue Me, Sue You Blues.” The song is centered around Harrison’s anguished dobro riff, and the group he assembled for the song (Nicky Hopkins on piano, Gary Wright on electric guitar, Klaus Voorman on bass, and Jim Keltner on drums) certainly pitches in to the agitated vibes. It’s one of the few times on the Living in the Material World where Harrison lets his rocking side out, and it’s a treat when he does.

What is the Meaning of “Sue Me, Sue You Blues”?

In the song, Harrison takes the role of someone who might call out the changes in a hoedown: And you serve me and I’ll serve you / Swing your partners, all get screwed. He sustains that acerbic tone all throughout the song, as all parties involved get swept up in the awful process: Bring your lawyer and I’ll bring mine / Get together and we could have a bad time.

Harrison was never shy about making sly references to his time in The Beatles, and he does so here as well: Now all that’s left is to find yourself a new band. The sarcasm in the lyrics truly stings: Court receiver, laughs and thrills / But in the end we just pay those lawyers their bills.

I’m tired of playing the sue me, sue you blues, Harrison concedes at song’s end. Luckily, he channeled that fatigue into a quite energetic song. Lawsuits seem to be an annoying part of life for famous musicians, but George Harrison at least was able to get a winning song out of the bother.

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Photo by Steve Morley/Redferns

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